September is wine month in the Maremma. It’s a huge celebration. Wine drinking is one of our favourite pastimes and a lot of locals make their own wine and liquors. We also have a rich history of wine growing that dates back to the Etruscans, who picked up a lot of their know-how from Ancient Greeks, who would ship their wines across the seas to the Maremma. You can actually see some of the ‘brocche’ (vases) they used in the Archaeological Museum in Grosseto if you’re curious.
But back to wine festivals. September marks the vendemmia in the Maremma. That’s Italian for the wine harvest. Everyone from the big local vineyards to the small town hobby growers take a few days off work to pick the grapes and start making wine. At the end of the harvest, the community comes together to taste the ‘vino nuovo’ (new wine) and just celebrate a good day’s work.
The Maremma’s wine festivals are some of the oldest festivals in the area. Even if you’re not a wine drinker, they’re a fantastic peek into the lives of the locals and a great excuse to try some great cheese and cold cuts and listen to some very uncool music from the many bands that perform at them.
This is my 2019 guide to the best wine festivals in the Maremma.
Festa delle Cantine
29 August – 1 September
This new festival is quickly becoming the Maremma’s most popular wine festival. The format is pretty simple. Small pop-up ‘cantine’ or cellars are opened throughout the Old Town, each serving their own unique menu of street food and wines from local producers. The Pitiglianesi like to stick to the Bianco di Pitigliano, their local tipple, but you can also enjoy some great glasses of Morellino di Scansano. Everything is reasonably priced and you can wander from cellar to cellar sampling the different treats and listening to live music.
But the highlight of Pitigliano’s festival are the cellars themselves. Unlike a lot of other towns in the Maremma, they actually have old underground cellars that are carved into the tofu rock cliff. Some of them are hundreds of years old. They’re only open to the public during this festival, which adds this incredible atmosphere of exclusivity and wonderment to what is already a fun evening. Also the wine is way better than most wine festivals in the area.
Festa delle Cantine
I love my hometown, but this festival is a bit of a mess. It’s so much fun. A crazy amount of fun if you’re young, like to drink and don’t mind the terrible rock cover bands. It’s also great if you don’t care whether you’re drinking table wine or lighter fluid. Ok, so I’m being a little mean. The Festa delle Cantine is an institution in the Maremma. It was the most famous and popular wine festival until a little over a year ago when Pitigliano stole our thunder. But like all uncontested superstars, it had dropped the ball in recent years. Especially when it came to the wine.
That said, things have improved and this year’s festival is set to be better. Nothing motivates Manciano like being shown up by Pitigliano, trust me. Pitigliano stole everything they do from Manciano, so if you want to experience the original Festa delle Cantine, come to Manciano. Explore the pop-up cellars and drink a few glasses alongside the locals. The food is always really good, from tripe (because who doesn’t want to eat tripe prepared in a gigantic pot in someone’s garage?) to wild boar stew and our beloved pancakes, the savoury ciaffagnoni!
This year, organisers are trying something different by including the Palio delle Botte in the festivities. Our new favourite competition is a race to the death with extremely heavy water-filled wine barrels, which teams push uphill and around the very tight corners of Manciano’s Old Town. Watch the rivalry unfold and try not to lose any toes under those barrels.
Also keep an eye out for the evening Buttero parade, when Italian cowboys in traditional folk costume ride their horses through the town carrying torches. It’s an eerie and iconic part of the festival.
The Maremma’s classiest wine festival abandons the revelry and drunken antics of our Feste delle Cantine and caters to the real wine aficionados. Scansano is the birthplace of our most famous wine, the Morellino di Scansano, a real-deal DOCG that carries weight and class. Scansano wants to celebrate that by stealing everything from a similar festival held further north in Impruneta. Impruneta is home to the oldest wine festival in Italy and is renowned for its, somewhat random, float parade. Scansano also has a float parade, but it’s a little smaller. There’s also dancing, folk music and an arts and crafts market.
If you’re really serious about your wine, check out the tasting sessions on September 22/23. There you can rub shoulders with local producers and take part in a bunch of tastings with sommeliers. You’ll also see the year’s best Morellino di Scansano crowned.
If you want to see how a wine festival is done on one of Maremma’s islands then you can’t go past this Festa delle Cantine. The premise is the same – good food, cheap wine, terrible music. But on Giglio Island it’s all about the Ansonica, a fruity and fresh white wine made locally.
Giglio’s locals are a less wild than Manciano’s, so this is a great choice if you want to experience pop-up cellars without all the drunk teens. Giglio Castello is also the second best place for underground cellars because they have some amazing spaces hidden behind the walls of the old fortified city.
Another highlight at Giglio’s wine festival is the seafood. Except great local fish, prepared simply but deliciously and keep an eye out for panficato, a sort of cake prepared with figs, pine nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, grape jam, vino, quince, cinnamon and chocolate. It’s Giglio’s signature dessert.