Italy: an oenophile’s paradise
Whether you’re hunting truffle and Nebbiolo in Piedmont, Renaissance art and Sangiovese in Tuscany, or Alpine walking and Lagrein in Alto-Adige, Italy offers an incomparably diverse set of experiences for the oenophile tourist.
Italy is the one country in the world that can rival France for the sheer country-spanning diversity and complexity of its wine industry. No matter where you are on the peninsula—from the Alpine north to the heel of the boot in Puglia, from the Veneto to the islands of Sicily and Sardinia—you are never very far from a vineyard. But with more than 2,000 grape varieties, thousands of wine growers and producers, and more than 500 IGT, DOC, and DOCGs, the range of wine styles is inexhaustible—and all designed to accompany Italy’s no-less various regional foods.
So where to begin an oenophile tour? A dream itinerary might involve entering the country from France, in the Valle d’Aosta, home to Europe’s highest vineyards, and of some of Europe’s most charming villages amid the Alpine scenery. There is a strong French flavor to this province, and its wines, as can be seen in the name of the website devoted to exploring its wine trail, www.routedesvinsvda.it, or, indeed, of the excellent local co-operative, La Cave du Vin Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle, which has a tasting room open year round, with visits by appointment (www.cavemontblanc.com). For accommodation, few places offer a more spectacular setting or better wine list than the luxury resort Hermitage Hotel & Spa (www.hotelhermitage.com).
Continuing southeast takes you into one of the big names of Italian wine, Piedmont. The two great Nebbiolo zones of Barbaresco and Barolo are often referred to as Italy’s answer to Burgundy because of the small scale of production, the profusion of small producers, and the love of terroir. And like the French region, these one or few-man or woman bands don’t always have tourists high on their list of priorities. For many of the starriest of names you’ll need to get in touch well in advance of your visit to book an appointment. However, names such as Marchesi di Barolo (www.marchesidibarolo.com); Bartolo Mascarello (www. barolodibarolo.com); Cascina Fontana (www.cascinafontana. com) in Barolo, and Cantina del Pino (www.cantinadelpino. com), Ca’ del Baio (www.cadelbaio.com), and Cantina del Glicine (www.cantinadelglicine.it) all have justified reputations for welcoming guests. The best time to visit is autumn, when the vineyards are draped in mist, and truffle season is in full swing, the ingredient infusing the menus of restaurants throughout the region. But there is gastronomic delight to be found at any time of the year, not least in Enrico Crippa’s remarkable three-Michelin starred Alba restaurant, Piazza Duomo (www.piazzaduomoalba.it).
North by northeast
Continuing east from Piedmont takes you into the province of Lombardy, home of arguably Italy’s greatest sparkling wine region, Franciacorta, in the rolling hills between Brescia and Lake Iseo. The local winemaking consorzio has a detailed wine route and plenty of information on who and how to visit (www. franciacorta.net), with one of the highlights being Ca’ del Bosco, which offers a full tour and tasting, helping visitors get to the bottom of the traditional method of sparkling winemaking (www.cadelbosco.com).
To the northeast, another of Italy’s mountainous wine regions, Trentino-Alto-Adige, in the Dolomites, the mirror image of Valle d’Aosta but with a German (or rather Austrian) rather than Franco-Swiss accent. Stay in one of an abundance of comfortable inns dotted about the pretty scenery (such as Romantik Hotel Turm with its extensive wine cellar carved into the rock; www.hotelturm.it), and make a beeline for the Elena Walch winery, which serves cold delicacies matched to its wines in its small bistro in the garden of its estate in Tramin, and also runs the Ostaria al Castello in Castel Ringberg, with fine views across Lake Caldaro (www.elenawalch.com).
Heading southeast of Trentino-Alto-Adige takes you into Friuli, and, ultimately, the Collio zone that skirts the Slovenian border. Following the picturesque 50-km Strada del Vino from Dolegna del Collio to San Floriano del Collio is a pleasure at anytime of the year, but particularly so in late May, when around 60 wineries band together for the Cantine Aperte event, opening their doors to visitors and offering local dishes and wine (www.mtvfriulivg.it). The rest of the year, it’s worth stopping off in the town of Cormòns, the main wine center of Collio, and heading to the Enoteca Regional di Cormòns to try the wines of 32 local producers (www.enoteca-cormons.it).
