From Grape to Glass

3 Mar

While we continue to meet Chicagoans who visit Cortona, it is less often that the Cortonese visit us. But Saturday was an exception. Meet Denis Zeni.

Denis is the “titolare” – or owner – of Leuta, a boutique winery in the Cortona area. He is visiting several cities in the States and conducting wine tastings in his hosts’ homes.


Denis in center with hosts     ©

Denis’ story, like so many other entrepreneurs we meet in Italy, is a love story based on deep-rooted traditions. His grandfather cultivated grapes on his land in Trentino, in northern Italy, and shared his passion with his young grandson. Constantly at his grandfather’s side, Denis soon grew to love the land and over time, the possibilities.

Denis’ father, however, hoping for a different life for his son, eventually sold the family land, and encouraged Denis to seek a career in Finance. Denis obliged, but after a successful career and several finance degrees, he awoke one day and decided, “I don’t want to die as a banker!” Not that there is anything wrong with banking, he notes, it just didn’t mesh with the passion that had been ignited in his blood as a child.

With his grandfather’s land no longer available, Denis searched and found land in Tuscany to launch his dream. What began as The Tuscany Project, a small initiative with his friend and then partner Enzo, is now the Leuta Estate, approximately 62 acres at 31o meters above sea level near Cortona.

But back to the wine tasting. As we enjoyed delicious Tuscan antipasti prepared by our amazing hosts,





Denis shared some of his personal history as well as that of Leuta. He then began pouring the first of five wines we would taste.



Wine tastings are a fun and interesting way to sample various wines and learn something about each. They usually include a 5 step process: see, swirl, sniff, sip, savor. As I listened attentively to Denis, it occurred to me that this tasting was quite different from most others we have attended.  And I quickly realized why.

Denis not only knew about these wines, he was personally connected to all aspects, from grape to glass. He described the vines, how they were planted, how they behaved as they grew, the choice to avoid/limit chemicals, the grape selection, the harvesting process, the aging, the bottling, the mistakes and the successes. It became clear to me that the bottles held not only his wines but also his dreams and life’s work.

Similar to the eye of the beholder, I believe that wine preference is in the senses of the taster. Expensive or not doesn’t necessarily mean great or not. But a really nice wine seems to taste even better when I know its history and understand its traditions.

Grazie, Denis, for sharing your wonderful story and wines with us! We look forward to spending time with you at Leuta.



In the meantime, as we enjoy our new purchases, we will toast to you and recall the history you shared with us. Your grandfather is surely smiling.



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9 Responses to “From Grape to Glass”

  1. Patricia Hughes March 3, 2015 at 3:38 PM #

    You thank Denis for sharing it with you and we thank you for sharing it with us! Really interesting and fun to read.
    Lots of love.


  2. Charles David March 3, 2015 at 3:43 PM #

    Oh Judy,
    You make us long to visit Italy. Mahalo Nui Loa for sharing.


  3. Charles David March 3, 2015 at 3:45 PM #

    Oh Judy,
    You make us long to visit Italy.
    Mahalo Nui Loa for sharing.
    BIG Hugz,
    Charles on island


  4. Jean March 3, 2015 at 5:09 PM #

    Perfect timing Judy. Being Californians we love wine tastings and, well, we love wine. But my husband has temporarily switched to white wines from his favorite California red because of nighttime leg cramps. Apparently other people have also experienced this.
    We have heard that some folks recommend Italian red wines as the solution.
    When we are in Cortona this year we will certainly try these. If they solve the problem we shall be eternally grateful.


  5. loren5050 May 11, 2015 at 7:36 PM #

    Great post, Juj!


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