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Grapes Tuscany
Photo ©Consorzio Vino Chianti

Land of bold Sienese reds

Trip through Chianti, Val di Chiana and Val d’Orcia

The province of Siena boasts three of the most notable and acclaimed red Italian wines. Among vineyards and olive groves we find the rational yet naturally chaotic landscape that has become the symbol of the region.

Chianti Classico
, which is produced in the cities around Siena, is the first enological stop on your trip. From here you’ll reach the “Chiantigiana” in Castellina in Chianti. Along this panoramic road you will appreciate the vastness of the Sienese Chianti in all of its harmony, among woods and vineyards that run geometrically into each other. Some are interrupted by olive groves, a farmhouse or two, or an ancient castle. The castles located in Chianti are among the most photographed and admired in the world. To visit a few of the most prestigious medieval manors, go towards Radda in Chianti then towards Gaiole in Chianti. From here you can head south towards the last of the four certified Chianti Classico towns, Castelnuovo Berardenga.

Each town merits a stop, not only for its still intact urban architecture then for its food and wines, but in Castelnuovo Berardenga you will find everything to satisfy your appetite for Renaissance art and culture. First, however, you will want to satisfy your “real” appetite with some of the most renowned Chianti dishes such as “Tonno del Chianti” (boiled pork conserved in olive oil just like tuna fish), Ribollita, cold cuts and exceptional pecorino cheese.

Just a short ride away, in Quercegrossa, you can admire one of the most fascinating sculptures of the Renaissance, a Deposition of Christ in multi-chrome terracotta by Francesco di Giorgio, perhaps in collaboration with Giacomo Cozzarelli. Dating back to 1486-88, the work is one of the highest points of Sienese sculpture thanks to its treatment of the figures, the quality of the terracotta and the intense emotions transmitted by the figures. The road from Castelnuovo Berardenga to Val di Chiana is short. As the kilometers pass you will begin to notice a change in the landscape as the surly, rough Chianti valleys open up into the gently sloping land of “kindness”. 

We are in the Val di Chiana, where the Renaissance left its mark, especially in the architecture. In Sarteano and Montepulciano the palazzos and piazzas live in elegant harmony. Renaissance elegance is coupled with a natural elegance, like that of the majestic Chianina, the queen of bovines; or the excellence of its wines like the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The latter embodies the leitmotif that unites the entire Val di Chiana: elegance, nobility, the ability to express oneself like renowned poet Angelo Poliziano, a native of Montepulciano. The Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is the clone of an offspring of Sangiovese called Prugnolo Gentile. The wine’s elegance seems to mirror that of the town and its monumental wineries—one of the area’s true Renaissance jewels.

Montepulciano boasts some of the most precious Renaissance masterpieces, each of which were sources of inspiration for other moments of figurative culture in the area such as the funeral monument to local Humanist Bartolomeo Aragazzi, sculpted by Michelozzo, a collaborator of Donatello. Fragments of it still remain in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. The Museo Civico houses terracotta pieces by Della Robbia including the Madonna di Montecastello by Andrea della Robbia (1483-84), and the tender Holy Family with San Giovannino by Sodoma. A beautiful Madonna and Child by Luca Signorelli is conserved in the Church of Santa Lucia.

The Temple of San Biagio represents a high point in late-Renaissance architecture. It was commissioned by Pope Leo X Medici—a student of Angelo Poliziano—who saw its completion in 1580. Among the Renaissance paintings of the Val di Chiana we have one of the latest works by Beccafumi, the mannerist painter who championed formal perfection. His Annunciation, in the Church of Santi Martino e Vittorio in Sarteano (you will arrive at 6:30pm). This work alone is worth a quick trip to the tiny town of Sarteano.

While leaving the Val di Chiana but before entering the Val d’Orcia, there is a magical place to visit: Castelluccio della Foce. From here you can admire the majestic Monte Amiata that rises impressively on the horizon. The former volcano, whose strength and eruptions have changed the landscape during the course of the millennia, gives an unusual shape to this territory that covers the distance between Castelluccio and the mountain itself. Once past the Amiata it is easier to understand the secret behind the success of one of the world’s most famous wines—Brunello di Montalcino. This wine, “created” during the last century thanks to the genius of Ferruccio Biondi Santi, is now known the world over for its interpretation of the most Tuscan of varietals—Sangiovese.

In the Val d’Orcia, Brunello is a sort of monumental wine, a product that highlights the connection between the work of man and of nature. This is equivalent to the Renaissance spirit. By law, wine cannot be sold unless it has been aged for at least five years—the result can only be described as a suspension in time and the expectation of a revelation (the opening of the bottle): a sentiment that has often inspired great works of art. But what does the Amiata have to do with Brunello? With its peak, the Amiata protects Montalcino from rain and wind from the east, making it one of the least humid areas in Tuscany. This, along with the uniqueness of the terrain and human labor, makes Brunello di Montalcino one of the most structured and long-lived wines in the world.

The Renaissance left its mark on the land of Brunello as well. Montalcino boasts numerous 15th and 16th treasures, including the Museo Diocesano d’Arte Sacra where we find Sano di Pietro’s refined panels of the Madonna and Child surrounded by angels and a large depiction of San Bernardino. Here we also find the San Bernardino con due Angeli by Vecchietta. In collaboration with the ideals of his master, Matteo di Giovanni, is Guidoccio Cozzarelli’s Madonna and Child and two angels.

Della Robbia production is represented by an elegant San Sebastiano and a beautiful altarpiece with a Madonna and Child surrounded by two angels and the saints John the Baptist and Peter (1507), both attributed to Andrea della Robbia; and a Garland of leaves and fruit attributed to Giovanni della Robbia’s son. At the end of a visit to so many masterpieces, you will want a good glass of wine and heaping plate of homemade pici—a type of pasta made from flour and water that can be topped with breadcrumbs and olive oil or a richer wild boar ragu. Whatever your choice, there is no shortage of finding the necessary balance between intellect and esthetics.
Source: Siena Tourist Information Office