West from Friuli lies the Veneto, with the east of the region home to La Strada del Prosecco, details of which can be found at the website of the consorzio in the heartland of the sparkling wine’s production between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene (www.coneglianovaldobbiadene.it). You’ll need to book your appointments in advance before setting out on the route, which runs through a gently undulating landscape of vines, castles, villas, and churches, with Bisol’s beautiful 19th-century cellars among the highlights (www.bisol.it). The same company is also involved in an exciting project in Venice: Venissa on the island of Mazzorbo has a vineyard making wine from the rare Venetian grape, Dorona, as well as a luxury resort and Michelin-starred restaurant (www.venissa.it).
Continuing west from Venice, past the beautiful cities of Padua and Vicenza, it’s worth stopping in the village of Soave, where the region’s best producer, Pieropan, has a graceful tasting room and wine shop in the grand Palazzo Pullici, which has been the home of the family business since 1880 (www.pieropan.it). The city of Verona is worth visiting for its range of wine bars alone (such as Enoteca Segreta Antica Di Poli Luigi (www.enotecasegreta.it); Antica Bottega del Vino (www.bottegavini.it); and Enoteca Zero 7 (www. enotecazero7.it). It’s also an ideal base for a tour of Valpolicella wine country, with Allegrini’s gracious headquarters (book in advance, www.allegrini.it) among the cellars worth visiting.
Tuscany and Central Italy
The Platonic ideal of Italian wine is undoubtedly Tuscany. That may be a source of annoyance for the inhabitants of other regions of the country (as the useful website www. winetoursitalia.com puts it, you will get more out of a visit to Italy if you understand “what [it] is, not how it sits romantically in the minds of most tourists as a kind of Tuscany write large”). But it can’t be denied that the Tuscany of cypress trees and medieval hill towns continues to exert a powerful hold on the popular global imagination—or that it does a fabulous job of catering to those ideals.
Wine tourism is a big deal in Tuscany, its approach widely copied both in the rest of Italy and in warm-climate wine regions all over the world. The options range from cycle tours to private chauffeured wine and art tours, to weeklong cookery and wine tasting courses. And you can time your visit to coincide with the many wine-themed events that take place in the region, whether the harvest festivals of Greve and Panzano in Chianti in September, or the wine-and-food festival Wine & Siena that takes place in a variety of venues across the city in January (www.wineandsiena.it).
Most of the region’s wineries are well set up for wine tourism, with many housing restaurants and/or guestrooms, and all having tasting rooms or catering to visitors by appointment somewhere on their property. Castello di Volpaia, Banfi, and Castello di Ama are among the highest rated winery-restaurants; the guesthouses at Fontodi, the ancient monastery at Badia a Coltibuono, and the villa at Barone Ricasoli among the most atmospheric places to stay. Wine is also very much a part of a visit to the great cities of Florence and Siena, with Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina (www.pittigolaecantina.com), Le Volpi e l’Uva (www.levolpieluva.com), and Casa del Vino (www.casadelvino.it) among Florence’s best, and La Compagnia dei Vinattieri and Enoteca i Terzi two of Siena’s best.
For all its charms, Tuscany doesn’t have the monopoly on wine tourism in Central Italy. A highlight of a visit to the highlands of Abruzzo would be a visit to the high-ranking Montepulciano producer Masciarelli (www. masciarelli.it), and a stay in the owners’ beautiful Castello di Semivicoli (www.castellodisemivicoli.com), while the fabulous gardens, vineyards, and cellars—as well as the restaurant L’Antica Osteria della Colonna—makes a visit to Principe Pallavicini a restful day out from Rome in the Frascati Superiore DOC in the Lazio region.
