The sunny Tuscan countrywide, picturesque villages, fields of grape vines, peaceful olive groves, and the warmth of Italian hospitality. This is what my son and I were fortunate enough to experience on our day trip to visit Maurizio at his farm in Montefioralle. And I have yet to mention the real purpose of our trip, to taste the region's famous wine, Chianti Classico.
It was an easy trip. We caught a bus from the Donatello station next to SMN train station, and in under an hour we were in Greve-in-Chianti. If I recall correctly, bus tickets were only 3 euros each way, and buses ran about every 30 min to 1 hour. Greve has a charming piazza in the center of town, where Maurizio met us. He was just as warm in person, as he was in his emails, and gave both my son and I bear hugs as he asked about our trip. Despite the language barrier, we had no difficulty in communicating. As we traveled out of town, and up the hill to Montefioralle Maurizio pointed out all of the historic sights, and would stop for us to take pictures of the panoramic vistas below. He seemed to know everyone that we passed. For you history buffs, Montefioralle (population 79) is the birthplace of Amerigo Vespucci, and Maurizio showed us his home.
We first got a tour of the farm, and were educated about the grape vines. We saw some vines which were over 15 years old, and others which had recently been planted. Here are some of the key takeaways:
* the grape vines must be at least 5 years old before grapes can be harvested and used to produce 'Chianti Classico.'
* the roots of all grape vines in the area are from the US, and then Italian grape varieties are grafted onto these roots. This is due to a virus in the soil which came from America, and destroys the roots of all but American grape plants. Who would have known that Italian wine had American roots!
* to be classified as Chianti Classico, the grape vines can only receive water through rainfall. Irrigation is not allowed. That is a fact that I bet you didn't know!
* all of Maurizio's wines are organic
Then we moved onto the olive trees. Some of the trees on his farm are over 150 years old. Harvesting is done by hand in October, and each day is transported to a local facility to be pressed into olive oil. Here are the takeaways from our education on olive oil (you will notice that there are fewer of them, as by now we were eager to move on to the wine tasting!):
* olive oil is made up of 2 types of olives. Morayolo, which are black in color, make up 60%, and frantoyo, which are brown or green, make up the remaining 40%.
* hand picking, while more labor intensive is the best way to harvest olives. The other 2 methods, combing the trees, or shaking them down both do damage to the tree and to the olives.
* the shorter the time between harvesting and pressing, the better the resulting olive oil. Maurizio ensures that this time is kept to a minimum.
And now onto the wine tasting, where Maurizio educated us on how the different varieties of wine are produced (with great care, and love - in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Maurizio gives each of his barrels of wine a hug each morning!)
Here are the takeaways (keep in mind, that these were written in between generous pours of 4 different varieties of wine, while enjoying delicious varieties of cheese, bread soaked in olive oil, truffle oil, and an unbelievable balsamic vinegar that is handmade with the skins of the grapes. A most gracious host, who kept refilling our plates and our glasses!
How Chianti Classico is made:
* 1st fermentation (12 to 15 days), the temperature must be maintained at lower than 32 C. Maurizio called this a 'frenetic' process, where the sugar is converted into alcohol. This fermentation begins 1 hour after picking! (In between the 1st and 2nd fermentations, the skins are removed). The wines color, acidity, taste, smell is all determined in the first 15 days after picking.
* 2nd fermentation (lasts 2 to 3 months). It is also called the 'Malolatica' fermentation, where the strong "malico" acid is transformed into a soft "latic" acid.
* now the wine spends 6 months in steel tanks, after which it meets the requirements of the regions most popular variety, "Chianti Classico."
Maurizio also produces 3 more exclusive varieties:
Chianti Classico Reserva - which spends an additional year in 500 liter wooden barrels called "tonnause."
Super Tuscan, and Gran Selection - which spend an additional year in smaller 225 liter wooden barrels called "barquex."
I am sure we stayed way past our allotted time with Maurizio, but none of us seemed to be concerned about time. After this memorable experience, Maurizio drove us back to Montefioralle, where we did some more sightseeing before making our way back to Greve to get our bus back to Florence.
Grazie mille Maurizio for your the memorable day, and grande abbraci!
Nikhil and Sameer