Today we bring in a small corner of the Chianti Classico, between the villages of Gaiole and Radda: land of vines and wine, especially, but also oil, rolling hills, of Cinta Senese by strong flavors, the churches of the Middle Ages, hand-painted ceramics, of true taverns and starred restaurants. In this small piece of land, hidden among firs, oaks, is the Meleto Castle, a place that tells an ancient story, whose stones are still shrouded in mystery and today is home to a modern, multifunctional, although firmly anchored to the Tuscan traditions, considered a precious heritage to be protected over time.
Former Benedictine abbey, The Apple Orchard word appears for the first time in the eleventh century. In 1256 it is located in the historical record of the Guelph Fiorentini, as property of the Ricasoli family-Firidolfi. A medieval fortress that has spanned the centuries, looking from the top downwards wars between Guelphs and Ghibellines, between Florence and Siena, Aragonese invasions in Chianti, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The castle is an excellent starting point to turn this part of the Chianti Classico: Here you can choose to make a lunch break, or sleep in the rooms of the annexe, or in one of five large rooms of the castle, with original Tuscan terracotta floors and antique furniture.
GROWING THE TUSCANY. Today, Meleto Castle is managed by the company Viticultural Tuscany, born in 1968 on initiative and Milanese publisher, Gianni Mazzocchi. It was Mazzocchi to promote a fundraiser involving thousands of shareholders and allowed to detect the castle of Meleto from Ricasoli family, Today owner of the nearby castle of Brolio, always in the Chianti Classico area. At Viticultural Toscana also heads the Pieve di Spaltenna (where the starred restaurant The Pievano) and the convent of Santa Maria. There are about 1,400 hectares of land which are cultivated vineyards and olive trees from which we obtain an extra virgin olive oil dop. The Meleto Castle, renovated in 2000, also it has a herd of pigs “Cinta senese”, but today it is above all a charming residence and a farm.
NOBLE AND THE CASTLE. Ten thousand people every year visit the Apple Orchard Castle, in addition to being a farm and a farm, It is also one of the centers of culture around the Chianti Attraction. The oldest part is the central tower, while the various towers and perimeter of circular shape are of 1400 and the inner part has been renewed in 1700. Thirty rooms for guests, five of which are inside the main body, The rooms are located in the main building of the castle preserved antique furniture and furnishings: chests, chairs, tables, tapestries. The common rooms, open for lunch and where you have breakfast, They are painted with hunting scenes and bucolic views. In 2015, to safeguard these treasures, Meleto Castle decided to take Serena Andrei, formed at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence and responsible for the restoration and maintenance of all the murals of the village.
THEATER. The Meleto Castle also houses a small unexpected gem, you will discover during a guided tour. Behind a narrow gate in the courtyard hides the beautiful “I turned on the Teatrino” dating back to 1741: balconies, quinte, sets and furnishings are all original. A place that instantly takes you back in time and that, even today, It is used for theatrical performances.
THE ESTATE AND THE VINEYARDS. A direct the Meleto Castle is Michele Contartese, efficient and confidential, Calabrian origins, that is gradually changing the company's production philosophy, from viticulture. A large vineyard of 160 hectares and an extensive wine cellar guarantee a production of about 700,000 bottles a year, sold in 26 international markets. The vast lands of the Castle are crossed by the river Massellone, anciently called Clante, which it seems to derive the name Chianti. the grapes, in prevalence Sangiovese, They grow on soils such as clay (galestro), sand and silt, between the towns of Gaiole and Radda in Chianti. Staff at Castello di Meleto organized for guests of visits to these hillside vineyards (between 400 and 600 meters in height), where you can also spend days, Following the guided routes (and reported), to better understand the biodiversity of the place with long walks and trekking. The agronomic part is curated by Giovanni Farina, which is carrying out a project for the conversion to organic farming. In addition, It is working to restore the old pruning of vines to Tuscan headband system, replacing the existing cordon.
