When I was producing and hosting my international wine, food and travel show, “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” there was one question I got all the time. What was my favorite place to visit?
That question was tossed my way at least once a week, but I never grew tired of answering. I would politely explain how that was impossible to say because it would be comparing apples to oranges. How can you stack Thailand up against the Napa Valley or Jalisco, Mexico, to France?
It can’t be done, I would painstakingly detail. Then I would take a deep breath, smile and give them the real answer: Tuscany.
I’ve been to Tuscany probably a half dozen times or more, and I would gladly return a half dozen more. Tuscany simply has it all: culture, history, beauty, terrific food, friendly people and, best of all, perhaps my favorite wines in the world. Tuscan wines are as delicious as they are diverse, widely available and still, for the most part, affordably priced.
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I recently hosted a Tuscan tasting for the local wine group I belong to, Vintage. I lined up eight wines for the group to sample and evaluate, everything from a simple Chianti to a glorious aged Brunello di Montalcino. Along with that Brunello, which was a 2006 Castello Banfi, two other wines really stood out to me and the group: a Vino Nobile de Montepulciano from the outstanding producer Avignonesi, and a “Super Tuscan” blend from Frescobaldi called Tenuta Frescobaldi Di Castiglioni. The popularity and quaffability of these two wines came as no surprise to me, since Avignonesi and Frescobaldi are two of the finest wine producers, not just in Tuscany and Italy, but in the world.
Let me first touch on Avignonesi’s Vino Nobile, a wine I have long known and appreciated, but one I got up close and personal with two years ago during a visit to the region as part of my judging of an annual food and wine pairing competition in the ancient walled city of Montepulciano.
Avignonesi’s Vino Nobiles are stunning, beautiful expressions of Tuscan’s native Sangiovese grape with ripe red fruit flavors and aromas, a nice hint of earthy herbaceosness, and crisp, cleansing acidity.
Nearly as historic as the wines of Montepulciano is the Frescobaldi’s Tenuta Di Castiglioni estate. In the family since the 11th century, the Castiglioni property is where wine production first began for the Frescobaldis. The climate and soils on this estate on the hills southwest of Florence combine for perfect growing conditions for a number of red grape varieties. The Frescobaldis have focused on Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
Those grapes make up the blend for the Tenuta Frescobaldi Di Castiglioni, which from a bang for your buck standpoint was probably the biggest winner of the tasting. The wine captures a lot of what I love about Tuscan wines: flexibility with food, approachability at a young age. They can age if you prefer your wines with a few years under their corks. The Castiglioni also walks the fine line between traditional and modern, offering touches of both styles.
All in all, it was a fun night at Vintage with those eight Tuscan wines reminding me of how much I love the wines and the region.
Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons.