Tuscan wine guide

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Tuscany off the beaten paths

Tuscany beyond the "under the tuscan sun" trend

In 2008 I had the pleasure to travel in the States, although on a tight schedule I visited the most known and beautiful cities such as New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Miami just to mention of a few.

From my Italian perspective each city had its charm, its differences and character but I have to admit that almost in every place I have been to the word "Tuscany" was a common denominator used to advertise the tuscan lifestyle, its food specialties ( sometimes with unfriendly combinations such as the "tuscan salmon" ), and obviously the tuscan wines.

That's the point: the lifestyle that the word "Tuscany" represents to the most and it is not a casualty that from the '90's on writers, movie makers, photographers, designers wrote or used this region as a setting for photo shooting, films, events, giving a growing popularity to the tuscan countryside and its hilltop towns such as Cortona, Pienza,  Montepulciano and Volterra.

Today these are some of  the best tuscan destinations for tourists from all over the world, everyday it is easy to meet thousand people on a tour and it is understandable that first time visitors might want to dedicate at least a hour or two to these destinations once they decide to spend a day out in the tuscan countryside.

San Quirico d'Orcia- Valdorcia

Several tour operators give tourists the means to go there by including these towns in their tour packages but also independent travelers can find some public transportation to reach a few of them, although sometimes it can be a challenge for non Italian speakers to figure out which bus to take, where to stop and so on, anyway this can be part of your tuscan adventure if you have plenty of time to use and to waste!

Beside the logistics it would be nice to include in a full day tour a visit to some hidden gems, off the beaten paths villages where locals will be happy to share a smile, to say "hello" and to proudly tell you that they are living in that place since generations....

Tuscan off the beaten path village

Several hamlets in Tuscany still have an intact medieval architecture, defense towers, castles and they hold so much history and anecdotes that guidebooks in general deserve to the main attractions and destinations.

Of course there is no public transportation to reach them and no big group tours go there so only by hiring a driver guide you will be able to savour these places and experience real Tuscany for a day.

Anna- your personal driver guide

Do not waste your time, if you decide to be an indipendent traveler, you do not want to travel on a bus with a big tour group, but you want to enjoy a day out from the city in the company of a driver guide, have a look at these websites to have an idea about Anna's Tuscany experiences and ask for info!



Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Cultural connections in tuscan winemaking

Tempranillo: from Spain to San Miniato along the Francigena

San Miniato is a medium size town in the province of Pisa which lies in Tuscany region.

San Miniato al Tedesco

The town is a remarkable example of cultural stratification: evidences say that it was inhabited by the Etruscans first, then by the Romans and after the fall of the Roman Empire, San Miniato felt under the control of the Lombards and from then on it became so associated to the German rulers that people started to call it San Miniato al Tedesco ("to the German" ) although this sobriquet helped and helps still today to distinguish it from the convent of San Miniato al Monte in Florence, which is about 40 kilometres northeast.

From the Middle Ages till the creation of the Gran Duchy of Tuscany, San Miniato played an active role specially when it was under the control of Florence and it was used as a strategical town to look at the historical florentine enemy: Pisa!

But the extra value of this town was linked also to the fact that San Miniato was on the via Francigena, which was the main connecting route between northern Europe and Rome. It also sat at the intersection of the Florence-Pisa and the Lucca-Siena roads. 

Over the centuries San Miniato was therefore exposed to a constant flow of friendly and hostile armies, traders in all manner of goods and services, and other travelers from near and far.

And maybe this is the main reason why a few plants of Tempranillo grapes have been found around the area and today they are used by a single family producer (Leonardo Beconcini and wife Eva Bellagamba) to make an extraordinary and unique red wine.

Tempranillo grapes

Tempranillo is the grape variety that forms the backbone of some of the finest red wines from Spain and Portugal. Almost every red wine from Ribera del Duero has Tempranillo at its core, and in Portugal the variety is widely used in the Douro Valley both for table wines and fortified wines (Port). 

A thick-skinned variety that makes deep-colored wines with moderate tannins, Tempranillo is well suited to the demands of the modern wine consumer. While it lacks a deep-intense flavor profile, the wide range of aromas detectable in Tempranillo-based wines gives it a charm in and of itself, with tasting notes ranging from strawberries, cherries to prunes, chocolate and tobacco. The former three notes typically come from younger vines growing in cool climates, while the latter three develop with older vines and more heat.

Origins of Tempranillo are murky. It could be indigenous to the Spanish countryside or it could have been brought there by the Moors from somewhere else unknown.  

Some old theories associate Tempranillo to Pinot Noir with which it shares some characteristics although ampelographic studies have shown no genetic connection between the cultivars. 

A relation with Pinot Noir would anyway implicate some truth in the legend that Cistercian monks left Pinot Noir cuttings at monasteries along their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

Archeological site in San Miniato

So taking in consideration that one part of the Francigena route was connecting Santiago de Compostela to St. Peter in Rome passing through Tuscany, as soon as I met the Tempranillo producers in San Miniato with a cute estate lying near the San Genesio chapel and a recently discovered archeological site, the connection between the pilgrims road and the spanish grape variety, came back to my mind.

San Genesio along the Francigena

It is fascinating and intriguing thinking about the relations, the exchanges and connections among populations thanks to a road which became a thread of memories and knowledge passed through generations and thank to the Beconcini family and their effort to keep alive and spread the story behind a grape!

Tempranillo- Beconcini wine estate 

If you wish to learn more about tuscan wines, their characteristics and history, book your educational wine tour with Anna, your tuscan wine guide....