Monday, June 3, 2019

Can You Make Wine From Other Fruits?

We generally think of wine as a beverage made from grape juice, but can you make wine with other fruits? Well yes you can. Even the U.S. government’s Tax and Trade Bureau defines wine as being made from grapes, other fruit, and even other suitable agricultural products.

In fact you can make wine with many fruits such as damsons, elderberries, bananas & coconuts. Even rhubarb which is a vegetable. Often these wines are made in sweeter styles, and are always consumed young.

Why are grapes the prime ingredient?

However there are reasons grapes are the prime ingredient. The grape the only fruit with the right combination of sugars, juice and yeast on the skin to make fermentation and the production of an alcoholic beverage a natural process. To make wine from other fruits you have to mash the fruit and usually add water. Then have all sorts of adjustments to make, such as adding tartaric acid, sugar, tannins and so on. As a side note, you might like to know how to go about making your own country wine, and you can find out here.

Chart Showing The Sugar Content of Various Fruits

Grapes on the other hand contain enough tartaric acid, tannins that will naturally turn them into a beverage that has a good mouth feel. Well almost...making quality wine is a little more complex than waiting for nature to take its course. However somewhere in the history of mankind, someone somewhere drank some grape juice that had fermented, and they liked the experience. Wine was born! For a more in depth article click here.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Why Does Wine Need To Air?

A not too technical explanation on airing wine

What happens when you expose wine to oxygen, and why does wine need to air? Is it really necessary or is it just another snob thing? Unfortunately there isn't an answer good for all occasions. For some wines it's essential, while for others it's superfluous. So here's a not too technical explanation. Alternatively if ever in Italy you may like to take a wine class with me at Monterinaldi winery. More info on my tours here, and the Monterinaldi estate here.

Why does wine need to air in a decanter
Decanted Super Tuscan wine from Monterinaldi

What happens when air & wine Interact?

When our precious liquid comes into contact with air, two processes take place. Namely: evaporation and oxidation. These processes improve the quality of wine by changing its chemistry.


When wine evaporates elements known as  volatile compounds will instantly leave the liquid.  Two of these compounds are undesirable, so the sooner they leave the better. They are Ethanol and Sulfites. Ethanol has a medicinal odor, and Sulfites which are used as a preserve smell like burning matches. While present they will tend to cover the other more pleasing odors. Fortunately it doesn't take long for them do dissipate.


Oxidation is the same process that causes cut apples to turn brown and iron to rust. In simple terms the wine is breaking down. It's the very process of breaking down which is responsible for releasing the pleasant aromas which reach our nose and taste buds. Of course, over a number of days the oxidation process will make the wine very unpleasant to drink, but initially it's the exact opposite.

Do all wines need to air?

No they don't. Generally speaking whites and roses don't benefit from aeration because they don't contain the high levels of pigment molecules found in red wines. It's these pigments that change flavor in response to oxidation. Also cheaper red wines tend not to improve either. In fact, oxidation may make them taste flat after half an hour and bad after an hour! This because they're not made entirely with grape juice, and consequently don't have the same number of fruit derived molecules as a quality wine.

Methods of aerating wine

The best methods are the bottle or the decanter. Well there's also the glass, but this is the last stage. Aerators are a waste of time, because the air to wine contact is s split second which is way too short.

The bottle: The surface area of the neck is very limited. Consequently aerating will need a considerably longer time. Two/three hours for a young wine, and up to eight hours for an aged and structured product. The bottle should be left without the cork.

The decanter: Most definitely the best way is the decanter. The decanter will allow the wine to be exposed over a large surface area. Here a half hour to an hour is usually sufficient

The glass: If you don't have decanter, you can pour the wine back and forth between two containers or simply swirl the wine in your glass before drinking it. Actually a very brief swirl before every sip is something I always do. Just a couple of spins, no more.

You can learm n

Happy drinking!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Sweet Wines For Beginners

If you're new to wine and have a sweet tooth, you could be wondering if there are sweet wines for beginners? You may also have heard a few negative comments about them, and the experts (mainly men), see them as something for women or people who know nothing about wine. Read on and you'll find there's something just for you.

