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“Roger and I had a spectacular trip to Italy.  We wanted to the opportunity to thank you properly…

We enjoyed the delicious wines of the Veneto region, and our guide was fun and informative.  At Villa Valentina, the charming Angelo and his lovely wife (and great cook!) Paula, were excellent hosts.  Elizabeth was helpful, and we enjoyed the funny, quirky personalty of our breakfast waitress, Barbara.  The day on Angelo’s boat was Roger’s personal favorite event of the trip.

Lucca was a wonderful suprise.  It was my favorite city of Venice, the Cinque Terre, Sorrento, and Capri.  We rode bikes around the wall, and by pure luck, ran into the fall market.

Gayle, thank you again for helping us create such a remarkable trip.”



Italian Wine Classifications


There is a hierarchy of Italian wine Classification. Italian wine laws and classifications were introduced in Italy in the 1960s. At first this new DOC system ( Denominazione di Origine) adhered rigidly to traditional methods. Some Italian winemakers felt the new regulation stifled creativity preferred to make wine their own way. They rebelled against this strict regulation. Their experimenting resulted in excellent wines that became known Super Tuscan wines. Since they did not comply with the rules of the DOC system they were classified as table wines regardless of their quality or price. In 1992 the existing DOC system was changed and the IGT classification was added to signify wines typical of a specific region that allowed more flexibility in the process. Today these are the classifications of Italian wine.

  1. VdT- Vino da Tavola Simple table wine with the fewest restrictions. The label tells you it was made in Italy and that is about all. They are mostly for local consumption and if you had the house wine in a local trattoria you have likely tasted a Vino da tavola wine. The Vino da Tavola category held a certain prestige in the 1970s and1980s thanks to experimental winemakers who produced top-quality wines under the title. The situation has gradually diminished since the introduction of IGT wines.
  2. IGT- Indicazione Geografica Tipica (=typical region wines) These wines follow broad rules about production. The IGT classification focuses on the region of origin rather than grape varieties or wine styles. They are blended wines and they do not need to follow a specific recipe. For example an IGT Toscana guarantees that a minimum of 85% of the grapes used in the wine were grown in Tuscany. The vintage and the bottler must be indicated. Generally they are inexpensive and decent for everyday drinking. There are exceptions. The best of these wines are called “Super Tuscans”. They can be some of the best wines and most expensive wines from Italy.
  3. DOC- Denominazione di Orgine Controllata; follows stricter rules about production. A DOC wine will convey a regional wine making style with specific grapes, and that the quality of the wine tends to be higher than the IGT wines. However, Super Tuscans can be an exception to that rule. If you have ever had an Italian Pinot Grigio from the Friuli region or a glass of Prosecco, it was likely a DOC wine.
  4. DOCG- Denominazione di Orgine Controllata e Garantita; very strictly controlled production. This classification is meant to represent the best Italian wines. It is here you will find Italy’s top wines and sometimes highest prices. Most DOCG rules reduce the allowable yield of grapes to produce the wine, require longer aging, and pass an analysis and tasting by government-licensed personnel before bottling. DOCG wine bottles are sealed with a numbered governmental stamp across the cork. The stamp is your guarantee that the Barolo or Brunello or Chianti Classico was produced with strict adherence to local wine making. There are only about 60 wines that have achieved this status.

Having said all this there is no guarantee that you will like the DOCG wine that you have purchased.  It is also possible to enjoy a Vino da Tavola wine.  For example one of our favorite restaurants is a pizzeria in the small town of Tirrenia.  Whenever we go there we ask for vino di casa Bianca which is certainly a vino da Tavola wine.  They draw it straight from the barrel into a one liter pitcher and we love it.  My advice is to try a variety of Italian wines and find what suits your taste buds.


You may have guessed from our name, “Tuscany Tours and Wineries,” that we do visit wineries while in Italy.  You would be correct.  If however you thought we only visit wineries in Tuscany you would be mistaken.

The Romans understood which grapes were best suited to certain soils and climates and tried to plant accordingly. That tradition continues today and thus learning about major wine making regions is a good way to learn about Italian wines.

Italy is a long country and the climate and soil varies greatly as you travel from north to south.

There are now twenty different wine producing areas based upon differences in climate and soil and the varietal wines that are produced.  As we travel around Italy we provide opportunities for wine tasting in several different regions.

