Exploring Castello di Brolio & On Location Pairings From the Home of Chianti Classico (#ItalianFWT)


Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, a Baron lived in a beautiful castle on a hill, surrounded by woodlands, in a kingdom renowned for its delicious wines. The Baron, however, thought the wine could be perfected, so the Baron labored in his castle  and researched away for many years. Decades past, then at long last the Baron finally perfected his magic recipe. With this recipe, he created a wine that would become famous throughout the land and far beyond. The Baron shared the recipe, and the people rejoiced!  . . . and they drank wine!

It’s not too often that we can trace the “fairytale” origin stories of wine with clear specificity to specific places and people. However, Chianti Classico’s history is well documented going quite a ways back. Wine has been produced in this small wine-region for more than 2000 years, and it has been recognized as wine-region since the 13th century. It's no wonder it's probably Tuscany's most famous wine region. In 1716, Gran Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici issued an edict defining the borders as including the townships of Radda, Gaiole (the location of our castle), and Castellina in addition to the township of Greve (including Panzano), making it the first geographically demarcated wine area.


The story of the Baron up top is true . . . ok, fine, the recipe isn't actually magical. The Baron in question was Barone Bettino Ricasoli. He was also a statesman and even served two rounds as Prime Minister of Italy. His family has been linked to wine since 1141, at which time they already possessed Brolio Castle. They were among the first in the region to dedicate themselves to the improvement of agriculture and vineyards. The company remains in the family today. The winery is also the oldest in Italy!

Borrowed this portrait of the Baron from the Ricasoli website.
In 1872, the Baron recorded the “Ricasoli Formula” in a letter, recommending that the region’s wine be based on Sangiovese ‘for bouquet and vigour.’ Canaiolo was permitted to help soften the wine. Finally, Malvasia was also allowed, but it was recommended for wine intended to be drunk young.  When the DOC was created in 1967, it largely followed the original formula and required between 10-30% of the white grapes Trebbiano and Malvasia.

The rules have changed a little since then and the white grapes are no longer allowed. Today, Chianti Classico wines must contain a minimum of 80% Sangiovese, and the remainder can be made from native grapes like Canaoiolo or Colorino, plus international varieties Cabernet and Merlot. Nonetheless, the Baron’s formula is the basis for the modern wine of the region. 


Map courtesy of WineFolly.com

The region’s borders have also experienced fluctuations over time. (We’ve covered some of this before in this post here, so I’ll try to keep it brief.) In 1932, the area was substantially enlarged, then this new bigger area was legally recognized when the area became a DOC. The problem is that this bigger area includes a lot of varied terroir, a lot of which are flat and dramatically different from the original zone. In addition, there were a lot of quality control problems throughout the region that dragged down the reputation of Chianti as a whole. Eventually the area began to see the need to correct their damaged reputation and better it's quality standards. In 1984, the entire Chianti area was elevated to DOCG status. The Chianti Classico zone was given its own DOCG in 1996, following close to the original borders.

Our Misadventures at the Castello di Brolio

Note: As a member of the wine industry and media, our visit and lunch at the Castello di Brolio were comped. No other compensation was received and all opinions are my own.

The Ricasoli’s Castello di Brolio, is kind of like ground zero for Chianti Classico. The cool thing is that’s still there and it’s open to visitors. Greg and I actually had the chance to visit when we were in Italy last year. To be honest, we had some misadventures in the process. 




We got slightly lost while trying to find the entrance. I’m really not sure how, but we made a wrong turn once we got into the complex, which is actually rather large and has different areas. (They have 1,200 hectares altogether.) We somehow managed to find ourselves hiking around in circles in the surrounding woods, rather than heading to the castle’s tourist entrance. (It would have been very lovely, if we hadn’t been so anxious.) By the time we got to the right place, we were very late and had missed the start of our tour.

Worse yet, Greg had picked up a nasty cold or flu bug on the flight over from the States, and it would last the entire duration of our two-week trip. Poor guy, he was such a trooper! It’s saying a lot that we had as great a time on this trip as we did. That bug hit him hard, and it chose to throw him its most aggressive punch right at this particular moment. Just as we managed to find where we were actually supposed to be, Greg found he couldn’t go on.

Once we cleared everything up regarding our reservation, it was decided that I would briefly explore the exterior of the castle on my own for a bit, then rejoin the tour we were supposed to be on at a set upon time. In the meantime, Greg would up curl on a series of benches. 



I feel some guilt about this, but while I left my poor husband positively looking like death, I really enjoyed my stroll around the castle. Like a child, I had myself a lovely game of make-believe, imagining myself living a courtly existence during the time of the Medici.


 
The first stones of the castle were laid in the middle ages, then later came to the Ricasoli family through an exchange of lands. The castle has been through a lot in its long history. It suffered through numerous attacks from the Aragonese and Spanish during the fifteenth century, to disputes in the seventeenth century, and even aerial bombings during the Second World War. It’s been rebuilt and modified many times, so it shows the architecture of many different eras.



