My trip to Tuscany last month was enjoyable but hardly relaxing. Bolgheri, Siena, Panzano – 3 hotels in 8 nights, sounds like a WORK trip! Yeah right, some would say… But after two weeks with wives in Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest and only ONE winery visit? So, the boys stopped in Tuscany and what does one do in Tuscany?

I have visited Tuscany before but this trip was about Tuscany’s most notable wines – Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Super Tuscans.

Tuscany is the size of New Jersey with half the population. Car rental is necessary but airport access to Tuscany is not ideal. Florence is within 1 hour drive to wine country but has no direct flights from USA; Rome airport is 3 hour drive or Milan is 4 hours.

Bolgheri region borders the Tyrrhenian Sea in southern Tuscany,  is 2 hour drive from Rome airport and a beach resort in summer. Bolgheri is famous for “Super Tuscans”, a phrase coined to describe their wines. Sangiovese, the indigenous varietal in Tuscany, did not thrive in the Bolgheri’s coastal climate but it was ideal for Bordeaux varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. I was unable to get appointments at famous Bolgheri producers such as Sassicaia and Ornellaia, but we had  wonderful visits and wines at SAPAIO and MACCHIOLE.

1 hour drive east of Bolgheri, Siena is the geographic center of Tuscany. It is the second largest city (54,000 population) in Tuscany though much smaller than Florence (380,000 population). Siena is a good base to explore Tuscany’s many wine regions though parking within the city walls is not an option. With the exception of Bolgheri’s Super Tuscans, Tuscany’s red wines are primarily Sangiovese grapes.

Montalcino is a small hill town (5,000 population) 50 minutes south of Siena and home of Brunello di Montalcino, one of Italy’s greatest wines. Brunello (name of wine) is made from Sangiovese Grosso grapes and was 1st wine awarded DOCG status, Italy’s ultimate designation. In addition to Brunello di Montalcino, which must be aged five years prior to release or 6 years for Brunello Riserva, the commune’s wines include Rosso di Montalcino (Sangiovese aged one year), Moscadello, sweet white wine from Muscat Blanc and Sant’ Antimo. We had wonderful appointments at  SIRO PACENTI and IL POGGIONE wineries.

Montepulciano is small medieval town (14,000 population) within 50 minute drive southeast of Siena and is known for Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wine. The town is situated on hilltop surrounded by vineyards of Sangiovese grapes used in the popular Vino Nobile. The picturesque town is popular tourist destination for car-free pedestrian streets filled with shops, restaurants and galleries.

Located almost directly in the middle of the constantly feuding medieval powers of Siena and Florence, Panzano is tiny village (1,200 population) about 1 hour drive to either city. It is the heart of Chianti Classico region and the neighboring towns of Greve, Radda, Gaiole and Volpaia are well known to Chianti lovers. My visit at TENUTA LA MASSA  included lunch with their outstanding wines.

Happy Thanksgiving to ALL!