At VBT, we like to think of our new Italy: Tuscany, Chianti & Marina di Castagneto Guided Tour as a cycling adventure in the Super Tuscan spirit—with an innovative itinerary that makes an uncommon pairing between the hills of Chianti and stunning cycling routes along the Tuscan seaside.
Super Tuscan! Pairing Creative Chianti Wines with Fresh Cycling Routes
Posted on Friday, August 4th, 2023
Story by: Molly Waldstein | Travel Writer
The term “Super Tuscan” is relatively new to Italian viniculture—but it already packs a tremendous punch. Also known by the more formal name indicazione geografica tipica, or IGT, the Super Tuscan reds were born in the 1970s and are known for their unbridled creativity, relative scarcity—and superb quality. Their success comes, in part, from unconventional blends of grape varietals—and a willingness to break all the rules in pursuit of a superlative vintage.
At VBT, we like to think of our new Italy: Tuscany, Chianti & Marina di Castagneto Guided Tour as a cycling adventure in the Super Tuscan spirit—with an innovative itinerary that makes an uncommon pairing between the hills of Chianti and stunning cycling routes along the Tuscan seaside. “The wonderful thing about pairing Chianti with the Tuscan coast is that it’s quite original,” says Katia Torre, VBT’s veteran Italian travel designer. “Most travel designers don’t combine Chianti with the seaside—so travelers have to choose one or the other. With this new Tuscany cycling adventure, we just sort of threw the rule book out the window and said, ‘hey—we’ve been designing cycling vacations in Tuscany for decades. We’ve earned the right to innovate!’”
Free from the strict rules that govern Chianti Classico and Chianti Riserva, Chianti vintners have also found a superlative creative outlet in Super Tuscan vintages—as winemakers use their ingenuity and craftsmanship to develop superior wines using the best fruit from the Chianti hills. “The beauty of the Super Tuscan reds is that there are no rules,” observes Mohamed Sallam—resident sommelier at Palazzo Leopoldo in Radda in Chianti. “Each Super Tuscan wine is unique—and might contain Merlot grapes, Sangiovese, or maybe Cabernet Sauvignon. Sometimes there are 4,000 bottles produced and sometimes 1,000—and 50% of the producers today don’t even sell it. They keep it private. But the fact is, they put the best grapes inside.” Similarly, VBT has selected the very best accommodations, cycling routes, trip leaders, and adventures to accompany our Italy: Tuscany, Chianti & Marina di Castagneto Guided Tour.
Chianti Was Built for Cyclists
If you’re a cyclist who thrills at the prospect of soaring past grassy slopes resplendent with ripening grapes, then the hills of Chianti are calling your name! In spring, Chianti is alive with greenery—its manicured hillsides carefully combed with orderly rows of Sangiovese vines clad in the pale verdure of the fresh season. Silvery rows of hardy olive trees line the vineyards—punctuated by rows of dark cypress perched elegantly against a cloudless sky. As you pedal the lush countryside of Chianti, you’ll be amazed by the serenity of your surroundings. You might spin for miles among its peaks and valleys without seeing a car—but when you reach one of Chianti’s ancient hilltop villages, you’re welcomed with a flurry of activity. Here, you’ll discover exquisite Italian cuisine, charming boutiques, and of course, Chianti’s world-famous wine.
So, what is Chianti exactly? It’s an ancient district within the Italian region of Tuscany, and it’s known for two things—incredible cycling routes and superb wine. When the borders of Chianti were formally established in the 13th century, only the villages of Radda, Gaiole, and Castellina were included—signifying the sublime viniculture for which these three villages have been known for over 800 years. When you join VBT on our Italy: Tuscany, Chianti & Marina di Castagneto Guided Tour, you’ll see these ancient villages up close—and sample some of their splendid vintages.
