Category Archives: tuscany

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What is Chianti Classico wine?

Bottles of Chianti and Brunello wine at a Montalcino Enoteca (wine bar)
Bottles of Chianti and Brunello wine at a Montalcino Enoteca (wine bar)

A trip to Tuscany inevitably means a glass of red Chianti Classico for most visitors. But what makes a Chianti wine special?

Chianti Classico must come from grapes grown in a strictly defined area of the Chianti hills between Florence and Siena, centered around Castellina, Gaiole, Radda and Greve (see map below). There are also rules on the grape content that have changed over the years. Since the 1990s, Chianti Classico has to contain at least 75% Sangiovese grapes, a maximum of 10% Canaiolo, at most 6% white wine grapes and up to 15% Cabernet, Merlot or Syrah.

The definition of Chianti is controlled by the DOCG, the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita. In the past 30 years or so, Chianti’s reputation has gone from fairly low grade red to a region producing some world-class wines. In the 1970s-90s, it was common to see low-grade Chianti in its traditional straw bottle jacket or fiasco. In 1971, the Antinori family broke with tradition in releasing a “Chianti-style” blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet called Tignanello. Because it didn’t fit the DOCG definition of Chianti at the time (which didn’t allow Cabernet and required at least 10% white wine grapes), it wasn’t officially Chianti Classico. Very quickly, however, the wine began to win awards and acclaim, prices rose and other producers followed. Thus the “Super Tuscan” wines were born. The success of Super Tuscans led the DOCG to change the rules of grape composition in the 1990s, allowing many Super Tuscans to be reclassified as true Chianti Classico.

Chianti Classico is what the French would call an “Appellation” — in other words, the grapes must be grown within a strict geographical boundary. Contrast this with a Napa wine, for example, which is more of a brand: the wine might be made within the boundaries of Napa, but the grapes could have been trucked in from the central Californian coast.

The original boundaries were laid down in 1716 by Cosimo III di Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and covered the Tuscan villages of Castellina, Gaiole and Radda. In 1932, Chianti was vastly expanded to cover seven different regions, of which Chianti Classico, the original, was just one. Today, the area of Chianti Classico is roughly 100 square miles.

Chianti wine regions
Chianti wine regions
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Set up your AT&T iPhone for Europe and save money

[Updated May 2013 with new AT&T screen shots and prices]

Travelling with your AT&T iPhone to Europe? Here’s how you can make sure it works when you get there and avoid a giant bill when you get back. Who doesn’t like to save money?

If you haven’t done so already, register with AT&T’s web site so that you can make changes to your phone plan options online. Log in with your wireless number and password, so that you get to the home screen for your wireless service. Look in the top-left quadrant of the page for a menu called “I want to…”, which will look like this:

Click on "I want to..." to get this menu
Click on “I want to…” to get this menu

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What is Chianti Classico wine?

Bottles of Chianti and Brunello wine at a Montalcino Enoteca (wine bar)
Bottles of Chianti and Brunello wine at a Montalcino Enoteca (wine bar)

A trip to Tuscany inevitably means a glass of red Chianti Classico for most visitors. But what makes a Chianti wine special?

Chianti Classico must come from grapes grown in a strictly defined area of the Chianti hills between Florence and Siena, centered around Castellina, Gaiole, Radda and Greve (see map below). There are also rules on the grape content that have changed over the years. Since the 1990s, Chianti Classico has to contain at least 75% Sangiovese grapes, a maximum of 10% Canaiolo, at most 6% white wine grapes and up to 15% Cabernet, Merlot or Syrah.

The definition of Chianti is controlled by the DOCG, the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita. In the past 30 years or so, Chianti’s reputation has gone from fairly low grade red to a region producing some world-class wines. In the 1970s-90s, it was common to see low-grade Chianti in its traditional straw bottle jacket or fiasco. In 1971, the Antinori family broke with tradition in releasing a “Chianti-style” blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet called Tignanello. Because it didn’t fit the DOCG definition of Chianti at the time (which didn’t allow Cabernet and required at least 10% white wine grapes), it wasn’t officially Chianti Classico. Very quickly, however, the wine began to win awards and acclaim, prices rose and other producers followed. Thus the “Super Tuscan” wines were born. The success of Super Tuscans led the DOCG to change the rules of grape composition in the 1990s, allowing many Super Tuscans to be reclassified as true Chianti Classico.

