Every September and October, wine drinkers, winemakers and all around wine nuts come together to celebrate the vendemmia or wine harvest in Tuscany.
Wine making is an old tradition in the region with some local varietals dating back to the Etruscans, a pre-Roman civilization that learnt everything they knew about vino from the Greeks.
But don’t worry, you don’t have to get your hands dirty picking grapes to enjoy the vendemmia in Tuscany. You don’t even have to be a wine drinker. Every year, the region celebrates its love of all things wine with a host of amazing festivals that aren’t just about the national tipple. They’re also a fantastic excuse to snack on regional products, listen to (some pretty corny) local bands and engage is some friendly neighbour-against-neighbour competition. Wine-themed parade, anyone?
These are the best wine festivals in Tuscany for 2019.
Festa delle Cantine, Manciano
Manciano’s Festa delle Cantine has been putting on a show for the locals for 16 years and they’re not really interested in ‘accommodating’ (read selling out) to tourists. So don’t expect anything to be on time or anyone to be particularly organised. That said, if you’re looking for a really authentic wine festival, where everything is made by, served by and attended by locals, this is the one for you. Every year, Manciano is divided into popup mini wine bars, each of which prepares its signature dish to serve with its own selection of local wines. Think acquacotta, a rich vegetable soup or stewed beans in tomato sauce and braised wild boar, a favourite in Southern Tuscany. The wine is not the best and the music is frankly-awful cover rock bands from the ‘70s, but the locals are a hell of a lot of fun.
While you’re at it, don’t miss the Palio delle Botte on September 12, an incredibly dangerous competition that sees the best athletes from the town’s various neighbourhoods almost murder each other as they roll extraordinarily heavy water-filled barrels through the winding, uphill streets of the Old Town. Seriously, people have been injured in past editions.
Festa dell’Uva, Impruneta
Partying since 1926, Impruneta’s wine festival is Italy’s oldest celebrate of fermented grape juice. There are events strung throughout September and the beginning of October, but the highlight is always on the last Sunday of September, when the entire town bursts into a production of sound, lights and bright colours for the annual parade. Ok, so it’s not just a parade. It’s a fiercely fought competition between warring city neighbourhoods to see who puts on the best performance. The prize? The honour of flying their district’s flag at City Hall for an entire year.
Also worth a look is the Gara del Peposo, another competition, of the culinary kind this time, held on September 15. It pits the neighbourhoods against each other again in a cook-off to see who can make the best peposo, Impruneta’s signature black pepper stew. It’s preceded by a fantastic wine and food market in the main square.
Festa dell’Uva, Scansano
It’s the 50th edition of Southern Tuscany’s most famous wine festival, the Festa dell’Uva in Scansano. It channels its inner-Impruneta with a mini version of their very famous float parade, but in these parts, everything is a little wilder and less polished. This is Morellino di Scansano country. A robust red that, like the locals, packs a punch. First time drinkers should definitely go easy as they sip their ridiculously cheap, but incredibly good glasses of wine. Just remember to wash it down with some of the great local fare prepared by the individual cantineor popup wine cellars. And stick around for the folk songs. The Maremmani, as the locals call themselves, have some incredible folk songs, which are always melancholic and moving, even if you don’t understand the words.
Festa dell’Uva e del Vino, Chiusi
Now in its 37th edition, the lovely town of Chiusi will be a wine-filled jovial affair with plenty of entertainment from September 27th to the 29th. Naturally, no bottle of wine can be enjoyed without something delicious to eat and so the three town districts will also be offering plenty of delicious opportunities to sample local cuisine along with the wine. Keep an eye out for guided archaeological tours that end with wine tastings, a parade, concerts and more.
Festa dell’Uva di Capoliveri, Elba Island
If you’re keen to get off the mainland and see how they do things on the islands then head to Elba for the Festa dell’Uva di Capolivieri. The site of Napoleon’s exile dedicates their festival to the god of the good stuff himself, Bacchus, and its three local wines, Aleatico, Moscato and Ansonica, which come in red, white and rose varieties. The Aleatico in particular is a local favourite because it gives the festival’s signature dish, the schiaccia briaca, its name. Schiaccia briaca literally means ‘drunken cake’ and you can’t miss out on a slice.
The festival highlight is the annual most-beautiful neighbourhood competition. The locals spend weeks beautifying their part of town with themed decorations that capture the peasant culture of the island. Then they prepare a signature dish that is both tied to their theme and to the grape harvest on Elba. It’s Top Chef-level stuff and everyone gets a taste as the evening descends into a wine-scented celebration through the streets of town.