We’ve dreamed of traveling to Italy so long that I was a little worried the reality might not live up to the fantasy. But oh, it really did. We spent five days in Florence, and loved every minute of it. The highlight of our trip was definitely the idyllic day we spent exploring the Tuscan countryside on a Tuscan Wine Tour through the Chianti Classico Region just outside of Florence.
We didn’t have a car on this trip, so we knew finding a tour was our best option. Remembering the great experience we had finding wine tours in Portugal, we turned to Viator. After a lot of research, we settled on a private Tuscan wine tour experience with Cooltours.
Our Private Tuscan Wine Tour Experience
Anna picked us up in the morning, right outside our Airbnb, and we were off for a day of wine tasting. A tour guide can really make or break an all-day experience like this, but Anna was a gem from start to finish. In addition to running her own tour company, she’s also a certified sommelier so she was able to educate us on Italian wine while showing us the beautiful Chianti region.
We visited three boutique wineries over the course of the day, each with their own unique vibe and story. Italian wine has long been a favorite of Tom’s and mine. But as the world’s largest producer of wine, Italy can be a tough nut to crack. While we’re still far from experts, I really appreciated the way Anna broke things down for us giving us a deeper understanding of the wines we were tasting.
I Balzini Winery
Our first stop of the day was to I Balzini Winery, a small family-owned winery specializing in Super Tuscan wines. We were greeted by friendly winery dogs and a spectacular view, the way all days in wine country should start.
I Balzini is a private estate located on the border of Florence and Siena in Tuscany. Anna explained that she chose this winery as our first stop because Super Tuscans can be a little easier to drink on their own than Chianti Classico wines, which often do better paired with food.
I will admit I didn’t know much about Super Tuscans prior to this wine tour. The difference between Super Tuscan wines and the other popular wine in the region, Chianti, is that Super Tuscans may use grapes that are not indigenous to Italy.
Anna explained that the name originated back in the 1970’s when winemakers in the region were frustrated with the laws that labeled all non-Chianti’s as “table wine”. To combat this, they coined the phrase “Super Tuscan” to differentiate these wines from cheap table wines of a lower quality. These wines can range from delicate, fruity easy-to-drink wines to big, bold reds.
After a quick tour, we tasted the four core wines that I Balzini produces, broken down by different colored labels. The green label is young and fresh, made primarily of Sangiovese grapes, and meant to be consumed right away. The black label is full-bodied and complex, with a long velvety finish. We really enjoyed all four wines and tasting first-hand just how different four Super Tuscan wines can be.
We loved these wines, and the small boutique vibe of the I Balzini winery. They really set the bar high for the rest of the day.
Note: Visits to I Balzini Winery are by appointment only.
Querceto di Castellina
Our next stop was Querceto di Castellina, another family-run winery that also doubles as a hotel and cooking school. Querceto is a feast for the eyes with Sangiovese vines growing as far as the eye can see. Here, we were treated to another wine tasting along with a delicious Tuscan lunch.
Querceto di Castellina is located in the heart of the Chianti Classico region. Their wines range from a rosé made from 100% Sangiovese grapes to a Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, the premium classification for Chianti Classico wines. Gran Selezione wines have to follow strict protocol to receive this honored distinction. One of which is that all grapes must be grown in the winery’s own vineyards. It was such a treat to taste a wine made from the vines we could see on the property.
Quercerto’s wines were made even more delicious by the lavish meal with which they were paired. Chianti wines tend to be high in acidity and thus pair well with foods with a little bit (or a lot) of fat. We experimented by tasting the different wines with a savory selection of crostinis. Then, we moved on to a beautiful meat and cheese board and a bowl of pappardelle bolognese. I personally couldn’t get enough of the combination of aged Pecorino cheese with Querceto’s Chianti Classico Gran Reserva.
Our last stop of the day was to Castello Monterinaldi, the largest of the three wineries we visited.
Monterinaldi has eighteen single vineyards, including white grapes like Trebbiano and Chardonnay. They’re also experimenting with several types of aging vessels like concrete and terra cotta.
For the tasting, however, we focused primarily on their Chianti Classico wines, which were fantastic. A lot of people associate Chianti with the cheap bottles in wicker baskets you often see at Italian restaurants. But real Chianti Classico is incredibly versatile. Depending on the vineyards from which the grapes are grown and the type of soil, no two Chiantis we tasted on the tour were alike. Castellino Monterinaldi puts a lot of focus on their agriculture, and the quality of the wine demonstrates that beautifully.
With that, our day was complete. Happily, we were able to ship some bottles home to enjoy over the years as we fondly reminisce about our first time in Tuscan wine country. I say first, because there are so many other wine regions in the country we are dying to explore. We’ll be back!
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