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 holds a rich history of viticulture. Its rolling hills and Mediterranean climate provide the perfect spot for the production of good quality wines and during the last decade it has become known as the nation’s most creative producer. Tuscany also holds world recognition for its red wines, the majority of which come from the Sangiovese grape vines. These wines are generally spicy, with good acid levels, smooth texture and medium body.
The most exclusive Sangiovese wine is Brunello di Montalcino, a high quality selected wine from a fortress town south of Siena. It is one of Italy’s most expensive wines and is now issued under more than a hundred different labels. This wine is produced solely from the Sangiovese grapevine and takes at least 10 years to reach maturity. Other Sangiovese wines are of course the famous Chianti and Chianti Classico. Although Sangiovese is their major grape, unlike Brunello di Montalcino, these wines also contain a small amount (between 10 and 15%) of Carbernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah grapes
Chianti Classico comes from the famous land of 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 that means ‘black rooster’. This gives the guarantee of a true bottle of Chianti Classico. Two kinds of Chianti Classico are available, these are known as ‘Standard’ and ‘Riserva’. Standard Chainti Classico is labelled with a Gallo Nero surrounded by a red border, whereas Riserva Chianti Classico is labelled with a Gallo Nero surrounded by a gold border. This is produced from some of the finest grapes and gives a minimum of 27 months aging to provide an additional full-bodied flavour.
Many of the Chianti wines also hold the DOC/DOCG (Dominazione di Origine Controllato/ Dominazione di Origine Controllato e Guarantita) status. This is an Italian quality assurance label that was introduced in 1963 by the Italian government and amended in 1992 by the EU law for the Protected Designation of Origin. In order to meet the DOC/DOCG requirements wines must be produced within the specified region using defined methods and must also qualify a defined quality standard.
Other important Sangiovese based red wines that hold the DOC/DOCG status include Tignanello and Sassicaia, whose prices and popularity are not too far behind those of Brunello di Montalcino. Others also include Montepulciano, Montalcino, Bolgheri, Carmignano and Maremma.
Since the 1970’s a gradual emergence of more modern wines made from international grape varieties, together with the use of French ‘barriques’ or barrels, has led to what are now known as 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 the modern techniques used. Super Tuscan wines initially emerged following the abuse of ‘big names’ in Italian wine and the unsuccessful attempt at DOC/DOCG laws to restrict the damage that the abuse was causing to its reputation for high quality wines. These ‘avant garde’ methods however did not fit the new DOC/DOCG laws and the wines were forced to take the humble label of ‘Vini da Tavola’, known in England as basic ‘House Wine’. However, over time these wines have gained the reputation as being some of the finest ever made in Italy and their prices are well above those charged for the Vini da Tavola.
Other than the popular reds, Tuscany also produces a small amount of white wines. The majority, however, have not enjoyed the prestige of the reds because until relevantly recently they were all produced from the workaday Trebbiano grape and tend to have quite a dull taste. An exception being Vernaccia di San Gimignano, which is produced from the Vernaccia grape, a well made crisp and dry white, one of the first whites to be awarded the DOC status. Nowadays however there are many other good whites 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 certainly not least comes the Grappa! Grappa or ‘grape stalk’ is a grape based pommice brandy (between 37.5% and 60% alcohol) made from pommace of the grape seeds, stalks and stems that are left over from winemaking after pressing. Often known as the by-product of Italian wine it can either be taken on its own or added as a ‘shot’ to an espresso coffee. It’s generally taken after meals to aid digestion so if feel the need for a ‘digestivo’ following that rich Tuscan meal you can always try a little Grappa!