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Italy Articles

Travel Guide: Wine in Florence

Published in the Decanter August 2011 issue

One of the most historical and enchanting cities in the world, Florence has all the makings of a decadent dream of delicious food and wine. Unfortunately, the reality is more of a nightmare for wine lovers who must share the city with thousands of visitors each year, and manoeuvre around the minefield of tourist traps. For every piazza, museum, gallery, theatre, bridge and palace, there are dozens of ‘authentic, family-owned’ establishments ready to charge you three times the going rate for a slice of pizza and a glass of Chianti from an outdated straw flask. Visitors come and go, believing Florence hasn’t changed, and that its antiquity extends to its wine scene.

But dig deeper, and there’s an alternative side to Florence’s wine scene that is growing dynamically. Young local wine lovers, foreigners with innovative ideas and new businesses are the pulse of Florence’s underground wine world. The same students of wine, now gaining a global perspective from the city’s recently established Wine & Spirit Education Trust courses and sommelier school, are influencing what people drink – and how.

New ideas

The most noticeable change is the shifting attitude towards how wine is served. ‘Wine by the glass has not been typical here in Florence,’ explains wine consultant Bernardo Conticelli. ‘It was never good value and traditionally available only for house wine or a very limited selection.’ (The same four or five big brands of Chianti and Montalcino are offered throughout Florence.) The usual wine bars are around tourist hotspots, and a glance at their wine lists and prices makes the target audience very clear. But a niche opportunity was recognised by local wine lovers and a few gems are popping up that seek to cater for more discerning palates.

If you’ve come to Tuscany for the classics, Fuori Porta is the ideal bar to taste, by the glass, those pricey wines usually sold by the bottle. This is also the place to find back vintages of Chianti Classico and Montepulciano heavyweights – a real treat at a time when most wines are being sold and drunk ahead of their ideal drinking window. Those seeking out wines from lesser-known Tuscan regions such as Montecucco and Cortona should go to Volpi et l’Uva. Tucked away behind by the Ponte Vecchio, this is a bar that only a local or a very determined wine lover will find – and be rewarded by the list of small-grower wines and selection of cheese and charcuterie. This is a bar where you can chat for hours (in Italian or English) about what’s in the glass and on the ever-changing list. It also sells bottles to take home at shop prices.

However steeped in tradition Florence seems, when it comes to wine and food, it does welcome a modern – and foreign – touch. Frescobaldi, a proud producer, with restaurants and bars showcasing its history and culture, has hired a Japanese chef to ensure its classic Florentine dishes are executed with precision and delicacy. Others have followed suit: Enoteca Barrique, another traditional Tuscan eatery, also favours a minimalist approach, inspired by its own Japanese chef. But make sure you take regular breaks between meals to admire the legendary architecture and museums that put this city on the cultural map. One of history’s most important and fruitful art movements, the Renaissance, came from Florence and can be explored here through the works of Botticelli, Raphael, da Vinci and Michelangelo.

Views of the Duomo (the Gothic-style cathedral in the heart of the city) from anywhere in Florence are spectacular, and the cafés dotted around the cathedral square are ideal to bask in its splendour. Finally, a visit to the Uffizi gallery is a must–viewing Caravaggio’s painting of Bacchus is surely the ideal way to pay homage to both art and wine.

Tasting Report: Florence's Own Chianti

Published on November 2010

While Florence recently played host to the first annual Wine Town Festival, celebrating the great wine capitals of the world all around the city centre, local DOCG Chianti Colli Fiorentini (whose arresting logo, playing on Florence's own symbol, is shown here) took the opportunity to present its 2008 vintage. Held in the Limonaia (orangery) of the Boboli Gardens in the Palazzo Pitti Renaissance palace, the tasting was hosted by the president of the Consortium, Marina Malenchini, and Italian wine writer and critic Franco Ziliani.

The Chianti Colli Fiorentini DOCG maintains quite proudly that it is 'the wine of Florence', its zone including the hills (colli) around the city to the south. Its logo of the lion sniffing the Chianti Colli Fiorentini cork (see picture) is inspired by an ancient symbol of the city: a lion and a lily. The DOCG covers 18 municipalities and represents 27 wineries. Holocene alluvial soil originates from the nearby river channels and is the principal composition of the land, which they claim is ideal for Sangiovese, the main grape variety of Chianti Colli Fiorentini, along with small amounts of Canaiolo, Colorino and international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

A grand total of 13 wines were presented, starting from the most traditional styles that used exclusively indigenous grape varieties (primarily Sangiovese with small amounts of Canaiolo or Colorino) followed by examples of more modern versions that included Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and even Gamay. While all producers prided themselves on making the traditional DOCG wine, almost all off them dabbled in less traditional grape varieties and had an IGT Toscana up their sleeve that they wanted to pour alongside.