LA CANTINA – Eleven labels produced from the cellar: from Chianti Classico Vermentino, Merlot from the black Malvasia. The wines are aged in both steel both in the barrels 30 and 50 hectoliters. As a good guardian of the Tuscan traditions, Meleto Castle has a vinsantaia, ie a room for the natural drying of the grapes, that is collected and let sit for a few months. Then they are crushed, fermented and aged in small barrels (caratelli). The bottles produced annually, pride of the seal, are appenaquattro thousand and are sold no earlier than six or seven years of aging.
CURED MEAT, OIL AND HONEY – If the vineyard is the real challenge of Michele, Castle Meletofa the delight of gourmet for other small but important productions: salami of Cinta Senese, extra virgin olive oil and honey. I'm used’ Since 2003 here is bred Cinta Senese, valuable race in Tuscany, always, It is bred especially for the production of sausages with intense and soft taste. Today, 36 are the animals raised in the wild state in the midst of oak forests: each of them has a name and its character. With the meat of the Cinta Senese, Castle produces different types of sausages: Ham, capocollo, Lonza, lard, Pillow. All great products that are sold in the shop of the Castle and are also served in platters offered in the enoteca and tasting room of the castle. That extra virgin olive oil is a quality production that characterizes most of Tuscany. Here are 6 hectares of land that are home to 1,636 plant, all run organic, without the use of fertilizers and cured with a biennial pruning. As with any quality company, olives collected between October and November are brought within an hour from the harvesting to near crusher of Vertine, where they are squeezed. This is how three oil labels, all of good quality, fruity ranging from intense light. Finally, get honey: hidden in a forest corner there are 20 hives in which the bees are bred that, just from 2018, ensure the Meleto a production of wildflower honey, chestnut, ivy, acacia and “on” a Mediterranean plant (call “hedysarium coronarium”) belonging to the legume family, that gives a sweet and delicate honey. One of my absolute favorites.
ANCIENT AND WINE CELLAR. The basement of the Apple Orchard Castle home to the oldest winery. Here they were produced and guarded their wine reserves for the residents and owners of this medieval dwelling. Inside, Wine labels that tell the history of the castle, old tools for wine production, but also works of art that are on display (for free) among large wooden barrels. Among the initiatives proposed by the Castello di Meleto also “Wine maker for a day”, a project that the company Toscana Viticultural carries to bring the audience to the world of wine. I'm used, if you do not sleep in the castle, but are in the area, take a gourmet break in the tasting areas: a small, modern and appealing bistro which displays all company products. Everything is offered for tasting: wine, honey, salami of Cinta Senese, combined with proposals of a small traditional kitchen offering cheeses, ribollita, tomato soup, vegetable pies, pork and other typical Tuscan dishes. Within the local enoteca, also we organize cooking courses.
WHAT TO SEE AROUND, GAIOLE – The small village of Gaiole in Chianti is a must for those who love the Chianti Classico territory, and that they want to know the story. The country, which is located in the lower part of the river valley Massellone, It has become famous for being in a busy market town centuries: for its strategic position, In fact, it was long fought between Siena and Florence, two powerful city in medieval and Renaissance fought a long war for territorial dominance. The importance of Gaiole in Chianti is also due to the role of the Ricasoli family, he owned villages, castles and vineyards. At the center of the village is a statue of a rooster, He became the symbol of the war between Siena and Florence. The black rooster has also become the symbol of Chianti Classico Consortium, today in the printed labels of wine bottles. Before leaving the village of Gaiole, do not forget to buy a souvenir as a gourmet sausage typical, preferably Cinta Senese, the historic Butcher Chini, where will welcome the brothers Vincenzo and Caesar.