Northern Italy is near the mountains and experiences cold winters, hot summers and great variation in daytime and nighttime temperatures.  during our 2018 Northern Italy Cooking School and Wine Tour we taste Borolo and Barbaresco wines from the Piedmont region that are made using Nebbio grapes.

the Veneto

During our stay in Venice we will take a day trip to the hill towns of the Veneto.  In Bassano di Grappa we will experience a byproduct of the winemaking process.

The Poli Distillery uses the skins of the grapes to make grappa–in many flavors such as chocolate, lemon, cappuccino. We travel on and after lunch  we visit Ca’ Salina winery and taste several varieties of Prosecco.

When we visit the Cinque Terre near the Ligurian sea we find one of the most beautiful of Italy’s wine districts. The classic Cinque Terre wine is a dry white made of Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino grapes.  The light refreshing white wines refresh the tourists who flock there to enjoy the scenery.

Many of the Cinque Terre vineyards are planted on steep slopes close to the sea.  It is not surprising that the Vermentino wine it is most known for has a somewhat salty with a hint of citrus and green apple.

When we arrive at the villa in Levanto we will be welcomed with locally produced Prosecco.  Although most wine from this region is light and dry, it also produces sweet Cinque Terre Sciacchetra.

Just hearing “Tuscany” reminds us of vineyards, family homes and outdoor tables where food and wine are an integral part of the culture.  The area south of Florence is known as the Chianti region.

Though it is not as close to the sea as the Cinque Terre the Mediterranean Sea influences the climate and the soil of this region.  The Sangiovese grapes that are grown here are Italy’s most popular wine grape.

It is used to produce Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, Chianti, Chianti Classico and others.  In addition to these reds the area also produces a well known white wine- Vernaccia di San Gimignano.  Super Tuscan Wines are also produced in this area.

The Super Tuscan is the final expression of the winemakers skill and creativity.  The wine can be made with a variety of grapes, but 85% must come from this region.  They are  sometimes difficult to find outside the latest vintage and for that reason can become quite expensive.

During our travels with Tuscany Tours and Wineries we have accompanied our clients on several different Chianti Wine Tours.

In the early days we used big bus tours and while we enjoyed the wine we wanted a more personal experience.

Eventually we found a private Chianti Wine tour for just our small group.  The wines are great and the experience could not be more fun.

As a result of the relationship we have made with the winemaker at Tenuta Torciano Winery near SanGimignano, we are able to bring Italian wine to Wisconsin for tasting on March 10, 2018.  Reservations are required and the number of participants is limited.

Italy is home to some of the oldest wine producing regions in the world.  It is the world’s largest producer of wine by volume.

Winemaking in Italy goes back thousands of years. Obviously we cannot visit all 20 wine regions in Italy in a two week trip.  We plan our trips around what our clients want to see and do.

Our goal is to expose clients to the Italian culture.  Wine is an integral part of that culture and we seek to provide wine experiences in all the regions we visit.


September 21, 2014 – L.T.E. in the Amery Free Press

In early 2014 Amery Free Press wrote a piece on Tuscany Tours and Wineries run by John and Gayle McKay of rural Amery.  My wife and I participated in the inaugural tour to Tuscany in early September 2014; we highly recommend this tour.  John and Gayle McKay were wonderful guides and customized the tour to our desires.

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We experienced many facets of Italy:  the History of Rome, the Beauty of Florence and the Romance of Venice and so much more.  Our tour in Rome included the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, the Vatican Museum, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Pantheon.

In Carrara we had an exciting ride up the marble mountains where ancient Romans quarried white Carrara marble (the source of the marble Michelangelo used to sculpt David) and watched the modern day process of quarrying the marble.

Basking in the SunTuscany is beautiful with its vineyards and hill cities.

We spent an afternoon exploring the preserved medieval city of Lucca surrounded by 50 ft. walls.  In Pisa we toured the Basilica and Baptistry and climbed to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa where we were rewarded with glorious views.

Cinque Terre is a national park with strenuous hiking trails and beautiful vistas of the picturesque villages, terraced vineyards and the sea.  Three days in local villas gave us a taste of the Italian life as we “picked eggs” for our breakfast, hung our laundry outside the Italian way and enjoyed a multi-course meal prepared for us by local couple in their home.

