Wine

Wine tasting in Italy is fun

Last fall, I convinced my husband that he really needed to experience all of the beauty that Umbria, the lush, scenic region that borders Tuscany,  had to offer — including the picturesque rolling vineyards and incredible wine tasting experiences. I had traveled throughout the region when we lived in Italy, but he had never seen the true Italian countryside. So we set off to tour a few wineries in the region and received the VIP treatment. As we all know, Italians are passionate — they are passionate about love, food,  fashion, and, yes, wine.  Here are some of the best wine tastings in Italy, specifically in Umbria.

Cantina Roccafiore, Todi

I promised my husband that wine tasting in Italy would be a truly memorable experience. Our tour began at Roccafiore in Todi (a charming hilltop town in Umbria), where the winery’s commitment to sustainability is evident, as the parking area overlooks a field of organic vineyards and dozens of solar panels. Roccafiore, which launched in 2000, is a real blend of technology and traditions. The company goes to great pains to maintain the traditions of Italian vinology but employ some of the latest technology (especially where sustainability is involved) to produce great wines.

Read more:  Where to Find Organic Wine in Italy

Our hostess, Laura, was studying to be a sommelier so her detailed knowledge of the wine-making process was a highlight. 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 the juice. We then moved to the main production facility underground, another Roccafiore tradition of maintaining original winemaking standards. As the grapes are processed through the pressing machine, the juice falls directly into tanks below ground, using gravity to move the musts and skins from the upper floor to the lower floor — again, part of Roccafiore’s commitment to maintaining the traditions and best practices of wine production. Laura walked us through a labyrinth of underground rooms as she explained in great detail the different storage and fermentation processes (practicing for her sommelier exam, I’m sure).

Our tasting of Roccafiore wines took place in the winery’s very modern and industrial commercial building, where they host special events from art exhibitions to winemaker dinners to weddings. Laura also has a culinary background so her knowledge of food/wine pairings was a great compliment to the tasting experience. My favorite wine was the Rosso Roccafiore, a 100% Sangiovese, but the FiorFior, a 100% Grechetto, was a close second. I could easily drink these every night of the week. Prova d’autore, a blend of 40% Sagrantino, 30% Montepulciano, and 30% Sangiovese, was intense, but definitely requires the appropriate food pairing to appreciate it the most. The winery’s luxury resort, Roccafiore Residence, and its famed FiorFior restaurant are located on a hill just a quick drive from the winery.

Read more: The Best Wine Tasting Experiences in Tuscany

Giorgio Lungarotti Winery, Torgiano

We had another tour scheduled for our wine tasting in Italy at Lungarotti, which was scheduled to begin at 10:30, and I was a bit concerned about getting in the mood for wine that early. But, the initial wine tour — which was led by the most gracious Grazia — took well over an hour but was so detailed and educational that I wanted more. (Grazia actually visited the winery with her school when she was only six years old and today, leads the company’s hospitality efforts). The tour led us through rooms full of casks, maceration tanks, and French barriques. With so many varietals of grapes being harvested – Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Nero, Colorino, and Syrah as red varietals with Trebbiano, Grechetto, Vermentino, Chardonnay, and Pinot Grigio as the whites — organization is definitely key. The highlight of the tour was the visit to 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 in 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.

Founded by Giorgio Lungarotti, the company is now led by his daughters Chiara Lungarotti and Teresa Severini, while his wife Maria Grazia runs the foundation. We were quite fortunate to meet both Chiara and Teresa who are actively involved in the day-to-day activities at the winery and resort. After learning so many fine details of their wine production and the passion poured into making Lungarotti wines, I was excited to taste the wines.

We started with the Torre di Giano and Torre di Giano VIP. The VIP was my favorite of the whites, with 70% Trebbiano and 30% Grechetto. But the Aurente (derived from the Latin word for gold) intrigued me to the point that I’m still wanting another taste of it a week later. It’s a deep and rich gold wine with 90% Chardonnay and 10% Grechetto. It was definitely one of the most interesting wines I’ve tasted and I think I’ll be ordering more because I’m so curious to have it again.

Then, we moved on to the reds, the Rubesco, Rubesco Reserve (my favorite), and the Sagrantino (my husband’s favorite). We didn’t taste the San Giorgio (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo) but according to Grazia, this wine is drinkable for up to 50 years. (Note to self: taste this on your next visit!)

