Tuscany is a must visit for anyone interested in wine. It's responsible for some of the most recognised wines in the world, and it's picturesque landscape of rolling hills create the perfect conditions for producing high quality wines. It's flagship grape is of course the Sangiovese grape, from which popular names like Chianti, Brunello & Super Tuscans are made.
GENERAL TERROIR & HISTORY
Tuscany is a region with both modern wine importance as well as a long history of viticulture, going back over 3000 years. It's even likely that the ancient Etruscan settlers of Tuscany were the ones who taught early French populations about wine production. By the times the Greeks arrived, the land was already covered in grape vines. Come 1700s, merchant trading pushed Tuscany into the larger market, and Chianti was for a long time an important agricultural product of Tuscany. This continued until the European region's struggles with phylloxeria & the world wars, which devastated the region. Laws were passed to protect the region, and the DOC classification helped to ensure quality wines from the region.
Located in Central Italy bordering the Tyrrhenian Sea, it is surrounding by other wine regions such as Liguria, Emilia-Romagna, Marche, Umbria and Lazio. The warm Mediterranean climate created by it's coastal influence & hilly landscape are big factors in it's success as a wine region. Varying day & night temperatures aide in creating the right environments for good ripening of grapes. The region never gets too wet or dry, and sunny days result in the best microclimates sitting on higher elevations of the hillsides. Soils are mostly limestone, clay & sand, depending on the region.
As with all Italian wine, they follow the DOC classification scheme that originated in Veneto. Sangiovese is the "flagship" of Tuscany, but there are many other native & non-native grapes grown here.
Chianti, Montepulciano & Montalcino are some of the more popular regions, as well as coastal Bolgheri which has gotten famous for it's host of Super Tuscan producing winemakers.
MAJOR WINE VARIETALS & STYLES
Tuscany alone produces an array of DOC & DOCG wines, across white & red grape varietals. Sangiovese is the flagship red grape varietal, while white varietals have various regions within Piedmont where they are best expressed. The most noble white varietal would be Vernaccia, one of the oldest white varietals in the region
Trebbiano, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir
Although very small by production, there are a handful of producers creating dry sparkling styles out of Trebbiano, Sangiovese & Pinot Noir grapes. Most producers are doing so in the classic Champagne method, with varying lees ageing periods.
LIGHT BODIED WHITE WINE
Trebbiano, Vermentino, Pinot Grigio, Vernaccia
Trebbiano (Ugni Blanc in France) is one of the most widely planted varieties in the world, but often for purposes of fortifiend Cognag or Armagnac, rather than white wine. The reason is due to it's high yield, and high acdity, which makes it a good candidate for Cognac production and also to add zip to white blends and freshness to red wines. For example, by law up to 10% is permitted in red Carmignano
Vermentino is a fresh and crisp white wine gaining popularity in the region. Grown on the coast, it’s known for citrus and saline undertones due to its maritime influence. It has high levels of phenols that give it a green almond note that sets it apart from other crisp, citric varietals. All this makes it similar in style to Sauvignon Blanc, but it's sometimes have an oily, or mouth-coating property, sets it apart & makes it an ideal food wine—standing up to richer dishes.
Believed to be brought in by the Greeks, Vernaccia is a prized white varietal in San Gimignano. It is light, crisp & perfumed, with noticeable herbal qualities. It was the first wine to receive DOC status in 1966 and is now the only white wine to be accredited with a DOCG status.
FULL BODIED WHITE WINE
Originating from the island of Madeira in the Mediterranean region, Malvasia produces beautifully aromatic and round full-textured wines. Grown in various regions around Italy, it's usually blended with Trebbiano in Italy, as well as used in Chianti wine, and sometimes Vin Santo
Chardonnay is grown in scattered regions throughout Tuscany, often as a blending grape or in sparklers.
MEDIUM BODIED RED WINE
Italy's most planted grape varietal, Sangiovese is the pride & joy of the Tuscan Chianti region. It's a sensitive grape that produces dry & acidic red wines while picking up a variety of flavor profiles based on the terroir. If you are looking for something lighter, you can look towards the light red berry driven Chianti wines. Being in the northern region, it showcases Sangiovese's bright tart fruit & acidity, and does not have long aging requirements.
FULL BODIED RED WINE
Super Tuscan Sangiovese Blend, Brunello di Montapulciano
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano produce more intense & tannic styles of Sangiovese. Tea leaves, savory dried herbs and dark chocolate might come through in an older wine. Young or old, oak or stainless, there is usually a rustic undertone to Sangiovese-heavy wines.
Super Tuscan blends from the Coastal Region do contain a percentage of Sangiovese, but what makes them unique is the blend of Bordeaux grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot. This was a result of "unrecognised" appellations needing to be creative to bring up the quality of the wines from the region. Adding complexity and fullness to the blend, it’s signature green-pepper, pyrazine note add intrigue and firm tannins aid in ageability.
Merlot is also found in some Chiantis, but more so in Super Tuscans to soften the blend. It buds, flowers and ripens early so it brings concentration of flavors and aromas of blackfruit, violets, baking spices and dark chocolate.
