Greve-in-Chianti is on a road from Florence to Siena called Via Chiantigiana. The highway, which connects these two cities, winds through the Chianti wine region. From the window of our vehicle, we saw rolling hills lined with pointy Cypress trees, olive groves, and rows of vineyards. Castles, villas, and stoned farmhouses dot the peaks and valleys of the undulating green countryside. The picturesque countryside and warm climate are probably the reasons so many tourists flock to the area year after year. Well, there might be a few more reasons, like the wine and the food.
Our mission for our stay in Greve-in-Chianti was to learn more about the wine. What we found was a wine cave where we could try 140 different Tuscan wines in one day! It actually took two. Le Cantine di Greve in Chianti is a virtual underground cellar. Stone walls keep things cool, and brick doorways section off the cantina by wine type.
You can swirl, sip, and spit (if you wish) up to 140 various types of Chianti Classico, Chianti Riserva, Super Tuscans, and a few Brunello di Montalcino whose full-bottle price would surely be a budget-buster. Along with all the tastes, each day we had a little lesson in Chianti.
The set up is quite easy, and you set the drinking pace and the level of wine education. All around the cantina are informational posters, and the friendly staff is available to give you as much or as little wine education as you’d like. You buy a drink card and prepay the amount. A staff member hands you a wine glass and gives you a quick orientation about the set up. If you want a little wine lesson, just ask, and your lesson begins.
To sample, place your card in the machine, press the button of the wine you'd like to try, put your glass up to the dispenser, and sip away. The cost of each taste varies by the bottle price of the wine, ranging from 60 centimes to 6 euros. Along with the Tuscan red wines, the Cantina also has Tuscan white wines, Grappa, dessert wines, and olive oils to sample. You can purchase wines there by the bottle and the case.
If you need a break from drinking, you can sit at tables in the cantina or leave for a meal and to take in the town. We opted for a lunch al fresco and a little shopping in Piazza Matteoti, the town’s main piazza. Also in the piazza is the tourist information center where they will help you with winery visit reservations, bike rentals, and even with horseback riding reservations. They will help you find and book lodging in the area.
Here's a little of what I learned about Chianti:
- Sangiovese is the grape used to make chianti wines. Its name is said to come from sangue di Giove (the blood of Giove).
- To be called a Chianti Classico, the wine must come from the Chianti Classico region. This region is roughly based around the Via Chiantigiana, which produces the richest and fullest chianti.
- Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva must be made up of 80% Sangiovese.
- To be a Chianti Riserva, the wine must age at least 2 years in wood barrels and 3 months in the bottle.
- Brunello di Montalcino uses sangiovese grapes that grow in Montalcino. Montalcino is about an hour south of the Chianti Classico region. The extra warmth of the region makes a bigger and bolder wine. Although there has been much debate over the issue and tampering with the purity of the wine, to be called a Brunello di Montalcino, the wine must be 100% sangiovese and aged for 4 years, a minimum of 2 years in oak barrels.
- To be a Brunello Riserva, it must be aged 5 years, 2 1/2 of which in oak barrels and another 6 months in the bottle.
- The Super Tuscan wines: They also use sangiovese grapes but do not follow the DOCG guidelines. Here winemaking becomes more of an art where the winemakers can experiment and blend different grape varietals (possibly Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Cab Franc, etc.) to make wine taste how they feel is best. There are no restrictions as to what percentage of sangiovese is in the wine.
Greve-in-Chianti and the Cantina are great places to start your exploration into the Chianti wine region and a drive along the wine trail of Via Chiantigiana. You can sample an abundance of wine, find the ones you really like, buy some and/or make reservations to visit those wineries.
Although it’s most convenient to have a car, you can easily reach Greve-in-Chianti by bus from Florence. SITA (their main depot is next to the Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence) has buses going to and from Greve-in-Chianti regularly. Greve is about an hour from Florence.
Every Saturday is market day in Piazza Matteoti. Greve also has an annual Chianti Classico Wine Festival the second weekend in September (Sept. 10-12, 2010). They also have an Antiques Fair on Easter Monday, and a Flower Festival in May.
Useful websites for Greve and the Chianti region:
For information about getting around Greve and Chianti go here.