#4 Tales from a Tuscan detour

Wine not?


For the first time we visited a winery in the Bolgheri area in Tuscany…with a Scottish connection!

Because of you know what, we haven’t visited our families for over a year, skipping the Italian Christmas for the very first time in 2020. Almost unforgivable!

This year, we made up by staying over a month between Piacenza (in the Emilia-Romagna region) and Florence. Both areas are famous (well, one more than the other…) for great food (of course, the lesser famous is the one with better food…Teresa might disagree with this statement) and delicious wine. This makes visiting our families even nicer. The only problem is the lack of whisky distilleries, with the next whisky trip planned weeks ahead. Nonetheless, we found a way to keep our palate trained with a different kind of experience.

In scotch whisky, red wine cask finishes are a relatively recent trend. Surfing the web, we realised that for more experienced whisky aficionados this might be still an unusual, and not always welcome, finish/maturation. Instead, for people like us that have been into whisk(e)y for a few years only, this feels pretty normal. Indeed, we were able to connect more easily with many red wine cask finished drams, such as the Arran Amarone cask, the Port Charlotte MRC, the Ledaig Sinclair Rioja finish or the Longrow Red(s). In our experience, French wine casks seem to be the most prevalent, but we are seeing more and more Italian wine casks.

The Bolgheri village gate.

Two drams that recently surprised us came from GlenAllachie: the first was a widely distributed 11y single malt, bottled at 48%; the second was again 11y, but cask strength and only available at the distillery (click here for more about that trip!). Both were finished in red wine casks from the Grattamacco winery, located on the hills in the Bolgheri area (Livorno Province), an officially recognized wine geographical denomination. In recent years (well, recent in “scotch time”) Bolgheri wine has become really popular, with over 60 wineries now active in the area. All of this just to say that one morning we woke up and said: “Why don’t we just try to check that out?” “Wine not?” (wink-wink).
So there we go! We booked a tour, took the car and drove! We left Florence quite early and after a quick stop for gas and to allow Gianluigi a second breakfast with a delicious pistachio custard croissant, we were on our way to discover a new place! The ride was almost two hours but quite smooth, in fact we arrived early. We thought about taking a walk, but after realising how frickin’ cold it was, we just rang the winery’s bell.

Taking pictures of the vineyard while freezing.

Michela, our guide, was already waiting for us. After our vaccination passes’ check, the visit started in the tasting room, which featured an amazing view on the hills and the Tirreno sea. Michela told us the story of the winery, which was founded in the late 70s by a guy from Lombardy, and sold in 2002 to the Colle Massari company. Compared to other wineries in the area, the estate is at a slightly higher altitude (around 2-300m on the sea level), therefore with a slightly different micro-climate.

The fermenting vats of the Grattamacco winery

After the introduction, we moved to the main production building. They harvest several grapes: Cabernet-Sauvignon (which is the main component of their red wines), Cabernet-Franc, Sangiovese, Merlot and Vermentino. Grapes are mechanically soft-pressed and cleaned to get the must, which is fermented in two types of vessel: metal big tanks or wooden 500 litres open vats (which smell great!). Then, we visited the cellar, where the casks are stored, divided by vintage. All casks are from the Taransaud tonnellerie (cooperage) and are of course made of French oak (Quercus robur)…the smell down there was amazing too! We could also take a look at what Michela called “the library”, where all the vintage bottles (starting from the early 80s) are stored. They use the casks up to four times, before selling them to other smaller wineries or to distilleries to make awesome whiskies (like the GlenAllachie). The vinaccia (leftover of the wine production) is sent to a distillery in Veneto region to produce Grattamacco grappa, and they also grow olives to produce olive oil.

The cellar.

And now, the wine tasting. First off, a white wine, made 100% with Vermentino grapes. We were both pleasantly surprised by how good it was (both not huge fans of white wines, but this one…WOW!). Second, the Bolgheri Rosso, made with four grape varieties (Cabernet-Sauvignon, Cabernet-Franc, Sangiovese and Merlot), fermented in the metal tanks, and aged 5-6 months. The third and fourth were the stars of the tasting: l’Alberello, single vineyard (less than 2 hectares, Cabernet-Sauvignon and Cabernet-Franc grapes) and aged for almost 18 months. Finally, the long awaited Grattamacco: fermented in oak vats, aged 18 months, mostly Cabernet-sauvignon (~65%) with an addition of Merlot and Sangiovese, with the percentages varying each year. These two wines were both sublime, and it was really hard to decide which one was the best! Anyway, thanks to this visit we sorted out a number of Christmas gifts.

