For aesthetes and gourmands alike, a visit to Florence – capital of Italy’s Tuscan wine region – is a must, says Victoria Daskal. Read her Florence travel guide, from the Decanter August 2011 issue.
Florence fact file:
DOCG wine regions:
Chianti: 24,000 hectares under vine; 2,900 producers.
Chianti Classico: 7,500ha; 901 producers.
Chianti Colli Fiorentini: 905ha; 74 producers.
Brunello di Montalcino: 2,000ha; 284 producers.
Vernaccia di San Gimignano: 773ha; 167 producers.
Vino Nobile di Montelpuliciano: 1,234ha; 261 producers
One of the most historical and enchanting cities in the world, Florence has all the makings of a decadent dream of delicious food and wine. Unfortunately, the reality is more of a nightmare for wine lovers who must share the city with thousands of visitors each year, and manoeuvre around the minefield of tourist traps. For every piazza, museum, gallery, theatre, bridge and palace, there are dozens of ‘authentic, family-owned’ establishments ready to charge you three times the going rate for a slice of pizza and a glass of Chianti from an outdated straw flask. Visitors come and go, believing Florence hasn’t changed, and that its antiquity extends to its wine scene.
But dig deeper, and there’s an alternative side to Florence’s wine scene that is growing dynamically. Young local wine lovers, foreigners with innovative ideas and new businesses are the pulse of Florence’s underground wine world. The same students of wine, now gaining a global perspective from the city’s recently established Wine & Spirit Education Trust courses and sommelier school, are influencing what people drink – and how.
The most noticeable change is the shifting attitude towards how wine is served. ‘Wine by the glass has not been typical here in Florence,’ explains wine consultant Bernardo Conticelli. ‘It was never good value and traditionally available only for house wine or a very limited selection.’ (The same four or five big brands of Chianti and Montalcino are offered throughout Florence.) The usual wine bars are around tourist hotspots, and a glance at their wine lists and prices makes the target audience very clear. But a niche opportunity was recognised by local wine lovers and a few gems are popping up that seek to cater for more discerning palates.
If you’ve come to Tuscany for the classics, Fuori Porta is the ideal bar to taste, by the glass, those pricey wines usually sold by the bottle. This is also the place to find back vintages of Chianti Classico and Montepulciano heavyweights – a real treat at a time when most wines are being sold and drunk ahead of their ideal drinking window. Those seeking out wines from lesser-known Tuscan regions such as Montecucco and Cortona should go to Volpi et l’Uva. Tucked away behind by the Ponte Vecchio, this is a bar that only a local or a very determined wine lover will find – and be rewarded by the list of small-grower wines and selection of cheese and charcuterie. This is a bar where you can chat for hours (in Italian or English) about what’s in the glass and on the ever-changing list. It also sells bottles to take home at shop prices.
However steeped in tradition Florence seems, when it comes to wine and food, it does welcome a modern – and foreign – touch. Frescobaldi, a proud producer, with restaurants and bars showcasing its history and culture, has hired a Japanese chef to ensure its classic Florentine dishes are executed with precision and delicacy. Others have followed suit: Enoteca Barrique, another traditional Tuscan eatery, also favours a minimalist approach, inspired by its own Japanese chef. But make sure you take regular breaks between meals to admire the legendary architecture and museums that put this city on the cultural map. One of history’s most important and fruitful art movements, the Renaissance, came from Florence and can be explored here through the works of Botticelli, Raphael, da Vinci and Michelangelo.
Views of the Duomo (the Gothic-style cathedral in the heart of the city) from anywhere in Florence are spectacular, and the cafés dotted around the cathedral square are ideal to bask in its splendour. Finally, a visit to the Uffizi gallery is a must–viewing Caravaggio’s painting of Bacchus is surely the ideal way to pay homage to both art and wine.
How to get there:
By plane to Florence: 2 hours direct from London Gatwick and City airports.
By plane to Pisa: 2 hours direct from London Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton airports, then connect to Florence by bus, train or taxi.
Written by Decanter
Florence: Six of the best estates to visit
☆ Lanciolla, Chianti Colli Fiorentini
Just 15 minutes from Florence, Lanciola has an extensive list of wines to taste. Top of my list was the Terricci, IGT Toscana; the 2001 is just about ready to drink, boasting captivating black olive notes. lanciola.it
☆ Malenchini, Chianti Colli Fiorentini
This beautiful family-owned winery is 20 minutes from Florence – you can even see the Duomo from the 11th century watchtower. Classic wines from a property once belonging to the Medici family. malenchini.it
☆ Petreto, Chianti Colli Fiorentini
Winemaker Alessandro Fonseca has ignored tradition and planted mainly French grapes. His white wine, Podere Sassaie, is a blend of his best grapes each year. He also makes the Sauternesesque, Pouriture Noble, which is gaining cult status. Tel: +39 (0)55 651 9021
☆ Torre a Cona, Chianti Colli Fiorentini
This neo-classical 17th century villa has been authentically restored and renovated. It offers 10 apartments to rent during the summer as well as organised wine tastings. Try the Terre di Cino IGT Toscana and Vin Santo.
