Barone Ricasoli: A visit to the oldest winery in Italy and the one which created the Chianti Classico
The Brolio Castle in the heart of Chianti Classico between the communes of Gaiole in Chianti and Castelnuovo Berardenga is an imposing castle dating back to the middle ages. It houses the oldest winery in Italy, Barone Ricasoli and the second oldest in the world. Although I had already visited the castle some years back, the children on a recent trip to the area wanted to visit the castle given we were in the area.
The largest winery in the Chianti Classico area, it was in this castle that the Baron Bettino Ricasoli invented the Chianti Formula in 1872.
Francesco Ricasoli, Bettino’s great-grandson who has been at the helm of the family business since 1993 says that ‘the research we do today has almost one thousand years behind it’.
You get a sense of history the minute you step in the grounds of the castle. This is one of the oldest standing family businesses in the world. The first stones of Brolio Castle date back to the middle ages. The castle passed into the hands of the Ricasoli family thanks to an exchange of lands in 1141. Brolio, on the border between the territories of Siena and Florence, soon became the stage for all the disputes of the period, representing the Florentine bulwark against the fearsome Siena. Through the centuries the castle has suffered attack and destruction in numerous historical battles, from Aragonese and Spanish attacks during the fifteenth century, to disputes in the seventeenth century right through to bombings and artillery attacks during the Second World War.
The views from here are stunning as you look at the 1,2000 hectares that surround the castle with valleys, hills, woods of oak and chestnut trees, 235 hectares of vineyards and olive groves.
But what is maybe more interesting is the story of how Chianti Classico was born. Because, this winery can claim to have created what we now know as Chianti Classico.
The story dates back to Baron Bettino Ricasoli who in 1872 wrote a letter addressed to Cesare Studiati, professor at the University of Pisa. He put down, on black and wine, the formula for what would become Chianti Classico. The legend goes that he had been working for more than 30 years in search for the ‘perfect wine’.
The creation of the Chianti wine formula took three decades of research. Called the ‘Iron Baron’ he developed a precise sequence and a strict percentage of 7/10 Sangiovese, 2/10 Canaiolo, 1/10 Malvasia or Trebbiano.
His work laid the foundation for winemaking in the Chianti region as he introduced innovations in economic and farming principles. His intention was to introduce Tuscan wine on the global market and compete with French wines which were the undisputed leaders at that time. To do this he went on a tour of France visiting Marseille and then Burgundy, Paris and Bordeaux.
A tasting of Barone Ricasoli wines
A visit would not complete without stopping at the wineshop for a tasting of some of their wines. We tried the following wines:
White: Torricella 2013: A surprising white from a region that is known only for its red wines. A blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Sauvignon Blanc this is a wine of great balance between freshness and acidity but you get the feeling that this is a wine that can age very gracefully. One to try.
Rose: Albia 2014: A rose wine made of a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot. It has a very delicate colour and is perfect as an aperitif wine.
Red: Brolio Chianti Classico 2012: A blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, this is a really good entry level Chianti Classico. I found it very well balanced.
Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva 2011: Same blend as the normal Chianti Classico this wine is clearly more complex and has very good ageing potential. It is the perfect expression of what a Chianti Classico Riserva has to offer. A deep red colour, it is very mineral with good acidity and also balance.
Tips on visiting Castello Brolio: We visited the castle by car. It is extremely difficult if not impossible to visit the castle by public transport. The entrance ticket to the castle grounds (the castle is not accessible to the public as the family still lives there) allows you to visit the wine shop at the foot of the hill for a tasting. On the grounds, apart from the stunning views of the Tuscan rolling hills, you can visit the chapel and the crypt.