Italy is by far my Happy Place. Not only am I 100% Italian, but it’s known for la dolce vita. That literally means the sweet life, and is basically just all about kicking’ it and enjoying life. Many an evening has been passed sipping an apertivo in a piazza, or eating the best [fill in the blank – pizza, pasta, bistecca, gelato – it doesn’t matter] you’ve ever had in your life. So a few weeks ago, I went to get another taste (pun intended) of la dolce vita in the grapefriend way. As it was courtesy of Ruffino Wines, it was dubbed la vita Ruffino and here’s what it’s all about.
1 wine – fun wine, good wine, and really good wine
Mostly known for their Prosecco and Chianti in the US, Ruffino makes lots of higher
–end Chianti Classico as well as Brunello. The main star here is Sangiovese, it’s just in each wine in different proportions. Chianti has to be at least 75%, while Chianti Classico and Riserva require 80% (those also have to age longer). Brunello di Montalcino is 100% Sangiovese Grosso and, to generalize, it’s like the Burgundy of Tuscany – complex, silky, amazing.
For Chianti, the blend can have Colorino, Canaiolo Nero, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in it. Colorino is one of those grapes that’s rarely made on its own so I didn’t know what it was like. With a name like that, it’ll be no shock that Colorino adds color and, for Game of Thrones fans, it’s the Peter Baelish of grapes – adding subtle influence, always around, rarely detected.
Another element to understand is that there are lots of rules in Italy (as in most wine regions) about what grapes can be used and in what proportion, how long it has to age, alcohol limits and lots more. In Italy these dictate what can go on the label in the DOC/DOCG system – they want it to be what the land produces, and our Ruffino guide called it “wine of the vineyard.” But in more modern times, some people make blends outside of that system, using grapes and aging they think is the best, so they have to use the IGT label and therefore our guide called it “wine of winemaker.”
We visited some of their vineyards in Chianti and Montalcino and got to taste the wines they produced there while also sampling others at tons of lunches and dinners throughout the trip. My three favorites were:
Santedame Chianti Classico 2012
Chianti has tons of acid so it’s great with food – even more so with high-acid tomatoes, which is why it goes so incredibly well with pizza. We had the Santedame at the Mercato Centrale in Florence, and I had more glasses than I would’ve normally had at lunch because it was good and way too drinkable. Black cherry and a little coffee note, it’s a really great everyday wine. ($19.99)
Alauda Toscana IGT 2011
This is a blend of 45% Cabernet Franc, 45% Merlot, 10% Colorino. Cab Franc is rare in Tuscany but I really like the wines I’ve had from there lately that use Cab Franc either solo or predominantly in a blend. Lots of black plum and super soft tannins, and it’s only made in really good vintages (no wonder I loved it). ($99)
Greppone Mazzi Brunello di Montalcino
We barrel tasted vintages 2012 – 2015 and then had the 2011 and 2010 (the vintage that’s out now) at lunch, and even though they should be aged for many more years they were still so delicious!
Bursting with violets and black and red cherries, they were silky and complex. It also didn’t hurt that we had lunch overlooking some sick views of the hills of Montalcino. Every time I open a bottle I’ll have those in my mind. ($80)
The most important thing about wine is of course that it tastes amazing. But once you start learning about what it takes to make a bottle of wine – the dedication, knowledge, time and talent – you get really blown away by everything people do and the skill they have. Growing grapes and turning them into wine is really an art, so we strolled through Florence to check out some artisans in other industries that had just as much passion and skill.
First we headed to Stefan Bemer, a shoemaker workshop in the San Niccolo area that crafts custom shoes that go for a mere 4000 euro. That sounds insane, but when you see what goes into it you sort of get it. These shoemakers train for months before they’re allowed to even begin making shoes. They then measure a person’s foot to get their unique dimensions, select from all kinds of different materials, and hand sew every stitch. Each pair takes about 60-80 hours to make! Daniel Day Lewis trained here just because he got so obsessed with how much they put into their craft.
We also visited the Scuola di Cuoio (leather school), where we saw them handcrafting leather wallets and bags, and even applying real gold foil to personalize it with someone’s initials.
And aside from wine, the ultimate Italian craft of course is food. We got to make homemade pasta with the chef at Villa La Massa where we were staying.
3 la dolce vita
Now that we got a glimpse the work that goes into “la dolce vita,” we then got to enjoy the result of all of it. We had tons of moments to just fully love life at castles, at villas, around tables and vineyards.
I ran every day for about a month to shed off all the pounds. Worth every ounce. As always, already counting down the days til I’m back!