Tuesday, 25 January 2011


The expression "Valtiberina" - meaning the valley of the river Tiber - usually refers to the Upper Tiber Valley of Tuscany, where it forms the eastern border of Tuscany and meets Emilia Romagna, The Marches and Umbria. This area is unjustly neglected by tourists in comparison with most parts of Tuscany, and in fact there are many charming sights in the Valtiberina. Among them are:

  • Anghiari has one of the most spectacular views, in terms of height and distance, in all Italy. As someone who suffers from mild vertigo, I felt distinctly shaky walking down the main street and looking out towards its extension as Via della Battaglia. Anghiari retains much of its walls and is well worth a half-day visit.
  • Sansepolcro, home of Piera della Francesca and still housing some of his most spectacular paintings, lies, in contrast to Anghiari, on the flat bottom of the Valtiberina. Inside its quadrilateral of protective walls it maintains a mediaeval appearance, with splendid Renaissance and Baroque additions. The Palio della Balestra is a great Tuscan festival held in Sansepolcro every year on the second Sunday of September.
  • Monterchi is not to be missed by anyone interested in the art of Piero della Francesca whose mother was born here. A small museum in Monterchi houses the famous fresco of the Madonna del Parto, an extraordinary portrait by Piero della Francesca of a pregnant Virgin Mary.

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Friday, 21 January 2011

Italian grape varietals

The fascinating story of Italian grape varietals hinges, of course, on wine production rather than edible grapes.

Italian grape varietals

Among the most famous Italian grape varietals are Sangiovese for the red wines of Tuscany and Nebbiolo for Barolo, where it competes with Barbera as the most popular red wine grape in Piedmont. But there are a host of lesser grape varieties that produce excellent wines. There are probably over 3000 red grape varieties indigenous to Italy with 50 to 60 of these being used in the production of popular wines. In major wine producing areas of Italy, there are now specialised nurseries devoted to salvaging neglected varietals - sometimes discovered as a single remaining vine - and testing them for wine-making value, usually foreseen as contributing to blends. Tuscany and especially Sicily are prominent in this field. Some widely used grape varietals are also going out of fashion, mainly because, although easy to grow and prolific producers, the resulting wines are of indifferent quality. An example is Trebbiano, used to make white wine in Tuscany (and previously a mandatory constituent of Chianti red wines) and in Sicily.

For descriptive lists of Italian wine grape varietals we recommend:
Don't forget to visit Elena Spolaor's new blog about Umbria Italy!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Wine tasting tours in Tuscany

How to organise wine tasting tours in Tuscany is often at the top of the list for any wine lover visiting Tuscany, particularly the Chianti area and the wine-producing areas around Montalcino and Montepulciano. A do-it-yourself tour is perfectly practical but be sure to work out your route and ascertain opening times if you are planning to visit specific wineries. A completely "spontaneous" diy wine tasting tour is also possible. This means taking your chances and dropping in at any vineyard displaying a 'degustazione' sign on the roadside.

wine tasting tour in Tuscany, Italy
Learning about the vines on your wine tasting tour in Tuscany

The alternative is to take a guided wine tasting tour. These cost quite a bit of money but a good one means you get an excellent commentary both during the actual wine tours and also in transit between wineries, access to castles and similar wineries not always open to the general public, and the certainty that the winery will be open when you arrive with someone there to tell you about the grapes, wines and wine-making. In other words, with a guided tour, your guide does the organisational work for you and drives you after you've "tasted" quite a bit of wine. This last point should not be forgotten.

degustazione in Tuscany
Degustazione! Wine tasting in a Tuscan villa

More about Tuscany wine tours and wine tasting.

Don't forget to read our review of a great organised Tuscan wine tour.

Tuscany Toscana
Don't forget to visit my Tuscany
Travel Guide!

Up-to-date news on what to see and where to stay in Chianti and all of Tuscany.

Tuscany Travel Guide

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