Chianti, Tuscany Region, Italy . June 2015
Today we are scheduled for a private wine tasting tour in Chianti, Tuscany. We booked this wine-tasting tour online while still in the Philippines and were very excited. I chose Chianti because I always see that name on labels of many Italian wine bottles and I wanted to see the place myself. Today is the day when I will finally visit Chianti, sniff the fresh air and touch the soil from which those famous wines came from.
The instructions in the tour voucher says to wait at our apartment address in Florence at 9 o’clock in the morning for our “private” transportation to take us to Chianti. But I did not realize what “private” meant until we were fetched by a black, shiny, Mercedes-Benz limousine with a very well dressed, soft-spoken gentleman in a black suit named Mario behind the steering wheel. I really thought that we were going be picked up by the usual minivan, so when our special ride arrived, I checked my voucher to see if perhaps there was a mistake. But Mario spoke: “Good morning madam, my name is Mario and I’m here to pick you up.” I must have been wearing a confused expression on my face so he further said: “I am your ride to Chianti”. He parked the limousine on the side of the road, then opened the door for us at the back. When we were seated in the luxurious leather seat at the back, I started to ask myself “what the heck did I pay for?”
The countryside drive to Chianti was a smooth, beautiful one. We passed by many rolling hills with vines of the local grape and those handsome cypress trees that lined some dirt roads like magnificent giant guards. Mario engaged us in his perfect English answering my questions about economy and life in Florence. He was also very interested with life in the Philippines and asked me questions about our economy, salary and politics. After a 45-minute drive, we arrived in the town of Chianti where we had 30 minutes to explore the Chianti town Piazza area by ourselves and take photos.
Then we were fetched again by Mario and brought to La Bottega del Palagio, the wine and olive oil-maker where we had booked our wine-tasting tour.
Il Palagio was once a castle way back in 1252. However, due to its tumultuous past it became a fortress and a place of defence due to its impregnable walls, a good place of defence for any possible actions of attack, raids and plunders by numerous inner factions and invaders during its long and troubled history.
The owner Simone, met and welcomed us when we arrived at the Palagio. I still had the feeling that there were other guests arriving but he informed us that it was just my daughter, him and me. As soon as we entered the building, a long table full of wines and bottles of olive oil was already laid out and prepared for us. He disappeared for a few minutes into the kitchen and when he returned, he brought two platters composed of cheeses (three kinds), and plain bruschetta respectively, all covered with cling wrap and laid them on the table along with the wines and olive oils.
View of the orchard from Il Palagio window and garden.
Having completed this task, he invited us to join him outside for an educational tour so we can learn about the olive oil making process from plant to retail as well as the life of the grape before it is bottled.
The Olive Oil Making Process
Outside, Simone gave us a short discourse on how olive oil is made from plant to retail. Leading us to an olive tree, he showed us what young olives look like during the flowering then fruiting stage. He explained that a single tree that produces fifteen kilos of olives translates to only 2-3 kilos of olive oil. The olive tree wasn’t that tall but was lush with its verdant leaves and on its tip were the tiny orbs that will eventually become “green gold” once it is harvested and processed into olive oil.
“Green gold” or olive-oil processing is Chianti’s second important industry, next to wine-making. Chianti, with its sunny, mediterranean weather help produce olives that are low in quantity but very high in quality.
Proudly, Simone claims that their olive oil gives you a hint of apples when you taste it with a light artichoke scent. He added that producing high quality olive oil depends on various factors. Soil quality, variety of olive plant used, the pressing process, conservation and management of the soil in the right temperature is just few of the important factors that can help assure a successful, quality olive harvest. He also added that the harvest process employed plays a big role. He says that harvesting the olives while they are still green and still attached to the branches of the tree produces less olive oil but of higher quality. Whereas in other parts of Italy, Greece and Spain, the olives are allowed to ripen, fall and harvested from the ground thereby producing more olive oil but of lower quality. And all these factors combined he explains, are the reasons why the olive oil in Chianti can be more expensive.
Afterwards, we were brought to their wine cellar to show us where they store the wines in vats . There, Simone discussed the wine making process and their products.
Once a dungeon of a castle, this naturally cool underground has found a new purpose as Il Palagio’s wine cellar where modern steel containers find their place beside traditional and modern oak barrels containing great wines to mature as well as the terracotta vats containing the extra virgin olive oils.
It started raining soon after that we all rushed in and proceeded to our wine tasting activity. By that time, we were slightly hungry and thirsty for the bubblies. We learned that we were to taste at least seven kinds of wines and three kinds of olive oils. They have a wide selection of wine products but I found my favourite in their Brunello Di Montalcino, referred to as the “king” of the Italian wines, which has a full and harmonious aroma, with plum and blackberry notes, supple and balanced on the palate with a persistent and strong wood fruit back-taste. My second favourite is their Vin Santo Del Palagio, a sweet wine made from air-dried grape (raisin) which takes eight to ten years to make. It is not kept in the cellar like the other wines but above it but beneath the roof. So much love and care was put in making this wine, the moment its golden liquid touched my tongue, I was hooked for life. I loved it so much I bought a bottle to enjoy in Manila with my daughter who also loved the Brunello and the Vin Santo.
There were seven wines for tasting and by my fourth glass, I was drunk… okay maybe slightly over my usual tipsy limit. I am just so happy and relieved I am not driving today.
For the olive oil products, they had three kinds, Olive Frantoiane, Olive Moraiole, and Olive Leccine. I loved the Olive Frantoiane oil best so I bought a bottle to bring to Manila to enjoy in salads or drizzled on bruschettas. It tastes nothing like the commercial olive oils we find in the local supermarket. I’m regretting I only bought one bottle. More reasons to come back and enjoy it again one day!
After sampling seven wines and three olive oils it was time to go back home to Florence. Yes we went home tipsy and light headed and despite ourselves slept the entire ride back to the apartment in Florence. We were woken up by Mario when we arrived in our apartment and bade him generous goodbyes and thank you’s! Another unforgettable and tipsy experience of the week.
See you next time so I can take you to Montepulciano where some scenes of “New Moon” of the Twilight Saga were filmed. And after that, let’s check out an Etruscan Tomb which was conveniently turned into a wine cellar and have another wine-tasting at Altesino Winery in Montepulciano.