If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen that I’ve been in Tuscany recently. I’ve been on a guided wine tour with Away with Wine, exploring Montalcino in Italy, and discovering more about its famous wine, Brunello. A little background first then: owner Sorcha Holloway first visited Montalcino about eight years ago with her husband Tim, and visited a gorgeous winery called Il Poggio Antico. The visit really started their love affair with Italian wine, and, wanting to share her discovery, Sorcha set up Away with Wine to provide guided wine tours to this, and many other famous wine producing areas.
I met up with Sorcha in Rome and we headed by car to Montalcino, chatting all the way (she’s the most gracious host, and completely fun loving to boot – I laughed so much). We stayed at a small, traditional hotel right in the centre of Montalcino – my room had the most amazing view, plus a traditional iron bed and a gorgeous old stone bathroom hidden behind sliding panelling. Every morning, we shared a table with a view and dined on a proper Italian breakfast – a sliver of delicious cake and a frothy cappuccino. Heaven,
Over the course of the trip, we visited an array of different wineries, from the huge, and quite industrial Castello Banfi, where we had possibly the best tasting menu I’ve ever experienced, and toured their huge factories where they produce 11 million bottles of wine a year…
…to the delightful Poggio Antico, the very start of Sorcha’s love affair with Brunello, where the Cypress-lined avenue leads to the most beautiful winery, and we dined on delicious fresh tagliolini egg pasta with rabbit ragout on a bed of delicate garlic cream while sipping their stunning Brunellos and their ‘Super Tuscan’, Lemartine, a Cabernet/Sangiovese/Petit Verdot blend with a rich purple hue, and rich berry and cherry flavours that I completely fell in love with (I might have ‘rescued’ a bottle for my own collection)…
Of course, my title is tongue in cheek: every winery in Italy is beautiful. But of all the wineries we visited, I was most captivated by Cupano. The estate covers 34 hectares of stunning elevated land, surrounded not by other vineyards but by forests, olive groves and the Ombrone river, with the most glorious views in Montalcino and an effortlessly stylish house.
Vigneron Lionel and his elegant wife Ornella first discovered the house 20 years ago, and it had been abandoned for over 40. The land was completely ‘pure’, untouched by chemicals, and crying out for an organic winery.
Ornella showed us the vines, lined up on the stony soil (she explained that the soil gives the wine its minerality), heavy with ripe fruit (at the time of our visit, they were about a week away from harvesting): the Sangiovese which goes into their organic Brunello, plus Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, which go into their ‘Super Tuscan’ blends, although Lionel hates this term and prefers to call them ‘French style’ wines.
Lionel is utterly fascinating to talk to. His grapes are picked by hand, and no pesticides or fertilisers are used. He explained how they are planting new vines and that the smooth stones help the roots to go down deeper into the soil. We were lucky enough to share a bottle of Lionel’s 2009 Ombrone Sant’Antimo with him: a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Merlot. This ‘broader shouldered’ wine is a fabulous deep ruby colour with great acidity (I learned that a combination of great fruit and acidity means that the wine will age really well), with softer tannins than the Brunello. If this visit to Monalcino taught me one thing, it’s that learning about wine is pretty much an endless process, but I could really smell leather and herbs and enjoyed sipping the velvety wine while listening to Lionel: ‘the wine is alive – the glass you have tonight will be different to this one’.
What a fabulous adventure. I do hope I get to return.
My ‘Brunello and Beyond’ wine tour with Away with Wine cost around £1500 and included 4 nights bed and breakfast accommodation, an arrival dinner with tasting menu and matched wines, lunch on days 2, 3 and 4, plus 5 winery visits, tours and tastings. For more information on this and other tours, visit awaywithwine.eu. Follow Sorcha on Twitter for UK wine hour every Thursday at 7PM.