Read more: Your Guide to Wine Tasting in Tuscany and Umbria

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What to See and Do in Torgiano, Italy

We then ventured to my new favorite small, romantic town in Italy — and one I plan to revisit with more time — Torgiano. Here, Grazia treated us to lunch at Le Melograne, the restaurant at their five-star spa resort, Le Tre Vaselle, where the chef personally gave us his menu recommendations. Our time was limited so we missed a visit to the Wine and Olive Oil Museums, but they will definitely be on our next itinerary —  as will the resort’s spa, where guests from all over the world come for vinotherapy treatments.

We also took a short drive to Poggio alle Vigne, the country house set among the Lungarotti vineyards which 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 I go wine tasting in Italy…)

Read more: What to Know Before Visiting Umbria’s Baracchi Winery

How to go wine tasting in Tuscany

I love wine and I love to travel. So what could be better than combining the two with wine tasting in Tuscany and Umbria? 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 for wine tasting in Tuscany and Umbria and experience some wine tastings in Italy.

When people think of Italian wine and wine tasting in Tuscany, their first thought might be the robust Chiantis. 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.

Read more: Where to Go Wine Tasting in Tuscany

Baracchi Winery, Cortona

 

My adventure in wine tasting in Tuscany began at the Baracchi Winery, which sits high above the charming and historic Italian town of Cortona, amidst 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 finally arrived at the top — were all worth the nauseating drive.

Read more: Italy’s Most Charming Towns

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 can stay the luxury Il Falconiere resort,  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 going wine tasting in Italy

Read more: Where to Stay in Tuscany

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.

Cantina Roccafiore, Todi 

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.

Read more: Where to Sip Organic Wine in Italy

Roccafiore features the perfect 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 the 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 maintaining 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 Fiorfiore restaurant are located on a hill, just a quick drive from the winery.

Giorgio Lungarotti Winery, Torgiano

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 in 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.

What to See and Do Near Torgiano, Italy

After our wine tasting, we enjoyed a decadent lunch at Le Melograne, the restaurant at Lungarotti’s five-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.)

While living in Milan, I spent many weekends exploring the small enotecas and private vineyards throughout Tuscany. On this visit back, I was interested in seeing a boutique winery, enjoying a few wine tastings in Tuscany and learning more about how Tuscany is embracing luxury wine travel and wine tourism.

If you’re looking for an authentic Tuscan wine tasting experience, I recommend the Baracchi winery and resort. The Baracchi family is very passionate about their wine business but also about ensuring that guests have the most luxurious experience at their resort. The drive up to the Baracchi estate reminded me a bit of the Road to Hana as we winded and twisted up the narrow roads to Cortona. The GPS 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. We were greeted by Benedetto Baracchi, the son of the winery’s founder, Riccardo Baracchi, and joined a small group tour. Baracchi is a small, boutique producer so the tour was brief but offered us a very personal glimpse into this family’s pride and passion. We first visited 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 where 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.

But the real highlight was our visit to the luxury Il Falconiere resort located just beyond the vineyard where 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.

We were then treated to lunch at the resort’s outdoor café where the weather was perfect but the views of the surrounding vineyards and valley was even more perfect. Location, location, location. Being in Cortona, the Baracchis have capitalized on the success and recognition of “Under the Tuscan Sun” by Frances Mayes. Silvia Baracchi hosts cooking classes at the restaurant and at their cooking school, called Under the Tuscan Sun. The resort’s restaurant also boasts a selection of dishes inspired by “Under the Tuscan Sun.” We tasted the winery’s most popular wines with each course of our meal. We started with the Ardito, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, a great peppery wine to wake our tastebuds. Throughout the rest of the meal, we tasted the single grape Smeriglio wines include a Syrah, Merlot and Sangiovese. A beautifully prepared dessert plate was presented at the end of the meal but we opted for espresso instead of grappa, especially given the winding drive home.

If there are two things my husband loves, it’s golf and wine. Or wine and golf. I’m not sure what order he’d choose them in. Me? I just like to drink wine. So when I was trying to think of a great getaway for the two of us, I thought about combining the two.

I scoped out golf resorts located among vineyards where I could sip wine while waiting for him to finish his round and join me at the 19th hole. I found great destinations including the Algodon Resort in Mendoza, Chateau Elan in Georgia (yes, Georgia!), Hotel Peralada in Spain, Dolce Campo Real in Portugal and the Silverado Resort in Napa Valley (we visited this one recently – the location is amazing!).  They’re all such great destinations with luscious wines so it’s a toss up where we’ll go next!

Read my article on Orbitz here: 5 best golf resorts that happen to be in wine country

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.

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.

My adventure began at the Baracchi Winery 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 Relais il Falconiere & Spa resort, part of the prestigious chain Relais & Châteaux, located just beyond the vineyard. There the resort’s traditional Etruscan spa is the spectacle, 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 Baracchi 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.

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.

