I’ve done wine tastings before. You pull into a winery, hear all about their wonderful product while sampling a flight of four to five wines poured out in small, two-sip portions 10 seconds apart, decide whether to buy, and then head out the door. So, when we set out on a complimentary wine tasting tour in the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany with our hosts Deb of Italy Unfiltered and Massi the Driver, that’s about what I expected. I could not have been more wrong.

Massi, Deb, Steve and Ann

Massi, Deb, Steve and Ann stop for a picture in Tuscany.

The wine tasting tour Deb and Massi took us on in Tuscany was completely different than anything we’ve ever experienced and we loved it! We think everyone who can should taste wine there. And when you go, remember these five tips to help you have the very best experience possible.

1. Have a driver and guide

Having a driver and guide made all the difference in the world. Driving in a foreign country means learning new traffic patterns as well as new road signs. And in Italy it means learning a whole new culture of driving where lane lines and stop signs are often only seen only as suggestions and driving in the wrong parts of town will result in hundreds of dollars in fines. I’m not kidding.

Massi the driver and van

Massi the Driver knew all the best routes and with him driving, we got to enjoy the view.

I didn’t have to worry about any of that, nor did I have to worry about trying to figure out where we were going which it turns out was down lots of winding, hilly one-lane roads with about 2.4 million roundabouts. Instead of arriving white-knuckled and stressed from the drive, I was relaxed and glad to have had the opportunity to enjoy the scenery rather than focusing on the road.

Tuscan hills and vineyards

Looking over olive groves and across the vineyards of Tuscany.

Having a guide was wonderful because we began to hear the stories of the wineries and the wines before we ever arrived at a property. We learned about the natural, organic method used by wine makers in Tuscany, and about how the rose bushes planted at the end of the rows help growers notice potential disease before it reaches the vines.

Roses in Tuscany

Roses like these help wine makers gauge the health of their vines.

We were educated about the grape varietals in the wines, and about the significance of the letters “DOCG” on a label on the neck of a bottle. By the time we got out of the car, we knew something about where we were and what we were tasting. Our experience was so much richer because of it.

2. Take it slowly

Each of the properties we visited were small, family run operations. After arriving, we met our hosts and spent a good amount of time chatting and getting to know them before we ever tasted a single wine. For the owners of the wineries, it felt like it was more about building relationships and showing pride in their work than making a sale. And we liked that.

Wine tasting in Tuscany

Steve and Deb relax on a terrace, enjoying the wine, food, and view.

At one winery, we had a tour of the cellar, seeing the stainless steel vats where the grapes fermented, turning into wine. We then learned about how they use oak barrels to fine-tune the flavor of their wine.

Wine barrels

Wine barrels.

Next, as a bonus, we saw how they press their own olive oil from trees on their farm. As we chatted, we heard the story of how it took 10 years for them to get a permit to build the cellar and their home above, that before then, they had to work out of a shed and constantly move equipment in and out. By the end of the conversation, we actually knew the family and understood the passion they put into their craft.

Steve and Ann with winemaker

Steve and Ann stop for a photo with Sam, one of the wine makers.

When it came time to taste the wine, there were no hurried two sip pours. Instead, the wine maker offered enough of each wine for us to savor, along with heartfelt conversation that made us feel at home on their beautiful properties.

3. Savor the food parings

At each winery, the wine maker offered us food pairings as we sat sipping delicious wines. This wasn’t a plate of cheap crackers or bowl of pretzels, either. Instead, they would pour a wine and then disappear into the house, returning with beautifully plated Italian snacks including prosciutto, bruschetta, cheeses, and olive oil. Every morsel was delicious and served to make the wines even better.

Food pairings for wine tasting in Tuscany

With one tasting, we sere served some bruschetta, as well as prosciutto, salami, cheese, and honey.

At one winery, the owner gave us a sampling of organic jams that she cans from fruit she grows in her garden. We put dabs of these on pecorino cheese from the region and delighted in every single bite.

Tuscan jams

One wine maker offered us homemade jams made from fruits and vegetables in her garden.

4. Stop along the way

Because we had a private driver and guide who knew where we were going and how long it would take to get there, we could stop along the way and explore some locations we never would have found on our own. One fond memory is a stop in a little walled town called Castellina in Chianti.

Tuscan flowers at a winery

Everywhere we looked, we saw beautiful flowers, like these at one of the wineries we visited.