Vin Santo sweet wine from Tuscany
Vin Santo sweet wine from Tuscany
It's true that many sweet wines are made with things other than grape juice, and it's not a bad idea to keep away from them. There are however others that certainly deserve consideration. Some "experts" even rate wines such as Ice Wine, Rieslings, and Sauternes as high as their dry counterparts. You can read the definition of a sweet wine here.

So what's responsible for the bad reputation? Well, the wines with the bad reputation are generally the cheaper ones. And the bad rap is justified. I'm referring to wines under $10 where sugar and other additives are used to mask the poor qualities of the fruit. If a winemaker makes a mistake, or when the juice is of high volume but low quality, the quickest ways to hide imperfections is to add sugar. Because the sugar’s flavor is so dominant and pleasing to our palate, we don't notice the flaws.

You're going to have to spend a little more if you want quality

The best sweet wines for beginners and for anyone else for that matter, are those where the wine making methods concentrate the natural sugars present in the fruit. This may be because the fruit is allowed to over ripen, it's frozen, or it's been dried. No additional sugar is added to hide something, and the sweet flavor is the natural result of the winemaker’s techniques. These processes require more work and low yields, consequently the price tag is a little higher. However for the most part they're still affordable. As I'm biased the best wines come from Italy and are made from dried grapes. See below.

Suggested sweet wines for beginners

Riesling. Originally from Germany, also found in Austria, Australia,  New Zealand & the US. The wine has a wide stylistic range, from complex, dry to very sweet.

Sauternes. From the Bordeaux region of France. Again there are many styles of this white wine, and they're best served lightly chilled.

Recioto della Valpollicella. Intensely flavored, and made from dried (passito) grapes in the Veneto region of north-eastern Italy

Vin Santo. Vin Santo again made from dried grapes. It can vary in sweetness from dry to extremely sweet. The Vin Santo from Monterinaldi estate winery which we can visit on one of my private Tuscany wine tours has won many awards. In my opinion rightfully so. A gorgeous sweetness when it first as it hits the palette, followed by a touch of acidity to keep it from being overpowering. An absolute perfect balance. And to top it all its an all natural product made from dried grapes not sugars. Another bonus is that the wine will keep indefinitely, like a liquor. Take a drink today, and put the cork back on the bottle. It will be fine in a year's time if you can wait that long.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Beginners Guide To Wine Tasting

Many of my guests feel the need to apologize for their lack of wine knowledge. If you're thinking of taking a Tuscany wine tour with me, you don't need to. It will be my job and pleasure to help you through the process. However, here are a few light hearted tips to debunk all the snobbery and make you feel more at ease.

Tuscany wine tasting tour with Sergio of scenic wine tours in Tuscany

Before the big day 1 to 6

1. Buy a bottle of wine and a glass so you can practice a few simple techniques. If you don't know them, you'll always be a novice. The glass is like the one below and a cheap wine suffice, but if you're considering a trip to Tuscany go for red.

2. Hold the glass by the stem or the foot. Don't ever hold it in your fist, it just looks so unrefined!

3. Fill the glass ¼ full then incline it so you can observe the edge of the liquid in transparency. Hold it up to the light, or if there's a white surface, against the surface. Observe if the edge is dark or if you can see through it. Then observe the color; is a deep red, violet or does it have a slight brown tint.

The glass for red wines

Look the part

4. If you want to look just right, you must practice the swirling technique. Get it wrong or don't do it, and you're telling everyone you're new to the game. The process gets oxygen into the wine which will help release all the aromas. The easiest way to swirl is to hold the glass to the table by the stem, and make rapid circular movements. You must aim to create a concave cone with the liquid. If the glass is correctly filled by about a ¼ it won't come out, so go about it vigorously.

5. Swirl the wine for about three seconds, then put your nose well into the glass taking a deep sniff. Wait about twenty seconds and do it again. See if you can associate the aroma with something else you know. Red wines will generally smell of other red fruits and jams. If the wine has been barrel aged there will be a hint or even a definite note of spice as well. If you can't don't worry. This is something that can take time as most of us aren't used to using our sense of smell. Women tend to have a better sense of smell then men.

