Cachet Chianti; Wine Warms Italy Escape

Article excerpt

Byline: Richard Slusser, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

FLORENCE, Italy - The roots of grapevines grow deep into the Tuscan soil and through the histories of families living in the region since the Middle Ages and, later, the Renaissance, when Florence and Siena fought over the Chianti area between the two republics. The Etruscans, who preceded the Roman Empire, made wine in the area.

Some of the vineyards are now owned by a first generation and quite a few are owned by non-Italians, but others have been in the same family for 500 or 1,000 years.

One site in Greve in Chianti was settled by Etruscans, later occupied by Romans, and in the seventh century was acquired by the Verrazzano family. Giovanni da Verrazzano, who discovered New York Bay and explored America's east coast, was born on the estate in 1485. Wine was made on the estate at least as early as 1170, according to documents. The estate also produces olive oil, as do most of the Chianti wine growers.

Writer-statesman Niccolo Machiavelli, feeling the heat of Florentine politics, left the city and moved to his country place in Sant'Andrea in Percussina, where he made wine. The offices of the Consorzio del Marchio Storico - Chianti Classico (the Consortium of the Historic Trademark - Chianti Classico) occupy a part of Machiavelli's home, and the tavern he visited is across the road and still in operation. Machiavelli is believed to have written "The Prince," his most famous work, in San Casciano.

In Florence, walk into Santa Maria del Fiore - this venerable city's skyline-dominating duomo - and look to the left: a tribute to Principe Corsini - Prince Corsini.

In the older Church of Santa Croce, proceed toward the altar. To the right is a monument to the Conti Capponi - the Capponi counts. One of the streets beside Santa Annunziata Church is Via Gino Capponi, and nearby is Via Pier Capponi.

At lunch or dinner, examine the wine list in a Tuscan restaurant and turn to the Chianti Classico bottlings. A wine from Villa Calcinaia, owned by the Conti Capponi family and managed by young Count Sebastiano Capponi, may be on the list. The Capponis have lived in the area since the 1400s. "We used to live up there," said Mr. Capponi, pointing to a large stone building in the distance. An ancestor lost that villa, and the family relocated to the smaller one down the hill, where they now reside. Smaller, perhaps, but still large, with a beautiful formal garden and an orangerie. Like many of the other old families, the Capponis have at least one palace in Florence.

Villa Calcinaia produces more than 13,000 gallons of Chianti Classico and a Riserva Calcinaia, as well as vinsanto and other wines, vinegar, grappa and thousands of bottles of olive oil from its 2,000 trees. Three apartments for rent on the estate can accommodate 17 persons.

Or, the Chianti Classico on the wine list may be a Le Corti or Cortevecchia from Principe Corsini. Villa Le Corti has been owned by the Corsini princes since the 14th century and now is managed by Duccio Corsini, the Duke of Casigliano by being the son of Prince Filippo Corsini. The duke, his wife and children live in Villa Le Corti, which was begun in the Middle Ages but has a Renaissance courtyard.

Another Chianti Classico may be from Castello di Fonterutoli, owned by the Marchesi Mazzei - the Mazzei marquises - since 1435. The Fonterutoli warehouse of the Mazzei family can hold 400,000 bottles of wine; the estate produces about 52,000 gallons of Chianti Classico and 10,000 bottles of first-cold-pressing olive oil. According to the Fonterutoli Web site, "The first known citation of the appellation 'Chianti wine' appears in a document written by Ser Lapo. It is a sales contract, dated December 16, 1398, and signed by Ser Lapo."

A wine might be from Castello di Cacchiano, still in the Ricasoli Firidolfi family and once part of the line of fortifications between the republics of Florence and Siena. …