DESSERT & FORTIFIED WINE
Created using the appassimento method that Amarones are so well known for, Vin Santo is a full bodied & very sweet wine with notes of hazelnut, caramel, honey, tropical fruit, perfume and dried apricot. Instead of bottling or barrel ageing the juice, the raisins are pressed and placed into special barrels called Caratelli (translates to “small casks”) where they sit and wait for a natural fermentation to begin. As temperatures rise in the spring, the Vin Santo fermentation begins. The process takes up to 4 years to complete & the Vin Santo barrels are special in that over time they will develop their own yeast “mother”, kinda like sourdough starters.
While you can also find it made out of Garganega grapes in Veneto & Nosiola grapes in Trentino, the origin is from Tuscany, where it's made out of Trebbiano & Malvasia. There is also a red Vin Santo called Occhio de Pernice made mostly with Sangiovese and a red type of Malvasia grape called Malvasia Nera.
Wine from Chianti is as quinticential to Italian cuisine as extra virgin olive oil. A red blend from the Chianti is primarily made with Sangiovese grapes, sometimes blended with various grapes like Merlot or Malvasia. Producing bright, tart red fruit acidic red wine, the riserva labels would be more intense as they have longer barrel ageing requirements.
Traditionally coming in a fiasco, which is a bottle enclosed in a straw basket, this has become more of novelty, used as decorations or candleholders. To spot a Chianti wine today, look for a black rooster on the label.
Find notes of freshly baked pie crust, black cherry, and black raspberry, with dusty tannins. Note that Chianti Classico is a sub-region within Chianti, with stricter appellation rules regarding varietal & ageing process, and carry a refreshing acidity due to a cooler microclimate
|Why the black rooster? Legend has it that a race took place between a Florentine and Sienese horseman to decide where the borders of each respective republic should start and end. Each of them would take off from their respective cities at the rooster’s crow and the point where they met would decide the boundary. The Florentines chose a black horse that they didn’t feed the night before. The horse was so hungry that it actually took off before the sun came up and the horsemen met only 7 miles from the walls of Siena.|
Chianti is synonymous with Italian culture, expressing Italy in a mouthful. From the aroma of preserved Amarena cherries, to walking through a market with dried oregano & aromatic balsamic vinegar, to walking past a butcher slicing dry salamy, with the waft of sweet tobacco from an old man smoking a pipe. Common notes include red fruits, dried herbs, balsamic vinegar, smoke, and game.
Just next to Chianti Classico sits San Gimignano, which is the only DOCG for a white wine, Vernaccia. Hailing from the slopes around a picture-perfect village dotted with fourteen towers, Vernaccia is a crisp white wine, fairly neutral in its flavour profile with citrus and melon fruits and a savoury line across the palate.
MONTALCINO & MONTEPULCIANO
South of Chianti you will find the famous wines of Brunello di Montalcino DOCG and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG.
Brunello di Montalcino is single varietal Sangiovese, and is grown on the outskirts of Montalcino, known as one of the most beautiful towns in Tuscany. Expect bolder Sangiovese wines with deeper fruit profiles, heavier tannins & structure, which give them an enviable track record of ageing beautifully.
Around the town of Montepulciano are the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG vineyards. Producing red wines of a blend of Sangiovese, Canaiolo Nero and Mammolo, they are a fleshier, more expressive style than Brunello. Hints of herbaceous and earthy notes along with bing cherry, plum, and violets. Coming from the hills around Montepulciano, these delightful wines are for easy drinking, softer & less rigid but with similar characteristics to Chianti Riservas.
For easier drinking, look for the wines of the Rosso di Montepulciano DOC.
COASTAL TUSCANY - BOLGHERI & MAREMMA
Super Tuscans was a term given to wines from the coastal region that were exceptional in quality & cellaring potential, though were not officially allowed in the DOC/DOCG regulations. This was a result of winemakers adding cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah in their sangiovese blends or release straight varietal wines from these non-indigenous grapes. This trend was actually the reason why the IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) classification was created, as the VdT label gave them no justice. Although we still think Super Tuscans sounds more banging.
Some of Italy's most sought after wines fall within this category - Tignanello, Sassicaia, Solaia, Ornellaia, Masseto and Redigaffi.
Ripe cherry, ripe plum, and violets on the palate with the scent of subtle baking spice and plum. Bolgheri is the heartland of the Super Tuscan style, where the coastal region & non-native grape varietals will give you beautiful wines despite the lack of classification
2 Super Tuscans from Bolgheri led this trend in the 1970s, Sassicaia & Tignanello. While Sassicaia is more often compared to The Cru Classes of Bordeaux, Tignanello by Antinori is a Sangiovese based blend.
Even though within wine circles, these wines are extremely popular, Bolgheri is still not a huge destination, which makes it a great destination to be away from tourist hotspots while enjoying amazing wine.
Maremma is the creative soul of Tuscan wine, and now the area is ecognized as one of the top wine-producing micro-regions. Morellino di Scansano & it's Sangiovese based blend is one of the most notable names