Tuscany's Annual Wine Festival

By Faith Willinger

Photo by Faith Willinger

I went to the opening festivities of Vino al Vino in Panzano in Chianti, held yearly during the third weekend of September. I was invited by Giovanni Manetti, president of the Panzano winemakers association, who put on the four-day tasting event. He's also the owner of the Fontodi winery and one of my favorite producers, so I couldn't refuse. I'd get to see some terrific winemakers and taste their wines, perfect for the wine nerd in me. And Dario Cecchini would be grilling steaks for dinner, a fantastic pairing for Chianti Classico.

The event began on the lawn in front of the limonaia (where lemon trees were once stored in the winter--a large space with big doors and windows to let in winter sun), cheese, olives, and nuts on a white-clothed table, and a huge ice bucket with bottles of Volano, a crisp, well-priced (I asked) white from Mulino di Grace.

Smoke from the grill perfumed the air, and then Panzanese, Fiorentina, and Costata steaks were served, carved into hunks, bones available for those who like to gnaw.

Winery owners, oenologists, journalists, politicians, local dignitaries, and their companions chatted in groups, admired the display of steaks, and checked out the massive grill; women in heels had problems with the lawn and stuck to the gravel path. Waiters from Florence's best caterer, Galateo, served appetizers--salt cod and tomato crostini, mini-arancine rice balls, and traditional Tuscan deep-fried sage leaves.

Dinner, seated at tables in the limonaia, began with a delicious burrata cheese surrounded by tomato and basil dressed with the Tuscan condiment of choice, extra virgin, followed by buckwheat pasta with Cinta Senese (heirloom Tuscan pork) sauce. Waiters delivered bottles from the Panzano wineries requested by the table--my tablemates snapped up a bottle of Fontodi's Flaccianello (named best wine in Tuscany in the latest Wine Spectator).


Photo by Faith Willinger

I asked for a bottle of Fontodi's reserve Chianti Classico, Vigna il Sorbo, easier to drink, a personal favorite. Smoke from the grill perfumed the air, and then Panzanese, Fiorentina, and Costata steaks were served, carved into hunks, bones available for those who like to gnaw, all simply spectacular. Vegetarians were thrilled with a seemingly endless buffet display of platters of grilled and marinated vegetables, salads, roast potatoes, stuffed zucchini, and, of course, in Tuscany, if there's steak, there are beans, the legume of choice. Mini meringues with frozen whipped cream flanked by exotic and un-seasonal fruit and mini bomboloni (hole-less donuts) for dessert.

The Vino al Vino wine fest is in held Panzano's main piazza, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, open to the public, with stands from 19 producers. Purchase a souvenir tasting glass for 12 euro and taste the terroir of the zone from any or all stands, accompanied by jazz. Fans of Chianti Classico should put the event (third weekend of September) on their calendars for next year.

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