Chianti Classico is what the French would call an “Appellation” — in other words, the grapes must be grown within a strict geographical boundary. Contrast this with a Napa wine, for example, which is more of a brand: the wine might be made within the boundaries of Napa, but the grapes could have been trucked in from the central Californian coast.

The original boundaries were laid down in 1716 by Cosimo III di Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and covered the Tuscan villages of Castellina, Gaiole and Radda. In 1932, Chianti was vastly expanded to cover seven different regions, of which Chianti Classico, the original, was just one. Today, the area of Chianti Classico is roughly 100 square miles.

Chianti wine regions
Chianti wine regions
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Siena Palio horse selection video

We recently got back from a photo trip to Tuscany, where we got to see the July Siena Palio. This short (1 min 30 sec) video gives you a glimpse of the intense emotions of the Sienese around their favorite cultural festival. The video shows the drawing of the horses, where each one is randomly assigned to a contrade, who them parade the horse through the town on the way to their secret stable location (to make sure their rivals can’t nobble the horse!)

 

Sienese Flag Throwing: Story Behind The Picture

Eagle (Aquilla) Contrade flag throwers and shadows
Eagle (Aquilla) contrade members and their shadows, Siena, Tuscany

You might be forgiven for wondering what is going on in this photograph. It is a vertical view down onto the heads of a bunch of grown men in medieval yellow silk outfits waving large flags. You can only tell they’re men and flags by the shadows, which is part of the appeal in this photograph. But what on earth is going on? Continue reading

Story behind the picture: Tuscan Plain from Volterra

This photo recently featured as the travel section lead in Links Best Of Golf magazine, and was taken from a ruined monastery on the edge of Volterra, Tuscany. The town itself is at the top of a rocky outcrop west of San Gimignano, and the north-western side has been eroding for hundreds of years. Many buildings are already at the base of the cliffs, and this Pisan-style monastery was abandoned years ago. It was late in the day, and as the sun set from the West it lit up the rolling Tuscan plain, framed by the old stone window.

View west across the Tuscan plain from a ruined monastery at the edge of the cliffs ("balze") in Volterra, Italy.
View west across the Tuscan plain from a ruined monastery at the edge of the cliffs ("balze") in Volterra, Italy.

What is Super Tuscan wine?

For many, Tuscan wine means Chianti — but Super Tuscan wines have been growing strongly in popularity, and increasingly appear on US wine lists. So what is a Super Tuscan, anyway?

Merlot grapes at Vignamaggio
Merlot grapes at Vignamaggio

Super Tuscans started out as high quality wines from Tuscany that didn’t fit into the strict definition of Chianti wine according to the Italian authorities. The first Super Tuscan was Tignanello from Antinori, produced in 1971. It was a “Chianti-style” blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet, but it didn’t fit the DOCG definition of Chianti at the time (which didn’t allow Cabernet and required at least 10% white wine grapes). Antinori wanted to maximize the potential of the grapes and wine-making in Tuscany without being constrained to a specific formula. He also broke with tradition in aging the wine in French barriques (oak barrels from Bordeaux) rather than the traditional Slovenian oak or Chestnut used for Chianti. The wine began to win awards and acclaim, prices rose and other producers followed, and so “Super Tuscan” wines as a category were born.

The success of Super Tuscans led the Italian authorities to change the rules of grape composition in the 1990s, allowing many Super Tuscans to be classified as true Chianti Classico. Today, Super Tuscans that still don’t fit the Chianti rules are classified as IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica), “typical of the geography”.

Prices for Super Tuscans range from the very reasonably to the stratospheric. Some of the best known include Tignananello (still a major force), Sassacaia from Tenuta San Guido, Solaia from Antinori and Ornellaia from Tenuta della Ornellaia.

Villa Vignamaggio and the Mona Lisa controversy

Villa Vignamaggio is a charming restored renaissance villa just outside the town of Greve in Chianti. It’s a beautiful location, is exceptionally photogenic and they make great wine… what more could you ask for? How about also being the birthplace of perhaps the most famous portrait sitter ever: Mona Lisa / Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo in Florence.  Yes indeed, the owners of Vignamaggio crown the exceptional qualities of their property with the claim that their villa is the birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa — an assertion that I have repeated on this website. The history of that part of the world and the background information provided by Vignamaggio on its chain of ownership appears to back up the assertion. However, there’s just one problem: it is, with little doubt, a lie.

Farmhouse at Villa Vignamaggio, Greve in Chianti, Italy
Farmhouse at Vignamaggio, Greve in Chianti

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