As a wine lover, I have a personal “bucket list” of wineries, wines and wine regions. Each year, I try to cross a few dream wine experiences off my list. Talking to many wine lovers through California Winery Advisor and on our Facebook page, I’ve learned that the wine “bucket list” is a thing, a big thing. I also learned that Tuscany is near the top of almost every list.
Why You Should Visit Tuscany's Wine Region
Why does every wine lover want to visit Tuscany? I think it starts with the allure of the Italian approach to life. The Italian culture elevates food and wine to honored status. Lingering over a great meal with a bottle of wine, or two, is how people connect. There is no rush to see who just posted a picture of their cat or to update their Instagram feed. In Italy, you sit across from your friends and family. You break bread, drink wine, talk and laugh together.
But that applies to most of Italy, why the love of Tuscany specifically? Is it the romance of Florence and Sienna? Or the beauty of Chianti with its rolling hills topped with ancient walled cities? Or is it the Sangiovese grape?
Sangiovese is the regional grape of Tuscany. Sangiovese powers the everyday table wines of the region and the great age-worthy Brunello wines that can compete with the top wines from Bordeaux and Napa. But in Tuscany, there is little of the pretension that exists in Napa. The wines are an extension of the land and the people. You are supposed to connect with the wines, not be in awe of them. Maybe this is part of the reason we all feel such a pull towards Tuscany?
Food is another obvious reason. The regional diet is driven by a farm to table sensibility that pre-dates discovery of the New World. Meals are crafted using the freshest ingredients when they taste the best. Some of the best food is the simplest. A bowl of pasta, cheese and cracked black pepper in the right hands can be elevated to showstopper status when it hits the table. All the varieties of pesto, when mixed with a fresh local bread, can make a perfect meal (with a nice bottle of wine of course).
So how do you go about getting Tuscany crossed off your bucket list? We suggest finding a guide and let them do the heavy lifting. Small tour guides often have intimate knowledge of the local food and wine scenes. This allows them to craft unique experiences that are difficult to replicate if you “go it alone”.
Francesca Montillo of The Lazy Italian tour provider explains it like this, "Smaller tour groups, that are headed by Italian natives, can deliver a more authentic and in-depth experience. When we travel as a small group, we have access to the parts of wine country that big bus tours simply can't reach. With a local tour guide, doors are opened to the insider's Italy."
Great Italian Wine Regions Not In Tuscany
Have you already crossed Tuscany off your wine travel list? Want an excuse to head back to Italy? Not to worry! Consider these great wine adventures:
Bologna's Wine Region
You can visit Bologna in the heart of the Emilia-Romagna wine region. Think great cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano), cured meats (Prosciutto Di Parma) and the world’s best balsamic vinegar in Modena. These all complement the local wines.
Emilia-Romagna has a rich history of winemaking that dates to the seventh century BC. This is large and fertile wine region with many micro-climates. The wide range of wines reflects this diversity. The major grape varieties are Malvasia, Lambrusco (historic local grape), Trebbiano and of course Sangiovese. A visit here will widen you understand of Italian wines and food culture.
Rome's Wine Region
Or you can station yourself in the heart of the Roman empire and make a day trip out to the wine region of Lazio. The Lazio wine region is often overshadowed by the fact Rome is in the middle of it. That’s unfortunate for wine lovers. The region produces some top quality white wines called Frascati and a highly regarded red wine made with the ancient Cesanese grape.
While you are stationed in Rome, you also have access to an enormous variety of Italian wines at the local restaurants and wine bars. This is a great adventure for any wine and food lover, but also for lovers of history and art. It's hard to go wrong with a trip to the heart of Italy.