One of the dilemmas of choosing that perfect bottle of wine is being faced with an endless array of colourful, but confusing labels. The more expensive the bottle, the more difficult the decision.
How to weigh the myriad of choices? Enter the wine festivals. Here in Tuscany, they are one of the real joys of Italian life that once experienced are never forgotten. In May we are utterly spoilt.
Whether you are a complete beginner or a connoisseur they are a fun way to get to know some of the regions most exquisite wines. At the festivals the procedure is more or less the same. Booking is not necessary. Just identify the `cassa` (the entrance fee is usually between five and fifteen euro), collect your glass and pouch and away you go. Make sure you get a checklist, so that you can note down any favourites (or draw a smiley face as my wife does!). And then head for the wine booths.
Here is a run down of some of my personal recommendations.
Alle Corte Del Vino
On the road that links San Casciano and Mercatale, nestled on an imposing hill, stands the majestic Villa le Corti. The villa is owned by Duccio Corsini, organiser of several annual shows, including a flower festival in September and on May 21,22 my favourite Tuscan wine festival, “Alle Corte Del Vino”. This year is the ninth edition and will be my third.
It’s everything a wine lover dreams about. The ultimate Tuscan experience Relaxing amongst the beautifully kept grounds, gazing out over the stunning Chianti hills, chatting with friends and tasting some of Tuscany’s finest wines. Over one hundred producers are represented and are more than willing to ‘wax lyrical’ about their extensive ranges. A huge marquee is erected where you can sample wines from a wide price bracket, an ideal way to find a wine that fits both your palette and your pocket.
There are usually several food stalls set up by local proprietors, where you can pick up some wonderful cheeses and cold cuts to compliment your wine.
Last year`s event was as sensational as ever. One of Italy’s most celebrated wine producers, Piero Antinori, was there giving a lecture and conducting a ‘vertical tasting session’ (where different years of the same wine are compared) of his legendary, ‘Tignanello’.
This year’s event is sure to be every bit as successful as previous editions. The customary auction is planned for the Friday evening at Teatro Goldoni. Tasting sessions are on the Saturday and Sunday from 11.00am to 8.00pm. There are two special lunches at the acclaimed restaurant, San Casciano’s Tenda Rossa and several seminars, including one from Bolgheri farm Tenuta dell’Ornellaia and a ‘vertical tasting’ of their Internationally award winning ‘Masseto’ .
If you really want to get to the grass roots and see how wine goes from the vineyard to bottle, then Cantine Aperte is for you.
On the last Sunday in May a select number of farms open their cellars and provide free guided tours and tastings. What better way to spend a Sunday than driving around the Tuscan countryside visiting farms, meeting the producers and being taken into the fascinating world of the wine grower.
The day covers fifteen of the wine zones in Tuscany including Chianti, Montalcino, Montepulciano, Bolgheri and even the enchanting island of Elba.
Last year I visited Fonterutoli, Badia a Coltibuono and Castello di Brolio, three of the oldest farms in Chianti. Maybe this year I’ll head for Montalcino…
On the ancient via Cassia that leads out of Florence you will find the old Certosa (charterhoue), a charming complex of buildings that overlook Galluzo. At the foot of Certosa lies the small town of Bottai, home to one of the most extensive enotecas in Florence, La Vinoteca al Chianti. A visit to this superb enoteca is an experience in itself. Browse at your leisure and owner Andrea is on hand to give you his expert advice.
At the end of May they are holding the third edition of ‘Centovini D’Italia’ a carefully chosen selection of wines from all over Italy and a rather special top twenty ‘to die for’. The festival is held next door in the grounds of the Relais Certosa Hotel and, if anything like last year, will be a memorable event.
Other Festivals in May Include
The three-day ‘Pentecoste a Castellina’ on 13-15 May, is a lively affair held under the medieval walkway. There are also special dinners, concerts and a craft fair.
Or for a special festival of wines from the region of Piemonte, head to Viareggio on Sunday and Monday 15,16 May for, ‘I Vini Di Langhe Roero in Versilia’ at the Centro Congressi Principe di Piemonte Viareggio.