Of course I couldn’t imagine staying two weeks in the heart of Chianti without actually tasting some great tuscan wines. Luckily, I booked online in advance a wine tasting course in Siena, which was focused on the local wines – Tuscan Wine School in Via Stalloreggi, right in the historical centre of the town.
Sofia, the lovely owner and sommelier, is incredibly passionate about wine, about Tuscany and about Italy, although she’s originally from Finland. She had a nice PowerPoint presentation prepared and talked us (tiny group of 3) through the wine making in the region. And now the best part – the tasting itself.
Whenever you’re in Tuscany, and especially around Siena, you’ll hear about 5 wines very often, and you should try all of them:
- Vernaccia di San Gimignano (one of the few Tuscan white ones)
- Chianti / Chianti Classico (red)
- Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (red)
- Brunello di Montalcino (red)
- Vin Santo (white dessert wine)
Also pay attention to the sticker around the bottleneck. Simple rule – go for the DOCG mark. Bear in mind, that the DOCG doesn’t guarantee you that it will be the best wine you’ve ever had. What it does is telling you, that you’re going to be drinking wine as it was meant to be – e.g. Chianti Classico which was produced from the right specified grapes of the specified region in the right specified way.
Now, I’m not an expert, not at all in fact. But I kind of admire wine and believe that it deserves a bit more than just an “I like” or “I don’t like” stamp (which is normally my approach). So, I’ll try to describe how I personally saw them that evening. If there is someone really good at wines accidentally reading this, I apologize in advance. 😀
#1 Vernaccia di San Gimignano
I learned there are just very few white wines in Tuscany, and the most well-known is Vernaccia. I personally prefer drinking very cold white wines in summer, and this one would be a good choice for me. It smells intensively of green apples, which feels refreshing even before you drink it. When you taste it, you’ll find out it is a dry one, and I personally felt a bit of an apple taste. I’m ready, summer!
Fun fact – the wineyard around San Gimignano used to be a seabed a few million years ago, so the soil used for producing the grapes is full of petrified shells nowadays. How cool is that?
#2 Chianti / Chianti Classico
First the difference – Chianti Classico differs from the standard Chianti by the region it was produced in. Chianti Classico is not only the name of the wine but also name of the region in the very heart of the Chianti region.
When I first smelled it, I remembered the breakfast of that day – strawberry/cherry jam. Yummie! But then I tasted it and felt like I must be drinking something else! The taste doesn’t match the smell. At all. The wine is very very dry and feels quite strong too. It warms up your insides directly as you drink it but also kind of stiffens your mouth. So for me, it is not the best wine for “having a glass”. But it becomes a great one once you have a dinner with it – ideally something a bit oily. Sofia gave us a little cup of the local olive oil (which smelled and tasted fantastically by the way) and told us to drink it and then taste the wine again. Well, I didn’t see that coming… But it made the whole world of difference – Chianti suddenly became much smoother and somewhat gentle, also my mouth wasn’t paralyzed anymore. Where is my steak?
#3 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
This wine is probably my favourite. I had the feeling that it has something from the Chianti but is also quite different. First of all, it is gentler and it smells and tastes a bit of wood and has this sort of caramel touch. But not too much, just the right amount. And when I combined it with bread with a bit of olive oil on it, the combination was simply superb.
For me, this one is the one to take when you go out to have a drink and chat with friends. Grab some little snack and have a good time. The price is also reasonable – in Siena, I usually paid around 5 EUR for a glass; a bottle of nice one shouldn’t normally cost you more than 20-25 EUR.
#4 Brunello di Montalcino
There’s the holy grail of Tuscan wines – Brunello. When Sofia served the wine, she asked us to smell it and memorize the smell. But Jeeeeeeez, what a horrible smell! I didn’t say anything as I thought my nose is probably just not quite there yet, but it smelled like a dead rat. After we talked about all the other wine types, we finally got to Brunello again. “Now smell it again”, said Sofia. Surprisingly, it smelt quite differently now! I couldn’t find the animal print this time. Instead, it smelled like wine I would call “heavy”, not sure what the proper word would be – very intensive smell (and taste) of wood and ash, as if the wooden barrel was burning constantly when the wine was resting. The colour was slightly different too, still red, of course, but with a slight brick orange touch. Unlike Chianti, the taste and smell matched together very well.
Brunello was the most expensive one of the range – price of a DOCG bottle starts at 30 EUR, and it is definitely the tuscan wine to try out. Though, I would still rather go for Nobile. Matter of opinion.
#5 Vin Santo
This is another must in Italy – Vin Santo, the dessert wine. It has a colour of liquefied gold, smells lovely and tastes lovely too. Dose carefully, as it is seriously sweet, just a tiny glass. Often, it is served with cantucci. That’s an excellent combination, people often dip it into the wine but I prefer to mix them in mouth. Sofia also gave us a piece of dark chocolate, which was a nice combination too. Try it, if you can!
This was it, the tuscan wine tasting was a great experience, even if you “just” like wine but not know much about it, like in my case. And as a bonus – you train your senses and brain! Oh, have I mentioned how beautiful Siena by night is?