Long before the genesis of Super Tuscan wines, Chianti Classico occupied the forefront of vinicultural legend in Tuscany for centuries. “The Association of Chianti Classico is the oldest wine association in the world,” says Mohamed. “It started in 1716—more than 300 years ago. The association has thousands of rules that must be met before a wine receives the famous black rooster label of a true Chianti Classico.” The rules governing the association are extensive and exacting—ensuring that only the true, genuine Chianti wines can pass the test. “For me, there are three rules which are the most important,” explains Mohamed. “First rule: Chianti Classico must include a minimum 80% of Sangiovese grapes. Second rule: in the Chianti Classico area, we don’t use irrigation. Last rule, we do the harvest entirely by hand.” This last rule has an interesting purpose—by feeling the grapes with their hands, the harvesters can find the grapes with the thickest skin. “It’s about 30% of the grapes,” Mohamed estimates, of the thick-skinned fruit. “We put these aside, and we create Chianti Classico from the thin-skinned grapes. With the thicker-skinned grapes, we make the Chianti Riserva—a vintage known for its dark ruby color and excellent pairing with rich, Italian food.”
Tasting the Flavors of the Land
Pedaling the lush valleys of Chianti in springtime, you’ll find vibrant blossoms at every turn. As you spin up to the charming hilltop castle, Castello di Meleto, you’ll pass vineyards and fragrant apple orchards. A guided tour of the castle grounds and apiary is the perfect context to appreciate the rich local agriculture for which Chianti is famous. “The honeybees are critically important to local crops,” says Katia. “At Castello di Meleto, the professional beekeepers ensure the bees are healthy and able to pollenate the local gardens, vineyards, and orchards. And this is interesting, because without the bees, there can be no grapes. And without the grapes, of course, no wine. Hence, the bees are one of Chianti’s most prized treasures.” After a stroll through the lovely gardens and working apiary of this medieval Chianti castle, there’s no better time to sample a sublime glass of Chianti Classico and reflect on the sublime flavors of the landscape.
Not only are the gardens of Chianti delightful and aromatic—they also play another role in the development of excellent Chianti vintages. “The grape vines are ancient—with extensive root systems that dive very deep to reach the ground water,” Mohamed explains. “This benefits the wine because the ground water carries with it the taste of the land: olive trees, rosemary, sage, summer fruit, flowers, whatever is planted around the vineyard, it all uses the same water. This gives a bottle of Chianti Classico a very rich aroma because there’s a touch of all those flavors inside the water. This is why you cannot find the taste of Chianti wines anywhere else in the world.” To preserve its local character, Chianti Classico vintages are made using natural fermentation—without any sugar or yeast added to ferment into alcohol. “We crush the thin-skinned grapes and leave them to ferment in stainless steel for 20 days at 20 degrees Celsius,” explains Mohamed. “Then, we filter and put it in stainless-steel containers for one year.” The natural fermentation process ensures no outside agents dilute the prized character of the Chianti landscape—and stainless-steel tanks neither give, nor take away from, the wine’s natural flavors.
Born and raised in Italy, Katia knows a lot of Italian people—which is why VBT’s Italian vacations are prized for their authentic, local experiences. “As we pedal away from Chianti and head toward the coast, there’s a charming little seaside cottage outside Bolgheri where I know the most amazing chef,” says Katia. “Chicca loves to welcome VBT guests into her home—and she teaches them how to cook authentic Tuscan dishes. In true Italian style, it’s a very animated affair—flowing with excellent conversation and fantastic wine.” Here, you’ll experience the authentic Italy—strolling among the flowers and vegetables in Chicca’s back garden while you learn to create authentic Italian dishes using local culinary techniques.
Diversity and innovation are what make VBT’s new Super Tuscan adventure Italy: Tuscany, Chianti & Marina di Castagneto Guided Tour a vacation not to be missed. With our deep Italian roots, we’ve found delightful accommodations, scenic bike routes, and splendid Italian cuisine along the way—and our local Italian trip leaders will be delighted to introduce you to the Chianti vintages that make this region famous among wine-lovers.