Tuscany or Umbria: Which is best for wine tastings in Italy?
I love wine and I love to travel. So what could be better than combining the two with wine tastings in Italy? Just like culinary travel and adventure travel, wine travel is gaining popularity. Wine travel offers enthusiasts the opportunity to truly experience the wine production process, and if you travel at the right time of year, to actually be part of harvest and production. As a former Italian expat, I was excited to go back “home” and tour some of the luxury wineries and resorts in Tuscany and Umbria and experience some wine tastings in Italy.
When people think Italian wine, their first thought might be the robust Chiantis of Tuscany. Having lived in Italy, I kind of felt “been there, done that.” But on my return, I was excited to learn, and taste, how Tuscany is embracing luxury wine travel.
Wine tastings in Italy: Tuscany
My adventure to enjoy some of the best wine tastings in Italy began at the Baracchi estate, which sits high above Cortona, up narrow, winding roads that even our GPS couldn’t keep up with. It was a constant barrage of “turn right”, “turn left”, “turn right”, as we made the hairpin turns. But the views of the Valdichiana Valley, when we arrived at the top, were all worth the nauseating drive.
Founded by Riccardo Baracchi, the winery is a small, boutique producer of one of the region’s only sparkling wines and some fabulous blends. We were greeted by Benedetto Baracchi, son of the winery’s founder, who started our tour in the sparkling wine room where the Baracchi Brut Trebbiano Metodo Classico is produced. A single worker was painstakingly turning each bottle ¼ turn, as he does daily for 45 days, to allow the sediment from the Trebbiano grapes to settle at the top of the bottle. There, it is ultimately frozen and forced out. As a small producer, Baracchi takes great care and pride in this hand-processed production of one of the region’s only sparkling wines. Our tour ended with a tasting of the sparkling wine, paired with pecorino cheese produced at the resort. I enjoyed the Brut Trebbiano Metodo Classico tremendously, perhaps because I could really respect the great care taken in its production.
Guests of the winery stay at the luxury Il Falconiere resort, part of the prestigious chain Relais & Châteaux, located just beyond the vineyard. There the resort’s traditional Etruscan spa is the spectacle. This resort truly felt like an escape, perched high on a hilltop, surrounded by lush vineyards. I wanted to plant myself at the pool adjacent to the spa and just waste the afternoon sipping wine and enjoying the view. Instead, we were then treated to lunch at the resort’s outdoor café where the weather was perfect but views of the surrounding vineyards and valley were even more perfect– location, location, location. It’s one of the best places to stay if you’re planning wine tastings in Italy.
Cortona’s most popular resident, Frances Mayes of “Under the Tuscan Sun”, is prevalent throughout the resort. Silvia Baracchi hosts cooking classes at the restaurant and at their cooking school, Under the Tuscan Sun. Baracchi produces a number of wines from Sangiovese, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet and Trebbiano grapes, in addition to olive oil and my husband’s favorite, grappa.
Wine tastings in Italy: Umbria
I lived in the north of Italy, Milan, and saw much of the country, but didn’t truly experience Umbria until this trip. When people plan wine tastings in Italy, they don’t often think of Umbria as a region to explore. The tiny rural town of Todi is home to Roccafiore, a winery committed to sustainability and producing organic wines. Roccafiore is a real blend of technology and traditions, as the company goes to great pains to maintain the traditions of Italian virology, but also employs some of the latest technology to produce great wines, sustainably. We were fortunate to be at Roccafiore in mid-September, as grapes were being harvested – all by hand. We tasted the Grechetto and Moscato grapes fresh off the vine, and watched as the workers poured barrels of grapes into the presser to extract juice. We then moved to the main production facility underground, another Roccafiore tradition of maintaining original winemaking standards. As grapes are processed through the pressing machine, juice falls directly into tanks below ground, using gravity to move musts and skins from the upper floor to the lower floor – again, part of Roccafiore’s commitment to maintain the traditions and best practices of wine production.
The tasting room is housed in a modern, industrial building, where they host special events from art exhibitions to winemaker dinners to weddings. Roccafiore produces a number of wines from Sangiovese, Grechetto, Sagrantino, and Montepulciano. The winery’s luxury resort, Roccafiore Residence, and its famed FiorFior restaurant are located on a hill, just a quick drive from the winery.
Our next stop was Lungarotti, near one of my new favorite towns, Torgiano. Our hostess, Grazia, actually visited the winery with her school when she was only six years old and today, leads the company’s hospitality efforts. It’s these types of personal stories and connections that fuel my love for travel.
Lungarotti produces a number of wines – Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Nero, Colorino and Syrah as red varietals with Trebbiano, Grechetto, Vermentino, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio as the whites. The highlight of the tour was visiting the winery’s safe, where vintages leading back to the winery’s opening in 1962 are stored. Some years, there were only four bottles remaining (a good year) and other years, there were dozens of bottles in the bin. They’re stored, sold and enjoyed for special occasions, with some bottles commanding upwards of $1,000 a bottle.
I was surprised by how different the wines tasted between Umbria and Tuscany, despite using many of the same varietals. I still think of Lungarotti’s Aurente (derived from the Latin word for gold), a deep and rich gold wine with 90% Chardonnay and 10% Grechetto.
We enjoyed a decadent lunch at Le Melograne, the restaurant at Lungarotti’s 5-star spa resort, Le Tre Vaselle. Our time was limited, so we missed a visit to the Wine and Olive Oil Museums, but will definitely visit on our next trip. We also took a short drive to Poggio alle Vigne, the country house set among the Lungarotti vineyards that is a popular destination wedding spot. Torgiano is a popular shopping destination for cashmere, so Lungarotti also arranges cashmere shopping tours as part of their packages. (Note to self: don’t miss the cashmere next time.)