Archive for the Siena Category

Wine In Tuscany Part VII, Central Tuscany: Wines Other Than Chianti, Brunello & Montepulciano

Carmignano, Pomino, Colline Aretine, Colline Senesi, San Gimignano, Siena, Val d’Arbia and Val d’Orcia

Colline Fiorentine and Colline Pratesi (hills around Florence and Prato). 

Carmignano is in the hills to the west of Florence, there are 200 hectares of vineyard here. The area has traditionally grown the uva francese, (better known as cabernet sauvignon) and blended it with sangiovese, long before this blend became fashionable all over central Italy. In 1975 the area was awarded its own DOCG which stipulates that the wine should be at least 50% sangiovese, a maximum of 20% canaiolo, between 10 and 20% cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc and other varieties up to 10%. Because these rules are flexible Carmignano DOCG wines can vary greatly in style: alcoholic and structured if the maximum amount of cabernet (20%) and other international grapes (10%) are used; softer and full of minerals if the maximum 80% sangiovese is used. You may also come across another wine from Carmignano called Barco Reale Rosso DOC, it has the same blending rules but shorter ageing in oak.

Pomino is to the north east of Florence and overlaps with the Chianti Rufina zone. Like Carmignano, it is an area where French grapes have been traditionally grown. Pomino is available as both white and red wines. Pomino Bianco DOC can be made from 100% chardonnay or blended with pinot bianco and pinot grigio. Pomino Rosso is made with sangiovese, pinot nero and merlot.

Colline Aretine (hills around Arezzo) there are three distinct areas to this wine growing area, Valdarno Aretino, Valdichiana and Cortona. As well as producing Chianti Colli Aretini DOCG, a wide range of wines are made in the Valdarno and highly regarded Syrah is produced around Cortona.

The Valdichiana (the wide flat valley floor below Cortona) was once known only for Bianco Vergine della Valdichiana DOC (current rules stipulate that it should be made with at least 20% trebbiano and up to 80% chardonnay, in addition pinot grigio, pinot bianco and grechetto are also permitted). Today there are several DOCs from the area that include whites made with chardonnay and grechetto and reds made from sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah. There are also DOCs for sparkling wines, rosé and Vin Santo.

Colline Senesi (Sienese Hills). This area includes San Gimignano, Val d’Arbia, Montalcino, Montepulciano and the Val d’Orcia.

San Gimignano The white wine, Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG, is made with the vernaccia grape (vernaccia has the same latin root as the English “vernacular” and therefore implies that the grape is specific to the area, just to add to the confusion, I have come across another (red) grape with the same name in Umbria). There are 800 hectares of vineyard around San Gimignano producing Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG wine. The wine is soft and has a decisive minerality with notes of dried fruit, flint and hydrocarbons. Look out for the Riserva, which has had a year ageing in oak.

Siena look out for Terre di Casole and Grance Senesi, both wines with a sangiovese base.

Val d’Arbia produces vin santo and some dry white wines.

Val d’Orcia is between Montalcino and Montepulciano, it includes the towns of Pienza and San Quirico Val d’Orcia. The wines vary in type thanks to soils that range from clay in the north to more sandy and rocky, becoming volcanic further south, the reds are sangiovese based.


Monte Amiata & The Val d'Orcia

Other Wines From Central Tuscany

Wine In Tuscany Part IV, Central Tuscany: Chianti

The Chianti Wine Region In Central Tuscany

The term Chianti has been around since 1398 but the original wine produced in the Chianti area was white. By 1716 the area now known as Chianti Classico was officially established. In 1870 Barone Riccasoli wrote a recipe for Chianti which listed sangiovese as the principle grape blended with 15% canaiolo and 15% malvasia bianca. There are still producers who will make Chianti with a percentage of malvasia bianca or trebbiano but this is not permitted in Chianti Classico.

Today the area producing Chianti has increased and there are now eight officially recognised Chianti growing areas, including the original area, Chianti Classico. The Chianti region now stretches between Montalcino in the south and Pistoia in the north, and from Arezzo in the east and San Gimignano in the west. The Chianti Classico region is more or less directly between Florence and Siena. Total production of Chianti is 70,000,000 litres of which 25,000,000 litres are Chianti Classico DOCG, recognisable by the black cockerel on the label around the neck.

