In June we did a driving trip through Northern Italy. We started near Innsbruck, Austria before driving through the Dolomites followed by the Prosecco Road, then spending a couple of days in Venice before heading to Tuscany, making a stop along the Mediterranean near La Spezia, spending a day in Milan to see the Last Supper and finally driving back through Switzerland. It was awesome. We both fell in love with Tuscany. We spent some time in the heart of the Chianti Classico region and it was only common sense that we visit a winery!
We stayed two nights in Tuscany, but really, I could have spent the entire week. Now I understand why people love Italy, and Tuscany in particular. I had researched tons of places to stay, and we ended up staying in old Tuscan farmhouses that had been converted to B&Bs. Best. Idea. Ever. We were off the beaten path, by a lot, and we got to sleep in true darkness and silence, a rare treat when you're living in a city. Later on I'll give you a run down of the two places we stayed while in Tuscany.
After our breakfast at Armonie del Chianti, one of the places we stayed, we asked the host if there were any wineries nearby we could visit. He gave us the names of a few to stop at. We went to Ruffino first in the hopes of doing a small tasting. We were disappointed to learn that many of the wineries require you to call ahead and make an appointment. They will be more than happy to do it, they just want to know ahead of time that you're coming. But, our disappointment was soon lifted when we were asked if we wanted to just do a tasting, or go on the tour that had just started. Of course we opted for the tour!
Our guide, Silvia, was everything you'd expect. Her tanned skin belied her warm personality and together with her passionate and expressive mannerisms, she could make anyone passionate about the most mundane of topics. She led us to a huge room that once must have been a ballroom, overlooking the vineyards (are you sensing a theme with the landscape here?), to tell us about the history of Ruffino and how the company is run primarily by females. She educated us as to what a Chianti Classico is (and is not), special vintages, the vines, and why this region of Italy is so good for wine making. Silvia explained why some wines are more expensive than others, but quickly followed it up with this: "Just because a wine is expensive does not mean you'll like it. No one can tell you what kind of wine you will like. You like what you like." #winetruths
Our tour continued down into their cellars. The barrels that lines the halls are rotated every few days and have been used to previously house other spirits and wines, which imparts a unique flavor to the wine. New oak barrels are rarely used in Chianti production.
From there, we headed back upstairs to a table elegantly set with wine glasses, plates, napkins, crackers for cleansing our palette between wines, and of course, wine! We got to taste six different Ruffino wines. With each one, Silvia gave us a little story of the wine, especially if it came from a particular vintage, told us what to look for, asked us what we tasted in the wine, and whether or not we liked it. They were all good, but we definitely liked some better than others. Overall, of the ones we tasted, our favorite was the Ruffino Il Ducale.
It was pure happenstance that we were able to go on this tour, but I am so glad that lady luck was on our side. If you are in Tuscany and would like to arrange a tour, be sure to call ahead of time. Here is contact information for guided tours and tastings.
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We ended up spending only two nights in Tuscany. Our first night was near Florence, although we didn't actually go to Florence, and the other was near San Gimignano, one of the more famous hill towns in Tuscany. I have given a short review of both places we stayed and would highly recommend them to anyone planning a visit to the area.
Located pretty close to Florence, it's just far enough away to be relaxing and tranquil, but close enough to make a day trip in to the city if you so wish. It's pretty centrally located too, making it an ideal place to use as a base if you're exploring Tuscany. You can't get here by public transportation, so a personal or rental car is a necessity. But, I can guarantee you'll love it! They have a pool, ringed by lavender, that overlooks a small valley lined with vineyards, a refreshing end to a potentially hot summer day. A traditional European/Italian breakfast is served al fresco in a small garden.
This was a larger B&B with a restaurant on site and two houses, each with it's own pool. We stayed in the main house and were pleasantly surprised to see that our room had recently been retrofitted with an air conditioner. Dinner was delicious and traditional with a pasta course, main course, and dessert. If we ate like we did in Italy all the time, we would both be about 500 pounds! The food, not to mention the wine, is that good. Breakfast was served buffet on a patio overlooking a valley. It's located not far from both San Gimignano and Volterra, both of which make excellent locations for day trips. The latter was made famous in the Twilight series, and they offer a couple of Twilight-themed tours of the city. Otherwise, it's a charming hill town to wander though while eating a Gelato.