We were lucky to have a wonderful guide take us to two wineries in the Chianti region for a wine and olive oil tasting. Our guide was Todd Bolton (www.tuscantrails.com). He is very knowledgeable about the wines and a super nice person as well. Interestingly his parents work in the wine industry in Amador County!
The first thing he told is that Chianti is a place… not a type. The Chianti region is approximately the size of Delaware has 8 sub zones and about 4000 wineries. The place (region) dictates who makes the wine and how it’s made. There are four tiers in the legal classification system that all of the wines must fit into… the bottom is vino, next is IGT which allows for more creativity, DOC regulations delimit the production area, wine color, grape varieties, styles of wine, max/min alcohol level and finally DOCG which has more restrictive regulations. DOCG wines are more important historically and politically, but are not necessarily better wines. The codes indicating the wine classification can be found on a label on the neck of the bottle. Chianti wines are made predominately from Sangiovese grapes, a minimum of 75%. Here is a link to some information on the wine regions of Chanti. https://vinepair.com/articles/definitive-guide-regions-chianti-map/
Now about the olive oil. Historically the oil paste was placed in terracotta pots with water and left a few days until the oil rose to the top. This allowed the oil to be exposed to air which can deteriorate the quality. In modern times the paste goes into a mixer then into a centrifuge to separate out the oil, the whole process takes about 50 minutes! What determines if an olive oil is extra virgin has nothing to do with “cold press”. Todd says all of them are cold pressed. It has to do with the acidity of the oil and the fat structure which is determined by where the olives are grown and when they are picked. The best oils are made from unripe olives. High quality olive oils will have low acidity (must be less than .8 legally to be extra virgin but that is still pretty high) and will have a grassy peppery flavor.
Our first stop was at Castello Trebbio. The Castle was built in 1184 by the Pazzi family. In 1428 this family was behind the attempt to overthrow the Medici by killing two brothers, Giuliano and Lorenzo Medici. Guiliano was killed but Lorenzo survived…oops! Lorenzo took his revenge on the Pazzi family, banishing them from the Republic of Florence. The castle and lands were confiscated by the Republic and given to the Catholic Church (who were also involved in the conspiracy against the Medici) as a way of brokering peace. The church leased out the land to share croppers but after WWII this became increasingly less profitable so the Catholic Church sold the land and the castle in 1967. As we learned this history it was pretty cool to be standing in the courtyard of that castle where the meetings and the plotting actually took place. We toured the winery and enjoyed a nice tasting. The wines and the olive oil we tasted here were very nice.
We stopped and had lunch in Pontassieve on the way to our next stop, Fattoria Selvapiana. This is a smaller winery with more complex wines. It was purchased in 1826 by the Giuntini family who still own and run it today, this is their 8th generation of wine makers here. They specialize in big bodied red wines, using only wild yeast. The grapes are hand selected for proper ripeness and aged in wood barrels for flavor and softness. (Todd told us that some California wines must add powdered acid because the heat and sun cause the grapes to become too sweet.)