Because there are so many Chianti zones and rules it is quite easy for the consumer to become confused. The latest rules state that a Chianti Classico (from the original Chianti zone) should be at least 80% sangiovese with no white grapes added, the other permitted grapes are local red varieties such as canaiolo, colorino and malvasia nera or the international varieties cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Chianti from outside the Classico region should be should be at least 70% sangiovese with the remaining made up with local varieties or cabernet sauvignon and merlot. A small amount of white grapes (trebbiano and malvasia) are permitted. Additional varieties are not obligatory, a Chianti can be 100% sangiovese if the winemaker wishes.

To the best of my understanding the following correct: If a Chianti is attributed to one of the sub-zones (Chianti Classico, Rufina etc.) it will be labelled as a DOCG. There are, however, many Chiantis produced within the Chianti region that are outside one of the DOCG sub-zones (or made with grapes that derive partially from a sub-zone) and these are labelled as DOC wines. This is because the region is actually larger than the eight DOCG zones. I’ve trained as an Italian sommelier and I still feel a bit uncertain about this, so, if you are an ordinary consumer, don’t be surprised if you are feeling confused! 

Chianti Classico as mentioned above there are rules that distinguish Chianti Classico from other Chiantis. Not only does it come from the original Chianti area but the minimum amount of sangiovese is higher (80%). There are three distinct styles of Chianti Classico, traditional, innovative and international.

Traditionalists use the local Varieties Of Grape (sangiovese, colorino, ciliegolo, malvasia nera) and age the wine in large barrels called botte. Innovators use traditional grapes but age the wine in small barrels (barriques) which give the wine a pronounced oak. Internationalists use international varieties of grape in the blend and also age in barriques.

There are 6800 hectares of vineyard in Chianti Classico. Greve, San Casciano, Radda, Gaiole and Castelnuovo Berardenga are the main towns and slight variations in the soil type produce different wines from each each area. In general, the wines produced here are elegant and can withstand a long ageing thanks to their tannins and acidity.

Colli Senesi to the south of Chianti Classico, the Colli Senese actually comprises three separate areas. The northern area includes San Gimignano, Colle Val d’Elsa, Monteriggioni and Siena, some of this area overlaps with the DOCG for Vernaccia di San Gimignano. The south east includes Murlo and Sovicille and the south east Sinalunga, Pienza and Chiusi, the latter overlaps with the Brunello di Montalcino and Montepulciano DOCG zones. There are 1400 hectares of vineyard in the Colli Senese and generally, wines with a good structure and typical cherry aromas are produced here

Rùfina 800 hectares located at the north east of the Chianti zone, the area overlaps with that of Pomino wine. Historically, wines from Rufina supplied the city of Florence as they could be loaded onto boats and taken down the river. The wines, when young, are fruity and tannic but a Riserva can age for twenty years.

Colli Fiorentini The hills surrounding Florence comprise 620 hectares of vineyard. The wines are fruity with moderate structure, often undergoing a short period in oak.

Montesperstoli became part of the Chianti region in 1996, a small area next to Colli Fiorentini, there are 1400 hectares of vineyard producing wines with a lively acidity.

Colli Aretini The hills around the town of Arezzo have 140 hectares of vineyard producing wines of medium structure.

Colli Pisane the westernmost Chianti region has a milder climate influenced by  the Mediterranean Sea. The wine here is softer with distinct notes of cherry.

Montalbano at the north west of the region makes less structured wines for drinking at a younger age.

Siena, The Torre del Mangia

When you visit Siena you cannot fail to notice the Torre del Mangia, a tall medieval tower that forms part of the Palazzo Civico, Siena’s medieval town hall. The Palazzo Civico (and the Torre del Mangia) dominate the Campo, the central piazza. The last time I climbed the tower I was with friends with young boys and climbing the tower was the highlight of their visit

The Torre del Mangia in Siena, Tuscany

The Torre del Mangia in Siena, Tuscany

Only a few people are allowed up the tower at any one time to climb around 400 steps (I lost count) to the top.

The Torre del Mangia seen from the courtyard inside the Palazzo Civico, Siena, Tuscany

The Torre del Mangia seen from the courtyard inside the Palazzo Civico

When the tourist season is in full flow you can wait for a long time before you get the chance to climb. I haven’t been up since the autumn of 2009 when these pictures were taken, if the queue isn’t too long  it’s a great thing to do with children and a very memorable way to spend half an hour – this was late October and not many people were around.