'As a rule, the wines of Chianti Colli Fiorentini must be drunk with food', advised Ziliani. The style is medium bodied with a lot of fruit, and the wines are generally more easy-going and earlier-maturing than Chianti Classico wines.

Certain producers at the tasting explained that the 2008 vintage proved difficult and resulted in some more concentrated wines than usual, with alcohol levels around 14-14.5%.

Wines are listed below in the order they were served, from lighter to fuller bodied.

Malenchini 2008 Chianti Colli Fiorentini 16 Drink 2010-12
Sangiovese 90%, Canaiolo 10%
Vibrant ruby red colour. Lively fruit flavour aromas, cherries and redcurrants. Good structure, quite dry tannins though layers of juicy red berries. (VD)

San Michele a Torri 2008 Chianti Colli Fiorentini 15 Drink 2010-12
Sangiovese 80%, Canaiolo 15%, Colorino 5%
Dark ruby colour. Sweet aromas of red berries and some floral notes. Very soft texture, simple, and easy drinking. (VD)

La Colombaia Ville di Bagnolo 2008 Chianti Colli Fiorentini 17 Drink 2010-13
Sangiovese 80%, Canaiolo 10%, Colorino 10%
Deep garnet colour, almost opaque. Interesting aromas of dark cherries and black olives. Very rich flavour with mocha, dark cherries, vanilla, and violets woven together. Soft tannins with a lingering finish. (VD)

Torre a Cona 2008 Chianti Colli Fiorentini 16 Drink 2010-12
Sangiovese 85%, Colorino 15%
Very light ruby colour. Red berry aroma with some green notes. Light body, tart red berries and lots of acidity - very fresh and light. (VD)

Lanciola 2008 Chianti Colli Fiorentini 16.5 Drink 2010-13
Sangiovese 95%, Canaiolo, Merlot, Gamay 5%
Light red ruby. Quite floral and fragrant aromas and distinct sour cherries. Interesting interplay between sour cherry flavour and a slight savoury edge on the finish. Gentle tannins and some minerality is there. (VD)

Fattoria di Fiano 2008 Chianti Colli Fiorentini 16 Drink 2011-13
Sangiovese 90%, Canaiolo, Colorino, Merlot 10%
Bright red with hints of brick. Cherries, cranberries with some green and floral hints on the nose. Very fresh, high acidity, light tannins lots of red berry fruit. (VD)

Fattoria di Bagnolo 2008 Chianti Colli Fiorentini 14.5 Drink 2010-11
Sangiovese 90%, Colorino, Merlot 10%
Dark garnet with purple tinges. Sour cherry on the nose with distracting sulphur smell. Medium body, lots of flavour but tannins and alcohol not entirely balanced. (VD)

La Querce 2008 Chianti Colli Fiorentini 16.5 Drink 2010-12
Sangiovese 90%, Colorino 5%, Merlot 5%
Dark ruby colour. Pretty floral aromas, quite elegant and fresh. Smooth, rich soft texture. Toasty oak with hints of vanilla here. Overall very soft, easy drinking wine but with interesting layers herbs and cherries. (VD)

Il Castelvecchio 2008 Chianti Colli Fiorentini 15.5 Drink 2010-12
Sangiovese 90%, Merlot 10%
Dark ruby. Floral perfume and intense fruit on the nose. Medium body and prominent structure. Could do with more freshness. (VD)

Petreto 2008 Chianti Colli Fiorentini 17 Drink 2010-13
Sangiovese 90%, Merlot 10%
Garnet with purple tinges. Nice fresh aromas, floral, fruity and bold. Well rounded, soft tannins, fresh acidity gives a nice lift to the sweet cherry flavour. Smooth, soft texture with a persistent finish. (VD)

Giannozzi 2008 Chianti Colli Fiorentini 16 Drink 2011-13
Sangiovese 90%, Merlot 10%
Vibrant ruby red. Very fragrant, red berries. High acidity from the start. Lots of fresh sour cherries are nice, but very thin body and tart. (VD)

Le Torri di Campiglioni 2008 Chianti Colli Fiorentini 16 Drink 2010-12
Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Colorino
Very dark garnet. Currant and cherries on the notes with a floral edge. Rich flavour; big and bold but quite simple and easy drinking wine. (VD)

Castello di Poppiano, Guicciardini 2008 Chianti Colli Fiorentini 16.5+ Drink 2010-13
Sangiovese 75%, Colorino 5%, Canaiolo 5%, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot 15%
Deep red colour. Gentle fruit wrapped in oak. Nice balance between dark berries and toasty oak. Quite straightforward with a fresh acidity. (VD)

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