☆ Candialle, Chianti Classico
This new winery is headed up by a husband and wife team from Finland
and Germany, who are very modern in their viticulture, winemaking and marketing. Their IGT Toscanas Ciclope and Pli are well worth tasting. candialle.com
☆ Rignana, Chianti Classico
A small, family-run winery dating back to the 12th century, producing a Rosato, Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva. While the winemaker’s techniques are modern, his wines are traditional and old-world in style. rignana.it
Florence: Where to stay, shop, eat and relax
Hotel Best Western Palazzo Ognissanti
A moderately priced, clean and simple 4-star hotel conveniently located near the main train station and within 10 minutes’ walk to the Uffizi, Ponte Vecchio and Duomo. Staff are friendly and helpful, and the breakfast good. Ask for a room that doesn’t face onto the street or you’ll hear Vespas zoom past all night. www.palazzoognissantihotel.com
A clean, comfortable, 3-star hotel just across the river, about a 15-minute walk from the centre (a bus stops right in front of the hotel to take you into town). Friendly, helpful staff will help you make reservations and bookings during your stay in Florence. davidhotel.com
The Westin Excelsior
Named the best hotel in Florence for many years, the Westin is the ultimate destination for those wanting to experience Florence’s elegant, old-world grandeur. It’s located on the river Arno, and convenient for getting to all of the city’s historic hot spots. westinflorence.com
Dishes have been modernised, yet stay true to traditional Tuscan flavours. Start with goat’s cheese with pepper jelly on Tuscan bread, stuffed zucchini, or raw vegetables with anchovy garlic dip. For mains, try the ravioli with duck sauce, or pumpkin and pesto pasta. For dessert, walk across the street to Grom, the city’s best ice cream parlour, www.grom.it, www.coquinarius.it
The best place in Florence to satisfy a pizza craving – and locals agree. Oven-baked with a range of delicious toppings, from traditional margherita to more special aubergine and artichoke, it is worth returning to try them all. Expect long queues at dinner time. ilpizzaiuolo.com
Trattoria da Burde
A 10-minute taxi ride outside of Florence’s historical centre, this family-owned trattoria is an absolute must to experience authentic, home-cooked Tuscan cuisine, such as juicy bistecca alla Fiorentina, flame-grilled to perfection. In October, order the schiacciata con l’uva, a slowcooked grape pie. The exclusively Tuscan wine list has been crafted by owner, sommelier champion and blogger Andrea Gori (above). Lunch only. www.burde.it
Elegant and romantic, this bar serves solely Frescobaldi wines. Almost all are available by the glass and there are plenty to try. Taste the Remole, Mormoreto and Castelgiocondo Riserva. Frescobaldi has recently opened a wine bar and restaurant in luxury department store Harrods, in London. frescobaldi.it
Small and charming with a serious and large list that covers all Italy’s wine regions and famous wine producers at a fair price. Also stocks a library of vintages. Heaven for anyone looking to learn about classic Italian wines. fuoriporta.it
Volpi et l’Uva
Hidden in a small square near the Ponte Vecchio, this bar is named after one of Aesop’s fables, The Fox and the Grapes. It specialises in top-quality wines from smaller producers across Italy, as well as new grape varieties and regions. Come here to taste local wines such as Cortona and Montecucco. levolpieluva.com
Ask any serious local wine lover the best place for an extensive range and the most reasonable price and they will direct you to Bonatti. It’s a 20-minute walk outside the historical centre, but is worth the trek. There are wines from every region in Italy, with a bias toward smaller, high-quality estates. enotecabonatti.it
La Sorgente delle Delizie
This tiny boutique near the Duomo is the only central wine shop that won’t overcharge you. You can find the classics here but also gems from smaller regions, too. Owner Leonardo Lapomarda ships the wines anywhere in the world, so you can save space in your suitcase for pasta and shoes. 30, Via Cavour Camillo Benso.
Mercato San Lorenzo
The city’s most important market, located by Basilica San Lorenzo. You can find cheese, meats, fish, fresh pasta, canned and bottled delicacies and, of course, Tuscan wines. Open Monday to Saturday, 7am-2pm. Piazza di San Lorenzo.