DO YOU LOVE WINE? Well we certainly do!
What a wonderful wine tour and tasting we experienced here. You are surrounded by eras of ancient history. The Badia di Passignano is located in the heart of Chianti Classico in Tuscany. The Badia dates back to 395 when it was founded by the Archbishop of Florence and is still inhabited by monks. Can you even fathom that! The Antinori family owns the vineyards surrounding the monastery producing Chianti Classico Riserva “Badia di Passignano” here.
The Badia di Passignano is located halfway between Florence and Siena. Passignano is a tiny town with only about 13 permanent inhabitants but is a popular vacation getaway for the Florentine community.
The Osteria di Passignano itself sits in the middle of the vineyards that surround it with lovely views. There is an antique press in the center of the elegant dining room reminding us of the past as well as the vaulted ceilings and ancient stone walls. The Osteria was awarded a Michelin Star in 2008. The menu here is based on local fresh ingredients paired perfectly with the Antinori wines and highlighting Tuscan flavors.
We started our tasting with a tasting of Olive oils from various countries served with a Cervaro Della Sala 2015. Our next course was a Wild Herbs Flan, crispy egg and Parmesan fondue (pictured below) served with Chianti Classico GranSelezione Badia a Passignano 2012. Did you know to only buy Chianti Classico that has the Black Rooster to indicate the DOCG designation as authentic Chianti Classico. Our next course was The Passignano vegetable garden with zucchini, eggplant, bell pepper and sweet onion ravioli served with their premier Tignanello 2014. Is your mouth watering yet. This meal was insane!! Our main course was a Roast Veal shin, celery, carrots with candied lemon serviced with Brunello di Montalcino pain dell Vigne 2012. OMG I love Brunello!!! Last, but not least, dessert was a cheese selection with pear-filled puff pastry and honey (pictured below) served with Muffato Della Sala 2011 and then winding down with Petit Fours and Espresso.
We were treated to a tour of the vineyard and the ancient vaulted cellars. The cellars are beneath the Abbey of Passignano where about 2000 barrels of Chianti Classico are aged. It is a true flashback to the Middle Ages. Production began here 2000 years ago.
The original part of the cellar is under the monastery and was originally built in the 15th/16th century. The walls are 12′ thick. When they were smoking the prosciutto below the heat rose thru holes above that allowed the spaces above to receive heat. The walls are black here due to smoking the hams.
In the cellar, the floors are washed down to keep the humidity level up sometimes twice a day in summer. The grapes need the sweet perfume of the oak barrels but this varies by vintage and determines whether they use larger or smaller barrels depending on how “Oakley” they want it.
Italian food uses a lot of lemon and oil and needs refreshing wines to go with the meat and cheese (protein). The tannins in the wine help with digestion so Chianti Classico with meat- YUM! and melts the proteins. Who knew?? This is why Spanish and French wines are totally different and pair differently with foods.
The Tuscans planted the first vineyards here and they trained them as trees. Today they train the vines differently to enhance the sugar in the grapes. Previously the grapes were so heavy they would pull down the tree. They planted both vines and olives until the 20th century. They felt the quantity was more important than the quality. What they didn’t understand is that if the plant was feeding all the grapes the level of the sugars, the acidity, the aroma of the grapes would become much lower and eventually become vinegar because the level of the sugar was 6-9% alcohol without antioxidants there was not a way to preserve. Now chemicals can be added and influence our health.
Most wines in Italy are very good at small trattorias since they are consumed quickly – no headaches!!! They suggest not to buy table wine in the US since chemicals are added like sulphate for preservation and that is what gives us headaches! They also feel it is best to eat local just like we encourage people to. Fresh is best!
Wines from Italy have classifications which identify the region it is from. We learned that Super Tuscan is not an actual classification. DOCG is the designation you look for when buying wines. Different regions have varied climates. For example, Montalcino is warmer than Chianti so the Sangiovese is different from different regions. DOCG has been professionally tasted and analyzed. “Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) This is the highest classification Italian wines can be awarded. It means that there are (controllata) controlled production methods and (garantita) guaranteed wine quality with each bottle. “May 16, 2016 (Wikipedia) Here is a link to DOCG designation wines.
There are rules to follow when producing a Chianti Classico Riserva. The altitude of the vineyard is determined and is between 260-600 meters. There is a controlled number of plants per hectare. The vines to be used must be declared and 2 bottles per plant maximum are all you get in order to have enough sugar. Every 45-50 years the vines must be replanted. They graft the top on a healthy root when necessary.
Antinori planted 5000 new plants on February 27th of this year but it was so extraordinarily dry in March andApril that they received special permission to irrigate the new vines so they wouldn’t lose them. If you lose the vines you would be out of business for 5-8 years. (pictured below on the right)
The best Sangiovese grapes are found near the trunk of the plant vs. the grapes at the top of the plant so the grapes are selectively thinned feeding the remaining grapes better. Irrigation is not allowed but the oldest vineyards have it there for emergencies. The plant sends out all the sugars that turn the grapes from green to pink to purple and then to black in about 100-200 days to fully ripen depending on the weather. They say about 1,640 hours of sunlight has been calculated for Sangiovese which is the grape of Chianti Classico. Stones are placed next to the weaker plants to reflect the sun back onto the plant.
The first grapes on a plant are not worthy of wine. There are different temperatures in different parts of the same vineyard and the amount of sun varies too. Some grapes mature differently and when it is too sunny they need to cover the grapes with the leaves to shade them. In France this year we learned that they lost 50% of the champagne crop due to a strong frost but the French warned the Italians so they got their workers up in the middle of the night and lit fires to heat the vineyards.
Usually by the end of September the grapes are ready to harvest but all things must fall into place at the same time: the air temperature must be really low when harvesting and not humid; you need the workers immediately available and they pick by hand here and you can’t pick after noon time since it is too hot. So many factors go into selecting the right moment, literally, when to pick the grapes.
The largest predator for the vines is the wild boar who breaks the plants. The wild boar are a problem because there are no more wolves since it is too warm so they have left the territory and they are the only predators of the boars. The boars though are actually only looking for the truffles and are not intent on destroying the vines. Of course, they have lots of swallows which eat a lot of the fruit flies. Bats are protected since they also eat fruit flies and with all that sweetness around you can be sure they are lots of them. If the swallows leave before the harvest only the bats are there to control the fruit flies.
I hope you enjoyed this short history of winemaking and I hope I did justice to our wonderful tour host. I took serious notes and hopefully I got the facts right! The Antinori family owns many vineyards around the world and produces a wide variety of wines.
Chose your favorite and let me know which you prefer! We loved the Tignanello!