I had lunch a few weeks back with Ivano Reali, who runs the Castello di Gabbiano wine operations in Tuscany. Two other media types were there, including a local radio journalist who spoke in the deep, booming voice of gastronomic and oenological authority—like some great French gastronome of centuries past, having eaten and savored and judged the world. His producer was there, too, a very young and svelte guy in nice clothes, and we all shared a large round table in a quiet part of Perbacco, which is itself a very large and very, very good northern Italian place in the Financial District of San Francisco.

I’d come in the hopes of learning something, although I’m not sure what. Something about the wines, sure, but also about the pleasures of Reali’s job. Every person has a story. But the conversation never quite got there. Perhaps I didn’t ask the right questions; perhaps it just wasn’t the right topic for Reali. He is, after all, head of a large operation that includes not only the winery but also an inn and a restaurant. He’s a businessman, not a wine tinkerer. And although there was a lot of talk about the sheer beauty of the Gabbiano estate and castle, and how it looks just like you dream Tuscany will look, that sort of thing is complicated for me. These are facades—corporate-owned properties hoping we might like to buy a lifestyle fantasy along with our wine. Hoping we might like to fool ourselves, in other words, and imagine some beautiful existence happening behind those old stone walls, and then project ourselves into the scene, and buy some wine.

I’m vulnerable to those facades; I love a pretty Tuscan hill town as much as the next guy, maybe more. I also love the American fantasy of Tuscany, with an imagined simpler life in simpler times, in tune with the seasons. And yet I can’t deny the odd emptiness I feel when trying to inhale the romance of any winery scene maintained by a large and distant corporation. I can’t quite shake the fact that I’m looking at the production facilities of an alcoholic beverages manufacturing concern, and not at some physical manifestation of the good life.

Anyway, the truth is that the wines were nice and Reali struck me as a good man, easygoing and genial, without pretense. He’s a former pro soccer player and the coach of his son’s team, and he’s been a corporate guy his whole life. Good jobs, good pay, not too much stress. And my musings about artifice turned to laughter when the radio journalist’s producer told a story of a trip he and his boss had taken to Burgundy. During a visit to the estate of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, the maker of the world’s most expensive and prestigious wine, they were invited to have their pictures taken “participating in the harvest.”

“They led us out to the vineyards,” this producer told me, already laughing at the memory, “and they were like, ‘OK, get your camera ready, now pick one grape. Now hand that grape over and get out of here.”

2004 Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG
Grapes: N/A
Wood: 18 to 20 months in oak, 50 percent of the wine in French and Slovenian casks, the other 50 percent in new and seasoned French oak barrels
Alcohol: 13.5 percent
Price: $16 from Cellar360
My Tasting Notes: I liked this wine a lot. Nothing mind-blowing, but a strong, clean, can’t-go-wrong Chianti for a good price.

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