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On the last Sunday in May, Italy’s wineries fling open their doors and invite visitors to sample their creations. Cantine Aperte, which translates to Open Wineries, is best described as a countrywide wine party: It allows travelers to visit nearly every winery in Italy without making a reservation in advance.
The popularity of the event adds to the excitement, as groups of wine lovers mill around winery grounds beneath the warm sun. Further, lunches and expertly created food pairings are offered. All this makes the last Sunday in May one of the best days of the year to be in Italy.
Italy produces more wine than any other country in the world, and Cantine Aperte is a way for winemakers to show off their creations. Winemakers fill the countryside with signs directing wine lovers to their wineries, making it a great day to rent a car and get out into the beautiful countryside.
Each region has its own unique grape varieties, and Cantine Aperte is a great way to experience new wines. Italy is home to over 2,000 varieties of grapes, so you have a lot of options to taste something new to you.
List of Cantine Aperte Regions in Italy
- Cantine Aperte Campania
- Cantine Aperte Friuli-Venezia Giulia
- Cantine Aperte Lazio
- Cantine Aperte Montepulciano
- Cantine Aperte Puglia
- Cantine Aperte Toscana
- Cantine Aperte Trentino Alto Adige
- Cantine Aperte Umbria
From the Veneto region in the north to Sicily’s Marsala, wineries open their doors to visitors and offer samples of their amazing wines. The one-time cost of entry is usually 5 euro; the price includes a wine glass that you can take home. Just rent a car and hit the road. (Though, I do recommend reserving a car well in advance.)
Three of my favorite locations to indulge in Cantine Aperte are Tuscany’s Chianti, Piedmont’s Barolo, and Puglia’s Salice Salentino, but the best place to taste is usually right where you are since wine is produced in every region of Italy. Each winery becomes a mini-festival with locals and visitors sharing wine, having picnics, and listening to live music. Here is the inside scoop on three of my favorite places to experience Cantine Aperte.
I like Chianti because it is a short drive from the beautiful city of Florence. In less than 45 minutes you are surrounded by dramatic, south-facing slopes that are planted with Sangiovese, the grape used to make the DOCG, Chianti.
Not all winemakers are interested in making traditional DOCG Chianti wines however, and the infamous Super-Tuscans are also found around every corner. Super-Tuscan wines are not given the government classification of DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), because they are not made in the same manner as Chianti wines.
Between innovative Super Tuscans and traditional Chianti, Tuscany is a great place to experience Italian wine. That the region is home to some of the most beautiful vineyards in the world is just icing on the cake.
Home to the austere Barolo wines made from the noble Nebbiolo grape, the wine-growing region in Piedmont is located around the town of Alba. More off the beaten track than Chianti, the region features the same rolling hills covered with grapevines. The wineries are plentiful and the wines are extremely complex.
To experience Cantine Aperte to its fullest, it is best to stay in the cities of either Alba or Asti; both are located in the heart of wine country and provide car rental services. Make sure to book your hotel well in advance, since this event is very popular in the region.
I attended Cantine Aperte for the first time last year in the Puglia region. Each winery that I visited offered its entire range of wines for tasting. Winery tours, live music, and snacks were also offered. Complete lunches were supplied by many wineries and cost around 10 euro. I found that you could easily sign up for lunch on location at most wineries; however, some required reservations. One great thing about Cantine Aperte is that no matter which area of Italy you are in, there is almost certainly something going on.
Salice Salentino is one of the best-known wine-producing regions in Italy’s Puglia region. Famed for its friendly red wines made from Negroamaro and Primitivo grapes (Primitivo is genetically identical to Zinfandel), the region is home to many wineries. Puglia vies with Sicily for being the number one grape-producing region in Italy.
To experience the region it is best to rent a car in either Lecce or Taranto, two major cities on either side of Salice Salentino. Wineries open their doors at 10 am. Around noon, look for wineries that feature traditional meals of orecchiette pasta or grilled meats. Most wineries close between 6 and 7 in the evening, however, there are usually a few that stay open until 9. These often feature food and live music.
Cantine Aperte in Umbria
I will be wine-tasting in the Umbria region around Perugia this year. The region is known for the Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG, made primarily with Sangiovese and Canaiolo Nero grapes; and Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG, made with the Sagrantino grape.
The region also excels in white wine. I look forward to tasting whites made with the Grechetto grape in the Orvieto region. If you’re going to be in the area, write me a comment. Maybe we’ll meet on the wine trail!
Cantine Aperte – Plan Your Wine Tour
The Movement of Tourism’s website features a lot of information; however, it is in Italian. It includes a list of participating wineries organized by region. It can be somewhat difficult to locate wineries; I suggest choosing a few in a small area and then making a Google map that locates the wineries you will be visiting.
Alternatively, visit a local tourist office in advance and ask for a Cantine Aperte map. They are often available and feature participating winery locations. The maps are also offered at participating wineries.
Fortunately, once you’re on the road you’ll find that the good folks at the tourism boards and the wineries have filled the countryside with signs directing you to their wineries. Once you’ve found one winery, you won’t have difficulty finding others. Just ask for directions after the tasting.
If you’ll be in Florence in October, the Boccaccesca Food and Wine Festival is a must-see. Not only does it feature the region’s best traditional food and wine, of which there is a whole lot, but the festival is also located in the rolling Tuscan countryside, just a few miles from the heart of the Chianti region – the perfect place for a wine tour around Tuscany. The festival takes place in the town of Certaldo, the first and second weekends of October (2nd and 3rd; 9th and 10th), 2010.
