A day in Chianti begins
By now, it’s not a secret that Mr. TWS and I were smitten with Tuscany on our first visit to the region. Each day brought new experiences in the hilltop villages, historic towns, and countryside. On this day with the promise of more tasty and interesting activities ahead, Mr. TWS and I were driving along Tuscany’s country roads among the vineyards and olive groves enjoying the burst of colorful spring blooms on the wooded hillsides.
Chianti, a well-known name to wine drinkers and Italian restaurant patrons worldwide, is a wine zone in Tuscany that grows the grapes used in its namesake wines. What better way to begin a day in Chianti than in one of the foremost wineries of Tuscany with a tour and tasting?
Wine and architecture
Antinori nel Chianti Classico (Cantine Antinori)
Via Cassia per Siena, 133
San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Bargino
Newly opened in October 2012, Cantine Antinori is a striking work of architecture on the Chianti landscape. Created with local materials and a focus on having minimal impact on the environment and saving energy, it complements the natural surroundings of its rural hillside location in Bargino.
Usually, I’m not much for introductory films before tours, but the very interesting video at the beginning of our tour explained the Antinori family’s history in the wine business and particularly how innovation has always been a driving force in their operations. In 1385, Giovanni di Piero Antinori, head of the noble Florentine family, began the centuries-long history of producing wine. Through 26 generations, the family has remained directly involved in management of the winery. Antinori built the new facility and moved its headquarters from Florence to this location to continue advancing their innovative approach to wine making while honoring their long traditions. As Marquis Piero Antinori, current head of the family business, says: “Ancient roots play an important role in our work. But have never been a limit to our innovative spirit”.
The geometric and abstract designs of the structure and interior decor are eye-catching as you peruse the Antinori family art collections and information exhibits on the main level. I particularly liked the views of the Tuscan hills and Antinori’s Sangiovese vineyards through the expansive glass windows (top right above).
There are several guided tours available that cover the wine-making process from the vineyard to the bottle and provide an excellent introduction to Antinori wines.
When in Italy … Although still before noon, Mr. TWS and I had no problem sampling a few wines during the tasting at the end of the tour. We began with a Bramito Chardonnay from Umbria that was perfect for early imbibing, followed by two of their signature Chianti Classico vintages. Chianti Classico is a designation that not only refers to a geographic district in Chianti, but also to the particular blend of grapes with Sangiovese being at least 80% of the blend.
Cheese and more wine
Fattoria Corzano e Paterno
Via San Vito di Sopra snc
San Pancrazio, San Casciano
But this day in Chianti wasn’t all about wine. Much to our pleasure, cheese was also involved.
Across the River Pesa, down winding tree-lined rural roads through hills dotted with Tuscan estates is Fattoria Corzano e Paterno, a family owned and operated cheese factory and winery. In the 1970s, with visions of living closer with the land as he began a new chapter of his life, the late Wendel Gelpke, a Swiss architect, came to Tuscany and bought two centuries-old farms — Corzano (in 1972) and Paterno (in 1976). We were given a tour of the farm by Arianna Gelpke, Wendel’s daughter and the winery’s assistant winemaker.
Since 1992, the cheeses of Fattoria Corzano e Paterno have been produced by hand using traditional methods using the milk from the farm’s Sardinian sheep, chosen for their adaptability to the hilly terrain of Tuscany. The original small herd of 50 sheep purchased in the early 1970s to help clear the fields for vineyards has grown to 650 sheep, managed by Wendel’s son, Tillo. Reflecting the farm’s belief in sustainability and giving back to the land, the sheep also provide manure that enriches the soil in the vineyards and olive groves.
Antonia, wife of Wendel’s nephew Aljoscha, is a master cheesemaker who has managed the dairy since 1986 and has created many varieties of cheese. Among her inventions are the popular Lingotto (with smoked bacon aromas) and Rocco (a creamy and tangy cheese).
Aljoscha is the winemaker whose experience began 30 years ago when he helped his uncle on the original six hectares of land, which have grown to 18 hectares. Arianna assists Aljoscha and is in charge of the newer wine cellar built in 2005. Their grape varieties include Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Malvasia, Trebbiano(each common to the Chianti area), as well as other varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay.
A highlight was sampling the freshness of Corzano e Paterno with a wine and cheese tasting in the courtyard in front of the shop where their wine, cheese, cured meats, and other local products can be purchased. On this warm afternoon with flowers in bloom, the Il Corzanello Toscana IGT Bianco was a perfect accompaniment to the cheeses we sampled (described below). We also tasted one of their red wines, Terre di Corzano Chianti, a Sangiovese and Canaiolo blend, and we couldn’t resist buying a bottle before we left.
