Cinque Terra wines – a true labor of love

After nearly a week of sampling the reds of Tuscany, we headed to Cinque Terra for sea air, seafood, and a chance to sample the crisp local whites.

Winemakers and grape growers the world over will readily tell you that theirs is a difficult craft, full of long days and much hard labor. This is doubly so for the winemakers of Cinque Terra. These vineyards are literally carved out of the rock wall of the slopes that rise steeply to form peaks overlooking the villages and the sea. Each day the winemakers hike up to tend to their vines and during harvest, quite often hiking down laden with a bin of grapes on their shoulders.

Simply put, to get to the vines, you hike – a lot. Trails among the terraces provide access but these are no easy strolls. And while the growers do incorporate some mechanization in the harvest – particularly a trolly cart of sorts to get the grapes down the hill more effectively and efficiently — according to Michele Shah, a studied authority on Italian wines, cultivation is still done using traditional methods, with hardly any mechanization and most growers have small patches of vines dotted over the hill side.

He notes one winemaker with 1.7 acres of vines which are divided over 15 different vineyards in Riomaggior. Walter De Batté, a winemaker from Riomaggiore makes a total of 2500 bottles Cinque Terre DOC and 600 half bottles of the sweet, late harvest ‘Sciacchetrà’. He is the only small producer to export to the US and that’s only a total of 10 cases of Cinque Terre DOC and 48 bottles of Schiacchetrà.

Shah also notes that one of the initiatives promoted by Riomaggiore is to give uncultivated land and offer free technical assistance to anyone who is interested in growing grapes. In this way they hope to increase the potential of cultivated land hectares from the actual 250 acres to a between 750-1000 acres within the next ten years.

Bad luck for us — a steady rain and rough winds prevented a more extended hike of the wine trails. I had one good morning that was relatively rain free and so focused on those impressive and intimidating terraces where the work involved in growing these grapes is readily evident. Four hours of vigorous huffing and puffing up and down, and I came away with deep respect for the wine makers dedicated to Cinque Terra winemaking.

The wines are readily available in enotecas and other stores throughout the five villages but curiously, we found no tasting opportunities. Fortunately with a three-night stay and fresh seafood abundant, we had ample dining opportunities to match wines with cuisine.

Though I’m not a great lover of white wines, I found the Vermentino a pleasant surprise showing a more subtle fruit than anticipated. A beautiful pale straw color, the Vermentino complemented my fresh sea bass quite nicely, and I found myself returning to it several times over our three-day stay. More of white wine fancier, Leslee sampled the Pigato DOC Riviera Ligure di Ponente that again surprised in its restrained fruit subtleness. And we both quite liked the namesake Cinque Terre Doc Cooperativa 5 Terre, dry and tasty with an enjoyable finish.

And a perfect end to a Cinque Terra evening — Sciacchetrà, a rich desert wine made from the near-grapes left over from the harvest. At nearly 18 percent alcohol, this is a nightcap wine, ideal for pushing weary legs happily to bed.

Next stop for us is four days in Lake Garda where I intend to sample and photograph Bardolino, Valpolicella and perhaps a bit of Soave.

Below are photos of the Cinque Terra vineyards and a few favorites of the beautiful (if over-touristed) villages as well. Ciao!

(For specifics on the wines of Cinqe Terra, click here:

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Tasting Brunello in Montelcino

