Tuscany is many things & we are often overwhelmed by the stereotypical images that this region can evoke; the staggering beauty, art & culture of Florence, a 'place to be' for history buffs.
The endless sunflowers fields, the rolling hills with their picturesque vineyards & hill-top towns.
But even a huge tourist-attracting region like Tuscany still has got ‘well-kept’ secrets.
The Mugello area is one of them and it’s just a half-an-hour ride north of Florence.
Surrounded by oak & chestnut trees, defended by the Apennines & crossed by the river Sieve: these are the ingredients for an ideal getaway from tourist traps, to experience the ‘real feel’ of Tuscany’s countryside.
Mugello is the kind of place that would be the perfect location if you like outdoor sports or if you love ‘food marathons’: Mugello’s cuisine is indeed known for being a little richer, fuller in flavors & counts many original recipes inspired by the nature that surrounds it that you can taste only in this part of Tuscany, such as Tortelli di patate (ravioli stuffed with potatoes), the Farinata con le leghe (a corn flour & vegetable soup) or the Torta di Marroni (a delicious chestnut pie).
A BIT OF HISTORY
Many don’t even know that the Medici family has its roots in the Mugello valley, but if you follow an itinerary of castles and historic villas you will be surprised by the majestic beauty of the area. Small towns have a tendency to retain much of their medieval characteristics and make for lovely stops where you can enjoy the tall towers and cobblestone alleys such as in the village of Scarperia.
In September, this small town organizes both a Renaissance fair and the Diotto on the 8th of September.
What is the Diotto? The name literally means “the 8th day” and the day is important for Scarperia because it marks the day the town was founded by the Florentine Republic.
During the Diotto festival where the entire town takes part in one way or another and dresses in Renaissance fashion, you can see the entrance of the parade into the square, including the games and performances by the groups of flag throwers from Scarperia, and the group from Florence, the Sbandieratori degli Uffizi.
MUGELLO: THE LITTLE BURGUNDY OF TUSCANY
In our case, we have got one more good reason to go there: Mugello’s fine wines.
Mugello has never been without vineyards. During the Renaissance time Mugello wines were well thought of but afterward, other areas of Tuscany’s emerged as predominant in wine production due to their more ideal climatic conditions for growing traditional Tuscan grapes such as Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Colorino, Ciliegiolo, Trebbiano & Malvasia.
But in the early 90s, Paolo Cerrini, owner & winemaker of Il Rio winery, tried to plant two nordic vines that he believed could be suitable for the soil type and climatic characteristics of the Mugello area.
The clayey soil and the continental climate with a strong diurnal temperature variation have indeed proved to be favorable for the production of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc grapes.
PINOT NOIR WITH A TUSCAN FLAIR
Pinot Noir is a French variety originally from Burgundy, extremely demanding from an agronomic point of view and difficult to grow in Mediterranean climates.
Despite this, in foothill areas such as Mugello and Casentino, Pinot Nero is able to offer Tuscan wines with great elegance and character, fully among the best Italian Pinot Noirs.
Over the years, Il Rio’s Pinot Noir has become a point of reference for many winemakers in Mugello that decided to take the same path, crowned in 2012 by the birth of the Tuscan Apennines – Pinot Noir Vineyards association. Today there are around 25 hectares of vineyards with Pinot Noir divided by about a dozen producers.
TASTING TUSCANY’S PINOT NOIR
What makes Tuscany’s Pinot Noirs worth trying?
Pinot Noir is considered an ‘international grape variety’ but being international doesn’t mean homologated though. Pinot Noir seems to be capable, more than most other grapes, of showing the full identity of the terroir where it puts down its roots.
This is exactly the case with the Pinot Noirs of Mugello which are sincere & straightforward. The wines are in fact born from an artisanal and clean oenological approach, with minimal interventions in the cellar, respecting the climatic diversity of the territory and the unique expression of the wines in the different vintages. An element that somehow recalls the frank but sincere and genuine character of the people of Mugello.
(Paolo Cerrini of Il Rio winery)
MUGELLO’S BEST WINERIES
Il Rio is a small, organic winery, run by owner Paolo Cerrini, a former goldsmith craftsman from Florence who moved to Mugello, where he loved to ride a bicycle as a boy. Paolo has been a winemaking pioneer in Mugello, setting the quality standard for the newly introduced Pinot Noir grape.
His passion for agriculture and then for wine drove him from the early 90s to experiment and study, until he met his current adventure partner, Manuela Villimburgo, who actively participates in the management of the company, founded together in 2003.
The Lowenstein family, current owners of the small winery Podere Fortuna and the Medici villa of Cafaggiolo, have always had a great passion for the Mugello area. Fascinated by the history and nature that make this area unique, the family has chosen to take care of the property by making a series of important changes, including the conversion to organic farming and the introduction of new wines such as their rosé. The Pinot Noir grape & Chardonnay are used for their most rewarded wines.
MUGELLO FOR FOODIES
A visit to one of Italy's 'Borgi più Belli' (most beautiful villages), Scarperia e San Piero is not to be missed. The village is famous for making hand-made knives that most shops around the village testify to. The craftmanship is unmatched and just a delight!
Mugello's eateries are down-to-earth and feature the region's local flavors. Try Casa del Prosciutto which oozes that typical old-style trattoria and Antica Porta di Levante a restaurant that celebrates Slow Food.
You should definitely pick up a piece of the regionally produced cheese. For example at the outlet shop of Fattoria Palagiaccio, a family-owned dairy with the production of various cow's cheeses from the farm's own cattle.
And if you are a coffee-lover, you will be pleased to know that the Ferrari of coffee machines, La Marzocco, is made in the region. The old factory premises have been turned into an amazing space, Accademia del Caffè Espresso, dedicated to the company's history and to coffee, of course. You can do a tour of the museum and learn all about coffee and taste the most perfect espresso. There are several short classes on offer, such as making the perfect Cappucino!
HOW TO GET THERE?
You definitely need to have a car to go explore the Mugello region. You can do the region as a day trip from Florence or Bologna. Overnighting will of course give you more opportunities to explore, and there are several local hotels and agriturismos to choose from.
Should you prefer a guided day trip from Florence, you need only reach out to us at Grape Tours. See more about the private wine tour we offer to Mugello here: https://www.tuscan-wine-tours.com/pinot-noir-in-tuscany
This video shows a visit in 2022 to the cheese farm Palagiaccio.
by Ilaria Miele & Rebecca Christophersen Gouttenoire