Millions of wine tourists from around the world flock to Tuscany, perhaps influenced by the books of Frances Mayes. Her Under the Tuscan Sun and In Tuscany have been credited with boosting visitor numbers.
Asia has yet to embrace this visually beautiful part of northwest Italy. Almost nine in 10 of Italy’s wine tourists come from overseas. But only two per cent of those are from Asian countries.
Tuscany is like a picture postcard. Skies are clear and blue all year. The rolling hills and pastures of the countryside are green and calm. In autumn the leaves fade into hues of orange, beige and brown-blue.
The region is a wine lover’s paradise. Tuscany produces the third highest volume of Italy’s quality wines after Piedmont and the Veneto.
It is home to some of the world’s most notable wine styles like Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Montepulciano – all made from the sangiovese grape – and Vernaccia di San Gimignano from white vernaccia grapes. Tuscany is also known for the dessert wine Vin Santo – saint’s wine – that is sweet and savoury at the same time.
In supermarkets wine is cheaper than water. Good chianti costs about 2 or 3 euros in wine shops, and the mark-up in most restaurants is low.
People interested in learning about wine can book classes at the Chianti Classico Academy that opened last year. Seminars are held in the beautiful setting of the Convent of Santa Maria in Prato.
Tuscany mostly exports to the United States, Germany, Canada and the United Kingdom. Sales to the Asian region are relatively modest but rising, albeit from a low base. Last year sales to China, Hong Kong and Japan soared by about 50 per cent.
A feature of the calendar in Tuscany is the annual Buy Wine event in Florence, the region’s capital, held over two days. Toscana Promozione (Tourism Tuscany) organises one-on-one meetings between local winemakers and buyers from around the world.
It is like a speed-dating version of wine-tasting. This year 288 winemakers displayed their wares on individual tables while 211 buyers and wine journalists moved about the room, chaperoned by Buy Wine officials.
Afterwards, buyers were put on buses to tour five distinct regions to visit vineyards they liked. Some stayed at wine resorts. Tuscany has 65 wine resorts, and Toscana Promozione is keen to promote wine tourism. A study commissioned by them showed that 15 fall into the extra luxury category, while the other 50 are classed as luxury.
Below is a list of some of the best wine resorts I visited. Rooms tend to be large – typically 100 square metres. All include breakfast for two. In no particular order of quality, I stayed at or visited:
Il Borro (www.ilborro.it)
Near Arezzo. Costs from 250 to 1400 euro a night depending on availability and season.
Castello Banfi (www.castellobanfi.it)
Near Montalcino. From 320 to 1200 euro a night.
In Gaiole village in Chianti Classico. From 280 to 600 euro a night. This resort only has six rooms.
Castiglion del Bosco (www.castigliondelbosco.com)
Near Montalcino. From 350 to 1350 euro a night.
The last is an actual castle. Built in 1100, it was renovated as a guesthouse in 2008 after clothing millionaire Massimo Ferragamo bought it in 2003. It has 23 suites, a cooking school and a superb restaurant. Its 60 hectares of vineyards produce about 300,000 bottles a year. These can be tasted in the “wine school” in a converted storeroom of the castle.
The lower rates listed apply for the winter months of January and February. The only disadvantage of winter is the occasional lack of hot water. Shower in the evening would be my recommendation. And take slippers because some resorts have wood floors rather than carpet.
One of Tuscany’s best wine tours is Fufluns, run by Filippo Magnani. His web site, http://www.fufluns.com, is available in eight languages, including Chinese.
A two-day tour with a driver and guide costs about 680 euro. Each day includes one winery visit in the morning, lunch and two wineries in the afternoon. One night’s accommodation is also provided.
Be aware that lunches are large, usually four courses. One typically begins with bread, oil and a mixed entrée of salamis, cheese and pickled vegetables. A pasta dish follows.
The main course will be meat and vegetables or salad. In winter these two parts of the meal are huge and often include the local specialty, wild boar. Dessert and coffee mean one waddles away from the table – happy but very full.
Disclosure: Toscana Promozione provided the author’s flights and accommodation.
* Published 9 May 2013. Find a link here.