The Mezzogiorno and the islands
Compared to parts of the north and center, southern Italy’s great wine regions still have a slight feeling of the path less traveled. But a wine-themed holiday in Campania on the Tyrrhenian Sea or Puglia on the Adriatic has much to offer. In Campania, the great hilltop town of Taurasi, the Barolo of the south, in Irpinia, is a place of pilgrimage for lovers of these complex Aglianico wines. It’s worth starting with a visit to the Enoteca Regionale dei Vini d’Irpinia in the 13th-century Castello di Taurasi, before making an appointment at a leading producer such as Mastroberadino (www.mastroberardino.com) or Cantine Antonio Caggiano (www.cantinecaggiano.it).
On the other side of the south, in Puglia, Masseria Le Fabriche (www.lefabriche.it) is a smart vineyard hotel surrounded by vines, olive trees, and fragrant shrubland: a stylish place to base yourself while you explore the region and visit (by appointment) producers such as Masseria Li Veli (www.liveli.it), Gianfranco Fino (www.gianfrancofino.it), and Morella (www.morellavini.com).
Finally, the islands: both Sardinia and Sicily have independent wine cultures that have enjoyed a renaissance in the past two decades. In Sicily, the leaders in wine tourism are undoubtedly the Planeta family, who have visitor centers in three locations on the island (including, most recently, on the slopes of Mt Etna), as well as stylish restaurant and hotel, La Foresteria just up from the beach in Menfi (www.planetaestate. it). For a more classical experience, Tasca d’Almerita’s Regleali Estate has a coolly elegant guesthouse, a cooking school, and wine tasting (www.tascadalmerita.it), while Passopisciaro (www.vinifranchetti.com; by appointment only) is the place to get to grips with the volcanic viticulture of Etna.
In Sardinia, the peaceful, refurbished manor house among vines and olive groves at The Wine Resort on the west of the island (www.margallo.it) will provide a base to explore the Cannonau and Vermentino wines produced by such visitorfriendly wineries as Cantina Gallura (www.cantinagallura.net) and Cantine di Orgosolo (www.cantinediorgosolo.it).
Barolo producer Michele Chiarlo’s luxury resort is based in a restored ancient village in the heart of the Barolo zone offering a restaurant, cooking lessons, and wine tours.
Borgata Cerequio, 12064 La Morra (CN) | +39 0173 50657 | www.palascerequio.it
A favored spot for visitors to Barolo country, Tenuta Carretta houses a restaurant featuring Flavio Costa’s Ligurian and Piedmontese cuisine and a cozy hotel in traditional style, all surrounded by the vines of the wine estate.
Località Carretta, 2, 12040 Piobesi d’Alba (CN) | +39 0173 619119 | www.tenutacarretta.it
This wonderfully restored Tuscan medieval village surrounded by woodland and a 750ha (1,855 acre) organic estate offers luxury accommodation in beautiful, peaceful surroundings. But, with church held on Sunday and craft studios all week, it has a genuine community feel.
Resort Borro, 1/A 52024 (AR) | +39 0559 77053 | www.ilborro.it
One of Sicliy’s top hotels, a deeply tranquil space set on an organic farm and winery in a 19th-century house with impressive tower near the beach in Santa Maria Del Focallo.
Az Agricola La Moresca Srl, C. Da Marabino, CP 18, Ispica (RG) | +39 0932 795060 | www.torremarabinio.com
The great Tuscan producer’s abbey-cum-hotel sits in the gorgeous Chianti hills. Surrounded by 810ha (2,000 acres) of forest, there is plenty to do in terms of hiking, picnics, and wine tasting tours. The viticulture stretches back 2,000 years, and this wealth of experiences all contributes to a truly memorable stay.
Badia a Coltibuono, 53013 Gaiole in Chianti (SI) | +39 0577 74481 | www.coltibuono.com
Perfectly situated along La Strada del Prosecco with access to trails in the Venetian countryside, a cluster of lovingly restored 18th-century buildings attached to a Venetian villa and garden.
Piazza IV Novembre, 3, 31051 Follina (TV) | +39 0438 971277 | www.hotelabbazia.it
In a peaceful setting right on the beach on the Sardinian coast, Hotel Bue Marino’s cozy rooms are surrounded by Canonau (Grenache) vines, while the rooftop restaurant has a superb local wine list.