A typical somellier

Take a sip and slobber

6. Now take a sip, and very briefly hold the wine in your mouth and swallow. Now take another small sip, but this time keep it in your mouth and draw in air mixing it with the wine. You can find your own way to do this, the easiest for most people is to draw in over your closed teeth. Roll the wine around your palate for about ten seconds, then swallow. Don't be afraid to slobber, It's perfectly acceptable at a wine tasting.

At this point concentrate on the sensations you're receiving. With red wines the first thing to observe is the puckering sensation. Did you find it pleasant, or did it bother you? Now observe if the wine is acidic, bitter, sugary or dry, and how do these sensations take you. Do you like them or not? At the end of the day that's what it's all about. You either like what you're tasting or you don't and it's the same for everyone.

So that's it! You now know the basic of how to taste wine.

At the winery

You're now in the tasting room and as a beginner the best advice I can give you is to admit you're new to wine and still learning. Once you've done this you're unassailable. Never and I mean never, drink the wine like a shot. Just take your time and go through points 2 to 6, and you'll get full marks even from the most conceited snob.

If you're in doubt, just don't say anything. However sensations are personal and not really debatable. So if your smelling a sweaty horse in your glass, then say so.

However at all times just remember the following

• No one knows everything about wine.
• Don't be afraid to ask “dumb” questions.
• Wine is to be enjoyed not intellectualized.
• Expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better.
• If it doesn't have to be expensive, don't trust very cheap either.
• Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and also in his taste buds.
• Don't be afraid to experiment. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Best Time to Travel in Tuscany

So when is the best time to travel to Tuscany? Well I’m of the opinion that Travelling in Tuscany is a year round activity and every season has its charm. Of course winter in Tuscany is cold, but it’s not that bad; expect day time temperatures of 5-10 centigrade (40-50 Fahrenheit).

The winter months are best for cultural tours of cities and museums because you won’t have to deal with the high season crowds. The main cities such as Florence Rome and Venice never close down, but being low season there's ample choice of accommodation at considerably cheaper prices. There's something of a myth about August, which claims that everything closes down for the holidays. While this is true for small towns and industry, all the major tourist attractions are more than open. This includes wine country and wineries.

Tuscany wine country landscape
One Of The Scenes From My Tours
If the the Tuscan scenery is high on your list of preferences, then visit from the end of April to the end of October. The foliage is rich and you'll get some great photos. The less busy periods for wine tasting are March, April & November. 

As the Tuscan countryside is quite a large area, travelling at any time of the year isn't too much of a problem. However in summer and autumn be prepared for crowds at the wineries. If you're travelling without a guide, I strongly suggest you book wine tastings in advance. Otherwise you may encounter difficulty being served or even get refused. 

Guided Tuscany Wine Tours

The best way to enjoy Tuscany is to hire the services of a guide (OK I'm biased). However not all tours are equal, and you may still find yourself in crowded tasting rooms. Unfortunately this much has to do with the price. Low cost companies offer convenient prices up front, but they recover money by taking commission on wine sales. There’s nothing illegal in this, but of course they take you where they’re offered the best deal. As you can imagine these wineries are very popular, and you'll likely find yourself with plenty of company.

I guarantee my Tuscany wine tours are different, and I suggest you take a look here to discover why. You'll  be kept well away from the crowds and enjoy personal attention in quiet surroundings. Not to mention leisurely off beaten track itineraries, and farm to table food

Last but not least, for those interested in olive oil, you may like to consider late October and early November. The countryside is still  pretty, and above all, it's olive harvest time. This is the only time of the year when you can see milling taking place. One of the most important periods of Tuscan lifestyle.

Copyright Sergio Ceccherini 2019

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Difference Between Chianti and Chianti Classico

The Chianti wine production region is a large area taking up most of central Tuscany in Italy. Chianti wine was originally produced in a small area between the cities of Florence and Siena which was defined legally as far back as 1716.

However due to the popularity of Chianti, other nearby areas began producing  and selling wines with the same name. They were often wines of inferior quality (and price), so obviously the authentic producers had a lot to complain about.
Tignanello one of Chianti's most famous vineyards
Tignanello Vineyards Famous for Super Tuscan Wines
To solve the situation but only in 1932, seven sub zones where added to the original Chianti region of 1716. It was decided that wine from the original area of 1716 be defined Chianti Classico, and the name may only be legally used by wines coming from said region.

