I recently had the amazing opportunity to visit the Tuscan wine region in Italy with fellow members of the Oakville Winegrowers Association. The purpose of this technical exchange trip was to learn more about grapegrowing and winemaking in Tuscany as well as to foster new collegial relationships. (It also served the purpose of adding a few inches to our waistlines!)
The group’s first stop on our Tuscany tour was the coastal region of Bolgheri. This wine region is relatively young and small for Europe; the majority of the major wineries here were only started in the 1980s and there are just 50-60 of them. And, unlike the rest of Tuscany where Sangiovese is the predominant red grape, Bolgheri wines are made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. We were overwhelmed by the hospitality from this relatively small band of Italian vintners. Not only did they open the doors to their modern facilities but they also provided us with in-depth tastings and discussions of their wines. I found the wines to be rich with black cherry and layers of minerality and supple on the palate with juicy acidity and fine-grained tannins. They paired nicely with our daily supply of cured meats, wild boar and fresh pasta!
A beautiful vineyard view at Tenuta Argentiera in Bolgheri.
After two impressive days in Bolgheri we travelled inland to the hilltop town of Montalcino, known for its Sangiovese-based Brunellos. In contrast to the young region of Bolgheri, Montalcino is steeped in tradition. There are strict rules that must be abided by both in the vineyard (crop yield is closely regulated) and in the winery (minimum barrel and bottle aging) in order for a wine to be called a Brunello. Here, too, we experienced generosity that included vineyard visits, in-depth winery tours, extensive tastings and bountiful food. The wines offered aromas of sweet cherry, tobacco and spice. Some of these wines had an almost oily texture with structure coming from a balance of acid and tannin that went well with fresh fava beans and roasted suckling pig.
Tasting Brunello at Col d'Orcia
In both Bolgheri and Montalcino, I was struck by the interest in equipment innovation, the willingness to share expertise and research and the dedication to making wines specific to their region. I’ve come away from this trip with a greater appreciation for the world of wine, new friends and the need for a slightly bigger belt!
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