Tuscany and wine go together like cinema and Sophia Loren a destined dream pairing but recent incursions into the wine region by renowned architects have poured even more design innovation (and beauty) into an already delectable landscape. Lets call these Italys archi-wineries.
Renzo Pianos stellar cellar for the Rocca di Frassinello winery in the Maremma, south of Siena, is one example. A spire above a glass pavilion is studded with three round mirrors that shoot light down to the cellars 2,500 barrels. In Suvereto, also in Maremma, Vittorio Moretti enlisted architect Mario Botta (of San Franciscos Museum of Modern Art) to give the high-tech cellars of his Petra Wineries some visual punch with an outsized, cylindrical stone structure, flanked by arcades set jarringly into the green landscape mood lighting and oak-barreled bliss within.
More coolly dramatic is the upswept modernist statement that Gae Aulenti, who famously reworked the Musée dOrsay, has made for Antinori Vineyards, in Campo di Sasso near Bibbona. Its a hollowed out Millennium Falcon-esque cradle for the grape, wedged almost surreptitiously into a lush Chianti hillock.
And Tuscan sun be damned, or at least deftly dodged: The state-of-the-art cellars of the Ca Marcanda Winery are studiously camouflaged, with interlocking pavilions built from natural materials into slopes covered with transplanted 60-year-old olive trees.
Unfortunately, not all of these high-design wineries are open to the public, but Chicago-based Select Italy (www.selectitaly.com) organizes day trips from Florence to the latter two that include lunch at the seaside restaurant La Pineta di Marina di Bibbona and guided tastings at the wineries (at Ca Marcanda that includes samples of wines from Bolgheri, Barbaresco, and Montalcino).
Separately, and also out of Florence, Select Italy runs tours of the Rocca di Frassinello and Petra wineries. Along with wine tastings, theres a gourmet lunch included at the Enoteca la Cinquantina, located in an 18th-century farmhouse near the beach in Cecina. The excursions arent cheap ($725 per person for two people, $564 per person for three), but when you consider how hard it can be to find these places on your own, it starts to look like smart value. In addition to lunch and tastings, the tour includes transportation in an air-conditioned luxury vehicle with an English-speaking guide and driver.
For now, most of these archi-wineries are in Tuscany, but the trend is on the march. Last year, Ceretto Vineyards unveiled The Grape in the Piedmont. Its a transparent high-tech bubble set atop an oak platform above the cellar, and it extends like a sleek Dionysian invitation over the Langhe hillside vines.