A visit to Italy’s Chianti wine country

Fattoria Poggerino is a boutique winery and heritage B&B located deep in the heart of Tuscany’s Chianti wine district. Known for producing some of the region’s best Chianti Classico, the winery is open seasonally for wine tours

Poggerino’s Aurora Toscana Rosato 2016 (image by Jacqui Gibson).

Poggerino’s Aurora Toscana Rosato 2016 (image by Jacqui Gibson).

 

It’s early summer in central Tuscany. And, I’m deep in the heart of wine country in a small territory called Radda on the family-run vineyard of Fattoria Poggerino.

Standing among rows of ripening grapes, property owner and winemaker Piero Lanza is schooling me on the crop’s care and yield.

I take notes as he talks, slowly making the mental transition from the cramped quarters of our tiny car to the open space and quiet of the Tuscan countryside.

It’s taken an hour of tailgating, negotiating roundabouts at break-neck speed and a few eager blasts on the car horn to get to here.

But the drive from Florence to Tuscany has delivered everything my good friend and navigator, Riccardo, promised – endless blue skies, fields of gently swaying sunflowers and verdant vineyards as far as the eye can see.

I’ve taken Riccardo’s advice of a half-day tour of Poggerino for several reasons.

Firstly because Riccardo, a Florence native and wine professional now based in the United States, insists it’s one of his country’s best boutique wineries and a must-visit.

But also because Poggerino is located in a world-famous winegrowing region called Chianti, an area stretching about 20 kilometres (12.5 miles) from north to south, celebrated for producing a distinctly Tuscan tipple that I’ve been dying to quaff – the Chianti Classico.

At Poggerino, Piero tells me, he makes a top-rate Chianti Classico from 100 percent Sangiovese grapes aged in French and Slavonian oak barrels for 12 months. So good was his 2010 Chianti Classico Poggerino that it made it to Wine Spectator’s top 100 wines in the world in 2014. He says his 2016 vintage is on track to deliver similar results.

I sample the tannin-rich red during an alfresco lunch prepared by Piero’s sister and business partner Benedetta.

Together, the siblings tend 43 hectares (106 acres) of vineyards, olive groves, and woodland, as well as a collection of stone farmhouses and a 12th-century church they’ve converted to a rustic B&B.

“It’s a traditional old world wine. Expect complex acidity and a deep nose of cherries, herbs and sweet tobacco – do you get that?” Riccardo quizzes me intently as I go in for a taste.

To me, it’s simply a delicious, juicy red. (And one I imagine would pair perfectly with a succulent cut of New Zealand lamb).

But the ‘deep nose’ is definitely there and I’m excited to try Piero’s entire range on today’s tour, including the suitably summery Millesimo and Aurora sparkling and still rosés. It’s 38 degrees in the shade after all.

Over a three-course lunch that starts with Benedetta’s goat cheese tart and features handmade pasta and light fruit pastries topped with fresh Chantilly cream, we guzzle rosé and talk about Piero and Benedetta’s life on the ‘farm’.

I also learn the Chianti region has been producing wine for more than two thousand years, since the Etruscan era, but that it took until 1716 for the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III de’ Medici, to officially mark out the sub-region known as Chianti Classico.

“Radda, where we are, is one of the four primary villages within the original historic Chianti Classico boundary,” explains Piero. “Which simply means here’s where you’ll find some of the truest examples of Chianti Classico wine. Generally speaking, wine from these villages tends to be of a higher quality and made in smaller quantities than Chianti wine found anywhere else.”

To say 50-year-old Piero knows his stuff would be an understatement. Born in Rome, and raised a city kid, Piero was a 21-year-old university grad when he joined his parents at Poggerino to try his hand at making wine.

“By this stage mum was still making a bit of wine. But my father was tired and had given up. So I learned everything by trial and error and making a lot of mistakes. My first vintage was a disaster. A year later things were looking much better.”

From the get-go, Piero ditched herbicides and ramped up his Sangiovese plantation (today he tends 11 hectares of Sangiovese on the southern hillsides and just one hectare of merlot on the property’s western face).

Within five years, the vineyard was fully organic. Today, he uses biodynamic practices to achieve a signature wine known for its dense concentration, sold under the Gallo Nero (Black Cockerel) trademark.

“I’ll never go back to chemicals. I want to showcase the terroir and to work as hard as I can to bring out the character of the Sangiovese in my wine. You can’t do that using chemicals.”

“Winemaking, here in Chianti, is a very competitive business. There are literally hundreds of producers. It’s like Formula 1 racing. Even the smallest improvements make a huge difference. As well as that, we live in a globalized world. People can access whatever they want whenever they want – and increasingly they want something authentic and different.”

“To me, the answer is to make wine of the best possible quality – wine that comes with an important heritage and history that people can’t get from just anywhere.”

It seems the markets agree with Piero.

Today, Poggerino wine is sold all over the world, including throughout Europe (London, particularly), Asia, Canada, the United States and, more recently, Australia, where Italian cuisine – paired with high-quality traditional wine – is taking off.

After lunch, Piero, Riccardo and I leave the shaded courtyard to wander Poggerino’s cellars.

I follow the wiry winemaker clad in a t-shirt, shorts, and grey All Star sneakers as he describes the various phases of his wine-making process with obvious conviction.

Before we arrived, Riccardo warned me: “To meet Piero is to meet a man whose children are the vines. He literally lives and breathes wine making—doing everything from tending the crop to blending the wine to marketing and representing his brand overseas. It’s his ultimate passion.”

I realise—in a country like Italy where a passion for food, wine, and good eating is part of the national psyche—this is high praise indeed. 

This story was published in Wander with Wonder.

IMG_5533.jpeg