A wine old time

The Ital­ian grape-grow­ing re­gion of Chi­anti cel­e­brates its 300th an­niver­sary

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION EUROPE - ADRIAN PHILLIPS

I trudge on to the ter­race look­ing like a sweaty beet­root in shorts. “Some bread and olive oil to help you re­cover,” says Gianni Muc­cia­relli with a smile. With his bronzed skin and dap­per red loafers, the Diev­ole Win­ery man­ager has the look of a man who doesn’t fall off bi­cy­cles.

“A pleas­ant ride?” he asks, as I slump in a chair and dab at my grazes. Ini­tially it had in­deed been a pleas­ant ride. But­ter­flies flit­ted, birds trilled, and all around were rolling vine­yards and the smell of baked earth. But when my bike bucked at a loose stone I was left with blood­ied knees, a punc­tured tyre and an 8km walk back to the es­tate.

I’m in Chi­anti on a pretty sig­nif­i­cant an­niver­sary. It was 300 years ago that the Grand Duke of Tus­cany, Cosimo III, of­fi­cially clas­si­fied the bound­aries of this wine re­gion be­tween Florence and Siena. Yet I wanted to see what there is for vis­i­tors be­yond the usual wine-tast­ing ex­pe­ri­ences. Hence my first stop at the ham­let of Vagliagli, and this new 25km Nat­u­ral Path around Diev­ole’s vine-clad slopes.

Strictly speak­ing it isn’t that new. The path was used by share­crop­pers for nearly 1000 years, and monks cul­ti­vated grapes here as early as 1090. How­ever, now there are sign­posts and maps to fol­low and, though it is a pri­vate es­tate, any­one is wel­come to ride the trail.

All this was the idea of Leonardo Petri, a worker born on the es­tate, who knows the land like the back of his sun­leathered hand. The project is part of a broader fo­cus on agri­tourism at Diev­ole that in­cludes ac­com­mo­da­tion built with lo­cal stone, a res­tau­rant serv­ing lo­cal food and a small farm. “Vis­i­tors are com­ing for the trail, then stay­ing for the wine,” says Gianni, un­cork­ing a bot­tle. It’s a Chi­anti Clas­sico — san­giovese grapes aged for 14 months in French oak fol­lowed by at least six months in the bot­tle. Wine proves in­escapable in Chi­anti. On ar­rival at my villa I am im­me­di­ately handed a bot­tle by Alessio, who man­ages the prop­erty and the small wine es­tate wrapped around it. When I buy a paint­ing from a shop in nearby Castel­lina in Chi­anti, the owner in­sists on seal­ing the deal with a com­pli­men­tary wine-tast­ing.

In the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal museum housed in Castel­lina’s medieval cas­tle, the star at­trac­tions are relics from Etr­uscan tombs built nearly 3000 years ago. Among the pre­cious things placed with the dead for their fi­nal jour­ney, such as a gold ear­ring and a bronze belt, are items show­ing the im­por­tance of wine in the lives of well-to-do Etr­uscans. “Wine was a sign of sta­tus, and drunk at rit­u­als and cer­e­monies,” my guide Francesca tells me as we ad­mire an am­phora dec­o­rated with a scene of rev­ellers at a feast. Typ­i­cally the wine was mixed with honey and spices but there was also a ver­sion fea­tur­ing grated cheese.

If there’s a man who would ap­prove of Etr­uscan ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with un­usual flavours it’s the owner of the re­gion’s best ice-cream shop. Si­mone is wait­ing for me at the door of Ge­la­te­ria Castel­lina, dressed in a bur­gundy apron and white peaked hat. Lit­tle does he know that on his nar­row shoul­ders rest my hopes of sal­vaging some­thing wine-free from my Chi­anti trip.

Si­mone has been mak­ing ice-cream for 20 years. He spends his morn­ings in the glass-walled kitchen at the back of the shop, mov­ing be­tween ma­chines that pas­teurise and churn and blast-freeze, while cu­ri­ous cus­tomers watch him con­coct the day’s ices. And what ices they are. Thick ice creams of chilli and choco­late, ri­cotta and fig; and sor­bets of le­mon and sage, lime and basil.

Si­mone says he even made an an­chovy and spring onion sor­bet — just the once.

His favourite cre­ation? “Ah,” he says dream­ily, “that would be can­tucci [al­mond bis­cuits] and vin santo ... with sweet Tus­can wine!”

And with that I give an in­ward shrug. In Chi­anti ev­ery­thing’s about wine, even when it’s not — and on the re­gion’s 300th birth­day, I’ll raise a spoon to that.

THE EVEN­ING STAN­DARD • vis­i­ti­taly.com.au

Chi­anti vine­yards in au­tumn, top; Castel­lina, above left; Ge­la­te­ria Castel­lina, above right

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