The Chianti area is home to amazing medieval castles. There are five tourism routes connecting small villages, churches, abbeys and castles in Gaiole in Chianti known as Strada dei Castelli (castle roads). For centuries, this area was prime battleground for faceoffs between Siena and Florence. Castles and walled towns were built on hilltops as protection and to maintain control over the land. Today, some of them are part of huge wine estates which welcome visitors and help them discover incredible stories.
Among the highlights of the Castle road is Castello di Brolio, a huge Chianti Classico-producing estate and the oldest winery in Italy. Since 1141 the Castle has belonged to the Ricasoli, a very historic family of the Florentine aristocracy. One of the best known family members was Bettino Ricasoli, aka the “Iron baron.” Born in Florence in 1809, Bettino Ricasoli played a very important role in the history of the kingdom of Italy: elected Italian deputy in 1861, he succeeded Cavour as Prime Minister of Italy.
A member of the Georgofili Academy, (1834), he devoted himself to the improvement of agricultural techniques in Brolio. With a stiff and reserved temperament (that's why he was called the Iron baron), at just twenty years old he began researching and experimenting with the aim of producing a high-quality wine in Chianti, able to compete internationally with the great French wines. After more than thirty years of research and experiments, in 1872 Baron Bettino Ricasoli wrote down the first Chianti formula:
"...I verified the results of the early experiments, that is, that the wine receives most of its aroma from the Sangioveto (which is my particular aim) as well as a certain vigour in taste; the Canajuolo gives it a sweetness which tempers the harshness of the former without taking away any of its aroma, though it has an aroma all of its own; the Malvagia, which could probably be omitted for wines for laying down, tends to dilute the wine made from the first two grapes, but increases the taste and makes the wine lighter and more readily suitable for daily consumption…"
According to current regulations, Chianti Classico must now be made from 80% to 100% Sangiovese grapes and other red grapes like Canaiolo.
Brolio Castle stands on top of an isolated hill 530 meters above sea level. The first stones of Brolio Castle date back to the Middle Ages. The wall, shaped like an irregular pentagon, is one of the first examples of a bastioned wall in the area. During the last century, the castle underwent a huge restoration process, particularly of its façade, constructed in the Sienese Gothic style.
Castello di Brolio boasts 1,200 hectares: 230 hectares of vineyards (the largest vineyard extension in the Chianti Classico area) and 26 hectares of olive groves. It produces 2.500.000 of bottles per year, labeled mainly as Chianti Classico wines. You can taste them at the winery shop, open all year round. Inside the walls, Castello di Brolio has a museum and a huge garden where you can enjoy one of the best views of the Chianti area. Beside the brick Neo-Gothic building, you’ll find the Ricasoli family’s private apartments, normally closed to the public but can be visited booking an exclusive wine tasting inside the castle.
The estate hosts a nice agriturismo (with a pool overlooking Sangiovese vineyards) and a cozy restaurant where you can taste the best regional dishes prepared with local ingredients (the chef has 2 vegetable gardens where she grows all she needs in the kitchen using only organic methods). To top it off , there are unconventional tours and activities in the estate, like vineyard picnics and sunset tours. Definitely a perfect place for a Chianti escape!