Tuesday, 30 April 2013

What is the origin of those photogenic glades of cypress trees in the Val d'Orcia?

A number of readers returning from visits to Tuscany south of Siena have asked me about the origin of those photogenic glades of cypress trees in the Val d'Orcia. I have enthused about the Val d'Orcia more than once in this blog and for photographers (and others), among the visual attractions of the Val d'Orcia are the cypress trees artfully planted in rows on either side of roads leading up to isolated farmhouses and the small clusters of cypresses standing alone among the crops on otherwise bare hillsides. Why are they there?

cypress trees in the Val d'Orcia
Probably the most photographed glade of cypress trees in the whole world,
located between San Quirico d'Orcia and Montalcino in the Val d'Orcia of Tuscany, Italy.
These clusters of cypresses where, in fact, planted as bird traps. Among the trees, some of the branches and twigs, as well as artificial perches, were coated with birdlime, a sticky substance that prevents small birds flying away once they have landed on it. Italian birdlime was made by a complicated process of boiling and pounding from mistletoe berries. These birds, especially blackbirds and thrushes, were harvested as often as twice a day during the season and provided a significant part of the protein diet of the poor farmers who struggled to make a living from the clay soil here (the famous crete senesi). As in many parts of the world, trapping birds using birdlime has long been prohibited in Italy but these beautiful cypress glades remain, to the delight of visitors to this part of Tuscany.

Strada di Valoresi as seen from from Villa La Foce
The Strada di Valoresi as seen from from Villa La Foce

More about the Val d'Orcia.

More about “Villa La Foce” and Iris Origo.

Recommended vacation accommodation in Chianti towns, villages and countryside.

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Web Site Promotion 2012 - 2013. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

A great new Tuscan farmhouse vacation rental near Panzano in Chianti

Today I want to tell you about a great new Tuscan farmhouse vacation rental near Panzano in Chianti that has just completed renovation and is ready for this year's tourist season. The property is Casa al Monte di Sopra and it is located high in the Chianti Classico hills at 600 m above sea level, meaning cool breezes in summer and spectacular views, in this case out over the valley of the Greve river towards Lamole. The main villa sleeps 7 people and there is room for two more in the guest house, for a total of 9 persons. There are three double rooms, a twin room and a single, and all bedrooms have en suite bathrooms.

Tuscan farmhouse vacation rental near Panzano in Chianti
Casa al Monte di Sopra Tuscan farmhouse vacation rental near Panzano in Chianti

One of the best things about Tuscan farmhouses is the loggia, a kind of verandah open to the open air. Casa al Monte di Sopra has a large ground floor loggia equipped with a huge dining table, making it an ideal spot for lunch and dinner al fresco. The swimming pool is also very large.

Tuscan farmhouse vacation rental
The living room of casa al Monte di Sopra

This Tuscan farmhouse is located 2.5 km from Panzano in Chianti and about 7 km from Greve in Chianti, both of which have plenty of shopping, restaurants, supermarkets, weekly market and so on. This is almost exactly halfway between Florence and Siena on the scenic Chiantigiana road, making Casa al Monte di Sopra an ideal base from which to visit these two art cities, as well as other parts of Chianti and Tuscany.

If you're looking for vacation accommodation in Tuscany for 5 to 9 people, this might be just the place for you!

More about this Tuscan farmhouse holiday home to rent near Panzano.

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Web Site Promotion 2012 - 2015. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

The new top level Chianti Classico wine category - useful, confusing or both?

A few days ago, I had something to say about the new Chianti Classico Gallo Nero logo, and promised to look also at the modified classification of Chianti Classico wines that was released by the Consorzio at the same time. So - the new top level Chianti Classico wine category - useful, confusing or both?

Most wine makers in Chianti Classico belong to a consortium known as the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico which is principally a collective marketing cooperative and which also sets the rules regarding the composition, classification and labelling of Chianti Classico wines.

The Consorzio's new, top level classification is designated "Gran Selezione" and is effectively a designation for single-estate wines which must be produced solely from grapes grown by the estate, cannot be sold within less than 30 months of the harvest (6 months longer than Riserva) and must receive at least three months of pre-sale bottle maturation. Yields must be 52.5 hectolitres or less per hectare, the same as for Riserva.

new top level Chianti Classico wine category

Many wine producers that I have spoken to are worried that this is going to introduce further confusion into buyers' minds regarding Chianti wines. Part of the problem is that Chianti Classico is only one of eight Chianti wine zones. Chianti Classico corresponds to the historical Chianti area located between Florence and Siena, while the other Chianti zones are distributed all over northern Tuscany. There is something to be said for this sense of dismay among some of the wine makers. However, if the labelling is consistent - in other words, the general appellation Chianti Classico is prominent and always has the same physical location on the label in relation to the subclassification appellations (IGT, Riserva) - my feeling is that Gran Selezione will allow buyers to distinguish between "ordinary" IGT (previously, vino da tavola) and Classico on the one hand, and the producers' top-of-the-range wines on the other. Gran Selezione provides greater specificity than DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) where the grapes just have to come from the wine region, not the producers' vineyards, but I would like to see the actual vineyard specified as well.

Sometimes I suspect that the new logo and the new classification have been introduced by the Consorzio not just with buyers in mind, but also their own members. The Consorzio recently lost a prolonged and very expensive court struggle with Gallo Bros. of the USA over the use of the Gallo Nero (Black Rooster) trademark on their bottles of wine sold outside Europe. Their members have not been happy about any aspect of that issue. However, this is just personal speculation - I only know what the producers tell me.

