Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Green harvest - quantity versus quality

August in Tuscany's vineyards is the time for some to do the"green harvest", so pruning of the vines to limit the quantity of grapes on each vine to the ideal estimated quantity for that specific vintage. This estimation is done considering 1) limits given by each DOCG regulation (min yields start from around 7 tons a hectare) 2) considering the conditions of weather. This crop thinning is done to ensure ripening and intensity in the remaining grape clusters.
Each vine has its own story and all elements around it have to equal it's future quality of wine - it's simply a question of balance. It needs just the right amount of leaves to ripen it's grapes - if there are too many grapes they may not ripen - it needs the right amount of moisture - and in Europe we deal a lot with dry farming so this may also be a measure the farmer has to take into consideration. Should it be a cool year, thinning out the grapes is also a measure to ensure more aeration around the clusters, so thinning tends to be more severe in cooler years.
When it comes to how to prune, it's a selection of the thinnest. The clusters that are the furthest away from the trunk usually get sacrificed as they have less chance of ripening.
In the olden days in Tuscany this was not an operation that was known to farmers. In the past the only value which was appreciated was the quantity of wine made. Crop-thinning was a practice started in Bordeaux in the mid 70'ies and has been adopted in all quality wine region around the World.
Today, quality is the main focus of our DOCG regions in Italy and the operation is today done whenever necessary - and always in July/August before the grapes mature completely as not to waste too much of the plants' energy.
The cut grapes are sour and unripe and can't be used for much so they are left on the ground to compost.

(these pictures were taken yesterday during a wine tour in the Chianti Classico region - 2014 has been a cool year so far so the pruning is quite drastic in some vineyards).

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Favorite Wineries: Cappella Sant'Andrea in San Gimignano

Another shout-out for a great winery on my list of favorites!
San Gimignano is like an isle of white in sea of red wine regions in Tuscany. Speaking of the sea in a non-figurative way, millions of years ago it covered the area depositing fossil shells which are now commonly found when the vineyards are ploughed. Vernaccia is the local grape that goes back centuries, perhaps even longer. A medium aromatic grape that only really grows around the village of San Gimignano and is grown by less than 100 different wineries, most hardly resulting in very interesting wines.
This post features a few pictures from my favorite winery in San Gimignano, run by Flavia and Francesco - a super young couple who've dedicated their lives to farming grapes organically and produce a small amount of wines on their family estate. Francesco is an architect by training and Flavia an art-historian, but soon after finishing their studies they realised their fortune in the family estate and now run every aspect of it personally and with great passion.

During a wine tasting with one of our tours to San Gimignano. A couple of their whites are for sale for shipping on our web winEshop:!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tuscan Wine Time - Chianti Classico half day tour

Time for a post about one of the things we do :)
Over the years our wine touring has developed into several different products, from the exclusive private tour to the joinable full day or half day tours that are the most economic solutions, but also a great way to travel in a small group and have fun with others.
Best part for us who run the tours is to meet the people who come on them. Never had I imagined I would meet so many different sorts of people from countries that geographically weren't even clear in my mind. I never get tired of meeting the next set of personalities, it's simply so refreshing. Some leave us with a smile and others with a hug, others might even become friends or more.
Around a month ago we got a couple from California actually traveling with a small size dog. Yep, first time for that. Their idea was to travel filming the dog experience. In this occasion they came on a half day wine tour and loved it, so here's the video that Hugh made for us that we are very happy with!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Best Pizza in Tuscany - hands down!

My title sounds like I've hit every pizzeria in Tuscany and come to my conclusion. I obviously haven't...since the 2 young ones have been ruling our lives, our mondane outings are few and far apart. However, I still feel I can claim that this pizza is the best ever - so much so that it deserves a blog moment!
San Donato in Collina is a beautiful medieval village right at the Western side of the Chianti Classico region. The village is a bit dormant during the day, but in the evening it lives up with a few restaurants that color the streets with tables and chairs and plenty of people to occupy them.

One of these places is Palazzo Pretorio where Giovanni Santarpia makes the best pizza I've ever had!!! Giovanni is originally from the Naples area and came to Tuscany as many others to pursue a better career. His biggest passion is definitely the pizza and the art that surrounds making the best one possible. He's got it down right and speaks of the perfect time of rising for the dough (humidity in the air also plays a role), he uses expensive organic flours, has a beautiful wood fired pizza-oven and chooses only the best quality toppings.

He shows us how he makes a Pizza Margherita - in just a few minutes. It looks so effortless - and I'm embarrassed to think of how I struggle at home (swearing quietly to myself) - and hubby confirms that my pizza is like a dried-out cracker! 

Toppings in order of how Giovanni layers them: passato di pomodoro (tomato), fresh basil, mozzarella fior-di-latte, parmigiano gratings and fresh extra virgin olive oil.

The oven is around 360 Celsius degrees (680 Fahrenheit) and the pizza cooks the first minute on the stone to cook it's bottom. Then Giovanni holds it up ad cooks the top for around another minute. It goes super-fast and next thing you know a steaming and beautifully fragrant pizza is ready for a blissful dinner.

I've now had the pleasure of returning several times over a few yrs and the quality is always the same - EXCELLENT! Love the variety of pizzas as well, not just your classical offer but created with good taste and fantasy. And off the list there's always a few daily special pizzas!

My absolute favorite is Sorriso (Smile) - a pizza stuffed with Ricotta in the edges, and topped with the sweetest cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and fresh rucola (arugula/rocket).

We will be offering pizza classes with Giovanni shortly so we all may go home and be better pizza cooks. In the meanwhile, you can visit his restaurant open all nights but Tuesdays. If the weather is nice, ask to sit on the terrace where you have a stunning view over the Chianti Classico hills.