Tuscany is famous for its rolling hills, beautiful countryside, amazing hilltop villages, and, of course, its wine. Tuscany’s wine reputation was founded on wines such as Chianti, Runello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Even though Tuscany is a great place to go on a wine tour, and I may be a little biased because that was where I stayed, all of Italy is great for wine tours. While in Italy, I would highly recommend taking a Vineyard tour.
Here are SIX tips to help you do it successfully.
1. There are a few questions you may want to ask yourself. When asking yourself these questions think about what best fits your budget and the amount of time you have. Here are a couple questions to ask yourself about the different tours you can go on:
- Do you want a self guided wine tour? This is the cheapest option but it is all up to you to book appointments, drive to and from the location, and to communicate with the staff. Remember the more rural the area, the more likely it is for them to not speak English.
- Do you want a private, customized wine tour? This is probably going to be the most expensive option but this way you will have a guide that handles all of the arrangements and it will be customized to exactly how you want it to be.
- Do you want to be a part of a larger group wine tour? This is going to be more of a big bus tour to a big winery with lots of people. The advantage is that it is going to be a lot cheaper than a private tour and you don’t have to worry about driving. The disadvantages is that you are going to have a lot of lines, a lot of people that you do not know, and it won’t be customized to your liking.
2. Pre-determine your budget. A lot of factors go into how much your wine tour is going to cost you. Like I said before first you will have to decide what kind of tour you want and that will effect the price. What kind of winery you go to will have a huge effect. There are four different classifications for wines starting with the nicest DOCG, then DOC, IGT, and finally the most basic Vino da Tavola. The wineries that are classified as DOCG will have a higher price than the IGT wineries. Keep in mind that you might want to buy a bottle or two while you are there so make sure to bring some cash with you. Since you are getting it at the vineyard it will be cheaper than buying it in the store. We went on a private tour and got an added discount to our bottles.
3. Make sure to schedule an appointment. Most vineyards in Italy do not take walk ins. So you have to make sure that you have an appointment ahead of time, usually with a minimum 2-3 days in advance. This way you do not have to be worried about them being booked. Here are some wineries that I found in different parts of Tuscany in no particular order:
- Tenute San Fabiano Arrezo, Italy
- Phone: +39 057524566
- Avigonesi Montepulciano, Italy
- Phone +39 0578724304
- Poggio Antico Montalcino, Italy
- Phone +39 0577848044
4. Big isn’t always better. Just because you go to a small winery does not mean that it is going to be bad wine. I would recommend going to a small winery because:
- There is not going to be any big marketing scheme with different sales people harassing you and trying to get you to buy different products.
- Most visits at small wineries will just be you and the other people you are there with. There definitely won’t be any big tour groups or lines to worry about.
- More than likely you will meet the owner of the winery. We were actually able to meet the Count of Arezzo, who owns the winery and all of the land around it.
5. Stay close, taste local: If staying in Tuscany, there is likely going to be a winery just up the road from where you are staying. If you are able to find a winery near you I would recommend going to that because you do not have to worry about drinking and driving (Italy has become extremely strict with drinking and driving laws), you don’t have to worry about getting lost (see next point), and this way you can go home and open a fresh bottle of wine while telling your friends all about the area from where the wine was made.
6. Have a GPS, smart phone, or really good map: Tuscany is famous for its twisting winding roads and is extremely easy to get lost navigating on them. If you are using your GPS or smart phone make sure to have the maps downloaded before because from my experience the wifi at most places is not very good. City maps 2 go is a great free map app where you can download the map of a city before hand and not have to use any wifi or data to use the map. The one downside of this app is that it takes up a lot of space of your phone to download the maps. A really good road map might be your most reliable use of directions. Here is a road map of Tuscany that is recommended for tourists.
Helpful words and phrases to know:
The more touristy the area is, the more likely it will be for the Italians working at the winery to speak English. But for the more rural areas and smaller wineries it is not very likely they will speak English. Even if they do speak English you’re in Italy get out of your comfort zone and speak some Italian!
- Wine- Vino
- Red- Rosso
- White- Bianco
- Cheers- Salute!
- Sweet- Dulce
- A bottle of red wine- Una bottiglia de vino rosso
- A glass of red wine- Un bicchiere di vino rosso
- A bottle of white wine- Una bottiglia de vino bianco
- A glass of white wine- Un bicchiere di vino bianco
- I like this wine- Mi piace questo vino
- Can I have another glass?- Posso avere un altro bicchiere?
FOUR things to do while on your tour:
1. Ask how much it cost to ship wine home. Shipping wine back to the states is extremely expensive, especially for broke college kids. At the winery that we went to it cost 70 € in shipping to send six bottles of wine home and 110 € to send 12 bottles home. If that is too expensive I would recommend leaving a little bit of room in your suitcase so you can bring some authentic Italian wine back to the States with you. Keep in mind that at most airports if you go over the 50 pounds for your checked bag there is a 100 € charge.
They are very accommodating however when it comes to sending wine home. If you are someone that does not mind spending over 70 € on shipping know that they have that option. Just make sure you know your budget and how much wine you are going to want ahead of time.
2. Ask to try their different products. Most wineries have food products other then wine. When tasting the wine, make sure to ask if they have anything else especially if they make it at the winery. For example, the winery that I went to makes its own olive oil, which was fantastic.
3. Try the different wines. How many times are you going to be able to go on a Vineyard tour in Italy? Try all of the wines that they offer even if you don’t like it the bucket in the middle of the table is used to spit it out. They wont get offended; they have it there for a reason!
4. Wear comfortable clothes. Most wine tours are informal and there is no dress code. So especially if you are going to walk to one make sure to have sneakers and clothes that you are comfy in. The basement can also be really cold so if you are someone that gets cold easily even on a hot day you might want to bring a sweatshirt.
My visit to the Tenute San Fabiano in Arezzo, Italy
This is a beautiful little winery located on a hill overlooking the city of Arezzo. We got a personalized tour with a women who spoke decent English. Since this was a smaller vineyard, we were the only ones there besides a couple workers. We got to see how they make the wine and where they store it. At the end of the tour we got to taste their wine and have some salami, prosciutto, bread, and their homemade olive oil. They produce five different kinds of red wine and two different kinds of white. We got to try two reds called Chianti Black Label and Poggio Uliveto and one white called Chiaro Di San Fabiano. As we were trying the wine the Count actually walked in, hung out, and took a picture with us.
If you have the opportunity to visit an Italian vineyard, keep these tips in mind. Hopefully you will be able to successfully set up your tour, speak some of the language, and have an idea on how to act and what to wear at the vineyard. With these tips, you are sure to have as much fun on your tour as I did on mine!