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Heaven and Hell in the Land of Chianti Classico

Travelling through Tuscany, towards that special part of the region that is allowed to call its wine Chianti Classico, Vinnie and I passed through the little village of Montaperti. If you drive through the village you will probably think little or nothing of it and yet it has its part in the great jigsaw puzzle of history. Here, in 1260, The Battle of Montaperti claimed the lives of more than 10,000 men in the then ongoing feud between Siena and Florence. The sheer scale of the slaughter should have been enough to secure its place in history, but 750 years have passed and a lot of blood has been shed since then. However, the memory of the battle has been preserved for posterity by the greatest name in Italian literature and one of the most famous authors in the world. Dante Alighieri was born in Florence, the losing side, about five years after the battle. In his masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, he condemns the person who he sees as betraying the Florentine cause into the ninth and worst circle of hell. I mused on the vagaries of history; normally it is written by the victors, who were in this case eventually the Florentines, and they do not dwell on their defeats. But in this case the bitterness of an author, at a time when his city was beleaguered, has ensured that the memory will be conserved.

Heading north, we arrived amongst the wooded hills and steep valleys of the land that produces Chianti Classico. Chianti is produced over a large area of Tuscany but only here is the wine allowed to be called Classico and only here are the bottles permitted to be emblazoned with the famous black cockerel. We were visiting a winery called Casaloste where we were met by the lovely Cristina. Instantly, we were back in the 13th century, as she pointed out the tower before us that was built around the time of the battle and was on the border between the two enemies. It was a military installation and had the name Casaloste, or hostile house, because it also acted as a customs post, imposing unpopular taxes on passing merchants.

Chianti Classico

Giovanni and Emilia d’Orsi bought this small vineyard around 30 years ago when the tower, surrounding buildings, and land were almost derelict. It has been their lives’ work to restore the building and develop the vineyard so that now it is a little piece of Tuscan heaven. Near the small town of Panzano, they have 10 hectares of vines and produce around 50,000 bottles of wine annually. Their production is proudly certified as organic and has been since 1994. They grow mainly Sangiovese, the principal ingredient of Chianti, but there are also vines providing Ancellota, Cannaiolo and Merlot.

Chianti Classico

Their production is exclusively red and, in the main, Chianti Classico. They produce a range of four Classicos and we started our tasting with the standard 2016. It is a blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Merlot. The colour is light, which is what you can expect from a Chianti. It is fermented in steel before spending 12 months in old oak barrels in order to allow the flavours of the grapes to come through. On the nose, there cherries with hints of raspberry, clementines and even rosemary - heady stuff. Light acidity and tannins make it a perfect match for Tuscan salami, medium pasta dishes and cheese that is still fresh.

Chianti Classico

We then had a special treat. The top of the range at Casaloste is called Don Vicenzo in honour not only of Giovanni's father but also his eldest son. This is 100% Sangiovese from a single vineyard that faces southwest. More than that, we were allowed a horizontal tasting, ie the same wine but from different years, in this case 2015 and 2013. The 2015 has the distinctive Sangiovese colour, verging towards brick red and has yet to develop the orange tinge typical of an aged example. On the nose it is rich and deep with cherry and vanilla and on the palate the tannins are soft but strong. By way of contrast, the 2013 has a bouquet of cherry with notes of chocolate and tobacco. The vanilla present in the 2015 has disappeared in this 2013 wine. The tannins have softened and the finish is long. All in all, a wonderful experience.

Chianti Classico

Sadly, we had to leave Casaloste after a most enjoyable morning. However, just up the hill, in the small town of Panzano, there is another Tuscan treat. Be warned! This experience is only for the dedicated carnivore. The unique butchery (and restaurant) of Dario Cecchini is famous throughout Italy as the spiritual home of Bistecca Fiorentina, or Florentine steak. This is a huge T-bone - they normally weigh at least a kilogram, but you can share, and the best come from a local breed of cattle called Chianina. Just the thing to accompany a good Chianti Classico! More about this vineyard

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