I can sum up Chianti’s landscape with three images: vineyards, olive groves and…castles!
For over 200 years, the Chianti area was prime battleground for fights between Siena and Florence. Castles and walled towns were built on hilltops as protection and to maintain control over the land. Many of the most renowned contemporary wineries were once fortified palaces. Today, they welcome visitors and wine connoisseurs.
On the road to Greve in Chianti, just after the Passo dei Pecorai (Pass of the Shepherds), you reach Castello di Verrazzano winery. Besides just boasting a popular wine label (one that I really appreciate), it’s also a place I always dreamed of visiting. Does Verrazano's name sound familiar to you? Giovanni da Verrazzano, the explorer who discovered the bay of New York, was born here in 1485. The famous New York bridge was named after him in 1964!
Since I was so intrigued by this place’s history, I booked one of the 6 tours at the castle, which sees thousands visitors annually. They have very well-organized tours for travellers with all types of tastes!. I started my tour in the charming fountain garden. Our fun guide Gillian began by recounting the stories of families that once lived there. The Verrazzano family, of Lombard origin, took their name from the area where they settled.
The name probably derives from the Latin word "verres" (wild boar) and "zona," which would mean “land of the wild boar.” Gillian also talked about Giovanni da Verrazzano and his voyages for King Francis I of France. In closing, she also told us about Giovanni's third voyage to North America when he most likely docked on the island of Guadeloupe and is believed to have been killed and eaten by the Carib natives.
The Verrazzano family line ended in 1819. After some changes in fortunes, the castle has been managed by the Florentine Cappellini family since 1958. The 230-acre estate holds 52 hectares of vineyards at altitudes between 260 and 420 meters above sea level. Gillian explained the importance of this height difference in obtaining the best wine. On these rolling hills, rain, water, and wind can all flow easily.
The grapes that grow here are mostly red, including Sangiovese, Merlot, Canaiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Colorino. There is only a small percentage of white grapes, such as Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia lunga del Chianti. The harvest, which usually takes place between September 25th and October 25th, is done exclusively by hand through a careful selection of grapes.
Along with Chianti Classico, other wines are produced, including white and rosè, and a delicious VinSanto dessert wine. VinSanto is a passito wine made with white grapes Malvasia and Trebbiano, which are carefully dried in the historical Vinsantaia of the estate.
These grapes also produce a balsamic dressing from the slow fermentation and acidification of the Trebbiano grape, which is fire-cooked without adding anything to it. The grape is then aged for many years until it reaches the desired syrupy density. We couldn’t end the trip without enjoying some cheese and wine.
After all those wine tastings, I of course decided to stay a little longer at the castle before taking the road back. It was a warm day, I remember, and I really enjoyed taking a walk around, enjoying the green view of the Greve valley.[Photo credits: Flavia Cori, Tuscany Social Media Team]