If you look through the annals of great Italian wines, you’ll find that many regions are revered for the quality of their product. Tuscany, Veneto, and so many others have a reputation in both the national and international wine communities as being the producers of many stunning wines.
At their heart, great Italian wines are true representations of the land that made them. A good wine is as much of a reflection of that land as it is the skill of the producer. When you think of it in those terms, it should come as no surprise that many people love the land as much as they love the producer.
It also means that a region would have to be particularly special if it is to earn the nickname of “The Cradle of Great Italian Wines”.
The region we’re going to look at in this post is so revered that it is now a UNESCO heritage site. We’re talking, of course, about Val d’Orcia.
We mentioned Tuscany before, and with good reason. Though the Val d’Orcia is a wine region with its own very distinctive flavour and tone, it is also a region in Tuscany. This makes it an integral part of perhaps Italy’s most important wine regions. After all, this is the same region where the infamous Chianti and the Super Tuscans emerged from.
Val d’Orcia is a much different animal though. The region itself stretches a surprisingly large distance, extending from Monte Amiata to the beautiful rolling hills just south of Siena.
It is these gentle hills, many of which are home to thousands upon thousands of vines, that lend Val d’Orcia its unique charm. Nestled deep within these hills are a number of picturesque little villages that are an absolute joy to visit thanks to a combination of the scenery and the interesting architecture.
Chief among these is Pienza, which was created way back in the 15th century as the supposed model of that era’s perfect town. It certainly looks the part too, and should be high up on any visitor’s list.
However, it’s Montalcino that may be of most interest to the wine lover, being as it is the home of one of the region’s most famous wines.
The point is that the Val d’Orcia is such a beautiful and natural landscape that it is like a piece of art come to life. In fact, that link to art has existed for centuries, as many Renaissance-era painters immortalised the region on canvas. Even today, it is subject to tons of modern photography.
It is this natural beauty that drew the attention of UNESCO back in 2004. After very little deliberation, the organisation granted the region a designation as a World Heritage Site under two criteria:
- Val d’Orcia is a reflection of the influence that the Renaissance era had in Italian society. The presence of model villages, coupled with all of the art that came from that period, encapsulates a region known for its stunning aesthetic and exceptional examples of governance.
- Digging more deeply into the link to Renaissance art, the paintings from that era include depictions of the region being a natural haven in which people could celebrate the beauty of the stunning hills and picturesque scenery. This harmony with nature and the continued inspiration the region provided to artists of that era make it an icon of the Renaissance in much the same way as any painting to emerge from that time period. Furthermore, the art inspired by Val d’Orcia has played a large part in painting the cultural perception of what a beautiful natural haven should be.
This UNESCO designation alone should mark the region off as being one of the most important in Italy.
But this is a website dedicated to all of the things that are great about Italian wine, so we’re also going to look at the exact reasons why Val d’Orcia has earned that striking Cradle nickname.
The Wines of the Region
As mentioned, Val d’Orcia is home to the small town of Montalcino, which produces one of Italy’s most delectable wines. However, that alone isn’t enough to earn it the nickname that it so proudly carries.
In addition to being near to the Montalcino and the Montepulciano regions, the Val d’Orcia itself is also home to a small strip of land that follows alongside the Orcia river. This strip lies between those two famous wine regions and is a DOC of its own.
Here, wines that primarily use the Trebbiano and Sangiovese grapes are produced. The stunning DOC red that emanates from Val d’Orcia has a 60% concentration of Sangiovese, which gives producers plenty of scope to experiment with other local grape varieties, including Abrusco. As a result, this small strip of land has become known for producing a remarkable variety of red wines, all of which fall under the Val d’Orcia DOC banner.
That’s not all though, as Val d’Orcia also has DOC status for a white wine as well. This dry white uses a 50% blend of Trebbiano alongside other local varieties to create a beautiful Italian wine that is a perfect representation of the region.
Importantly, each grape that goes into a Val d’Orcia DOC wine is limited to a harvest of 10 tonnes for every hectare of land. They also need to produce an alcohol volume of no less than 12%.
This creates an incredibly in-depth grape selection process that helps to reinforce the quality that the region is known for. This, coupled with the association with Montalcino and Montelpuciano, plus the rolling hills of Val d’Orcia creating an almost literal cradle, have resulted in the nickname that has stuck to this day.
It truly is the Cradle of Great Italian wine simply because there are few areas of the country that offer such a concentrated output of spectacular and varied wines from such a small amount of land. Each of the wines that come from Val d’Orcia have their own taste and texture, while also unmistakably coming from the region.