The tasting!

Before going back to Florence, we had a nice lunch in a nearby restaurant (an “agriristoro”, actually), with delicious local food: wild-boar and beef roast. We slowly drove to the (quite small) Bolgheri village, where we took a walk, had a coffee and another glass of wine for the non-driver (Gianluigi): the mighty Sassicaia (mighty also for the price).

Definitely happy to try something different!

Overall, this was an amazing day and no less fun than the trips we usually do, the ones where we end up saying: “we should do this again asap!”! Being our first winery, we felt like total newbies again, but it was a great educational experience (btw, please correct us if we wrote anything wrong!). We have learned so much about this amazing nectar which has been on our families’ tables since we were kids. And the wine spoke for itself!

Grattamacco Winery Tour and Tasting

Price: 35.00 EUR pp (December 2021)

Tasting: 4 glasses of wine – Grattamacco Vermentino (white), Bolgheri Rosso (red), L’Alberello DOC single vineyard (red), Grattamacco Bolgheri (red)

Target: anyone

Value for money: looked good to us, but we can’t really tell as this was our very first winery tour

Highlights: the view from the tasting room, the tour in the cellar and the wines…pretty much everything!

Things we did not like: nothing

Link: https://www.collemassariwines.it/estates/grattamacco/

#3.3 Campbeltown Loch, I wish you were whisky!

How things are done!
(Day 3 & 4)


A day at Springbank and Glengyle distilleries, plus a Glen Scotia tasting. 

(missed Day 2 or Day 1?)

And finally it’s the Springbank-Glengyle day! During our first trip here, back in 2018, we only visited Glen Scotia and opted for the Cadenhead’s Warehouse tour instead of the Mitchell’s company distilleries…what did we miss! Fortunately, the folks at Springbank were nice enough to offer us a tour on a Saturday, which is normally closed (many thanks to Mary for that), and a tasting at their newly build Washback (spoiler: the bar is made of an actual wooden washback!).

Dry peat and wet peat!

Since we were the only group, we could tour the distilleries all together. First off, Springbank. We started off with the malting facility, which they still do 100% on their own (and we realised how this is the bottleneck of their production size, but also their strength). There was barley drying on the malting floor, one of the first times we actually saw this stage of the process happening live. Of course, it is all done like in the old times, and as a testimony of this there was also a hi-fi system (go 90s!) to keep the workers company.

The Springbank mashtun.

Moving outside, another thing new to us: a pile of dry peat and one of wet peat. The knowledgeable Mary told us that they are used in a slightly different way depending on the product they are producing. The kiln is run for 30h with hot air when they are producing the unpeated Hazelburn (10% of their production), for 6h with peat and 30h with hot air for Springbank (80% of their production), and up to 48h with peat smoke for the (quite heavily) peated Longrow (another 10% of the production).

In case you need a recap about distillation.

Moving to the next production stages, the mashtuns, (actual) washbacks and stills, we could again see how hands-on are all the processes here: no computers, everything very manual. In a world moving too fast, it is comforting to find a place where time seems to slow down, and where people definitely take their time to do things. And rightly so, since their bottlings normally fly off the shelves like pigeons after a gunshot. Next up, the warehouse, which is of course the best smelling place of the distillery, as always…eheh.


Glengyle brought us back to slightly more modern times. Opened in 2004, one of the reasons being to circumvent a rule of the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association) which wouldn’t allow to call an area a whisky region with only 2 distilleries. The stills came from the defunct Ben Wyvis distillery, dismantled in 1977. The distillery looked more “conventional”, although still way less automated than many distilleries we visited, which looked like they could be run by computers…maybe in a dystopian future that will happen and the machines will take control on humanity by poisoning the booze! Don’t worry, we are not becoming sci-fi writers, and going back to Glengyle distillery we could spot the window which inspired the Kilkerran Single Malt logo: a selfie was a must!

