I had no idea what to expect from a wine tasting tour in Tuscany. I visit a lot of wineries here in Oregon, but have not ventured out too much in other regions, and never internationally. Wine travel is at the top of my bucket list, and embarking on a wine tour through Tuscany has always been a dream of mine.
Our first winery tour at Castello di Albola blew me away. From the moment we entered the courtyard entrance to the tasting room, I felt like I was home. Like seriously… could you imagine enjoying your morning coffee or an evening glass of wine here? Perfection. And that feeling stayed with me throughout our entire visit.
I knew next to nothing about Italian varietals, so I was thrilled to learn that we weren’t just going to be doing a tasting in the tasting room. Our host guided us all around the property, teaching us about the rich history of Castello di Albola and the wines they make, focusing mostly on Chianti Classico. So. Much. Knowledge.
What do all those things on an Italian wine label mean?
I didn’t realize that making a wine like Chianti Classico involved far more than simply being in the Chianti region and making wine from Sangiovese grapes. It is a rigorous process. A label like Chianti Classico is subject to scrupulous rules and regulations, and there are many different denominations that a wine can earn based on factors like where the fruit is grown, the percentage of certain grapes that are used, how the wine is made, and how long it has been aged in oak and in the bottle. Chianti Classico must be at least 80% Sangiovese, and can include up to 20% of other red grapes such as Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Castello di Albola’s Chianti Classico is 100% Sangiovese, and we found that many wineries stick to 100% Sangiovese as well.
You’ll typically find an acronym indicating the denomination on an Italian bottle of wine: DOCG, DOC, or IGT. In order to achieve a particular denomination, each vintage is subject to an extensive technical analysis and tasting. DOCG, Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (or Domination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin, for those of you that don’t speak Italian), is the highest denomination and means that production of that wine has followed the strictest regulations and has passed rigorous testing. Regulations for DOC, Denominazione di Origine Controllata (Denomination of Controlled Origin) are slightly more relaxed. Finally, IGT, Indicazione Geografica Tipica (Typical Geographical Indication), is the most relaxed denomination – still amazing wine, it just didn’t have to jump through quite so many hoops.
To make things more complicated, you’ll find different names depending on how long the Chianti has been aged. Chianti Classico means that it has been aged for at least one year; Riserva, aged for at least two years; or Gran Selezione, aged for at least two and a half years. Typically, these wines will spend different amounts of time in oak (usually Slovenian oak) and then in the bottle. For example, Castello di Albola’s 2016 Chianti Classico Riserva spent 14 months in oak and then another 18 months in the bottle before we tasted it.
The Cellars! And the Wine!
Now back to our lovely experience… After a brief walking tour of the vineyard and the property, we explored the cellars. I’m not one for dark, underground dwellings… but I could have stayed in these cellars FOR. EV. ER. The massive rooms made of brick and stone housed everything from bottles going back to the early 1950s (maybe even earlier!) to giant Slovenian oak barrels holding 36 hectoliters of wine (that’s about 951 gallons or 4,683 bottles of wine). This is where the magic happens, and I surely felt it.
Once back in the tasting room, we enjoyed a seated tasting of five of Castello di Albola’s wines:
- 2018 Poggio alle Fate Toscana Chardonnay IGT
- 2016 Chianti Classico DOCG
- 2016 Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG
- 2016 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG
- 2007 Vin Santo del Chianti Classico DOC
We tasted the three Chianti Classicos side-by-side. It was fun to taste how the different aging processes can result in a completely different wine even though they are all 100% Sangiovese of the same vintage.
Although it’s not Pinot Noir, I very much enjoyed learning about a new varietal. Wine can teach us so much! It was an unforgettable experience and I can’t wait to relive it once my wine shipment arrives!
Have you done any wine travel? What region was your favorite, or where do you hope to go in the future?