The area of Carmignano, in the province of Prato, 10 miles northwest of Florence, has been producing wine on its low lying hills since Roman times, for this reason it is considered one of the oldest wines in Italy. During the Middle Ages, the quality of the wines produced here were highly renowned, so much so that later in 1716, Cosimo III de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, identified the region as one of the superior wine producing areas of Tuscany and granted it special legal protections. The reputation of Carmignano grew so much that Queen Anne of Great Britain requested regular shipments of the wine. In the 18th century the producers started the tradition of blending together Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon, long before the practice became popularized by the “Super Tuscan” of the late 20th century.
The territory of Carmignano was intensely affected by the presence of the Etruscans. Archaeological discoveries have shown that the area, particularly around the hamlet of Artimino, was very important for their expansion north of the Arno in connection with the hills at the foot of the Appennines. Today visiting Carmignano the main attractions are several Etruscan tombs near the village of Comeana, the well-preserved 10th century castle in the upper part of town, the 12th century church of Santi Michele e Francesco and the magnificent Medicean villa at Artimino, aka the Villa of the Hundred Chimneys.
The wine and typical flavour trail covers all the province of Prato and nearby Poggio a Caiano, on the river Ombrone, gives its share of wine and olive oil to the cooperative. Here the revolutionary, for its times, Medici Villa del Poggio, stands, built by Lorenzo de’ Medici in 1485 over the ruins of a fortified house. Here every second week of September is held the ‘Siege at the Villa’ with all the villagers dressed in Medicean clothes. The whole town is closed to traffic and from the fountain along the main wall of the villa flows out red wine.
Prato, the capital of the province as well as the second largest city in Tuscany (third in central Italy after Rome and Florence), lies at the foot of Monte Retaia. The surrounding hills were inhabited since Paleolithic times, and the Etruscans colonized the plain. This is an area rich in archaeological findings, as well as historical buildings and amazing works of art. Built between 1237 and 1247 is the Emperor’s Castle, il Castello dell’Imperatore, a remarkable stronghold with crenellated walls and towers built for the medieval emperor Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor. Further north one can find picturesque medieval hamlets like Montemurlo, while hills are dotted with castles like the Rocca di Cerbaia at Cantagallo and that at Vernio.
The flavours of this area, unknown to most tourist circuits, are not just the full body of the wine and the delicate touch of the olive oil. Carmignano is famous also for its production of dried figs, so much so that they are part of the Slow Food movement’s Ark of Taste catalogue. Their history goes back centuries to when the Roman legions used them as stock food. Going back to the Roman period are also Prato’s cantuccini almond biscuits, equally scrumptious. These very dry oblong-shaped biscuits, which Pliny the Elder boasted would be edible for centuries, are generally offered with a glass of excellent vin santo. Today modern versions sometimes exchange the classic almonds with pine nuts, hazelnuts or even pistachio and chocolate. Another typical product of Prato is the so-called mortadella di Prato. In reality this is not a real Bologna sausage but a cold meat with a lot of seasoning and alchermes liqueur, whose scarlet colour bestows the rose-coloured mortadella look.
Carmignano and Prato’s reputation is hand in glove with its ancient history and the flavours of their products conceal the important stages of this development.