Via Vespucci, 8, 08022 Cala Conone-Dorgali (NU) | +39 0784 920078 | www.hotelbuemarino.it
A five-bedroom winery hotel near the secluded market town of Gaiole-in-Chianti surrounded by beautiful hills and fantastic wines, plus the “hidden gems” of a labyrinth of cantinas and a wine library.
Località Capannelle, 13, 53013 Gaiole-in-Chianti (SI) | +39 0577 74511 | www.capannelle.it
The home of one of the world of fine wine’s most coveted events, the annual World Wine Symposium, is one of the world’s great luxury hotels, set right on the shores of Lake Como and with a suitably magnificent wine cellar.
Via Regina, 40, 22012 Cernobbio (CO) | +39 0313 481 | www.villadeste.com
Luxury lodgings based in a 13th-century building surrounded by 1,000-year-old olive groves in the heart of Puglia with a range of atmospheric suites, a restaurant, and a spa.
Contrada Sant’Angelo 33, 72015 Fasano (BR) | +39 0804 395757 | www.borgosanmarco.it
For more restaurants with award-winning wine lists click here.
Key players in the modern renaissance of Sicilian wine, Planeta has impeccably tasteful visitor centers in three locations on the island: Noto, Etna, and Menfi, where it also has a stylish hotel and restaurant.
Contrada Passo di Gurra ex SS 115 sp 79, Km 91, 92013 Menfi (AG) | +39 0925 1955460 | www.planeta.it
One of the great, grand old names of Campania, Mastroberardino welcomes visitors to its fresco-decorated, classical winery for a variety of different tours, tastings, and wine-and-food matching lunches.
Via Manfredi, 75-81, 83042 Atripalda (AV) | +39 0825 614111 | www.mastroberardino.com
One of the great names of Tuscan—and Italian—wine, the Frescobaldis have 700 years of experience under their belts, and a visit to one of their seven beautiful estates throughout Tuscany proves they are masters of the art of wine-tourism.
With a fine restaurant, a multi-faceted tour, and various options for tastings of the many different Tuscan wines in the family’s portfolio, a visit to Antinori’s Chianti Classico headquarters is one of the best wine tourism experiences in Italy.
Via Cassia per Siena, 133, 50026 Loc. Bargino, San Casciano in Val di pesa (FI)| +39 0552 359700 | www.antinori.it
The refined Piemontese cuisine of the Foresteria restaurant is one of many highlights of a visit to the atmospheric old cellars and modern visitor center at this 200-year-old Barolo producer.
Via Roma, 1, 12060 Barolo (CN) | +39 0173 564491 | www.marchesibarolo.com
Located in the Vezza d’Alba, land of Roero Arneis, this ancient farmstead will highlight the best that the Province of Cuneo has to offer.
Via Rubiagno, 2, 12040 Vezza d’Alba (CN) | +39 0173 65459 | www.oliveropietro.it
One of the world’s finest co-operative producers high up in the Alto-Adige welcomes visitors all week to its tasting and sales room at its headquarters in the charming village of Terlano.
Via Silberleiten, 7, I -39018 Terlano (BZ) | +39 0471 257135 | www.kellerei-terlan.com
One of Friuli’s leading producers has a tranquil guesthouse in the heart of its estate which makes a fine base for touring the region, although the winery also welcomes day visitors for extensive tours and tastings.
Via Gavianna, 5, 34070 San Lorenzo Isontino (GO) | +39 0481 809592 | www.lisneris.it
An opportunity to explore sustainability in a winery where the team eschews machinery in the production process, employing environmentally friendly techniques in deference to the stunning surroundings of Lake Garda.
Via NH Ugo De Zinis, 10 - 25080 Calvagese della Riviera (BS) | +39 0306 01001 | www.dezinis.it
This fine old estate in Puglia’s Salice Salentino offers two comprehensive tours of the local vineyards, wine cellar, and wine museum, with a tasting paired with traditional local food.
Contrada via Case Sparse, 73015 Salice Salentino (LE) | +39 0831 665700 | www.castellomonaci.it