A slow journey along the Prosecco Road allows you really get to know the wine you are drinking in a way not found in other parts of Italy. Because it doesn’t have the masses of tourists found elsewhere in the country, visitors to the Prosecco region can really immerse themselves and bask in warm Italian hospitality. There are no lines and no crowds, and no one seems to be in a hurry.
A view across the beautiful Prosecco region.
OK, now let’s talk about the wine.
What is DOCG?
The Prosecco region has a DOCG denomination. DOCG is short for the fancy Italian words, “Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita.” It is part of a labeling and control system that Italy has created to help consumers know the regionally created products they are buying are genuine and of high quality. Because this system is key to understanding wine in Italy, our hosts Deb and Massi of Italy Unfiltered and Massi the Driver made sure to explain it to us right away.
This marker shows that we are in a special agricultural area, “Denominacion de Origen Controlada e Garantita.” This means the grapes for the wine were grown in a specific region and that the wine is guaranteed to meet exacting specifications for quality.
DOCG wines are made from grapes grown only in the specific region known for the wine’s production.
Any bottle bearing a numbered DOCG seal was created following a well-defined set of rules for the blending of grape varietals, and has been tested not only for taste but also at the molecular level to exacting quality standards.
DOCG is not exclusive to Prosecco. Here is a DOCG label on a bottle of Chianti Classico. Because of the label, we know this bottle was crafted to exact standards.
If a wine doesn’t pass any of these tests, it doesn’t get approved for the little numbered paper seal. In other words, if you see a seal with the letters “DOCG” on an Italian wine, you know it was created and checked to meet exacting standards so is a good representative from the region. The Prosecco Road is full of wineries producing DOCG wines.
A glass of DOCG Prosecco at the Bisol winery.
Visiting the Prosecco region
Along Prosecco Road, it is very easy to visit lots of wineries that produce DOCG wines, as they are extremely close together. I’m talking about sometimes just a few feet away from the next. Because each one offers visitors a unique experience, you really can really learn a great deal about the wine and region. At the Bisol winery, for instance, you can tour the museum in their original cellar and soak up the history of wine making both at that winery and in the region.
Bisol winery cellar museum.
Historic wines in the Bisol museum.
At another winery, you learn a little bit about the different soils in the region as well as what each soil type brings to the Glara grapes grown in it. You also hear how those grapes are blended to create the different wines offered.
The Adami winery had a display showing some of the different soil types in which grapes are grown.
Grapes are everywhere throughout the region, often running right along the road like a hedge. Vines of Glara grapes decorated people’s front yards and were planted right next to buildings as if the grape growers didn’t want to waste one single square foot of this fertile land. Seriously, we could have stuck our hand out the car window and touched a vine if we’d wanted to.
Glara grapes growing in the Prosecco region
Many of the wineries are small, family-owned operations without a formal tasting room staff. Instead, it is often the wine maker or close family member who pours and explains each wine to you. And what generous pours! In many cases you can get a little tour of the winery, as well. Imagine how much you can learn with so many mini-tutorials during your visit.
An antique spittoon at the Vigne Matte winery.
Steve and Ann pose at the Le Colture winery.
And with so few tourists around, even in the high Italian tourist season, we often had the wineries to ourselves. It was such a wonderful, relaxing way to enjoy sampling some of the world’s best wine.
Our hosts, Massi and Deb, at the Vinge Matte winery. We were the only ones there except for the neighbor’s cute puppy who just loved following us around.
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 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 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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 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.
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. 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.
We’re Steve and Ann Teget. We spent more than two decades in corporate America and public education before Ann’s health and Steve’s aversion to middle school girl drama convinced us to try something new. Now we are making the most of midlife and telling authentic stories about extraordinary travel. And yes, we send ourselves postcards.