Glengyle, or the second distillery tour in less than two hours.

At the Washback bar we picked a Hazelburn and a Longrow flights, since they included drams we were not very familiar with. Both awesome, in particular the former: the Hazelburn Cognac SC knocked our socks off! And among the latter, the (at the time) just released Longrow 18 was outstanding.

The smile only a flight of Hazelburns can give you!

After a few extra drams, the party moved to another bar, were we took turns wearing a “90s Meg Ryan” wig…We’ll spare you the pictures! We had dinner at Number 42 – great food quality (probably one of the best fish&chips tried so far), although not ideal combination of small portions and high prices. The night still ended on a high after a few drams at the Ardshiel.

On the last day we had a free morning. Many (including Teresa after a run and a shower) joined Justine in a lost distilleries’ hunt – Benmore, Argyll and so many others! Meanwhile, in preparation for the upcoming half marathon, Gianluigi went for a 24k run on the hills around the town. Fortunately, the weather wasn’t too bad, so he could actually take some (far from decent) pictures!

A bench overlooking Campbeltown.

In the afternoon we attended the last event of the trip, a Glen Scotia tasting with Ian MacAlister at the Ardshiel Hotel. We started with the 10y, a very new bottling destined to grocery stores. This is why it is bottled at a 40% abv, like their other NAS supermarket release, the Campbeltown Harbour. Similar to this, and in spite of the 40%, it is a quite drinkable sweet dram, very well engineered for a broader audience. The other three drams – Warehouseman’s Edition (2005 recharred American oak finished in first fill oloroso, 56.2%), Single Cask Shop Bottling (2013 highly peated 1st fill bourbon, 61.4%) and Master Distillers Edition (2002 refill American oak hothead, 57.3%) – were all outstanding, with the Single Cask Shop Bottling being the one we liked the most. At this point, Ian surprised us with two more drams. The first one was a 2002 single-cask refill PX, which he (and us) loved – too bad there isn’t enough for a bottling, it was quite unique! The second was their new festive bottling, a 12y cask strength which has spent some time in heavily charred and oloroso casks, frankly delicious!

Last but not least: the Glen Scotia tasting!

We were all quite happy (well…you know), and the party naturally moved to the Ardshiel bar, with Ian staying with us for a couple of pints and many chats. Dinner was booked there as well: delicious and again great service, strongly suggested! Back to the bar, our friend Cath started playing the guitar and singing. At some point Gianluigi was invited to play the guitar, but it was not a great success since Tool and Mastodon songs are not quite as sing-along songs as he would think, who knew! He somehow managed to remember Don’t look back in anger and Everlong to accompany Cath solid effort, before passing the guitar back to her. Probably because of the many drams, we went to bed quite early, although it felt like 1am!

The day after was smooth, returning back to Edinburgh with only a quick stop at Fyne Ales to grab a few of their sour beers, with anything notable happening. As a first group trip, we really enjoyed it. And it was awesome to spend time with people sharing our same whisky passion and which up to now we had mostly met on Zoom. Going to Campbeltown again was great, and put back in perspective how whisky can (and should) be enjoyed at a slower pace, after all the FOMO and online hysteria which went crazy during the pandemic. Can’t wait to go back!

Springbank Tour

Price: £10.00 pp (October 2021)

Tasting: a 20ml of Springbank 10 and a 50ml of Springbank Distillery Visitors bottling (NAS 46%), and a sampler glass

Target: everyone, literally!

Value for money: Great

Highlights: the malting floors

Things we did not like: nothing

Link: http://springbank.scot/

Glengyle Tour

Price: £10.00 pp (October 2021)

Tasting: a 20ml of Kilkerran 12 and a 50ml of Kilkerran Distillery Visitors bottling (NAS 46%), and a sampler glass

Target: everyone, literally!

Value for money: Great

Highlights: the malting, but the distillery overall

Things we did not like: nothing

Link: https://kilkerran.scot/

Glen Scotia Tasting*

*Since this was a bespoke tasting, we won’t make a summary card.

Link: https://www.glenscotia.com/