We tasted the winery’s most popular wines with each course of our meal. We started with the Ardito, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, a great peppery wine to wake our tastebuds. Throughout the rest of the meal, we tasted the single grape Smeriglio wines include a Syrah, Merlot and Sangiovese. A beautifully prepared dessert plate was presented at the end of the meal but we opted for espresso instead of grappa, especially given the winding drive home.

This is Part 2 of  Santa Maria Valley: Where Wine and BBQ Reign Supreme

While the Santa Maria Valley and Santa Lucia Mountains offer some of the most breathtaking scenic drives, the region also offers the most beautiful vistas for wine tasting – and produces some really stellar Santa Maria Valley wines.

The Santa Maria Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) is the second oldest AVA in California with Napa Valley being the oldest. What makes this region, and its wines, so unique is that its mountain ranges run East to West, one of only two transverse mountain ranges on the entire West Coast of North and South America.  And the cooler climate of this coastal region produces some really flavorful wines with personality.

Riverbench Vineyard

Riverbench is one of those places where you’ll want to take the family, the dog and a picnic lunch and just while away the afternoon sipping wine, looking out at the amazing views, and listening to some live music. The winery hosts BYOB Sundays, Bring-Your-Own-Blanket, where guests can also play bocce and horseshoes. The tasting room is a renovated 1920s craftsman home on the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail.
Riverbench is named for its location on the banks of the Sisquoc River known as the Santa Maria Bench. The first Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes were planted here in 1973. The vineyard was growing high quality grapes and selling the fruit to other wineries, but in 2004, they  began producing their own label’s wines. Today, this boutique winery produces wines that take advantage of the cool ocean breezes to bring out the grapes’ tropical fruit flavors under the watchful eye of Winemaker Clarissa Nagy (see below as she also produces her own label). Today, the vineyard grows 107 acres of Pinot Noir and 77 acres of Chardonnay and recently added Pinot Meunier to its portfolio. The winery also produces a number of sparkling Champagne-inspired wines. The Blanc de Blancs is a classic sparkling wine while the Blanc de Noirs is highly complex and the perfect glass for enjoying the beautiful landscape.
riverbench.com

Nagy Wines

Clarissa Nagy of Nagy Wines is my type of winemaker. Although she’s the chief winemaker at Riverbench, she also produces small lots under her own name, sourcing grapes from only the best, personally-selected vineyards. She got her start in wine when she and her husband bottled their own wine, a 2002 Viognier, for wedding favors. The response from her family and friends was overwhelming and before long, she had purchased a ton of Pinot Noir grapes and in 2005, she launched her namesake brand. She made her mark at many of the region’s top wineries where she continued to hone her craft. Her namesake label produces Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Syrah and Viognier.

nagywines.com

Ca’ Del Grevino

As you ascend the hill to the winery, one of the most beautiful European villas quickly comes into view. But only certain members of their high-end wine club have access to the property although they do host outdoor summer concerts and corporate events for the public on the surrounding grounds. My advice: attend one of the concerts just to get a glimpse of this magnificent chateau. Ca’ Del Grevino is currently building what promises to be one of the country’s most incredible winery destinations – a $25 million dollar, 35,000 square-foot banquet and tasting facility where visitors can watch the production underground through glass.

The winery produces small lots of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Grenache, Dolcetto, Riesling and Syrah and the region’s temperate climate and cool ocean breezes add a depth of flavor thanks to longer hang-time. The winery produces three levels of wine – Element, Grevino and Ca’Del Grevino – with memberships for each level. But don’t plan to become a member of the acclaimed Ca’Del Grevino level as that is by invitation only and word has it that only 12 celebrities are currently part of the membership.

grevino.com

Presqu’ile

Presqu’ile is one of those destination wineries where there’s much more to do than just taste wines. Sitting high upon a hill overlooking the Santa Maria Valley, the tasting room features floor to ceiling windows with views of the vast vineyards and a glimpse of the Pacific ocean.  The expansive terrace includes a fireplace and bocce pit, while a rooftop terrace is all about the vistas. A private outdoor lounge, for members only, serves light bites.

This small, family-run winery produces exceptional Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc wines, as well as Syrah, Rosé of Pinot Noir and sparkling wines. A large grass outdoor amphitheater hosts outdoor concerts in the summer.

presquilewine.com

Where to stay: And since you won’t be able to hit all of these wineries in one day, book a room at the Holiday Inn Santa Maria ValleyIt’s centrally locally and amenities include large rooms with kitchenettes, a fitness center, outdoor pool and bar and restaurant.
Getting around: The best way to enjoy your wine tasting experience is by letting someone else do the driving. Gold Coast Limousines will take good care of you.

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