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When most people hear “Tuscany,” they most likely think of its historic cities — such as Florence and Siena — as well as its small wine-producing, hilltop towns. The region doesn’t so readily evoke images of islands and beaches, though Tuscany is home to an archipelago made up of seven islands: Capraia, Montecristo, Giglio — the unfortunate benefactor of the Costa Concordia shipwreck — Pianosa, Gorgona, Giannutri and Elba.
When I visited Elba, where Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled to in 1814, I sought out the best of both worlds. I found the excellent wine and Italian history I've come to expect from Tuscany, along with dreamy island scenery, at the Azienda Agricola La Chiusa estate.
The estate doesn’t date back to the Renaissance, and the Medici family never vacationed there — but it does date back to the 1700s, and Bonaparte reportedly visited there twice.
Most notably, its vineyard overlooks the waters of Portoferraio, Elba’s largest city that was founded by Cosimo de’ Medici in 1548. It’s a special visual treat, particularly for those who have already visited Tuscany’s landlocked vineyards, but prefer ocean vistas.
The combination of vineyards and sparkling blue waters is made even better with a tasting of the estate’s wines, all of which have the DOC (or controlled designation of origin) status label for quality assurance. Special to Elba is Aleatico Dell’Elba, a red wine made from a grape varietal called Aleatico, which most likely arrived in Elba from Greece via the Romans. The passito (raisin) wine is produced the same way it has been for years: Grapes are cultivated on sunny, hilltop terraces before being handpicked and left to wilt in the sun and shade for about two to three weeks.
It is believed that Aleatico was made famous by Lorenzo de’ Medici in the Renaissance, and it was a favorite of Bonaparte’s as well. Guessing the reason why is easy: Its sweetness and booziness (averaging at about 16 percent) make it a great dessert wine.
In Elba, visitors can enjoy Tuscany’s excellent regional wines with the added bonus of island weather and seaside panoramas. // © 2014 Mindy Poder
Guests on Windstar visit Porto Azzurro, where they can hike to this medieval fortress, before heading to La Chiusa for wine tasting. // © 2014 Mindy Poder
Azienda Agricola La Chiusa is a vineyard that makes several notable Elba DOC wines and its own olive oil. // © 2014 Mindy Poder
The view at La Chiusa on a very clear, warm day in early May // © 2014 Mindy Poder
A tasting at La Chiusa includes local specialties, such as the estate’s extra virgin olive oil. // © 2014 Mindy Poder
A pink, biscotti-like bread, schiaccia briaca is an Elba specialty made with Aleatico dessert wine, dried fruits and nuts. // © 2014 Mindy Poder
There is also a small chapel and apartments for rent at La Chiusa, which dates back to the 1700s. // © 2014 Mindy Poder
La Chiusa has a view of Portoferraio, Elba’s largest city founded by the Medici family in 1548. // © 2014 Mindy Poder
The town center of Portoferraio surrounds around the marina. // © 2014 Mindy Poder
Follow up wine tasting with a stroll along the beach in Portoferraio. // © 2014 Mindy Poder
The wine is used in schiaccia briaca (“drunken crush”), a mildly sweet flatbread descended from peasant origins and made with nuts and dried fruits. The pink-red bread — whose texture is reminiscent of biscotti — complements a glass of Aleatico very well.
Other excellent DOC wines that can be found in Elba — and at La Chiusa — include white, red and rose blends. At La Chiusa, Elba Bianco is made of Trebbiano, Toscano, Vermentino and Sauvignon Blanc; their Elba Rosso is a Sangiovese and Merlot blend; and their Elba Rosato is made from Sangiovese. Another wine to try is Ansonica Passito, a balanced red wine that pairs well with dry sweets as well as mature cheeses.
Drizzle some of the island’s chestnut honey over the cheese while taking in the area’s sights. It’s another pleasant surprise — just when you thought Tuscany couldn’t get any sweeter.
How to VisitAzienda Agricola La Chiusa is about a half-hour drive from Porto Azzurro and Portoferraio. Email the estate for more information on booking: [email protected]
Wine tasting at the property is an excursion offered by Windstar on its “Islands of the West Med” itinerary for $109. Clients on this excursion also visit nearby Porto Azzurro, where they can hike to a beautiful ancient medieval fortress and walk along the fisherman’s harbor before returning to the many shops, restaurants and attractions in Portoferraio.