I never realized how easy it is to go wine tasting in Chianti until I gave it a try. My girlfriend Kristin and I were staying in Florence and decided to rent a car for twenty-four hours and drive into wine country. It didn’t take more than forty-five minutes and we were in the rolling, vine-covered hills of one of the most important wine-producing regions in history.
The main town in Chianti is Greve (pronounced “GRAH-vay”), where food lovers and chefs from around the world come to sample the local specialties, from wine and cheese to prosciutto and truffles. We visited the tourist office in Greve to ask a few questions. They offered us a free, detailed map that showed the locations of all the wineries in Chianti. We asked if we needed reservations and were happy to hear that few wineries required them. There were a few wineries within the town itself, and by noon we had sampled the wines at three wineries. We knew enough Italian to exchange pleasantries, but it wasn’t necessary, and many wineries had English speakers behind the tasting bar. Afterward, we visited the open-air market, where local artisans sell some of the best picnic supplies on earth.
Soon we were back in the countryside, following the map to the next winery. One of the nice things about tasting in Chianti is that there are plenty of signs with the names of wineries on them to point you in the right direction. Because it was summer and a Saturday, multiple groups of happy tasters milled about, making for a festive atmosphere. Some people chose to buy bottles and drink them on the beautiful patios overlooking the vineyards, and several wineries supplied a wide variety of snacks to accompany their wines, including panzanella, bruschetta, and local olive oil.
I learned about Italy’s strong digestivo, grappa, which is made from the pomace (the stems and grape skins left over after wine production). Grappa is often 40 proof and, to me, tastes like a cross between vodka and whiskey. Almost every winery offered a taste of their grappa at the end of the tasting. Another discovery was Vin Santo, a regional dessert wine.
As our backseat began to fill with bottles of Chianti and Super Tuscans, we decided to start looking for a place to spend the night and found a good selection of accommodations in the towns that populate Chianti. When we were there in May, the prices started at sixty euro a night.
I appreciated how easy it was to taste wine in Chianti on a whim. It was similar to tasting in Napa Valley or Sonoma, except that most of the tastings in Chianti are free. I was also happy to discover that a good bottle of Chianti didn’t have to cost more than ten euro. As Kristin and I discussed this the next day, we realized that we hadn’t even tasted at a fourth of the wineries in Chianti, including Fattoria La Ripa, the estate where Mona Lisa is said to have lived. We decided to keep the car and stay on the wine trail for another day.