In a blog post, David Berry Green, a buyer for Berry Bros. & Rudd, rubbished the entire concept of adding an upper level Gran Selezione appellation, basically by complaining that the Consorzio had not introduced, instead, clear-cut delimitations, alla francese, of vineyards based on their "terroir". I can't agree with this criticism at all. The trend in Chianti Classico wines for the past thirty years has been away from terrain-dominated characteristics due to the dominating role of consultant oenologists. I'm not saying that's a good thing, but it is an observable fact. A terroir-based denomination would be of use to a few big properties that employ their own oenologists but would still reflect more the style of the oenologist than the geology, altitude, slope etc. (By the way, the major contribution of the Tuscan oenologist, once the vine varieties have been selected and grown, is in blending, since Chianti Classico allows for up to 20% red, non-sangiovese varietals, and this largely masks any specific contribution by geology other than in Chiantis that are 100% sangiovese.) For a divergent opinion on the introduction of Chianti Classico subzones, see the link below to the article by Roberto Stucchi.

Green also makes the following sweeping statement: "while the term Riserva is generally regarded in the UK as passé, a massive fudge, a wine that lacks provenance, has spent too long (drying out) in wood and is often too expensive". I don't know if that's a general public perception in the UK but it's definitely not the perception among all those who regularly buy and drink Chianti. Perhaps he's referring to UK-based distributor-bottled Chianti? Obviously if you're buying an estate-bottled Chianti, its provenance will be written on the bottle in great big letters and a bit of tasting experience will soon reveal whether the winemaker uses his best grapes for the Riserva. In my experience, they almost always do. The Gran Selezione classification is specifically prohibited from being used on wine bottled by wine merchants.

In summary, I tend towards favouring the new "Gran Selezione" denomination as long as it really does refer to wine made entirely from the grapes of the winery that bottles the wine and, if possible, is also identified with a particular vineyard. I would even favour putting the name of the oenologist on the bottle, as Andre Lurton of Bordeaux does, to good effect. Strangely enough, the makers of the best Italian pasta are slightly ahead of the curve in this regard. If you have a bar-code app on your cell phone, you can take advantage of pasta sold in Italian supermarkets which is bar-coded to identify the specific field where the wheat was grown. If you want to do the same thing for Chianti Classico wine, you need to key the series number and identification mark into a form on the consorzio website. As consumers become more and more particular about what they eat and drink, a Gran Selezione indication guaranteeing quality and precise origin is very likely to be a positive development for both producers and consumers.

Note added 11 January 2014: Roberto Stucchi of Badia a Coltibuono comes out in favour of the use of subzones for Chianti Classico wines.

Some useful links for Chianti Classico fans.

More about native Tuscan grape varieties.

My recommended places to stay in Tuscany.

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Web Site Promotion 2012 - 2013. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

"The treasure of the Lombards" - “Il Tesoro dei Longobardi” - an exhibition in Cortona 2013

If you spend a bit of time reading about the history of Tuscany (or of anywhere in northern Italy) during the Italian Dark Age, you will soon encounter the Lombards or Longobards (sometimes written Langobards) and Longobardi in Italian. These were a Germanic tribe who established a kingdom in Italy that lasted from 568 to 774. Their castles dot Tuscany and their names are still preserved in the appellations of towns like Radicondoli and, of course, in the name of the region of Lombardy. The Lombards were like the Normans, a small tribe that originated somewhere in the far north of Europe and which seem never to have stayed in one place for more than a generation. Instead, they migrated and conquered, adopting the language of their subjects and leaving their architectural legacy as far south as Sicily. The Lombard Kingdom of Italy wrested northern Italy from the Byzantines and was in turn conquered by Charlemagne and integrated into his Empire. However, Lombard nobles continued to rule parts of the Italian peninsula until well into the 11 C. It seems appropriate that the last of the Italian Lombards were conquered by the Normans and incorporated into their County of Sicily.

“Il Tesoro dei Longobardi
A Lombard brooch

An excellent exhibition on the art of the Longobards, under the title Il Tesoro dei Longobardi, will be on display in Cortona at the Palazzo Casali (MAEC - Museo dell'Accademia Etrusca) from 12 April until 30 June 2013. This is the second exhibition devoted to ancient gold work in Italy, the 2007 exhibition having been devoted to the Etruscans. This show brings together Lombard decorative gold work from a number of Italian museums and presents it both to throw light on the artistic culture of the Italian Dark Age and also in relation to contemporary jewellery that has been inspired by Lombard work.

The treasure of the Longobards
The Treasure of the Longobards Exhibition in Cortona

The first part of the exhibition is an introduction to the history and customs of the Lombards in Italy based heavily on the amazing finds from two recent tomb excavations at the "Necropoli della Ferrovia" near Cividale in Friuli plus finds in the area of Cortona.

The second part presents different objects from the 19 C excavations of the necropolis of Cividale del Friuli, including coins, clasps, broaches, belt buckles and pendants, as well as a copy of the famous golden disc ornament decorated with the image of a knight, together a series of objects from the coin cabinet of the National Archaeological Museum in Florence.

Longobard clasp
Longobard gold work

The third part of the exhibition includes about 30 pieces of fine craftsmanship, inspired by the world of the Lombards, created by master goldsmiths from Arezzo.

Highly recommended to anyone interested in a fascinating period of history and/or gold workmanship and the decorative arts.

More about Cortona.

More about the Etruscan Museum of Cortona.

My recommended places to stay in Tuscany.

Author: Anna Maria Baldini