There, we explored the narrow streets, while learning that hundreds of years ago the cities of Florence and Siena constantly fought over control of the town. Today, there is a statue showing how the town has been influenced by both cities.

Castellina in Chianti

This statue, in Castellina in Chianti, shows how the city was pulled toward both Florence and Siena.

Ann has always wanted a big olive wood board to use to serve meats and cheeses at home, and Deb and Massi knew just the place. They led us to a store and said the prices here would be better than anywhere else. I have to admit, we were impressed enough with the price that we bought one, but curious as to whether it really was the best price we kept our eyes open for the rest of the trip. Looking back, I’m happy to report that the board we bought was anywhere from 20-100 Euros ($25-$125) less than any other board we found.

Olive wood serving board

We bought one of these beautiful olive wood serving boards. Deb and Massi knew just where to get the best deal.

And, because we thought it was a beautiful place with a really cool tunnel-like construction along the city wall, here’s another gratuitous picture from Castellina in Chianti.

Tuscany through a window

Peeking out a window in the city wall of Castellina in Chianti.

We had one other unique stop on our tour through the Chianti region, a stop at a Antica Macelleria Cecchini butcher shop that was featured by Anthony Bourdain on No Reservations. We posed for a picture with Don Dario Cecchini, shouting, “carne!” (meat) instead of, “cheese.”

Steve and Ann with butcher

We stopped to pose for a picture with this butcher who was featured on one of Anthony Bourdain’s shows.

As we walked away from the butcher shop, Deb and Massi told us they also offer a meat lover’s tour that stops at this place for a multi-course dinner featuring some of the best the shop has to offer. I can’t wait to come back and sink my teeth into that juicy tour.

5. Revel in the affordable prices

While Ann and I aren’t experts by any means, we are pretty up-to-date with pricing of wines because its something we enjoy.

Chianti wine bottles

Chianti wine in the traditional basket. While a decoration today, originally, the wine bottles were round so they were put in a basket so they would stand up.

Sitting in Chianti, drinking some of the best wines the region has to offer, I couldn’t believe how good the prices were. We were shocked to learn that good bottles of wine were available for 10 Euros, or about $13.00. Even with the cost of shipping factored in, the prices were very reasonable and, I daresay, less than we’d pay in the United States for a similar wine. At times I almost laughed when I saw the price list because I thought they had to be kidding. But that’s fair market price in Italy, and one of the advantages of visiting wineries in Tuscany. Get a few bottles, ship them home, and savor your savings along with the wine.

Oak wine barrel

An oak barrel is used to hold wine as it ages. The oak imparts flavors to the wine.

At the end of the day, I reflected that wine tasting in Tuscany was not at all what I expected. The beautiful scenery, the excellent wines, new information, and friendly company made it far better.

Massi and Deb

Massi and Deb. We sure miss these two.

I am so glad we had access to the expert knowledge of Italy Unfiltered to share with us some of the best wineries the Chianti Classico region has to offer, as well as Massi the Driver to take us right to their doors. We will long treasure the memories we made that day, especially in October when the weather is cool enough for safe shipping and the wine we purchased there arrives.


Our wine tour and transportation were provided to us free of charge by Italy Unfiltered and Massi the Driver. The opinions expressed are our own.


PIN FOR LATER

5 tips for wine tasting in Tuscany.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

