Toscana (Tuscany) is centrally positioned along the Tyrrhenian Sea and stretches inland with vineyards and olive trees filling the countryside. The region is among the most famed and is the home of the celebrated Sangiovese-based reds from Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. These wines are obvious choices for any wine lover, but as there are 42 appellations (DOC/G) the region has much more to offer.
The land of the” Super Tuscans”
Going beyond appellations, it was in Tuscany – as a revolt to the established regulations on winemaking – that the “Super Tuscans” were born. These wines do not adhere to DOC/G regulations on grape selection and ageing. The Super Tuscans are usually made on a combination of the local Sangiovese grape and the three leading Bordeaux grapes, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Among the most famed Super Tuscans are Sassicaia and Tignanello.
Winemaking in Tuscany goes back 3000 years. Where already 2400 years ago the quality of the Tuscan wines received critical acclaim from the Greeks. The development of viticulture in Tuscany came with the Etruscans, who resided in the region for many centuries.
The strong passion for winemaking was not reserved only to the humblest classes, even the nobility was involved and we have many examples of noble family's participation. Today winemakers in Tuscany proudly carry on these traditions, but they also experiment with new techniques and practices in a drive to go even further in fine winemaking.
The perfect climate for the perfect wine
Tuscany enjoys a warm Mediterranean climate. Close to the seaside the hills are rolling, growing higher and steeper as one approaches the Apennine Mountains. The sea and the hills provide a cooling effect during the summer and most of the vineyards throughout the region are planted on higher elevations.
As a result of the higher elevation, winemaking in Tuscany benefits from a high diurnal temperature variation i.e., the difference between night and day temperatures. These fluctuations help balance sugars and acidity, a hallmark for great Tuscan wines. Tuscany is furthermore blessed with favourable and diverse soil types including marl, clay, sandstone, gravel and sand.
Sangiovese – its best expressions
Sangiovese is the primary red grape in Tuscany and in Italy overall. The wines are made in different styles from earthy and rustic to round and fruit forward, thus pairing well with all manner of food.
The name seems to come from the monks in Santarcangelo di Romagna at the foot of Monte Giove, who chose the name of sanguis Jovis. It’s a cross of two reds: Ciliegiolo and Calabrese di Montenuovo. It’s often blended with other varieties like Canaiolo, Colorino, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as it requires extra colour and richness.
Did you know that in the past the Chianti legislation also allowed white grape varieties in the blend, but it’s not the case nowadays. Just to show you how eclectic Sangiovese can be if treated well let’s see the differences in its wines: in Maremma, near the sea where it enjoys sunny days the wines display dark black fruit and herbal notes; in Chianti Classico which has a cooler climate at higher altitudes we taste the typical sour cherry, red berry, violet and tea leaf.
In Brunello di Montalcino where the wines are 100% Sangiovese, it depends on which side of the mountain it's grown. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is the lightest version of Sangiovese and is fruity and rich, with polished tannins and it is oh so palatable.
“Chianti Classico” and “Chianti'' are two separate DOCGs?
A public decree issued by Cosimo III de’ Medici establishes the borders of the Chianti Classico territory. It was the first time that an act formalized the connection between a wine and its territory. Today Chianti DOCG exports more wine than any other in Italy.
Wines from the Chianti Classico and other named DOCGs typically age for greater lengths of time in oak and are balanced with fine-grained well integrated tannins. The trademark always found on bottles of Chianti Classico is the Black rooster and it appears on all styles: Annata, Riserva and Gran Selezione. The word “Classico” is very important, because it distinguishes Chianti Classico from Chianti wine. They are two distinct and separate DOCGs, with different regulations, production zones and combinations.
Brunello di Montalcino – single-varietal wines
Montalcino is an amazing town in the middle of Tuscany and it has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 2004. Brunello di Montalcino was awarded significant international recognition and in 1999 'Wine Spectator' listed it among the 12 best wines of the century. Brunello, the local clone of the Sangiovese, requires by law a minimum five years of aging, in oak and/or bottle to be classified as Brunello di Montalcino DOCG.
Rosso di Montalcino DOC is also made from Sangiovese, but only requires a year of aging, resulting in lighter, medium bodied wines. Moscadello di Montalcino DOC is a classic late harvest white grape-based dessert wine.
San Gimignano – the land of Vernaccia
The vernaccia grape variety flourishes in San Gimignano, producing wonderful white wines with white spring flowers, yellow stone fruit, citrus blossom and hints of bitter almond to finish. At the end of the thirteenth century, it was present in all of Europe royal tables, popes and the rich merchants. Its name derives from Vernazza, the starting place for Ligurian production. The 60s marked the rebirth of this grape variety and in the mid-60s it was the first Italian wine to obtain the Controlled Designation of Origin.
A handful of visionary winemakers that chose not to follow the DOC/G regulations realized that grape varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah excelled on the coastal plain of Tuscany. This is where the Super Tuscan wines were born and have thrived over the past several decades. In recent vintages, the wines from Bolgheri, Maremma, Montecucco and Morellino di Scansano have received some of the highest accolades. And if you are a sweet wine lover don’t forget to try the Vin Santo with “cantucci” the perfect match after any meal.
Complex and age worthy reds, premium priced Super Tuscans and elegant floral white wines.What are the most popular grape varieties in Tuscany?
Tuscany is the home of the eclectic reds Sangiovese, Colorino and Ciliegiolo. Try also the white Vernaccia, Trebbiano and Malvasia.What types of food works well with wines from Tuscany?
Light reds: homemade pasta with duck sauce or lightly grilled or smoked fish; Full-bodied reds: stewed wild boar or the famous Florentine Chianina steak; White wines: Fiorentine baccala’, mushroom risotto or raw fish.