Panzano&Panzanella – the best of Tuscany

Right now, the countryside is full of spring fever, the air heady with the perfume of the jasmine blooming with great vigour on the fences and stone walls that enclose gardens bursting with brightly coloured flowers, vegetable patches birthing delicious spring fruit and vegetables.

The pomegranate trees hold bright orange flowers, and the grass underneath is scattered with white and yellow wild flowers.

On the grapevines, the grapes are in their infancy, a long way off from their harvest and wine production, some even years or even a good decade off their final metamorphosis, their butterfly moment of being decantered to fully bring out their best.

In the small Tuscan village town of Panzano, big things are happening in the world of wine.

Nestled in the Chianti hillside, in the Greve zone, Panazano produces a great range of reds, perfectly blending and bottling the ancient Sangiovese grapes.

In the past 20 years, around 80% of wine makers in the Panzano area have turned a new vine leaf to have totally organic production. Wine production is returning to the ancient ways that were.

This week, we set out with a private driver to explore Tuscany, and stopped in to Castello di Rampolla. An organic wine producer, the wine is made at a stunning Tuscan estate, by a group of truly lovely wine makers who took time out to guide us through a cellar visit and wine tasting.

In the cellar, they are working with terracotta containers to store the wines -as was done in the past- rather than using the wooden barrels, and are also working with un-toasted barriques.

We tasted a great white which, thanks to some time spent on the skins, is infused with a strong flavour and uniquely dark yellow colour, contrasted with a wonderful boutique, all of which gives no hint to the delicate taste.

We sipped our way through their fabulous range of reds, blending the traditional grape varieties in unique and exciting ways to produce fantastic wines.

Right now in Tuscan wine country, the talk is of the weather. At this time of year, the amount of rain is vital. The grapes need just the right amount of water. Some vineyards this year have had very little, meaning the grapes are small and hold an intense amount of sugars.

Whilst the last years’ vintages gather dust in the cellars, awaiting the perfect moment to be consumed, the first fermentation vats lie empty, patiently anticipating the harvest. There is a real feel of peace, of silent anticipation in the cellars and the fields.

But the harvest is not the only thing everyone in Panzano is anticipating.

Each year on the third weekend of September (this year it is the 15-18th September, 2011) there is a wine festival held in Panzano to celebrate the local wine-makers’ efforts – Vino al Vino. In the small and charming main piazza of Panzano, the local producers set up stalls for visitors to pass by, taste the wares and of course, purchase their favourites.

Entry costs around 10 euro per person. You receive a glass, and can go around from stall to stall to taste wine from the 30-or-so stalls lining the piazza. There are also other typical products such as hams, cheeses, oils, olives, and if you’re lucky, the man who makes the most delicious fresh mozzarella right before your eyes.

Live music adds to the atmosphere and it is not unusual to be bumped into by people merrily dancing!

Wine producers usually present at the Vino al Vino wine festival include: Carobbio, Casaloste, Castello di Rampolla, Cennatoio, Fattoria La Quercia, Fontodi, Il Vescovino, La Marcellina, La Massa, Le Bocce, Le Fonti, Panzanello, Podere Le Cinciole, Vecchie Terre di Montefili, Villa Cafaggio and Vignole.

Panzano is not only famous for its wine and wine festival. It is also commonly associated as the birth-place of the delicious Panzanella salad. Since the dish dates back centuries, it is not known if there is any correlation between the town and the salad of similar name, but since we never miss an opportunity to share a great traditional Tuscan recipe, below we have the Tessa Kiros recipe for this great summer salad!

Famous artist Bronzino referred to a similar dish in a poem written in the 1500s. However since tomatoes did not exist in Italy (until bought in from Spain relatively recently in the context of Italian cuisine), the original recipe would have been a little different.

Panzanella was considered a peasant dish, in stark contrast to the food of the wealthy. Peasant dishes were ingenious ways to use left-overs and culinary illusions to produce filling, tasty meals where nothing was wasted.

Using old bread, this would have been a recipe used later in the week, as bread was only baked once a week. The bread is then soaked to soften it up and then mixed with fresh vegetables from the ‘orto’ (vegetable garden). Whislt the recipe may change slightly according to what is growing in the garden, this is Tessa Kiros’ delicious Tuscan recipe from her great book, Twelve: A Tuscan Cookbook.

Panzanella –  Bread, tomato and olive oil salad

Recipe by Tessa Kiros

Serves 6

500 g ripe tomatoes

1 large red onion, halved and finely sliced

500 g 2-day-old white country-style bread

2 or 3 stalks of celery, about 250 g, using pale inner stalks, trimmed and finely

4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

about 10 basil leaves, roughly torn

about 8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

5 tablespoons red wine vinegar

This is a rustic, country-bread salad and an excellent way of using up any left-over bread. This is the basic delicately dressed recipe, which you can adjust to suit your taste.

If possible, leave the bread cut up in thick slices out of the bag to dry for a day or two before making the salad.

Cut the tomatoes into small chunks and put them into a colander sprinkled with a little salt for about 10 minutes to drain away their juices. Put the onions in a small bowl of cold water sprinkled with a little salt and a splash of vinegar.

If your bread is not already in slices, break it up into chunks and put into a bowl with enough cold water to just cover the bread. Leave it for about 10 minutes to soften. Squeeze the bread thoroughly with your hands, and finely crumble it into a large serving bowl. If the bread is not squeezed well enough, the salad will be soggy.

Put the tomatoes, drained onions, celery, parsley and the basil into a separate smaller bowl and dress with the olive oil and the vinegar, then season with salt and pepper. Mix well and then add to the bread.

Mix through well, adjusting any seasoning to taste, and serve.

Tessa Kiros, a good friend of Artviva, is an occasional special guest at the Authors, Artists and Aristocrats events giving visitors to Tuscany a chance to meet local authors, artists and aristocrats, including wine tasting and insights into Italian culture.

You can also learn about the traditional Italian ingredients and learn to make delicious, typical dishes before indulging in a delicious meal made by you by signing up for our hands-on cooking class in Florence.

If you would like to immerse yourself in the Tuscan countryside and be part of the scenery that has inspired so many great artworks, we have a small-group Best of Tuscany tour visiting Siena, San Gimignano and Monteriggioni, and stopping for lunch and wine tasting at an award-winning wine estate. See the highlights of Tuscany in one spectacular day tour from Florence ? Best of Tuscany small-group tour.

For the Best of Tuscany tour, Uffizi Gallery and Accademia guided tours, plus a city walk tour (our acclaimed Original Florence Walk small-group guided walking tour in Florence’s historic city centre – we have a great discounted Florence and Tuscany tours package.

The Best of Florence and Tuscany discount tours package includes Original Florence Walk tour of Florence, the Masterpieces of the Uffizi Gallery tour, the Accademia tour and the Best of Tuscany full-day tour from Florence to Tuscany in one fabulous discount tours package.

You can also see where the makers of the Mona Lisa and David worked and played, see where Leonardo da Vinci tested his historic flying machine and the shaded hillside stone works where Michelangelo learned his craft on our Perfect Morning in Tuscany small-group walking tour. Leaving from Florence’s city centre and heading to the surrounding countryside, this small-group walking tour includes, well, walking in Tuscany, as well as lunch with wine at a stunning Renaissance Villa Estate, accompanied by an expert tour guide.

Visit our site for more wonderful things to see and do in Italy (besides, of course, just meeting the Artviva staff!), and email us on for more information, and email for an exclusive day out in Tuscany.

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