Captain Verrazzano’s Castle Wine Tour

The wine tour is about to begin….we gather ourselves on the front lawn of the old castle

Clouds rolled in on the morning of our wine tour of the Castello di Verrazzano Winery in Chianti. But no matter. After a sumptuous breakfast of fresh-baked coffee cakes, slabs of white cheese, meats, croissants and tasty jams in the castle, everyone gathered into a group on the spacious front lawn. The Castle rose elegantly above us, adorned by lush late-Renaissance gardens and an elegant fountain.

Mateo conducts wine tour
Matteo, our wonderfully expressive tour guide is dwarfed by some Verrazzano ‘big barrels’

We are greeted by Matteo, our wine guide for the tour, personally appointed by ‘Captain Verrazzano.’ (Giovanni da Verrazzano was an early explorer and merchant born in the castle and covered in my previous post, Tuscany’s Castle Winery Leaves a Dashing Legacy). Matteo instantly won our attention and affection by his approachable, enthusiastic and humorous personality. Brimming full of pertinent information about the Verrazzano Estate, as well as the intriguing history surrounding the family, he kept us greatly entertained.

We walked down ancient mysterious corridors
We walked down mysterious corridors…..

The castle cellar was dungeon-like with small rooms off the passageway. I saw boar’s legs of prosciutto hanging from the ceiling as I looked through the bars of a door. In another were huge terracotta amphorae full of Verrazzano extra-virgin olive oil from olives grown on the estate.

Procuitto hanging in small cell

Another product of the castle, miele (honey), is produced from beehives placed on the estate, gathered and sold in jars. Vinegar, also, is made from the natural acetic fermentation of Verrazzano wines, then aged in oak barrels for three months.

The barrell room where the exquisite Verrazzano wines age to perfection
The barrel room where the exquisite Verrazzano wines age to perfection. 

Ahhh...Vinsanto , the Holy Wine. Aged in small barrels, this wine is made from the Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes, gently mashed after a long drying.

Verrazzano Balsamic Vinegar is aged in these tiny barrels for up to twelve years. It is made by slow fermentation and acidification of the Trebbiano grape, cooked over a fire without any other substance added. We have a sampling and it is wonderful. It is thick and syrupy, yet elegantly flavored and not piercing like some I have bought in the stores back home. The texture is velvety and it is aromatically infused from the several kinds of wood from the barrels.

Musty wine storage-some of the fine aging wines of Verrazzano

Castello di Verrazzano makes several wines from the grapes grown on their estate. Vin Santo, the ‘Holy Wine,’ is made from the Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes, gently mashed after a long drying. Here at the estate, the strands of white grapes are hung up to dry. As they dehydrate, the sugar becomes more concentrated and perfect for the dessert wine.

Donna Clara is another white wine, made from Trebbiano, Toscano, and Gewurztraminer grapes. This aromatic, balanced and medium-bodied wine is pale yellow.

Bottiglia Particolare, Sassello and of course, Chianti Riserva are the Verrazzano Estates famous red wines made of Sangiovese blends.

Grappa di Verrazzano is produced by distillation of steam with the discontinuous method of fresh grapes of the Chianti Classico vineyards of the Castle.

Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes hanging to dry for Vin Santo wine.
Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes hanging to dry for Vin Santo wine.
Tasting of the wine in the depths of the Castle cellar
We all 'belly up to the bar' as Mateo pours wine and humours us

Afterward, we wind our way back outside of the castle and over to the big spacious tasting room which is held in a part of their restaurant.

The wine tasting afterward when we all emerge above ground.
Some of the people sitting at my table examine wine just poured as Matteo describes the varietal. Plates of bread lavishly spread with Castello di Verrazzano olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt arrived as an accompaniment. It disappeared in no time, as did the wine!
Some of the tasty Verrazzano wines!

We wound up our tour and raised a glass to each other’s most excellent health for the coming year. Castello di Verrazzano has left a memory of historical intrigue, medieval wonder, the beauty of vineyards and rolling hills with castle tops, and some delicious wine primed to perfection over the centuries. Salute!

