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Avalon Wine Tours has been conducting deluxe tours in Italy since 1994.
With vineyards in just about every corner of the country, Italy has a huge variety of terroir and styles of wine. The most popular regions are Piemonte (Piedmont) and Toscana (Tuscany)
Piemonte is in the north of Italy (Piemonte or Piedmonte means "foothills" - of the Alps) just below Switzerland. Home to Barolo and Barbaresco, some of Italy's most famous (and expensive) wines are produced here. The region is also famous for truffles, especially the hard to find and ultra-expensive white Alba Truffle, named for the town that is at the heart of this wine country. Piemonte most famous wines are Barolo and Barbaresco, which are made from the Nebbiolo grape. Not to be ignored though, are the excellent value wines from the more humble Barbera under several DOCs: Barbera d'Asti, d'Alba, Monferrato, Collio Tortonesi and Piemonte. Barolos are very long-aging wines that can command some of the highest prices in Italy, and Barbarescos are a delicious if somewhat lighter-styled wine from the same grape. Don't overlook the humble Barbera grape, however, which in recent years has been producing better and better wines under the Barbera d'Alba appellation, and represents a fantastic value and very drinkable wine - often much better suited to certain foods than the heaviest Barolos.
Angelo Gaja is probably the best known producer here, but there are many other great family names of winemakers tucked amongst the hills south of Alba. We have our favorites of course... people who not only make great wine, but love to share it with their friends from afar.
One of the most exciting times to visit is during the height of the truffle season in the fall. Alba hosts an ongoing truffle market every weekend from mid-October, and besides the chance to witness the bidding on some outrageously expensive fungi, we'll take you out with a truffle hunter and his dog to experience the thrill of finding them. There's no shortage of opportunities to taste these delicious tubers with wonderful local food, as the villages literally reek of truffles as restaurateurs put bowls of them out to entice hungry passers-by!
Tuscany (Toscana), which lies south and west of the city of Florence, is a hugely popular tourist destination. Between the beautiful hills of Chianti, the coastal region of Maremma and the historic and art centers of Florence and Siena, there is plenty to keep you occupied. Each region has its own wine; the Chianti Classico is perhaps best known, but the most revered is the Brunello of Montalcino, a small village about 40 minutes south of Siena. Maremma is the new "in" region, one of the most exciting in Europe as top winemakers buy up land to make traditional and "Super Tuscan" blends.
Toscana is one of Italy's most popular regions with good reason! The historic and art centers of Florence and Siena are separated by the lovely rolling hills of Chianti, where both traditional and "Supertuscan" style wines are made. Apart from the great wines, Chianti has a wealth of local artisans from pottery and art to chocolate and the unique attraction of Dario the butcher, who now has a restaurant where he serves his famous "McDario" burger, unquestionably the best you'll likely ever taste!
One of our favorite cooking schools is located here, just outside of Siena, where you can spend a morning or a full day learning traditional Italian cuisine in a fun, informal setting on an idyllic farm. A week is easily taken up just with this part of Tuscany, but no wine visitor should leave without a visit to Montalcino to see how the fabulous Brunello is made. And once your down there you might as well carry on to the coast...
Maremma, on the Mediterranean shore west of Siena, is the new "hot" region of Italy, one of the most exciting in Europe as top winemakers buy up land to make traditional and "Super Tuscan" blends. The coastal climate shows its influence in the finesse of these wines - this is, after all, where the first "Supertuscan" blends were made.