WHAT TO SEE AROUND, THE PARISH CHURCH OF SPALTENNA – The company Viticultural Toscana also owns the magnificent church of Spaltenna, in the territory of Gaiole. The Church, with three naves, wooden roof and circular apse, XI century: Firidolfi family had it rebuilt after the Baptistery of San Piero in Avenano became a college of presbyters. The company Viticultural Tuscany, always engaged in the recovery of the architectural heritage, It decided to establish a special “Foundation” for the recovery of the Pieve di Spaltenna. The goal is to give back to the people of the church Gaiole in Chianti, that is currently closed for problems to the roof.
EATING AROUND, RESTAURANT Pievano – Adjacent to the church is the Spaltenna Castello di Spaltenna (different properties from the church), which houses a five-star resort hotel. In The restaurant Pievano, Lochef Vincenzo Guarino, origins of bells, He has found here the ideal environment in which to develop their own ideas in the kitchen: great respect for raw materials, culinary technique never an end in itself, Careful selection of ingredients, menu ranging from land to sea, and a very high level pastry. I refer you to review completin, with photos and prices, to know more.
CERAMICS OF NICOLETTA PENCO – In addition to the gastronomic souvenirs, If you are like me who love the pottery you have to find the time to stop at the foot of the parish church of Spaltenna, in the square opposite the church, to make a visit to the ceramic art studio Nicoletta Penco. In his creations, There are the main reasons of this extraordinary territory: the nature, herbs, the olive trees, the screws, poppies. The exhibits are all turned and hand-painted and you can see Nicoletta Penco in action every day in the small workshop, within the art workshop.
WHERE TO EAT: RISTORANTE MALBORGHETTO – In Gaiole in Chianti I suggest dinner at the inn Malborghetto, a generous restaurant in a rustic style, Simone Muricci where the chef will make you feel very at ease. The restaurant was opened in 1999 after a barn restoration of the adjacent Church of St. Martin, with an old olive tree that welcomes guests and the chef also holds cooking classes with final tasting of the prepared dishes. In the menu, typical of this land appetizers: crostini with chicken livers, with mixed salami, but also very great classics like ribollita, codfish, tomato soup, Chianina meat steak, tasty pasta dishes with truffles, homemade pastries. All accompanied by a good selection of red and white wines from Tuscany, with some particularities among the sweet wines, such as Vin Santo.
WHERE TO EAT: The INN OF THE CASTLE BROLIO – At the foot of the monumental castle of Brolio, owned by the Ricasoli family, is the’Osteria del Castello. A local modern and warm, in wood and with large windows overlooking the woods, which is surprising for organization of service and cuisine for a gastronomic anchored to the Tuscan tradition but very accurate in form and style of impiattamenti. We tried the Tuscan salami of Ceccatelli Butcher with croutons (12 euros), excellent ravioli of lamb, Bavarian porcini mushrooms, chervil sauce with lamb perfumed bottom of the moss and cypress (14 euros). Do not miss the traditional dish: pappa al pomodoro (12 euros) or ribollita. We recommend the selection of local cheeses (the Magi) with Tuscan jams (14 euros).
WHAT TO SEE AROUND, Radda in Chianti – Even if you have to move a few kilometers, 15 minutes travel are very few compared to the beauty of Radda in Chianti, important center of Chianti Classico. Radda in Chianti is considered the most important center of the area. If we think of the wines, Here is the headquarters of the Consortium for the Protection of the Black Rooster, housed in the convent of Santa Maria del Prato. In its territory there are human traces from 2000 BC, then in Etruscan and in Roman. During the medieval period, Radda was recognized as the headquarters of the League of Chianti. Its village is characteristic, with small shops, where they sell crafts in olive wood, extra virgin olive oil, along with soft and expensive fabrics of cashmere made in Tuscany. The ancient walls, the Palazzo del Podesta, the Romanesque church (Rectory of St. Nicholas) restored in modern times by the architect Adolfo Coppedè: are the main sights to see. Do not forget that Radda in Chianti is home Eroica, the characteristic and original bicycle race reserved for vintage bicycles, that every year sees thousands of fans attend.