“Tuscany, as regards wines, has no equal the world over, thanks to a most felicitous nature, and to a civilization of the grapevine and of wine that has been decanted and refined over the centuries.”
Zeffito Cuiffoletti - Historian
Tuscany has a rich history of viticulture. Its rolling hills and Mediterranean climate provide the perfect conditions for the production of good-quality wines. The region is particularly renowned for its red wines, most of which are produced from Sangiovese grapes. These reds are generally spicy, with good acid levels, smooth texture and medium body.
The most exclusive Sangiovese wine is the high-quality Brunello di Montalcino, from a fortress town south of Siena. It is one of Italy’s most expensive wines and is now issued under more than 100 different labels. This wine is produced solely from Sangiovese grapes and takes at least 10 years to reach maturity. Other Sangiovese wines include Chianti and Chianti Classico. But unlike Brunello di Montalcino, these also contain a small amount (between 10 and 15 per cent) of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah grapes.
Chianti Classico comes from the vineyards that lie between Florence and Siena, with the towns of Greve, Radda and Castellina forming a triangle in the very heart of the Chianti area. Most of these wines belong to the Classico’s marketing consortium and bear the Gallo Nero symbol, a black rooster, the symbol of an authentic bottle of Chianti Classico. Two kinds of Chianti Classico are available, Standard and Riserva. Standard is labelled with a Gallo Nero surrounded by a red border, whereas Riserva is labelled with a Gallo Nero surrounded by a gold border. Riservas are produced from some of the finest grapes and aged for a minimum of 27 months to provide an additional full-bodied flavour.
Many Chianti wines also hold the DOC/DOCG (Dominazione di Origine Controllato/ Dominazione di Origine Controllato e Guarantita) status. This Italian quality-assurance label was introduced in 1963 by the Italian government and amended in 1992 by the EU law for the Protected Designation of Origin. To meet the DOC/DOCG requirements wines must be produced within the specified region using defined methods and must also meet a defined quality standard.
Other important Sangiovese-based red wines that hold the DOC/DOCG status include Tignanello and Sassicaia, with prices and popularity on a similar scale to Brunello di Montalcino. Others include Montepulciano, Montalcino, Bolgheri, Carmignano and Maremma.
Since the 1970s more modern wines have emerged, made from international grape varieties and using French barriques, or barrels. These are the Super Tuscans. Grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were introduced and mixed with the classic Sangiovese to produce other high-quality wines but at a much lower cost due to modern techniques. But these avant garde methods did not fit the new DOC/DOCG laws and the wines were forced to take the humble label of Vini da Tavola, or table wine. Over time, these wines have gained a reputation as some of the finest ever made in Italy and their prices are well above those charged for an ordinary table wine.
Tuscany also produces a small amount of white wines. Most, however, have not gained the prestige of the reds because until relatively recently they were produced from the workaday Trebbiano grape and tended to have quite a dull taste. One exception is Vernaccia di San Gimignano, produced from the Vernaccia grape, a well-made crisp and dry white, one of the first to be awarded the DOC status. Nowadays, however, many good whites are produced in Tuscany, including the international variety of Chardonnays, Sauvignons, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Grigio, together with more traditional whites such as Pomino and Vin Santo.
And last, but not least, there’s Grappa.Grappa, or grape stalk, is a grape-based pomace brandy (between 37.5 and 60 per cent alcohol) made from grape seeds, stalks and stems left over from winemaking after pressing. This by-product of Italian wine can either be taken on its own or added as a shot to an espresso coffee, generally taken after meals to aid digestion.