Lifestyle #WineAndDine Slow Travel Through Tuscany: Not Your Typical Chianti Classico Wineries Lauren Mowery Set 26, 2017
The proximity of Tuscany’s Chianti to historic cities Siena and Florence is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the region’s natural beauty has been preserved by strict regulation on development, much of its forest still thick and lush upon its myriad hills. But the villages, perfect encapsulations of a foreign visitor’s romanticized notion, drown in both foot and auto traffic. Summer high-season, when the sun radiates at its warmest and families descend in swarms upon the gelaterias of medieval hamlets, when hotel prices surpass NYC and pool loungers must be staked out A permanent art installation at winery Castello di Ama before breakfast, is, obviously, the worst time to visit. Which makes the fall – now – the absolute best. Autumn also marks harvest – when pickers clip Sangiovese grapes from their vines, and olives from their branches, and relief and gratefulness for another year’s bounty hangs in the air. The Etruscans first staked out Chianti as a reliable source for wine grapes, the first reference to the area’s vino dating back to 998. Ever since, the world has been paying attention. At times, too much attention. Today, perhaps, not enough. The region’s popularity led to increased vineyard plantings, overproduction, and, ultimately, reduced quality (think 1970s Chianti encased in straw baskets.) This eventually depressed wine prices, a phenomenon from which all but top producers still fight to recover. Of course, their market consternation provides a boon to wine lovers, as great bottles can be had for a fraction of those selling an hour south in Montalcino or west in Maremma. When planning a weeklong itinerary, many opt for day-trips from Florence, as most of Chianti’s wineries and villages can be accessed within an hour’s drive. While distances aren’t far in mileage, one-lane roads wending around the craggy landscape make travel enticingly scenic but slow. And shuttling between city and country for two-hours each day doesn’t qualify as the right kind of slow. Rather, skip the city and pick a property tucked between the vines. The kind with balcony-adorned rooms fit with French doors you can fling open each morning to catch the trill of birds. Linger over breakfast. Drive leisurely down the lane to your tasting appointment. No hurrying. No worrying.
Amphitheater of vineyards at Chianti Classico's Ama
When making winery appointments, shoot for one per day, two, maximum. Taste in the morning, head to a village for lunch, then explore in the afternoon. To reiterate, roads encourage an unhurried pace. More than two appointments, and your haste will be tinged with annoyance.
There are literally hundreds of wineries to visit in Chianti Classico, but two in particular stand out for their unique twists on a visit: Castello di Ama and Castello di Monsanto.
Tasting at Castello di Ama are by appointment; or visit for dinner
If you’re eager to stay in an 18th century villa (you should be), and Castello di Ama has overnight availability, take it. With just four spacious suites decorated in a mix of period antiques against contemporary accents, this is one of Chianti’s most beautiful and intimate properties. And its charms are not lost on the owner, Marco Pallanti, who admitted to living a “Cinderella” story.
Pallanti studied agriculture, including "the chicken and the cow,” as he put it, but ultimately discovered he “loved the wine.” In the early 80s, he asked the Chianti Consorzio for help finding work; they sent him to Ama, where in 1982, he took over management of the property. For years, he worked day-to-day alongside the owner’s daughter, Lorenza Sebasti, with whom he would eventually marry and start a family. His glass-slipper fairytale had come true. The village of Ama at sunset
In the early 80s, Pallanti started a decade-long research project to determine the property’s key soil and microclimate attributes. Through identifying micro-terroirs, he helped further the little-explored concept of “cru” in Chianti Classico. To this day, he’s one of few winemakers able to command extraordinary prices for his singlevineyard, Sangiovese -based blends, notably the Chianti Classico Vigneto Bellavista and Chianti Classico Vigneto La Casuccia. Unusually, Pallanti also makes a varietal Merlot. “If you’re going to grow international grapes, you better make an exceptional wine” he said. L'Apparita, made only in the best years, is 100 percent Merlot from approximately 35-year-old vines. The current vintage, 2013, is a beautiful expression of nuance, elegance, and length that will reward those who wait. What makes a visit to Castello di Ama intriguing, in addition to sampling the vivid, cellar-worthy wines, is the opportunity to tour the contemporary art installations that dot the property. Being enthusiastic lovers of art, the Pallantis invite one artist each year for a residency program to, as Pallanti explains, “place them in the same condition as the winemaker—to make something site specific, born of the place.” The installations remain on the property and tours are given with tastings, by appointment.
A mirror installation built in 2001 gives frame to the vineyards
If you’re staying the night, spend an hour exploring the grounds at sunset. Catch the sun glinting on the amphitheater of vines or reflecting in the 75foot mirror built by artist Daniel Buren in 2001. After the gift shop closes and the staff head home, a feeling of eerie isolation kicks in. But you’re not alone. Ama occupies a sweet little hamlet still inhabited by four locals. You might glimpse one hanging laundry or stirring a pot of sauce on the stove. Soon, you’ll hear the crunch of gravel as guests pull up for dinner at the homespun restaurant inside, where you’ll be having dinner, too.