For centuries people have gone to Rufina to drink, at its source, one of the most perfumed Chianti wines of all. This intense ruby-coloured wine hails from a land rich in castles and Medici villas, a land where traces of the ancient Etruscan civilisation can still be glimpsed. Up high, dominating the valley below, stands the Villa Poggio Reale. Majestic and imposing, this splendid example of sixteenth-century architecture also houses two museums: the Vine and Wine Museum can be found, along with a modern-day wine bar, in the twentieth-century cellar, while a collection of the works of Novecento artist Marco Romoli is also on display. The lodgings and chapel dedicated to Saint Anthony are next door. Vineyards and the Parco della Ragnaia surround the villa: there is nowhere better to lose yourself in nature and in thought.
Many stories were told at Villa Poggio Reale, and, as the centuries went by, these stories gradually became legends. One of the most famous tales comes from the seventeenth century, and this is how it goes: during the time when the plague was raging all around, the noblemen barricaded themselves into their palaces and, afraid of their fate and believing themselves to be about to die, became immoral and debauched. One night, the Devil visited Villa Poggio Reale, in disguise. Everyone was sitting around gambling. Suddenly a beautiful young man appeared, asking to join in the game. At one point a card fell under the table, and as one of the players bent down to pick it up, he found himself looking at a pair of chicken’s legs: the Devil’s legs! The Devil realised he had been discovered and immediately disappeared in a putrid puff of smoke. He left behind on the floor’s tiles an indelible symbol, a mark of condemnation of the noblemen’s actions. Sceptics of the story are immediately converted when they see that the Devil’s sign is still there today.
At the end of summer Rufina celebrates the beautiful red-gold Chianti, as a traditional cart stacked with 1500 bottles of the wine is paraded through Firenze’s centro storico, pulled by the traditional Chianina oxen. This Chianti is blessed by the bishop on the church porch of the Duomo, and then in the Palazzo Vecchio is offered as a gift to the Comunità Fiorentina, representing the symbolic ‘Signoria di Firenze’. The so-called ‘Carro Matto’ (or ‘Crazy Cart’) is a work of the utmost quality, crafted by winemakers from Val di Sieve. The typical Chianti fiaschi – round-bottomed bottles covered in straw – are perfectly balanced in a giant pyramid, each one supporting those around it. In the olden days, this ingenious system allowed vast quantities of wine to be transported from the countryside to the town centre.