Castello Da Verrazzano in Chianti
Castello Di Verrazzano in Chianti

*Via Castello di Verrazzano, 1, 50022 Greve in Chianti FI, Italy

Have you had the pleasure of touring a castle winery? What is your favorite memory about a winery tour? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please feel free to leave a comment below.

Tuscany’s Castle Winery Leaves a Dashing Legacy

Castello Di Verrazzano in Chianti
Castello Di Verrazzano in Chianti on a lovely mellow day

Chianti, an area of Tuscany located between Florence and Siena, is beautifully grooved with vineyards over wide rolling hills. Castles often decorate the tops with their surrounding estate of vineyards full of grapes grown plump and aromatic under the warm Tuscan sun. Castello Di Verrazzano, overlooking the town of Greve in Chianti, is one of them.

Gardens of Splendor
Gardens of Splendor
Every castle has a moat, of sorts….well, this is actually a large pool
Plump juicy Verrazzano grapes
Plump juicy Verrazzano grapes

The “vineyards situated in Verrazzano,” are mentioned in a manuscript dating back to 1170, preserved in the Abbey of Passignano. Olive groves are recorded to have been growing on the estate simultaneously.

Castello Di Verrazzano vineyards
Castello Di Verrazzano vineyards

Today, the Renaissance villa is built around the tenth century tower. Originally, the castle was an Etruscan, then a Roman settlement until the Verrazzano family acquired it in the seventh century.

Captain Verrazzano, Explorer of the New World

Giovanni da Verrazzano, born in the castle in 1485, was a Florentine navigator who explored the bay of New York and most of the East Coast of North America in the early 1500’s. Not one to keep a low profile, while seeking entrance to the Pacific Ocean near South America on his third and final voyage, he mistakenly landed on an island with cannibalistic natives. End of story….almost. New York immortalized him by naming their double-decker suspension bridge the Verrazzano-Narrows in 1964.

The Verrazzano Estate’s boundaries have not changed in over one thousand years.

Today the Cappellini family runs the estate after acquiring it in 1958. At the time it was in a neglected state and needed repairs. The villa was restored and the surrounding 220 acres of land reorganized, nourished and replanted in vines which are replaced every twelve years. A system of thorough organic fertilization as well as the practice of agronomic techniques has contributed over time to superior wines. The harvest is done exclusively by hand through a careful selection of grapes.

Vineyard stretch to the horizon
Vineyards surround the castle

Most good stories have a great ending, and this is no exception. In my next post you are invited to come along with me on a wine tour of Castello Da Verrazzano. I promise a dungeon with cells, but no dragons! Stay tuned…..coming this Wednesday!

Antinori’s Newest Tuscan Cantina Where Innovation and Sustainability Unite

Sweeping outdoor patio lined with glass into the Cantina
Sweeping outdoor patio lined with glass looking into the Cantina

Marchesi Antinori has put his foot down at last. No more reckless development of his beloved Italy. Instead, he is fanning a new wave of sustainability and preservation, one that is in perfect harmony with nature. His new Antinori Cantina, located in the heart of Chianti Classico near Florence, is solid proof of his commitment to the development of superior wine planted and nurtured in organically enriched soil and processed in a facility built entirely using sustainable methods.

“Invisibility” was the goal from the planning stages, made possible largely by the innovative work of Archea Associati architectural studio, engineered by Hydea. It took seven years of work. Today, the Cantina sits in complete harmony with its surroundings, covered entirely with vineyards.

As I drove by on the freeway which runs in front of it, I almost missed it. What I saw appeared to be two long horizontal incisions in a hillside with vines growing up and over it. The cantina is literally dug into the hillside. Whatever was removed to build the cantina was put back into place afterwards. To make it even harder to see, the construction of terracotta, wood, corten steel, and glass created a reddish-brown color matching that of the earth. It reminded me of a huge Hobbit house. The cellars were designed to impact the environment minimally while attaining a significant savings in energy.