The wines from the new sub zones took the name of their geographical locations and are: Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Chianti Colli Aretini, Chianti Colli Senesi, Chianti Montalbano,Chianti  Rufina, and as of 1996 Chianti Montespertoli. Often they are simply referred to as Chianti.

So in a nutshell, Chianti Classico is the wine made in the original historic production zone, while Chianti is the wine coming from the extended and much larger area added in 1932. 

Though the Chianti Classico wine region has an extension of about 277 sq miles, only 28 are officially designated for the production of wine. There is a system of quotas which limits planting new vines. This is done to preserve the environment and prevent an excessive production of wine.

For a more detailed article on Chianti Classico see here

Copyright Sergio Ceccherini 2019

The Chianti Classico Logo will be found only on certified bottles

Friday, June 27, 2014

Spirit of Italy - Harvest Italia Olive Picking Tour

Vicky Gray-Clark of Spirit of Italy tours is organizing this year's Harvest Italia tour to Tuscany (October 28 – November 4). Her guests will be picking olives in the Val D’arno region of Tuscany and enjoying the area during the Fall harvest. Vicky and I worked together when I guided her six guests on her previous tour in 2012 and we'll be working together again this tour.

Here is a promotional card with details of her 7 night/8 day tour. To book the Harvest Italia tour or for questions, visit her site – or contact her at

You can also contact me at

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Inconsistent quality in Chianti wines

As I'm always singing the praises of Chianti wines, I think it would be coherent to mention what's not so good too. However nothing that will make me lose my love for one of the best dining wines in the world.

There are approximately 570 estates in the Chianti Classico appellation, ranging in size from tiny landowners  to large corporate concerns. Of these 350 actually produce a bottled wine with an official Chianti label, while the the others grow grapes. Chianti has eight production zones, and experts generally concur that wines from the Chianti Classico zone are those that offer the highest standards of quality, along  with Rufina. Look out for these words on the bottle, it does make a difference.
Chianti bottles bearing the official logo and D.O.C.G. seal
Chianti has come a long way in the last twenty years, and the vast majority of estates offer a high quality product. Even the corporate wineries  have improved their offering, some  reaching high degrees of excellence. However others are still geared to producing cheaper average wines for bulk sales. Consequently one of the criticisms moved towards Chianti is that quality is inconsistent, and unfortunately it’s true. Though I care to add the wines are never bad.

The reason is simple; the making of Chianti is governed by a set of rules called a disciplinary. It defines the minimum, but not maximum standards for wine to be called Chianti. Defining minimum legal standards is a good thing, it ensures the consumer he’s drinking an authentic wine. A wine can only bear the name Chianti, if it’s made to disciplinary standards. It will also have the D.O.C.G. acronym on the label. However a wine made to the minimum requirements will never be a top wine. It certainly won’t be bad, but not excellent either.

The problem is political and economic. The disciplinary is defined by a consortium of producers, and industrial wholesalers (non producers) where the large commercial concerns have more voting weight when defining the rules. Large producers and wholesalers are primarily interested in quantity and low prices. The small boutique wineries who produce quality wines have less weight financially, and due to the political structure of the consortium, their opinions and votes have less importance too. 

As producing cheap wine isn't economically rewarding for the boutique wineries, they’re often in heated contrast with the consortium as they advocate far higher standards. They have nothing to gain by producing cheap wine (they make money only if the prices of their limited production is higher), and they make it a matter of pride too. For them wine making is art, love and passion. They take far more care in the three important phases of wine production; viticulture, cellar techniques and ageing. This of course increases costs, but they  produce wines that rival with the world’s best. Just read a few reviews in the press to see scores of 90+ being given to wines from Chianti Classico, a thing unheard of twenty years ago

So there you have it, cheap average wines on one side, while on the other, top quality and 90+ scores. How do you find the better wines? Well trial and error basically, though reviews in the press can be helpful. Despite the legitimate suspect that reviewers can be biased, I've found they don't give high scores to average wines. I'd stick to Chiantis from the areas of Classico and Rufina too, (you'll find the names on the bottle) which are almost always of the highest quality. Alternatively you could take a tour with me and try the wines for yourself, look here:

Sergio Ceccherini