By Eric J. Lyman

It didn't take long before experiencing Tuscany in little day trips lost its charm for me, until I wanted to spend days at a time
amid the vines, casks, and local flavor of region. Anyone else in that position has plenty of options to choose from: official
statistics show that about a fourth of Italy’s countryside lodging is in Tuscany. The number of properties operating in the region
has nearly doubled in the last decade, now approaching 5,000. Most fall into a grouping called “agriturismi,” which, in Italy, is
more of a legal definition than a neat category.

I've picked five of the best of these pastoral retreats, all clustered around the venerable area of Chianti Classico, the oldest and
highest-quality section of Chianti. Some of the places mentioned here aren’t official “agriturismi,” but all are noteworthy and
picturesque refuges perfect if you’re looking to relax, enjoy delicious Tuscan cuisine, taste the earthy food-friendly flavors of
Chianti Classico wines, and leave with a better understanding of this unforgettable region.

Capannelle

Capannelle is home to 50 percent of an icon wine: the vineyard provides half of “50&50,” the sangiovese part of the blend that is
combined with merlot from Avignonesi, in nearby Montepulciano. But the staff was more eager to talk about their top-line Chianti
Classico Riserva, at least in part because 50&50 is in such limited supply. Much of the stock of these rare wines live in
Capannelle’s temperature-controlled wine vault—the “Caveau”—that holds thousands of bottles of wine for some of Europe’s top
restaurants and hotels, locked behind a stainless steal vault door that looks like something out of a spy film.

The “Caveau” and the surrounding labyrinth of cellars are worth a look, but my favorite part of Capannelle is above ground, where
the hilltop location provides a commanding perspective over its own vines and distant villages on nearby hills. While I was there,
workers on a distant hill were busy pruning the vines and as they worked their voices gently echoed across the valley.

Five rooms for rent in the farmhouse are midway between rustic and chic, accented by several large sitting rooms with fireplaces,
gardens, and a pool daringly carved into the hillside with unforgettable views from the water. A large open-air kitchen dominates
the tasting room, where staff offer wine or olive oil tastings or simple lunches designed to highlight Capannelle’s well-made
traditional Tuscan white and range of compelling reds.

Castello di Orgiale

When I first saw Castello di Orgiale up on its hilltop, it reminded me of a section of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's "The Flight to
Italy," where the German poet described the buildings he found in Tuscany in the 1780s as "handsome and imposing ... dolls
houses"--a description that could easily fit this ancient place, which is at once awe-inspiring and quaint.

The most isolated and self-contained property on this list, the Castello di Orgiale—owned for the last decade by one of Goethe’s
compatriots—includes complete high-tech wine making facilities continually being updated by winemaker Eric Dickhaus, who
enjoys pointing out small details while walking around the property, which is open for tours and tastings. The complex features a
post-card worthy infinity pool overlooking the countryside, and even its own small chapel on the premises. I found the rooms
tasteful and understated, each with its own private garden area.

The Castello di Orgiale’s operators even have an agreement with a company to offer a kind of concierge service for receiving e-
mails, faxes, and deliveries that are then whisked to the stony refuge.

Like most of Chianti Classico, the Castello di Orgiale was in the middle of many of the fierce medieval battles for Tuscan
supremacy between Florence and Siena, and so the structures on the site dating to 840 were destroyed and rebuilt many times
before taking on the shape we see today around the 13th century.

Relais Castellare de Noveschi

I couldn't escape the fairy tale feel when I first walked into the Castellare de Noveschi, a compact 12th-century castle that looks
so neat and idyllic that it almost seemed like it might be made of marzipan. It's not, but the owners do take the appreciation for
wine to a new level. Not only do they make a good limited production red with a designer cloth label but they have also developed
a line of cosmetics made in part using wine-related byproducts, they offer a special kind of wine therapy.

The inside is smartly designed, with stairs winding around walls, rooms laid out like puzzle pieces, each different, with unusual
beds and antique furnishings and fittings. One of the four rooms is even fashioned out of the side of a massive old wine cask.

The property lies on the edge of the tiny stone village of San Sano. The vineyards, a few steps from the front door, can be the site
of an open-air dinner under the stars in the warm Tuscan summer.

Antico Podere Colle ai Lecci

Colle ai Lecci is a working farm making extra virgin olive oil, organic honey, and a wine that fits the setting: earthy and classic-
style Chianti Classicos that eschew the new world fruit-driven palate of many producers that reminded me -- a long-time Chianti
Classico fan -- why I originally fell in love with the region. This is the most rustic of the properties on this list, in a bucolic setting
featuring five apartments that are comfortable but pleasantly rough around the edges.

Colle ai Lecci has been run by the Danish polyglot Myhre family since 1963—which explains why five languages are spoken on
the premises—and every vintage the family has produced during their tenure is on display in an intimate tasting room. Elisabetta,
the straightforward and charming matriarch, enthusiastically discussed her wines with me in simple every-day language that
seemed a perfect fit for what was in the glass.

The grounds are not manicured, but are perfect for strolling through the peaceful vineyards, olive orchards, and forested lands
that give the property its name, which roughly translates as “Hills of the Holly Oaks,” a reference to the particular Mediterranean
oak that thrives here.

Fattoria Castello di Volpaia

D. H. Lawrence wondered whether the tall, elegant cypress trees of the Tuscan countryside might hide the secrets of the
Etruscans—he called them “Etruscan-dusky wavering men of Old Etruria.” It was easy for me to imagine that the notion might
have struck him as he was gazing out from the hilltop village of Volpaia, where a stroll around the perimeter of the town may get
your own creative juices flowing.

The most ambitious property on this list, the Castello di Volpaia encompasses two thirds of this hilltop village. It features a
handful of charmingly rustic apartments, stately stand-alone villas, wine tastings, catered dinners and cooking classes. The
property produces a full line of classic and international-style reds, an enjoyable white, and a delicious vin santo, all presented to
me without pretension by Giovannella Stianti Mascheroni, the proprietor. I was particularly intrigued by the attics for aging the vin
santo, which are among the few in Tuscany open to the public, complete with dusty old barrels and clanking chains used for
drying the grapes hanging from the ceiling. Other products include red- and white-wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and honey.

In addition to the Castello’s own restaurant, there’s another fine restaurant in the village, and an adequate coffee bar that’s also
independent. Locals, meanwhile, make their way through Volpaia carrying out their day-to-day activities with Lawrence’s
intriguing cypresses in the distance.
This article originally appeared in
  best
agriturismi
       in Chianti Classico
Fall 2007