No, you're not tripping. They also host art installations on the property.

We’re going to have to go back someday so that Greg can finally experience it too. I highly recommend this as a stop for wine lovers visiting Tuscany.



Food Makes Everything Better

I’ll get to the next part of the visit in my next post, and also cover some of the modern history. In the meantime, I’m going to fast-forward a bit here. I’m very happy to say that my husband did not die on the bench I left him on. As often happens, a good meal helped to make everything right in the world again. 

No longer suffering from cold sweats, Greg has regained life and color in time to enjoy lunch on the patio.

After the tour, we had the chance to have lunch at the Osteria di Brolio. He was already feeling considerably better by the time we got to the restaurant thanks to his rest, and he was MUCH better by the time lunch was over.

We enjoyed pours of two Barone Ricasoli wines with lunch. Both wines are from the 2015 vintage, which was a very good in the region. Snap these up if you see them. Winemaking deets are taken from tech sheets on the website. 




 

Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2015

Average price: $27

Grapes: 80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon

Winemaking Deets: The Riserva is produced from a selection of estate-grown grapes, and reflects all the soil characteristics of Brolio which include sandstone, marl, marine deposits, and alberese soils. (We’ll get more into soils next time.) The vineyards have different exposures, are planted at 260 meters to 500 meters (853 to 1,640 feet) above sea level. Fermentation in stainless steel tanks with 14-16 days of skin contact. The wine is aged for 18 months in tonneaux of first and second passage.

Tasting Notes: This wine showed notes of deep black cherry, plum, light spiced, mixed pasta sauce herbs, and a touch of cinnamon. That black cherry came back on the palate, along with tomato paste, hints of cedar and sandalwood, leather and black tea. It was lush, with tannins that were definitely present, but fine and silky.


Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2015

Suggested Price: $70
 
Grapes: Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot

Winemaking Deets: Only made in the best vintages, from a meticulous selection of the best grapes from the estate’s best vineyards. The grapes used for this selection come from vineyards facing south/southwest at 250 to 450 meters above sea level. Each lot of grapes is treated separately.

Tasting Notes: Deep, dark plums with a mix of red and black berries. Fine black pepper creeps in on the palate, along with savory herbs, pine needles, tobacco, and lots of iron minerality. This is a bigger wine with lots of tannins, which were still young and chewy. This is one to decant or lay down as I think it will only get better with time, although it was beautiful then.

Both of these wines were still very young and could definitely spend some time in the cellar.

Admittedly, once we got to lunch, I stopped taking as careful notes, and didn’t detail how each of these worked with each dish as I often do. I think that I was just happy to have Greg back. All the same, I think everything generally paired well together.

Here’s what we ate:



 Tuscan Salumi with bruschetta. You can never really go wrong with these. 


Steamed egg with black truffle cream, purple potatoes, and crispy bacon. Our favorite dish of the meal!


Cooked veggies, presented beautifully.


Pork neck with bread crumbles, marinated radishes, and citrus fruits.

*****

This month the rest of the Italian Food, Wine, and Travel Grroup (#ItalianFWT) is also exploring Chianti Classico. Check out their posts here:


Additional resources used for this post: 
Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico
GuildSomm.com 
The Oxford Companion to Wine via Jancis Robinson.com.
Wine-searcher.com




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14 comments

  1. Nicole, what an adventure! So sorry Greg was sick. But you sound as if you had a fairytale time there. Those mushrooms made me chuckle...or rather, your caption did. Cin cin.

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    1. Cheers Cam! Glad you liked it. I was definitely having some fun there.

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  2. How lucky are you to have visited Ricasoli Castello di Barolio! What a great adventure and the lunch!!!!

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  3. Wow what a great article. I felt like I was with you on the trip. So sorry Greg wasn't feeling well but on the upside it gives you a great reason to return.

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  4. What a nice and fun story about your visit to Castello di Brolio...:-) even if your poor husband was sick all through the visit there.

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    1. Thanks! And it Was fun even so -- poor guys was such a trooper though!

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  5. What a wonderful opportunity that was. The estate looks beautiful! Too bad your poor husband felt that way. The food looks amazing as well.

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    1. Yeah it was -- but now we just have to go back! It definitely is beautiful.

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  6. LOL, I too would leave my husband who "positively looking like death" to stroll around a castle. Who wouldn't?? And while the castle is nice, that food is toooo gorgeous. Thanks for sharing your trip with us! :)

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    1. Appreciate that Deanna! And the food was really lovely!

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  7. I do so hope you and Greg make it back to the Castello to experience the tour together (it was a pleasure meeting him a couple of weeks ago too). Lunch looks divine. I'd love to visit someday myself!

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    1. Me too! Thanks Martin -- and I hope you make it there as well!

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Thanks so much for leaving your comments and questions. I always love to hear from you!