The Ultimate Wine Tasting in Tuscany – On a budget!
This time last year I was busy making last minute arrangements for our one week trip to Florence. The bf and I are both wine lovers and we probably consume too much of the delicious grape juice. A wine tasting tour was an absolute must on our to do list. So I did what I do best – shopping around on the internet and consulting Google, Viator and Co.
VINEYARDS AND WINE TOURS
What I found I did not like. The tours Viator is offering are extremely expensive. We’re talking about a range of €80 up to €120 for a small-group day trip from Florence. I am not a big fan of coach trips either, no matter how small the group. After long research (and thanks to Tripadvisor) I found a beautiful vineyard in Montauto near San Gimignano which doesn’t cater for coach tours and only offers private wine tastings for a fraction of the price.
Most vineyards in Tuscany offer only red wine tastings, and at the time I used to prefer whites. Fattoria Il Piano is one of the few vineyards in the region that produces white wine, namely the Vernaccia di San Gimignano. According to Wikipedia it is “made from the Vernaccia grape, produced in and around the Italian hill town of San Gimignano in Tuscany […] it has been considered one of Italy’s finest white wines”.
BOOKING THE TOUR
The booking was very easy. I contacted the vineyard by email and David, a very friendly and knowledgeable Brit, quickly responded to my enquiry. There are several wine tasting options to choose from, starting from €10 per person for a 90 minute wine tasting accompanied with bread croutons, and going up to €30 per person for a 3 hour experience which includes a full meal. We opted for the latter and were not disappointed. David also offered to pick us up from San Gimignano since we were coming by bus. This saved us time and money for a taxi. Here is their wine tasting brochure:
David picked us up at the agreed time and we enjoyed a spectacular drive through the Tuscan countryside, the medieval hamlet of Montauto and finally up a steep hill past picture-perfect rows of cypress trees to the vineyard.
Fattoria Il Piano, run by the Carlesi-Zucconi family since 1973, consists of the owner’s manor house, a chapel and two traditional Tuscan farmhouses. There are a total of 180 hectares of fields, agricultural land and woods. Both farmhouses have been lovingly restored to provide accommodation complete with outdoor swimming pool looking out across the vineyards and olive groves. Next time we will definitely book a stay at their Agriturismo.
When we arrived we admired the lovely farmhouse buildings and of course the best view in Tuscany: San Gimignano with its 14 towers (out of 72 in the past).
David officially started the tour and we went straight to the vineyard where he explained the different grape varieties, the soil and weather conditions and how it affects the quality and taste of the wine. We tried a few grapes and they were incredibly tasty albeit with seeds which is something I’m not used to any more as supermarkets rarely sell the seed variety these days. David said it’s important that the grapes have seeds as they add to the flavour of the wine.
Sangiovese, a red Italian wine grape variety, has a deep purple colour and is most famous as the only component of Brunello di Montalcino and the main component of Chianti – both very quaffable wines but the former being on the more expensive side. This versatile grape also goes in to something called a “Super Tuscan” which basically describes any wine that does not adhere to the traditional local DOC(G) regulations. It’s basically a blend of different grape varieties, often Italian ones mixed with international ones like Bordeaux. The bf absolutely loved the Fattoria’s Super Tuscan, he said it was something he has not tasted before.
WINE CELLAR AND GROUNDS
After the vineyard David led us to the magnificent underground wine cellar. It was carved out of the earth by local workers in 1925, and then lined with hand baked bricks. The grounds are equally impressive and include the Italian garden and an olive grove. The Fattoria produces its own olive oil, you have to try it. Fresh olive oil cannot be compared to the supermarket bought stuff, even if you happen to buy the most expensive bottle on the shelf.
There is a small private chapel adjacent to the owner’s manor house which is beautiful. It was completely restored only a few years ago and its cobalt and gold roof is featured on one of their wine labels.
Before we get to the most important part – the tasting – here are some more gorgeous photos:
After the tour we got to taste the wines and David prepared the most delicious food we had eaten during our week in Italy. We opted for the full meal for €30 per person and were served antipasti with the most amazing wild boar salami (they hunt the boars and make it themselves), salad, porchetta, cheese and cantuccini. We weren’t allowed to help so we just sat there, enjoyed the views and the copious amounts of food. We tried a total of 9 different wines, and the best thing? Unlimited top ups! If we wanted to try a previous wine again, David was happy to fill up the glass again. Heaven on earth!
Here’s a list of their wines, all of them fantastic:
Vernaccia di San Gimignano: bright, fruit and crisp acidity
Vittoria: our IGT Bianco is complex with round melon tones and a nutty finish
Chianti Colli Senesi: expressing the Cherry tones and Asian Spice of the Sangiovese grape
Renzano 2006: Super Tuscan with its elegance of plums and cassis, a hint of vanilla and chocolate from French Oak
Vin Santo: aged for six years and taken with the home made cantucci or one of three Grappas
On their website is says “The soil comprises of Limestone under a great base of Sandstone with a mix of rich minerals, which creates perfect acidity and structure in our wines”. I can definitely second that.
HOW TO GET THERE
The easiest way to get to the vineyard is by car. Make sure you have GPS as according to David the Fattoria is not really sign posted. Address and GPS coordinates can be found here.
I’d personally recommend public transport. Since you’re going to a wine tasting you don’t want to limit yourself or even worse, drink and drive! There are plenty of buses going to the nearest town, San Gimignano, from Florence and Siena. We jumped on a bus from Florence which took about 1 hour 45 minutes and involved changing buses at Poggibonsi. The ride is very scenic so you won’t even notice the time.
You can plan your route on this website. When searching for connections from Florence make sure you’re using the Italian name of the city – Firenze – as otherwise you’ll get no results. See my example of a search here.
It will cost you €6.80 one way. From San Gimignano you can then take a taxi to the vineyard or, like we did, ask the Fattoria if they can offer a pick up service. David happened to be in San Gim on that day to deliver their house wine to various restaurants so he gladly offered us a ride to the vineyard and back to San Gim at the end.
There is no train to San Gimignano since it sits on a hill top. You can take one to nearby Poggibonsi and then board a bus to San Gim, however trains from Florence to Poggibonsi are most often not direct, so it seems a lot of hassle. Best to take the bus for all parts of your journey. They’re cheap, clean and efficient.
We had a wonderful time and didn’t want this day to end, but also never felt that David did, there was no rush whatsoever. The whole experience lasted 5 hours, there were just the three of us and it was a really memorable day thanks to David and his personal approach. We bought 4 bottles of wine to take back to our apartment in Florence, that’s how much we loved the wine. I can 100% recommend this tour but if you can, try and do it towards the end of your holiday. We did this at the start and nothing else over the next days could match the experience