If this is Tuesday, it must be Livorno, Italy! A full day wine tour is just a few steps away. Off the ship (at a time of day I have tried to reserve for just opening my eyes) and there is our BellaItalia tour guide for the day – Massimo!
Massimo is, at first glance (and proven throughout our day) the quintessential guide. Dressed better than any driver I’ve ever had. His car is a newer Mercedes 8-seater van (6 in back, 2 upfront including the driver), and water on hand if we get thirsty (yeah…like THAT is going to happen on a wine tour!). Extremely knowledgeable about pretty much anything we ask about. In addition, he is a Sommelier (whereas I am simply a Sommel-liar) which is more than I could have hoped for.
Living in the nearby area provides him with the ability to visit and really get to know the wines, wineries and history which is evidenced at every turn. If you have an opportunity to do a private wine tour in or around the Livorno area, I can’t recommend any other company. Period. And, ask for Massimo. THAT is important because you will be well and properly treated.
Livorno is a major port city in Italy and the area (Tuscany) is world-renown for its wines. With good reason. Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano are likely the most well known. However, there is another that has become a stand-out on the worlds stage and that is the Super-Tuscan.
Produced only in Tuscany, it broke out into the world in 1974 when a bottle of 1968 Sassicaia won a blind tasting event. Against 30 other Bordeaux blends from around the world. This was unheard of! How could an Italian producer, raising Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, produce something of this quality?
As it turns out, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Petite Verdot all grow very well in Italian soil and climate. When blended in a variety of different ways, they produce what has become known as the Super Tuscan. Non-indigenous grapes producing wines under a new designation (IGT) that gave winemakers more creativity.
Bolgheri is both a region (of which there are 20 within Tuscany) and a very small town in that region. Just outside that town is the winery Ornellaia (Or-nay-Lay-A). This is our first official stop. Yeah, we had a few others along the way…a little church, a very old, long-abandoned farm building and Viale dei Cipressi (Boulevard of Cypresses). This is a 6 km road flanked on both sides by centuries old cypress trees (around 2500 if you wish to count them). These pauses along our journey provide a marvelous peek into a small part of the Tuscan countryside. To really do it justice, a two week extended stay (or more) would be proper. And certainly time well spent.
A beautiful entrance, with the most well manicured grounds I’ve seen in a long time, greet us at Ornellaia. To give you the full view of Ornellaia is well beyond the scope of this blog but I will try to touch on the highlights.
They are a relatively young winery having started in 1981 and the new cellars built in 1987. Their first Super Tuscan was produced in 1985 which was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Since then it has remained true to the nature of the region, using differing combinations of the five grapes depending on each individual growing season. Their methods, care and strict controls have kept this winery in the top echelons in the world of wine.
Having watched a small part of their production facilities, the detail-oriented procedure of simply putting the filled and labeled bottles into the wooden crates is indicative of the entire wine-making process.
Between rows of grapes are rows of olive trees because one very much compliments the other. Approximately 2,000 of these gives Ornellaia the prime opportunity to also produce their own olive oil. To further make use of all the parts of the grape, Grappa is made from the wine pomace (the leftovers from grape pressing – skins, pulp, seeds, stems…). Once again a skillful and painstaking technique is used to construct a very unique liquor that has quite the effect on one’s tongue. 🙂
To cover adequately each wine that we tasted would change this blog into a novella. Let me suggest you make a concerted effort to find one (or more) at some liquor establishment near you. However, be forewarned. You will NOT find these in the bargain bin. Your wallet may complain but your palate will love you forever.
Eligo Dell’Ornellaia (Grappa Riserva), 2019 Ornellaia, 2019 Le Serre Nuove, Varizioni in Rosso, 2020 Le Volte, 2020 Poggio Alle Gazze, Olio Dell’Ornellaia
We leave with olive oil and wine in hand, fervently hoping the ships crew won’t have words about us bringing on more than our allotted share of wine. I guess we’ll find out.
Back in our van and down the road a little further to the little (very little) town of Bolgheri. Here we stop for a small lunch break before continuing on to our next winery. Thank goodness we don’t have to drive because the wine consumption is likely well over the accepted limit.
This is a wonderfully quaint, old municipality with a population less than 200. You could probably circumnavigate the entire place in less than 20 minutes. Having said that it is as charming a place as you could stumble across. We stopped for about an hour total to have a quick bite and wander the several little streets.
Moving on down the road we make our way to the Giovanni Chiappini winery. This is a very small, family run business. The entire estate is 30 hectares of which only 17 are in production. Even still they produce a healthy 75 to 80K bottles per year. They remain one of the last farmers in the area. They do have other land not connected to this which has been in their family for much longer.
Using primarily the five other grapes mentioned they produce only organic wines. Occasionally they will use Sangiovese grapes but only for their young wines (not meant for aging). This year was very hot so harvesting was done in mid-August. Similar to the Douro region for Port production, they are not allowed to irrigate (except in unusual circumstances).
Again, olive trees are mixed with grapes and some of these olive trees are in excess of 100 years old.
It’s 5 km to the coast so sea breezes help keep fungus to a minimum.
Most of their wine is aged in 225 litre French oak barrique (unfortunately the most expensive of oak barrels). They have tried American oak but find it is too…oaky for their preference.
This was a wonderful way to end our wine tour, re-emphasizing why we must return. My dear wife has mentioned, on more than one occasion, that we should fly in to Florence (or somewhere near) and rent an AIRBNB or some equivalent. Rent a car and simply travel around for 3 weeks. That may yet happen as there is So much more to see and do and taste…
The next 2 days are ones spent at sea. Maybe I can finally get caught up…