Angelo’s Boat Tour included views from the coastline, a seafood feast for lunch and a swimming under waterfalls into the Mediterranean.  After a day of hiking the mountain trails between the villages and exploring the villages we were treated to another multi-course dinner prepared by Dina.  Next stop, Tirrenia on the Italian Riviera for beach time.

The bellOn our way to Florence we visited Vinci, the birthplace of Leonardo Da Vinci, and the museum which contains models of many of his inventions and then wine tasting and lunch at Villa Daniella, the former hunting lodge of the Medici family from Florence.  Other stops included the hill city of San Gimignano with its many medieval towers and Volterra, a medieval walled city rich in Etruscan history, where we visited an alabaster workshop.

The beauty of Florence is amazing with the Ponte Vecchio, Duomo, Piazza Signora and the Accademia with Michelangelo’s sculpture of David, Uffizi Art Museum, Mercato Centrale, San Lorenzo market, Santa Maria Novella Perfumery, Pitti Palace/Boboli Gardens.  We got to experience Italian driving first hand as we rode electric bicycles up the hills overlooking Florence and the Arno River.

The romance of Venice was enhanced by our accommodations on the Grand Canal.  We were serenaded on an evening Gondola ride followed by dinner on a quiet canal near St. Mark’s square.

We enjoyed strolling the streets, riding on the canals to explore Rialto market, St. Mark’s and Doges Palace, Murano Island glassblowers and Burano Island lace making.  We ended our Italian tour with an 8 piece stringed instrument concert of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” in Venice.

Congratulations to John and Gayle McKay on your new business and thank you for a memorable trip.

Alan and Elise Walker
Amery, Wisconsin



There is very little violent crime in Italy, but there are pickpockets.   They are experienced and good at their job.  Pickpocketing is a crime of opportunity.  Your job is to eliminate the opportunity.

Pickpockets are not limited to European cities.  Many years ago we were in Honolulu and heard a warning on the news that pickpockets were working the streets near Waikiki Beach.  That evening we sat on our balcony on the 10th floor enjoying the evening and watching what was happening below.  Brake dancing was very popular at the time.  A group of young people sat their boom box on the street corner, cranked up the tunes and began to dance.  A crowd circled around to watch.  Other persons moved along the outside of the crowd lifting wallets from unsuspecting onlookers.  There was quick interaction with a third party who took off on a skateboard.  It was the classic pickpocket set-up with (1) a group to create a distraction, (2) pickpockets and (3) runners to move quickly away from the action.


Sometimes pickpockets act alone, but more frequently it is a team.  The distraction can be as simple as bumping into on a crowded train.  Sometimes children are used to distract.  Sometimes they spill a drink on you, apologize and lift your wallet at the same time.  Sometimes they pretend to be lost and ask directions.

Avoid crowds

It is not always possible to avoid crowds and still see the things we came to see.  Be particularly cautious when boarding and leaving buses or trains.  Thieves crowd the door then stop as others crowd from behind.  When waiting for a subway, there is less crowding if you wait at the end car rather than the middle car at the foot of the stairway.

Don’t signal where you carry your money

In Italy there are frequently signs posted in rail stations, bus stations etc. warning tourists to beware of pickpockets.  They can’t pick your pocket if they don’t know where the cash is being carried.  Unfortunately, pickpockets hang out near these signs to get their clue.  Tourists read the sign and almost instinctively reach their hand to check the pocket with their wallet or check their handbag.  Resist the urge.

Carry money and valuables under your clothing

Place larger amounts of money, credit cards and passports under your clothing in specially designed pouches.  Put the amount of money you may need for the day or tickets in a more accessible area so you don’t have to reveal your hidden stash.

Traveler’s checks are obsolete

Most stores or restaurants will no longer accept them.  The only way to cash then is at a bank.  Banks have more limited hours and we know from experience that the whole process can use most of your morning.  Use ATMs if you need more cash.  Get enough cash to last a week, so you don’t waste time finding the ATM every day. Be aware of your surroundings when you are getting cash.

Carry belongings in front of your body

A backpack on your back is an invitation unless it is slash proof and has secured zippers.  Fanny packs can be convenient for carrying supplies for the day, but wear them on the front of your body.

