Gourmet winery restaurants are popping up all over Italy, making the touring of vineyards less hard work. So get packing for a truly gastronomic break, says Kerin O’Keefe

Not so long ago, a visit to any Italian winery entailed driving up a bumpy country road, knocking on a locked door and asking an unenthusiastic owner to show you around the cantina. If you were lucky, the winemaker would grudgingly sell you a few bottles at the end of the visit. The quest for a decent bite to eat after this ‘tour’ normally proved futile. More often than not, the oeno-tourist ended up driving great distances to find a trattoria just as it finished serving lunch, so had to settle for a simple panino at a local café.

Thankfully, times are changing, as wineries open gourmet restaurants on site. What started off as an anomaly has turned into one of the hottest trends in the Italian wine world. In many instances, producers have teamed up with star chefs, whose offerings rival what diners could once expect to find only in the top restaurants of Rome or Milan. As an added benefit, these new restaurants offer spectacular views of the same vineyards that produce the wine they will be enjoying throughout dinner.

Marco Caprai, restaurateur and one of Umbria’s top producers, says: ‘The best way to end a winery visit is enjoying the wine with a local dish. It should be an essential part of the experience.’ It’s a stance increasingly adopted across Italy…

Alto Adige

When Elena Walch took the reins at her husband’s winery, not only did she modernise the wine and winemaking, she also took marketing to new levels in Alto Adige. She even made the bold move to refurbish the family’s 350-year-old castle – immersed among hillside vineyards and offering views over Lake Kalteren – and turn it into a restaurant.

‘I wanted to offer patrons not only a memorable dining experience, but a new insight into the wines they would be sipping during their meal. Surrounded by vineyards, one can appreciate what goes into each glass of wine,’ says Walch.

Here, husband-and-wife team Stefan Unterkircher and Claudia Pitscheider offer a menu of traditional meals infused with a Mediterranean influence, such as grilled tuna and garlic with grilled polenta, and vegetarian lasagne. An ample wine list highlights Walch’s wines, but also offers bottlings from other Italian regions, as well as abroad.

Castel Ringberg, Caldaro (BZ).

Tel: +39 0471 960 010;

www.castel-ringberg.com

Campania

Rising up among rolling hills covered with vines, Feudi di San Gregorio’s ultra-modern metal, glass and concrete winery shocks visitors on first sight. The image perfectly embodies the firm’s philosophy of combining tradition with innovation, and this remains especially true with the winery’s on-site restaurant, Marennà.

Husband-and-wife design team Massimo and Lella Vignelli kept the décor in the same minimalist style as the rest of the new centre, with chestnut tables and comfortable red leather chairs. Tall windows offer wonderful views of the rolling Irpinian landscape. Restaurant manager Vito di Tello studied under famed chef Heinz Beck of Rome’s La Pergola Restaurant, as did chef Paolo Barrale.

Enzo Ercolino, president of Feudi, says: ‘Our intention was to bring the traditional tastes of Campania to the modern table.’ The cuisine is Feudi’s hallmark mix of classic and modern. Among the treats on offer there is sumptuous veal marinated in Taurasi and served over a bed of delicately flavoured onions, or baccalà salad with herbs served over a medley of vegetables. The restaurant also offers an unusual wood-oven menu that includes everything from antipasto to dessert. The wine list is Feudi’s own.

Marennà, Feudi di San Gregorio, Località Cerza Grossa, Sorbo Serpico (AV).

Tel. +39 0825 986 626; www.feudi.it

Piedmont

While the Boroli family, founders of the DeAgostini publishing empire and now Boroli Publishing, may be recent converts to winemaking, their impact on the local wine and food scene has already been significant. The wines from their two estates outside Alba are receiving international acclaim, and their restaurant at the Cascina Bompè winery, surrounded by Moscato, Barbera and Dolcetto vines, is a welcome addition.

‘We wanted to offer a modern interpretation of traditional dishes,’ says Achille Boroli. Chef Maurizio Quaranta conjures up dishes such as venison with juniper served in a bed of roasted vegetables and hazelnuts. All ingredients are local, and the restaurant’s pasta, bread and breadsticks are made on the premises. The wine list has over 400 listings from all over the world – plus, of course, Boroli wines from the local vineyards.

Locanda del Pilone, Località Madonna di Como, Alba (CN). Tel. +39 0173 366 616; www.locandadelpilone.com

Sicily

Close to Cefalù and overlooking the Mediterranean, Abbazia Santa Anastasia has been converted from a Benedectine abbey into a winery, complete with hotel and restaurant. Owners Francesco and Paola Lena replanted the surrounding vineyards and restored the 14th-century buildings which now house the winery.

The estate’s two dining options, La Corte dell’Abate, open for dinner, and Passioni e Tentazioni, lunch only, both serve Sicilian specialities. Typical dishes include fresh pasta with lightly fried broccoli coated in breadcrumbs, or pork stuffed with fresh, aromatic herbs. The wine list focuses on the estate’s own bottlings, with a limited choice of wines from other regions of the peninsula.

La Corte dell’Abate, Abbazia Sta Anastasia, Castelbuono (PA). Tel. +39 0921 672 233

Tuscany

Just south of Tenuta Tignanello, the Antinoris’ Badia a Passignano vineyards surround an ancient monastery where the family has use of the cellars. Below the abbey, Allegra Antinori opened a shop selling wine and local specialities and, in 2000, opened the Osteria restaurant.

‘Because the place is so beautiful, we get a lot of visitors, and I wanted to give them the option to enjoy a meal with a glass of wine right here in the vineyards,’ she says. ‘Osteria showcases not only the local wines and cooking, but also the surrounding vineyards and countryside – quintessentially Tuscan.’

Chef Marcello Crini has lightened traditional dishes to suit visitors not used to the sometimes heavy local cuisine, cucina povera. Egg spaghetti with wild-duck ragù served with raspberry sauce, and roasted rabbit with black olives and fennel cream on a bed of bittersweet chard leaves are examples of modern renditions of simple-yet-classic dishes. All the Antinori wines are available, as well as nearly 300 other listings from local and international wineries.

Osteria di Passignano, Via Passignano 33, Località Badia a Passignano, Tavarnelle Val di Pesa (FI). Tel. +39 0558 071 278; www.osteriadipassignano.com

One of the most recognised names in Italian wine, Banfi now boasts two dining options at its estate south of Montalcino. The Michelin-starred Ristorante Castello Banfi is as elegant as it sounds. Dinner is served among frescoed walls, with large windows overlooking the view. Its cuisine is Mediterranean and inspired by the finest local ingredients.

The more casual Taverna, open for lunch only and housed under the vaulted ceilings of what was once the estate’s cellars, relies on more traditional, although equally tasty, Tuscan dishes.

Chef Guido Haverkock creates the menus and prepares the food for both restaurants. Taverna’s simple fare, such as the dense, delicious, ribollita soup or the veal braised in Brunello, is a perfect ending to a morning of exploring and wine tasting. Dinner at the ristorante is a culinary treat not limited to the area’s specialities, as dishes such as foie gras in cranberry sauce and potato purée reveal. While the wine list at Taverna is limited to Banfi selections only, the more extensive list at the Ristorante includes many international choices – albeit ones imported and distributed in Italy exclusively by the producer.

Castello Banfi, Sant’ Angelo Scalo, Montalcino (SI). Tel: +39 0577 816 054; www.castellobanfi.com