It’s a good story, the story of Ruffino
Like the straw around a flask, Ruffino’s history is a story woven from truth and legend, the certifiable and the cinematic. During the First World War, in the gelid winter of the Russian steppe, a lonely soldier prepared a special dinner in a bid to keep the solitude at bay. A bottle of Ruffino was at the centre of the table. But the cold - as the soldier, who eventually made it back home alive, wrote in a heartbreaking letter - caused the bottle to explode before he could open it.
Ruffino was already a name that meant something. It embodied Italy, a warm memory of home, and by the end of the nineteenth century it had won medals at international wine competitions, including Bordeaux.
But it all began in 1877, in a little town not far from Florence called Pontassieve, with Ilario and Leopoldo Ruffino. First came swift success, then in 1913 came the Folonari family: a few short years later, Ruffino was the Italian wine, even abroad. Legend has it that in the prohibitionary USA of the 1920s, you could buy Ruffino wines in pharmacies - for purely medicinal purposes, of course.
But even Ruffino has had its sorrowful chapters, the Second World War chief among them. Allied planes bombed the factory in 1944, mistaking it for a railway station: it was lucky that the most valuable bottles had been stowed underground, in case the winery was searched. In 1966, meanwhile, it wasn’t just Florence that suffered from the devastating flood: the mud from two rivers, the Sieve and the Arno, came billowing through the winery, filling the cellars with silt and sludge.
Still, Ruffino never gave up. The winery was assigned the AAA00000001 band, the first Chianti DOCG in history. That certification, which came in 1984, was just reward for those who had worked to turn their wine into a global symbol of Italy.
Ruffino is famous like the superstars have sought the winery out. There are black-and-white photos of Sophia Loren, Vittorio De Sica and Marcello Mastroianni visiting the winery, flashing smiles with flasks in hand and arms round the Ruffino employees. And if we go back a bit further, we hear Giuseppe Verdi himself complaining that his favourite wine - Ruffino, naturally - was always delivered later than he wanted it.
Even cinema has a lot to say about Ruffino. We see Rocky Balboa, one of the most famous Italian-Americans ever, in a Philadelphia trattoria with a bottle of Riserva Ducale. And Riserva Ducale also pops up in the New York of The Devil Wears Prada, this time in the glass of Anne Hathaway, as she dines among friends. There we have it: Riserva Ducale, the most famous wine throughout the restaurants of the world. We find Ruffino in The Sopranos; with Jack Nicholson in Blood and Wine; and among the chaotic gang of six that make up Friends. More recently, it appeared in Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E, which shows a mortadella sandwich being eaten with a glass of Chianti Stravecchio. It’s a unique Italian taste being lived.
And reality is often just as glamorous as the big screen. Over the decades, Ruffino wines have graced the banquet tables of the Duke of Aosta (who gave his name to the landmark “Riserva Ducale”), the Swedish Royal Family, and even the Vatican. Charles de Gaulle and Queen Elizabeth II have both taken part in tasting sessions; and in more recent years, Ruffino has been a proud sponsor of Men’s Fashion Week in New York, putting Ruffino bottles among the catwalks and gala dinners, among the VIPs, stylists and models. It symbolizes la dolce vita of Italy. The Renaissance. An icon of the Italian good life. It’s all summed up in Rosatello and, now, in an even more sublime form, the sophisticated Aqua di Venus. A rosé to be sipped by the Agriresort’s pool or savoured in the elegant dining rooms of the Le Tre Rane restaurant, both on the Renaissance Poggio Casciano estate.
Yes, it’s a good story. There’s so much more to be written about it, about how the straw flasks slowly developed into the sinuous Burgundy and Bordeaux bottle forms. There’s much to be written about Modus, Alauda and Chianti; about the Ruffino estates in Chianti Classico, with the great Romitorio di Santedame, and those at Montalcino, Monteriggioni, and even in the Veneto, with two new vineyards dedicated to making Prosecco Ruffino.
Above all, it’s a story that owes everything to the many regular people across the globe, whose names might not be famous, but who appreciate Ruffino wherever they are.