Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Olive Oil from Tuscany

Olive oil from Tuscany is becoming ever more popular, and maybe you’ll want to try some while touring Italy, but you may be in for a surprise; the real McCoy tastes a lot different to what you may be used to.

The corporate companies that supply supermarkets have little concern for quality, despite what they publicize or write on the bottle. It’s a question of economics. A single tree will yield about six pints of high quality oil, and this is just too little if you need to produce huge quantities at low prices. So they resort to a number of nasty tricks to dilute the oil, or use otherwise unsuitable (rotting or fermenting) olives, then correct the inevitable faults chemically. As most industrial concerns producing cheap olive oil use the same methods, these oils have the same flavor, and maybe it’s the one your used too.  Unfortunately European legislation is just not strict enough, and it’s easy to fraud or even legally produce bad olive oil. I’ll not write a lengthy article on why this is, just take my word for it.

Typical color of newly milled Olive Oil
I’m betting you've never tasted a genuine high quality Olive oil from Tuscany, and when you do it can be quite a surprise. It’s bitter and fruity and doesn't have an exaggerated taste of olives. However if you taste an industrial oil side by side, the difference becomes immediately apparent. You’ll unlikely want the bad stuff again. The word most people use to describe the smell and flavor of industrial oils is, “rancid.”

 Fortunately there are a number of high quality producers in Tuscany, and some also have the DOP or IGP certification. These acronyms define the geographical origins of the oil, but more importantly that the oil has been tasted and analyzed by the authorities, who certify its quality. The oil is submitted for anonymous laboratory analysis, and is also subject to a blind tasting by a panel of experts. Only if it passes both tests is the company allowed to add DOP or IGP. When buying Italian olive oil back home look for the acronyms on the label.

A word on prices. I can’t say that paying a high price tag will guarantee you get quality olive oil, but a low price will definitely guarantee bad oil.

Click here to find out more about my Olive Oil and Wine tour.

Sergio Ceccherini

Friday, February 15, 2013

Touring Tuscany (Chianti) by Bus

To see the best of Chianti and more of it in a single day, you really do need hire someone who knows the area well. That’s expensive I know, so here’s a cheaper way to go about things. 

Fortunately at least one scenic Chianti wine road the “Chiantigiana,” is served by bus line. You can catch the bus at the main bus station in Florence (near the main rail station). The line to look for is the 365 for Gaiole - Castellina - Panzano - Greve (via Ferrone/Strada) - Firenze. You’d be best going directly to the station for times and info, as their site (Bus Italia Nord) seems to be in Italian only. However there is an on line timetable if you know Italian. 

It's a pleasant trip of about an hour from Florence to Panzano, which is where I suggest you make your first and southern most stop. Take a walk up the steep main street of the village to a delightful enoteca (wine shop) called Accademia del Buon Gusto (Piazza Ricasoli 11, +39 055 856 0159). A great wine tasting is available "without obligations". The owner Stefano Salvadori is a knowledgeable host, an expert on wines, and last but not least, quite a character. You’ll have a fun time and you'll probably end up buying something anyhow, but it needn't be expensive. For lunch you may like to try Dario Cecchini the Butcher's fast food joint. Dario Cecchini is another lively character who’s made a name for himself with the Chianti Hamburger. My opinion? Well it’s a huge hamburger, but why come all this way to eat a hamburger. I’d go for Tuscan home cooking at La Cantinetta Sassolini which just opposite the Accademia, mentioned above, or Oltre il Giardino near the main road. Just ask you can’t miss either of them. If you choose the suggested light lunch menus, you'll dine inexpensively too. 

To walk it all off, take the village street up to the church and follow it round to the left for some splendid views over the Conca d'Oro (Golden valley), one of Chianti’s most picturesque areas. Now take the bus back to Florence and Greve in Chianti the capital of Chianti Classico, and browse the arcaded piazza and a wine shop or two. You might also like to visit the “other” butcher’s shop “Falorni,” but this one I recommend. It’s famous for Tuscan specialties such as salami, prosciutto and sausages. Take another bus north one stop to Greti, and here you’ll find the roadside tasting room of Castello di Verrazzano. Maybe you could ask the bus driver to tell you when you arrive, they’re usually quite helpful. The address is Via Citille 32, Tel +39 055 854243, and it’s along the main road. It's free to taste here, and there are affordable bottles from this fine history making estate. 

Your DIY Tuscan Tour ends here and the last bus back to Florence leaves at 8 pm weekdays and 5 pm on Saturdays. Don’t bother on a Sunday. The bus fare will set you back about €10, which is a whole lot less than what I’d ask you. However if there are more of you, seven is the perfect number in order to spend the least, then for €55 you can have a luxurious day. 

Take a look here: Scenic Wine Tours in Tuscany.

Sergio Ceccherini

Sergio Ceccherini

Monday, February 11, 2013

A word about Tours in Tuscany (Chianti)

Chianti isn't just a wine, but a well defined region of central Tuscany and the wine takes its name from the region. The etymology of its name is open to debate, however it goes back many centuries. Worth noting is the production zone for Chianti wine reaches vastly further than the actual geographical boundaries. The geographical boundaries, are the lands between Florence to the North, and Siena to the South.

Chianti is synonymous to Tuscany, and when people say they’d like to tour Tuscany, they’re usually thinking of Chianti, not realizing that Tuscany is a vaster place of about 8,870 sq miles. However Chianti is by far (along with the Val d’Orcia), Tuscany’s prettiest and most Iconic region. Vineyards, old farmhouses, woodland and cypress trees, adorn the hills as far as the eye can see. Great attention is paid to the aesthetics of the land by farmers and vine growers, giving yet another element of engaging beauty.

Some think of Chianti as a place only for wine aficionados, but what a mistake! It’s one of the world’s most beautiful locations, and a must for anyone who enjoys splendid countryside or photography. I've been driving around Chianti most of my life, and I assure you I never tire of the scenery. After so many years I still do photographic tours of Chianti for my own enjoyment.

If you want to do your own scenic tour of Chianti, I suggest you start at the Tignanello vineyards where you can enjoy the panorama from the road. It’s not easy to find, but head for Santa Maria Macerata Greve in Chianti, and you’ll get there. Then go to Gabbiano Castle, for some more lovely photos of Chianti, they don’t mind if you browse around. After Gabbiano Castle, back track towards Quattro strade then take the secondary road to Panzano in Chianti. Take in the views from Panzano, then proceed to Radda in Chianti. For your return to Florence, head back via Greve in Chianti. This route will take you to see some splendid scenery.
The Tignanello Vineyard

If you’d like to take a tour with me, click on one of these for more info.

I've also put together a couple of tours for non wine drinkers. They combine a photographic safari of the Chianti landscapes, with visits to either San Gimignano or Siena.