  • And, we have a baby bird! A cowbird, that is. ⁣
⁣
We were so excited when we found eggs in the nest two house finches built in a fern on our front porch in Pawhuska, Okla. When we posted a picture of the nest last week, several readers pointed out that one of the eggs was not like the others - - it was a cowbird egg.⁣
⁣
Cowbirds, it turns out, have kind of a bad reputation. It seems that they don’t build nests of their own. Instead, they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and let the other birds raise their chicks. The cowbird chicks tend to develop faster than the other nestlings, and sometimes out compete them for food and resources. Because of this, there are those who give advice to remove the cowbird egg from the nest. ⁣
⁣
According to an article we read on the Audubon Society’s website, though, there are several reasons to leave the cowbird egg in place: ⁣
⁣
First, cowbirds are native to North America and have been here for millions of years and we are never going to teach them how and where to lay their eggs a different way. ⁣
⁣
Second, cowbirds are, like all other songbirds, protected in the US. In short, it’s illegal to remove their eggs.⁣
⁣
Third, cowbirds have been known to check the nests where they leave their eggs and will, occasionally, destroy nests from which their eggs have been taken. As a result, all of the resident chicks would be killed, as well, instead of one or two being outcompeted for resources. ⁣
⁣
Because of these reasons, we decided to let the natural process play out in our fern. We’ll see what happens. But what we do know is that the cowbird hatched first...and that chick is hungry.
  • 🏡 We've had such a wonderful time at our Pawhuska, Okla., home. It felt so good to actually pack a suitcase again, even if we just went to our house there and stayed put. We walked together every day, drove through the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, and chatted with friends from a distance on our front porch. We took time to watch the sunset and see a mama house finch care for her babies in our hanging fern. We also explored a state park and found a waterfall. ⁣
⁣
Most importantly, we got to see our daughter, Meghan. She is an ICU nurse in Tulsa and because of her potential exposure to coronavirus, we'd not spent any time together in months. But Ann found a way to create a safe (and decorative) outdoor space for all of us to visit, share a few meals, and just be in each others' presence. We can’t tell you what a comfort it was to see her again. ⁣
⁣
In this time of sickness and uncertainty, it was nice to have a clean, safe place to get away. We are so thankful to have found this gem of a town, so many supportive and caring friends here,  and a second place to call home.
  • As we've been home since March 12, Steve has taken up bread making as a hobby. His sour dough starter is looking promising, but he also found the easiest four-ingredient artisan bread recipe that is so impressive. ⁣
⁣
We've shared the results a few times on social media and many of you have asked for the recipe, so he wrote a blog post about it. We've included a link in our bio with step-by-step instructions on how to make it. ⁣
⁣
If you bake this artisan bread, we'd love to hear about it (and see a photo). Just be sure to tag us @postcardjar. ⁣
⁣
We love this bread plain, with olive oil and seasoning, as toast with almond or peanut butter, and grilled for bruschetta. If you use the #Noom app like us, it is about 100 calories a serving (12 servings in loaf).
  • As we remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice this Memorial Day, we hope you will join us in honoring others in a time of reflection, gratitude and respect. ⁣
⁣
Both Steve's grandfathers and Ann's grandfathers all served in the military and fought in WWII. We took this photo a few years ago at Wyuka Cemetery in Nebraska City, Nebraska, where Ann's grandfather, Donald Shrewsbury, was laid to rest.
  • Today is the day! This afternoon our friends and fellow travel writers @lindseyranzau and @coleranzau are taking over our Instagram stories and we can’t wait for you to meet them.⁣
⁣
⁣
⁣They are travel experts on everything Minnesota and will also be sharing some of their favorite Midwest destinations in honor of #NationalRoadTripDay! ⁣
⁣
⁣
⁣Lindsey and Cole have traveled the world and love finding hidden gems and writing about them on their blog, Look About Lindsey (link in bio). You’re going to love their personalities as much as their incredible photography so be sure to watch our stories and say hello.⁣
⁣
⁣
⁣And, to see our picks for best Midwest road trips, follow @lindseyranzau where we’ll be taking over her IG stories. It’s going to be a blast and we hope you’ll come along.
  • We are so excited to announce that Minneapolis-based travel writers Lindsey and Cole Ranzau of the blog Look About Lindsey will be taking over the Postcard Jar Instagram stories Friday, May 22! In celebration of National Road Trip Day, we are trading places (and IG stories!) to show each others' followers some of our favorite Midwest road trips and destinations. ⁣
⁣
We encourage you to check out our stories tomorrow to meet Cole and Lindsey (they are so much fun) and follow @lindseyranzau where we'll be sharing some of our favorite Midwest travel experiences on their Instagram stories. When the time is right and you feel you can travel safely, we hope you'll consider a road trip in the Midwest. ⁣
⁣
You can check out the Look About Lindsey blog at the link in our bio. ⁣
⁣
@natdaycal @pilotflyingj
  • The @pwmercantile in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, reopened today. We have talked to folks here who said employees have been working hard to clean and sanitize everything. On our walk today, we noticed that hand sanitizer that was readily available, tables were spaced out, and Merc employees were wearing face masks in accordance with CDC recommentations. We hope visitors to our little town will also do their part to keep everyone safe and healthy.

Second most popular blog in Pawhuska