Ladies be careful of your purses

Setting your handbag beside you on a park bench or beside your chair at the side walk café can be a serious mistake.  The thief walks along takes the bag and without breaking stride continues on their way.  Consider using a handbag with a slash proof detachable shoulder strap.  While you dine, wrap the strap around the arm of your chair or around the leg of the park bench.  Here is another word of caution about shoulder bags.  Choose one that is carried across your body rather than carrying it on one shoulder.  Motor bikes  are everywhere in Italy.  If you are walking down the street with a shoulder bag over one shoulder, the thief can drive by, grab the strap and keep going.  If you are still connected to the bag you may be thrown to the ground and seriously injured.

Stop identity theft

Identity thieves can download and steal personal information from microchips on your credit cards and passport.  Prevent this with special RFID blocking pockets in your bag or wallet.  A simple sleeve available for about $5 can protect your passport and you could slip credit cards inside as well.

Take advantage of specially made anti-theft bags

There are numerous products on the market that help eliminate the opportunity for thieves to be successful at your expense.  There are RFID blocking bags, sleeves or wallet and bags with slash proof straps,  locking zippers and stainless steel mesh panels that prevent contents from falling out if the bag is slashed.  Any travel store such as AAA will have a variety of products to meet your needs.  Check out PackingLight.com online.  Do your research, plan ahead and go and have a wonderful time. Picketpocketing is a crime of opportunity.  Your job is to eliminate the opportunity.  Picketpocketing is a crime of opportunity.  Your job is to eliminate the opportunity.


John received a nice comment from a former colleague and friend, Toby Nakamoto, on Facebook.

Toby wrote, “My Buddy went from High Tech to running this tour company. He grew up in Italy and lives in Minnesota. If you are interested in a “relaxing and quality” tour, which I know he will provide, check the tour out.”


John is still pretty high tech, but his passion is helping people enjoy a fantastic vacation in some of Italy’s finest venues. John and his wife, Gayle, will personally escort you to the most beautiful locations around Italy!

Go to the Tour Page to find out more!


Are you too old to travel?  The answer is NO.   

Health Aging and TravelIn fact, travel may be good for your health.  Exercising your brain by experiencing new cultures and exploring new places may contribute to healthy aging.

Your own health and well-being should be a top priority for any trip.   Healthy travel is a result the planning and preparation.

However, it is important to make every effort to reduce the stress and just have fun.  Traveling with Tuscany Tours and Wineries’ small group tour can help to achieve that in several ways.

  1. Pre-planning is handled by Tuscany Tours and Wineries.  All hotel reservations, transportation arrangements once you are in Italy, arrangement of private tours of major tourist sites and hidden gems in rural areas.  We have been there many times and go back to places we know and trust.  With will also help facilitate your airline reservations if that is a concern for you.
  2. Some may be intimidated by the thought of arriving in a foreign city where people do not speak English.  Personal escorted tours from Tuscany tours and Wineries will accompany you the entire trip.  Pack your bag and head for Rome.  When you arrive in the Rome airport you will be met by a private limousine service that will take you directly to the hotel.  We will meet you there and travel with you every step of the way.
  3. Our small group tours can accommodate individual needs much better than traveling alone or with a larger group.  In one previous tour one participant had a total hip replacement several months before the trip.  We made very slight adjustments that made it possible for her to enjoy the trip.
  4. Hotels should be in areas where you are comfortable to come and go day or night.  In larger cities, public transportation should be immediately available.
  5. Sometimes older people do not travel because they do not have a traveling companion.  A small group of 10 persons can provide the security and companionship you need to create new and lasting memories.

When should you travel?  One of the advantages of aging is the free time available to fulfill our dreams.  If you have the time and your general health is good, now is the take the trip of a lifetime.  Andiamo!  (Let’s go!)

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Grand Canal VeniceHaving been in Italy before, we weren’t sure if another trip would hold many new experiences. However, now we can honestly say that one hasn’t truly experienced Italy, specifically Tuscany, until they’ve toured with John and Gayle McKay!

Over the years, John and Gayle have created an itinerary based on their favorite ‘discoveries.’ These unique, off-the-beaten-path locales, usually aren’t included in more standard tours. These hidden gems, plus a few famous sights, comprise a fascinating and memorable experience for any traveler…novice or ‘seasoned’.

John and Gayle are wonderful guides! Their attention to detail is amazing and their love of the area is irresistible. One cannot help but share their enthusiasm!

We heartily recommend Tuscany Tours and Wineries!Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

Larry and Jane Debelak
Fall 2012 Tuscany Tour