Many of the wineries in the Chianti Region double as tourist attractions. Not Paolo De Marchi's Isole e Olena; when you turn right at the main gate and drive by the burnished steel fermentation tanks, you will come to a muddy square where you may find someone working on a wagon with an arc welder.
"We don't have time for tourism," says Paolo. "It would distract us from our wines." His dedication is our gain; Isole e Olena's wines are superb. In addition to Chianti Classico, there is Cepparello, a pure Sangiovese of towering complexity and finesse, and a breathtaking Vinsanto. The winery also produces a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Chardonnay, and L'Eremo, a Syrah.
Syrah is an ancient grape from the Rhone Valley, which Paolo originally intended to use to add color and depth to his Chianti Classico (he feels that the Cabernet used in most Tuscan wineries can overwhelm Sangiovese). However, he has since decided that the best way to improve Chianti is by careful selection of Sangiovese (Chianti's principal grape), and is working to that end. Meanwhile, L'Eremo placed fourth in a world-wide blind tasting of Syrah, after three wines from the Rhone Valley.
Isole e Olena is also worth visiting if you like to talk wines. Though Paolo has dropped out of the Consorzio del Marchio Storico (formerly Gallo Nero) for philosophical reasons, he firmly believes in the Chianti Classico region, and his opinions are the result of much thought. For example, there is a movement to establish extra-high quality subzones within the Chianti Classico region. "Since one of these zones includes Isole e Olena, it would be good for me," he says with a grin. "But so long as wineries can double their quality by hiring new enologists, I'm against it -- it's too soon."
To reach Isole e Olena, take the highway from Florence to Siena and exit at San Donato, then head towards Castellina. Turn right at the sign for Isole e Olena, and bear left, up the hill, at the fork. The winery will be to your left after about a kilometer. To find out if Paolo is available, call on (055) 8072763; should he be away, Piero Masi and Gianpaolo Chiettini are quite pleasant, the cellars are beautiful, and the wine is worth a journey.