After four days of sampling Chiantis – favorites are Gambino, Verzzanno, Antinori’s Badia, and Panzannello and really, about every wine we sampled – today we drove the SR222 (known as the Chiantigiana) south through the Chianti region (passing one perfectly placed wine estate/villa after another – this drive is not to be missed by true wine lovers). Just past Sienna, you switch to SR2 for a leisurely (by Italian standards) drive into the Montelcino region, home of the mighty Brunello – probably our favorite Italian wine (though I can drink Chianti every day). Big, bold and yet surprisingly smooth, Brunello packs a punch but it’s always a well-placed blow that leaves no mark.
The town of Montelcino pays homage to the influence and popularity of the 200+ Brunello wineries that dominate the landscape. Easily a dozen wine stores – called Enotecas – are within a 10 minute stroll of the main parking lot and of course the restaurants and bars all feature Brunello by the glass (hard to come by in America by the way). While there are certainly mid-sized and even small Brunello vineyards, make no mistake about it – this is the land of the big estates! We drove for about 45 minutes south of the picturesque hill town taking in one expanse of vineyard after the other. I was in search of Pian dell Vigne, the Antinori entry into the Brunello market. After much turning around on some very small dirt roads, we found the vineyard but alas no great estate or tasting awaited us. Just acres of grapes tended by a serious crew (no pictures please) and a small office with an even smaller Pian delle Vigna sign. Lesson learned – not every large winery in Brunello country has a tasting room or even a Tuscan style villa.
Moving on, we did find several great Brunellos to sample (all at a price of at least 5 Euros per glass) and of course to photograph. Among our favorites: Santa Lucia, Crocidimezzo (one of the smaller wineries with an affable host and a rare free tasting), and Biondi (a very popular spot amongst the group tours).
At day’s end, we headed north back to Greve in Chianti along the Chiantigiana. Stopped in Panzano for a dinner of duck ragu over fresh pasta and the best pizza we’ve had so far. Turns out the pizza maker is an award winning pizzola and so of course he and I bonded over Caputo Double 0 flour and San Marzano tomatoes. His wife is an equally gifted cook who served us an amazing chocolate cake made with no flour or yeast.
Wine, pizza, photographs – just about a perfect day!

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Castello di Verrazzano photos!

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In Greve, stay at Castello di Verrazzano

Can’t say enough about our five-day stay at Castello di Verrazzano . Gillian Maddalena, the ever-congenial manager of executive wine tours, is a British ex-pat who moved to Greve for love 40 years ago. Extremely knowledgeable about the Chianti region, she speaks of wine with authority blended with the bit of delightful British cheek. During our tour of the splendid Verrazzano – which consisted of a wildly divergent group representing Europe, America and the Far East – she painted the colorful history of the Verrazzano family history and its long association with wine as well as the intimate details of the terroir and its natural inhabitants (Gillian can perfectly pronounce “wild boar” in 52 languages – her Chinese and North Korean renditions are quite fetching!).
No stay at Verrazano is complete without meeting Roberta who runs the tasting room at the entrance of the hilly drive to the Castle’s cellars and tasting room. Quirky, funny and thoroughly engaging Roberta “knows everything” about the day to day goings on Verrzzano – who’s checking in, who’s dining, who’s touring, from whence they hail, and so on. And her appreciation of Verrazzano’s excellent Chiantis is reflected in her presentation at the Tasting Room. Thoroughly delightful! Ask her about the “enemy” on the next hill! And drink up!
The wines of course are superb. I quickly connected with Verrazzano’s Chianti Classico, a smooth sipping all-day-in-the-kitchen wine while Leslee zeroed in the Riserva for its bold taste and wonderfully “lingering on the palette” taste. Several bottles of both will soon be in the Duval wine cellar.
Verrazzano’s long history with wine can be learned from its site: as well as information about short and long stays in their excellent bed and breakfast facility just down the hill (excellent breakfast – fresh baked goods, figs, plums, peaches and a prosciutto that quickly became addictive). And of course to mine eye, the magnificent grounds proved to be the main attraction for daily photography. The symmetrical rows that adorn the villa’s offices and dining room drew me to photograph the scene nearly every morning. Add the character of the cellar and near ready for crush grapes on row after row of vines, and well, the shooting was easy.
When you plan your visit to Chianti, Castello di Verrazzano should be at the top of your list.

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Greetings from Greve

That’s Greve in Chianti, the staggerlingly beautiful wine region of Italy. After a long but uneventful trip, we arrived late 9-Sept. Yesterday, we toured Castello di Verrazzano, sampled outstanding wines including a desert wine that sparkled and grappo that gave these jet-lagged eyes a welcome jolt. the accompanying lunch was a tasty array of salumes and proscuittos (all cured on the premises — including wild boar!), house made olive oil and tuscan bread. Perfect! This morning, we made a dawn visit (to photograph in glorious morning light) the villa and vineyard that gave birth to Lisa of Mona Lisa fame. my camera can’t get enough of these hills and endless rows of symmetrical vines.
Finished the evening at the Chianti Festival in Greve’s main piazza – 100 local wineries showing their best Chiantis (and a fair amount of olive oil!). Nothing like a local wine festival to make one feel right at home.
Ciao Baby!

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Introducing the VineLines Blog!

Welcome to the VineLines blog! Please check for more exciting info from

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