Here’s what to expect:
- Wine tastings with food pairings led by professional sommeliers
- Rows and rows of booths operated by local merchants selling high-quality local food and wine products
- Talks by Italian food specialists
- Cooking competitions
- Each day a well-respected chef will compose a unique dish out of the local products being sold
- Demonstrations featuring the region’s famous ceramics
- Performances by the Company of the Black Dragon, utilizing animation and theater to tell local fables
- Music, dancing, and medieval re-enactments
- Did I mention wine?
A Must for For Foodies: Boccaccesca Food and Wine Festival
Italy’s food and wine festivals are some of the best in the world, combining the unique elements of its regional culinary traditions with its nowhere-else-on-earth atmosphere. Wandering among the booths with a glass of wine—cobblestones beneath your feet—during the day or just as the streetlights begin to come on to illuminate the old buildings and their ancient architecture… It doesn’t get any better.
Fortunately, Boccaccesca is so inexpensive that budget travelers and gourmets alike can enjoy it. If you happen to be both a budget traveler and a gourmet, all the better! The festival costs five euro to enter. An endless glass of wine is another five euro. Local cheeses, cured meats, olives, stuffed pork (porchetta), and fresh produce are all sold by the kilo, allowing visitors to purchase just enough to compliment the wine or to take home.
If you make it to Boccaccesca, make sure to keep a lookout for Tuscany’s most important traditional food items. Porchetta is served as either a sandwich or on its own. It is a whole pig that is deboned, stuffed with herbs and breading, and roasted. Young, un-aged Pecorino cheese is another specialty. Salami made with wild boar or deer is also worth a try.
In regard to wine, the Sangiovese grape is king. It is used to make Chianti wines as well as the famous Supertuscans, which are local wines featuring international grapes and winemaking methods.
Trains and buses run to and from Certaldo from Florence and Siena. Once in Certaldo, visitors must take a tram called the furniculare to the city center. Trains run back to Florence until 11 pm and to Siena until 1:30 am, allowing visitors to enjoy a full night’s entertainment.
Alternatively, the town and its magnificent surrounding area offer B&Bs, hotels, and agriturismo, and both Florence and Siena have several rental car companies. The town of Greve in Chianti, though a 50-minute drive away from Certaldo, is another good option. It is one of the best locations to be based out of when visiting Chianti, and I always swing through Chianti when I’m in the area.
Vinitaly is the largest wine fair in the world and, until recently, exclusive to those in the wine business. But last year, the event added a new element to its already impressive repertoire, an “off show” that allows the average wine lover to indulge in the decadent tastings and high-class cuisine. The new show is called Vinitaly for You; it takes place at the same time as Vinitaly, and it’s open to all. This is exciting news for anyone who wants to taste the best, most recently released Italian wines.
Verona hosts Vinitaly, and has done so every year since 1965. The 2020 edition was postponed to April 18-21, 2021 and is open every day from 6 pm until midnight. Over 4,000 exhibitors will be present and this means that there are literally thousands of wines to taste. The beautiful city of Verona is jam-packed with enthusiasts and it’s important to keep a few things in mind if you plan on attending the event.
Plan Your Visit to Vinitaly
Taking place in April, the event rides on the wings of spring, which is definitely the best time to visit Verona. The river quickly runs and is rimmed by trees with leaves just beginning to bud. Hotels and B&Bs in Verona fill up fast, so make sure to get reservations in advance.
The tickets to the event, which run 85-90 Euro. They generally do not sell out, so you don’t need to worry about that. However, if you buy tickets online in advance from the official Vinitaly web site, you can save 15 Euro. Tickets that allow you to re-enter the event for all 5 days are reasonably priced at 160 Euro (150 Euro via the Vinitaly website) and are worth considering. Also very helpful is the Vinitaly app to help you find your favorite regions and winemakers, talks, and events.
Vinitaly for You is located in the convention center of Verona – Verona Fiera. Last year, Vinitaly for You drew an audience of over 125,000 people and there’s a good chance that this year will be even bigger. If you are staying in Verona, you can take a shuttle to the convention center.
Wines at Vinitaly
In the past, the stories about Vinitaly–told by elite wine journalists–described endless rows of wine bottles and winemakers with everything designed to make a good impression. One of the main goals for most exhibitors is to make connections, so they proffer their best wines. These are not the table-wine Chiantis from the 80s, their bottles nestled inside straw baskets; these are the best wines Italy currently offers.
When most people think of high-end Italian wines, they think of Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, and Super Tuscans. Barolos are made from the Nebbiolo grape in the Piedmont region. The Brunello grape is a clone of the Sangiovese grape, the grape used to make Chianti, and capable of being aged over 100 years.
The Super Tuscan phenomenon took place at the end of the 70s, when creative Italian winemakers felt the need to invent a new category for their wines, one that didn’t fit into the government’s DOC and DOCG categories. These wines are of incredible quality and are created by using various creative methods of production, for example, non-native grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon or the process of aging wines in small oak barrels, known as barriques.
It would be a mistake to only look into these famous Italian wines however. The country itself is the largest producer of wine in the world and has over 2,000 unique varieties of grape. Why not go out on a limb and taste a Nero di Troia?
Cantine Aperte & Other Wine Festivals & Events in Italy was written by Mattie Bamman for EuropeUpClose.com