The Duomo viewed from the Torre del Mangia, Siena, Tuscany

The Duomo viewed from the Torre del Mangia, Siena, Tuscany

If there is a long queue here visit the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo and climb to the top of the unfinished facade of the Duomo extension for another spectacular aerial view of the city, albeit not quite as high up.

The Campo in Siena viewed from the top of the Torre del Mangia

The Campo in Siena viewed from the top of the Torre del Mangia

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Torre del Mangia Siena

The Torre del Mangia towers over the Campo, the main piazza in the city of Siena in Tuscany. A symbol of Siena’s civic pride, this enormous tower is attached to the Palazzo Pubblico, the medieval town hall.

A view of the Torre del Mangia, a tower in the main piazza, the Campo, of Siena, Tuscany

The Torre del Mangia, Siena, Tuscany

You can climb over four hundred steps to get to the top of the tower and enjoy the incredible views across Siena. Be warned though, a one way system operates and you can end up waiting a long time. If the queues are long you can always go to Siena’s Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo where there are more magnificent views from the unfinished extension to the Duomo without the queues.

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A Rainy Day Out In Siena, Tuscany

Yesterday we went with my niece Jessica for a day trip to the beautiful city of Siena in Tuscany. It was raining heavily when we arrived but we bought umbrellas and didn’t let the weather put us off our sightseeing trip. I parked at the San Francesco car park, from where a series of escalators bring you up right next to the church of San Francesco. From here it is a quick walk right into the centre of town.

The Top Of The Facade Of Siena's Duomo

Our time was limited and I had a few things that I planned to pack in to our day out. For a first time visitor I thought that a visit to the Duomo and the Museo Civico were the most important things to see, along with a stroll around the Campo, Siena’s scallop-shell shaped central piazza. A joint ticket costing €12 gives you access to the Duomo, the attached Piccolomini library with Pinturicchio’s frescoes depicting the life of Pope Pius II, the Baptistry, the crypt below the Duomo and the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (which has most of the panels from Duccio’s altarpiece originally in the Duomo and great views from the top of the unfinished Cathedral extension).

Central Panel Of Duccio's Altarpiece In Siena

The Central Panel Of Duccio’s Altarpiece In Siena

We started with the museum and, having admired the panels of Duccio’s medieval masterpiece, made our way up the slightly claustrophobic spiral staircase to the top of the wall that would have been the front of the enormous Duomo extension (had the Black Death not killed the majority of the population of Siena in 1348). This is a great vantage point, and, although not as high as the Torre del Mangia that towers above the Campo, it offers a bird’s eye view of the city without having to queue.

Siena's Duomo viewed from the unfinished medieval extension

Siena’s Duomo viewed from the unfinished medieval extension

From here we headed into into the Duomo with its impressive green and white striped marble columns and spacious interior. You can look down as well as up here, the floors have intricate designs in inlaid marble.

The interior of Siens's Duomo

The interior of Sienas’s Duomo

A doorway on the left of the Duomo leads into the the Piccolomini Library, frescoed by Umbrian painter Pinturicchio who was possibly helped by Raphael. The frescoes show scenes from the life of a great Renaissance pope (and local boy made good), Pius II.

The ceiling of the Piccolomini Library

The ceiling of the Piccolomini Library

Once we had finished in the Duomo, we used our tickets to visit the Baptistry and the Crypt, then we walked back to the Campo and bought tickets for the Museo Civico, situated in the Palazzo Publicco (€8 full price, €5.50 reduction). There were four paintings that I wanted to show my niece here, Simone Martini’s Maestà, his equine portrait of Guidoriccio da Fogliano and Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s frescoes of Good and Bad Government.

The effects of good government depicted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in Siena

The effects of good government depicted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti

Although the Maestà is a common theme in medieval art, Simone Martini’s version had a new feature; he painted a canopy over the throne to give the painting more depth. Whether the portrait of Guidoriccio da Fogliano is actually by Simone Martini is the subject of fierce debate in the art world, however, whoever it is by, it is a beautiful painting.

Simone's Maestà in the Museo Civico, Siena

Simone’s Maestà in the Museo Civico, Siena

In the next room Ambrogio Lorenzetti painted his Allegory of Good and Bad Government to remind Siena’s ruling council of the effects that their decisions could have. A few years later the city was thrown into chaos as the Black Death swept through Siena’s narrow streets, killing Ambrogio Lorenzetti and his brother Pietro along with over half the population. The scenes from the Bad Government fresco must have seemed all too real to the survivors.

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