Newly planted vineyards surrounding the Cantina
Newly planted vineyards around and over the Antinori Cantina. If you look closely, you can see new vines planted across the very top.

The new vines that have been planted on the roof of the Cantina are in fairly shallow dirt, so it is experimental at this point. Grape roots can grow very deep into the soil, but they may not need it to produce a crop of great wine. Only time will tell.

Grape varieties planted around the Cantina are Sangiovese (the predominate grape in Chianti Classico wine), Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo, Colorino, Malvasia Nera, Mammolo, and a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Cochlear -style staircase inside the Cantina
Cochlear-style staircase inside the Cantina

State-of-the-art architecture greatly impressed me. Everywhere I looked I saw a clean streamlined earthiness. No frill, fluff or fancy, yet beautifully laid out.

After driving up a long winding driveway to the guard station, I was instructed to park inside the underground garage. Taking an elevator upward, I stepped off onto the reception floor. Outside huge glass doors is a large patio with a corkscrew stairway leading up to the roof. From there you can walk over green lawn and see the young vineyards planted all around. Simply unbelievable. I had never seen anything like it.

The fermentation cellars
The fermentation cellars

There is no need for mechanical pumping to move the grapes and must through fermentation. The building was designed to allow them to be moved by gravity flow. As a result of this naturally delicate process, the wine tastes much more balanced and elegant.

Antinori has achieved the ability to maintain ideal temperatures for aging the wine in barrels by means of completely natural processes, like using local terracotta to enclose the cellars. No refrigeration plants here.

Vinsanto production zone
Vinsanto production zone

Vinsanto, a wine that the Antinoris have always produced, is a very old wine that has held a highly prestigious position since the Middle Ages. Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia del Chianti bunches are picked and laid out on reed mats to slowly dry. During this time, the grapes dehydrate (like raisins). This creates a higher sugar content resulting in a sweeter wine. It takes three kilograms of grapes to obtain one kilogram of dried grapes. They are then pressed into must and put into small oak barrels to ferment slowly. To achieve the best flavor and fragrance, the Vinsanto ages for at least three years.

My tour guide explains Olive oil as she leans on a container of some
My tour guide explains olive oil as she leans on a terracotta container 

Olive oil is another product that is made here at the Cantina. This area where olive oil is produced is called the orciaia. Traditionally, terracotta is used to store olive oil. If you look behind the pots, you can see stainless steel containers which today is preferred over the terracotta. Both are still used. The Antinori’s Peppoli Estate, from which three different olive varieties are harvested, provide the olives for some of the stored olive oil here.

The Antinori tasting room just out over barrels of wine
The Antinori tasting room suspends itself over barrels of wine

At the end of the tour we were all taken into the tasting room to experience some Antinori wines. The taste and quality were all there. Delicacy, superb care and crispness is what I recall. We were quietly absorbed as we first sniffed, than tasted our wine.

Our tour guide introduces Antinori wines
Our tour guide introduces Antinori wines in the tasting room
We all crowd in to sample the superb wines
We all step up to sample the superb wines
The Rinuccio 1180 Restaurant
The Rinuccio 1180 Restaurant

The restaurant, named after the founder of the 26 generation dynasty, Rinuccio degli Antinori, is on the rooftop of the cellars. Glass panels run along the entire length of it, giving an astounding panoramic view of the Chianti countryside.

The Antinori Cantina also includes a museum, showcasing the 26 generations of family history which began in 1385 Florence, as well as an auditorium and shop.

The Antinori family tree
The Antinori Family Tree, by Florentine anonymous author (16th – 17th century)

Twenty-six generations of wine production has created an outstanding family of vintners. But, I discovered that the Antinori estates are more than that. They have created an idea, a goal to give back to the environment as well as bring people together to savor the earths bounty of wine responsibly and lovingly produced. It is an act of goodwill through an innovative process that challenges others to be better stewards of the land.