Luxury country holiday villas
Within easy reach of Cantine Antinori and Corzano e Paterno are two of Este Villa’s luxury holiday rentals near the town of San Casciano, Borgorosa and Casa Mattei. Although we didn’t stay in these villas, we toured both of these properties and were instantly impressed with them as options for stays in Chianti. Each is distinctive in its accommodations and amenities, but being in the heart of Chianti, they both share convenient accessibility to many of Tuscany’s alluring cities and attractions, including the gorgeous Renaissance city of Florence which is only 18 km.
Filled with history in a secluded setting among the cypress trees of the Chianti hills is Borgorosa, a historic estate with holiday rentals. At the beautiful and grand villa adjacent to the rentals, Mr. TWS and I enjoyed meeting the owners, Andrea and his wife Claudia whose family has owned the property since the 1700s. During a tour and gourmet Tuscan lunch with our gracious hosts, we also liked learning about the history of the villa.
The villa was first built in the 13th century as a lookout tower to watch for enemy factions. As many of these types of structures in Italy, it was subsequently destroyed and rebuilt during the following centuries. In 1520, the villa was purchased by the famous Florentine noble, Matteo Strozzi, for a summer residence. He had it enlarged and decorated in grand Renaissance style by the most important sculptors and painters of the time. We had a glimpse of some of the ornate and richly-furnished rooms of the villa, including a stunning ballroom, but because photography was not allowed we are not able to share. The private chapel has stunning frescoes (top left below) painted by Michele Tosini, a student of Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, a renowned Renaissance painter. Claudia’s ancestors in the Cancellieri Ganucci family bought the villa from Strozzi in the 1700s.
Besides being a summer home for the nobility, the villa has seen its share of history through the centuries. According to Claudia’s grandfather’s diary, during World War II the villa was first occupied by the German Stasi command and then by the American army when the Germans had withdrawn.
Borgorosa holiday rentals
Across a wide expanse of lawn from the main house are Borgorosa’s holiday rentals located in two buildings (shown above and below).
Andrea and Claudia have shown great style in the furnishings of the rental units (completely restored in 2011) using classic terracotta floors, original artwork, and tasteful antiques. A few of the comfortable and cozy rooms of the units are shown below.
Five units accommodating up to 22 people in 11 bedrooms are located in the restored buildings — three in the former olive oil mill and two in what was previously the barn. The units can be rented separately or together. Each unit has full kitchens, living areas, and private outdoor areas for al fresco dining in addition to outdoor common areas for all guests. Below the units among the olive trees is the inviting pool. Nearby activities that may interest guests include horseback riding, golf, and tennis.
Borgorosa seemed a great spot for a couple’s getaway or for large group and family gatherings, especially with the elegant loggia in the villa that would be perfect for special occasions.
At Borgorosa, we were met by Babeth, the lovely property manager of Casa Mattei, the next villa we would be visiting just a few minutes away, partially along an unpaved road. At first sight, I knew I would be taken with Casa Mattei, a former monastery that dates back a thousand years.
The building was completely restored in 2006 and its rooms were meticulously decorated in contemporary fashion. Enjoying refreshments with Babeth on the terrace with expansive views of the wooded countryside, I could easily envision a festive family gathering or vacation with friends here.
Casa Mattei’s spacious and beautifully-designed interior looked ideal for family and group gatherings, accommodating 5 to 6 couples or a family of up to 14 people. The main rooms include a large dining room that opens onto the terrace, two kitchens, a spacious living room, cozy sitting rooms, five bedrooms (each with a private bathroom), and a wine cellar.
Next to the villa is a separate small and charming building (shown below bottom left) that can sleep 2 additional people.
I felt the peaceful character of Casa Mattei as we strolled with Babeth on the lawn outside to the organic gardens (where they grow artichokes, tomatoes, zucchini, and other vegetables), the olive groves, and next to the freshwater mosaic-tiled swimming pool. The view of the pool and villa below seems to epitomize the luxury of life in Chianti.
And so a day in Chianti ends
We would have liked to spend more time relishing the ambiance of Borgorosa and Casa Mattei, tasting wine, and enjoying the company of the gracious people we met this day. Passed by an occasional Ferrari (apparently a popular tourist driving experience in Tuscany), we were on our way through the beautiful countryside while reflecting on our day and looking forward to the next day’s exploration in Tuscany.
Take a look at the EsteVillas website for details, more photos, and booking information for Borgorosa, Casa Mattei, and other properties in their collection.