By Howard Hewitt
FLORENCE, Italy — One of the great joys of wine is great wine experiences. I just returned from 10 work-related days in Italy but had a full day in Tuscan wine country and a couple of great wine experiences.
The highlight was visiting two wineries in Tuscany. Tour companies wanted up to 200 euros (or $300) for a day-long wine tour, so I kept looking. I found a U.S. transplant, Anthony Finta, who has lived in Florence for five years. He is trying to start a business bringing small production wines to the U.S. for Internet sales.
He arranged visits at two small wineries deep in the Tuscan hills. So while the column is about my visit, it’s also to suggest getting off the beaten path and finding stops many will miss.
Neither winery has a current U.S. distributor, but there are hundreds of small wineries in Italy, and other Old World countries, facing the same challenge. Our first visit was to Corzano e Paterno near San Pancrazio, about 30 minutes south of Florence.
The winery was purchased in the 1970s by a successful Swiss architect, Wendel Gelpke. His daughters Arianna, the wine maker, and Sibilla, who heads the cheese making, gave us a wonderful tour.
The estate included the ruins of three old homes the family has renovated as guest houses. They produce a Rosso (table wine), Chianti, Chianti Reserva, and a Tuscan. All Italian restaurants serve table wine but most during our trip was, frankly, terrible. The Corzano Rosso was better than many Chianti wines I tasted — and it sold for just 6 euros.
The Corzano Tuscan wine was a big, beautiful blend of Cabernet, Merlot and the traditional Italian grape, Sangiovese. The Tuscan was 23 euros, aged in new oak, with 14.5 percent alcohol. It was a dynamic bottle of wine. The Chianti Riserva was equally outstanding.
Sibilla was a gracious host in the new cheese-making facility. The farm has 600-700 sheep at any given time. The sheep cheeses were smooth and not quite as earthy as a traditional goat cheese.
Our second stop was at Fattoria di Rignana, located in an old farmhouse that dates back to the 11th century. The assistant manager was running late but still gave us a tour of the fascinating wine cellar. We tasted their wines in the kitchen of the main house.
Rignana’s Chianti and Chianti Classico were the best Chianti wines of my visit. They were well-structured wines with big cherry flavor and balanced tannins. Rignana makes less than 4,000 cases of wine a year. The two wines sold for $15 and $20 U.S.
The great thing about both of the wineries was they make wine in a very traditional method. They use no additives, they age their wines in oak and much of the work is done by hand.
So the point is whether it’s Italy or Napa Valley, the best treasures and experiences are off the beaten path. As my new friend Anthony put it, you want something that just tastes the same or something that is handcrafted and a little different?
If it’s Napa, visit Mondavi and all the big wineries but stop at some of the smaller wineries for a real treat. If you’re in Italy, there is nothing wrong with finding Antinori and Frescobaldi, but the little places are making great wines and need your business!
You can do the same thing when you buy wine in the shop near you. Ask the proprietor for wines from producers who make small amounts. You might be surprised by the quality and the value.
Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, is a wine enthusiast who writes about wine. Read his wine blog at: www.redforme.blogspot.com.