Giro d'Italia! Learn More About the Top Tuscan Wine Regions from Big Hammer Wines, Wine Experts
Tuscany is certainly one of the most famed wine regions in the world. It is highly regarded for its wine, food, art, and a scenic romantic atmosphere. It’s hard to imagine a trip to Italy that isn’t focused on the wonders of its local wine and food scene. Tuscany is famed for its many top wine-growing regions with Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino sitting at the top of the Sangiovese pyramid. The emergent Super Tuscan category has also grown to global fame over the past few decades. Let’s take a deeper dive into the places and the grapes of Tuscany.
Climate and Influences
Tuscany is the area of Italy that surrounds the cities of Florence and Siena. The region is full of windswept rolling hills that look west out over the Tyrrhenian Sea and extend inland to the Apennine mountains to the east. The region is fairly warm with the influence of the Mediterranean Sea keeping temperatures at a moderate climate for much of the year. The winters can be cold but this region is also known to be shaped by its long dry summers. The soils in Tuscany are diverse, which give rise to several sub regions. The most important varieties in the region flourish in the dry summer. Sangiovese is the most widely planted red grape in all of Italy and reaches its apotheosis in Tuscany. Sangiovese is traditionally blended with small amounts of other native varieties such as Colorino, and Canaiolo Nero, especially in Chianti. Following the lead of Tenuta San Guido with Sassicaia, producers have turned their attention to international varieties as well, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and even Syrah taking up more and more of the vineyard acreage. Some of the key white grapes include Vermentino, Trebbiano, and Malvasia. An oxidized dessert wine is produced under the label Vin Santo, typically the grapes used are Trebbiano and Malvasia. Vin Santo is produced by appassimento, allowing the grapes to hang dry before fermentation to increase sugar and alcohol content.
One of the most well-known regions in Tuscany, Chianti has had to overcome some negative associations over the past few decades. From being Hannibal Lecter’s wine of choice to being regarded as merely a table wine better suited for holding candles than drinking, Chianti has made great strides in quality. The creation of the Chianti Classico subzone has been one of the most important improvements in the production and image recognition of the region. This subzone has strict regulations for grapes allowed in the blend. It abides by yield requirements from the vineyard and aging requirements before release. Some of the highest regarded wines in all of Tuscany are coming from Chianti Classico. The primary grape in any Chianti is Sangiovese, most producers blend in small proportions of other native grape varieties or even international varieties such as Cabernet in even smaller quantities. The best of these wines can be long-lived, exhibiting bright red fruit flavors with just a touch of tomato leaf aromatics, an energetic acid backbone with moderate tannins.
Brunello di Montalcino
Nestled right around the town of Montalcino, Brunello is famed for its bigger and even longer-lived style of Sangiovese. Although the region has a long history of winemaking, it wasn’t until the late 1970’s that it received any real recognition. The wine is made entirely from the Brunello clone of Sangiovese called Sangiovese Grosso. The region is south of the Chianti zone and significantly warmer, the heat variation contributes to the bigger style of wines. Alongside the Brunellos is the lighter, more approachable in its youth style, Rosso di Montalcino. Rosso di Montalcino is typically made from an estate’s younger vines that produce a fruitier style of wine. Although delicious, Rosso di Montalcino isn’t typically intended to be aged or taken quite as seriously as Brunello.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
This is a region that causes a lot of confusion for American wine drinkers. It is often confused with the grape variety Montepulciano which is typically grown in southern Italy. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is another Sangiovese dominant region, focused on the Prugnolo Gentile clone of the grape. The region is due east of Montalcino around the town of Montepulciano, the wines are typically softer and less tannic than either Chianti or Brunello.
This region has largely saved the reputation of not only Tuscan wine but of Italian wine as a whole. With Chianti being one of the most famous regions in the country and producing sub-par wines in the middle of the last century, interest in Italian fine wine was at an all-time low. At the hands of just a couple of producers, Tenuta San Guido and Marchesi Antinori, took a chance on Bordeaux varieties and created the style that pushed Tuscany in the right direction. One of the biggest risks in the creation of the Super Tuscan, was working outside of the DOCG system. To include French varieties in the blend, San Guido and Antinori had to declassify their wines and sell them as Vino da Tavola. If it wasn’t for these dedicated winemakers declassifying their wines to ensure that they were able to produce the best wine they could, Tuscany may not have been nearly as regarded in the world of wine as it is today. Many of the producers of Super Tuscans reside on the coast, where the use of French grapes is permitted within the appellation. The climate here is slightly cooler than the more inland regions, which helps maintain some of the varietal characteristics of the French grapes. Today Super Tuscans enjoy some of the top Bolgheri prices in the country for their bold, sultry reds.
Tuscany is certainly famed for its red wines, but their whites certainly deliver. With under 15% of the total wine production being dedicated to white grapes, these wines are easy to miss. Trebbiano Toscano is fairly neutral but is often blended with the more aromatic Malvasia. Towards the coast in Maremma, producers have taken a liking to Vermentino, known for its bright citrus flavors and refreshing finish; it is perfect for the local seafood.
Today Tuscany produces some of the worlds most sought after wines, from nearly all of its regions. Some of the most recognized producers are:
- Fattoria di Fèlsina (Chianti)
- Fontodi (Chianti)
- Isole e Olena (Chianti)
- Biondi Santi (Brunello di Montalcino)
- Altesino (Brunello di Montalcino)
- Valdicava (Brunello di Montalcino)
- Livio Sassetti (Brunello di Montalcino)
- Tenuta San Guido (Super Tuscan)
- Ornellaia (Super Tuscan)
- Antinori (Super Tuscan)
- Bibi Graetz(Super Tuscan)
Food and Wine of Tuscany
It’s almost impossible to think of Italian food without thinking of bread and red sauce, there is almost no region more perfect to apply those preconceived notions to than Tuscany. The region is famous for its Cucina Povera or poor cooking, based around simple hyperlocal ingredients to make exquisite food. What better wines to pair with the local cuisine, than those produced in the surrounding vineyards?
Chianti plays extremely well with all the local bean dishes from zuppa di fagioli (bean soup) to fagioli con salsiccia (beans and sausage). Maybe a Super Tuscan with Bistecca Fiorentina, or the variety of braised game. You may think of Piedmont when you think of truffles, but the hills of Tuscany have been known to produce copious amounts of both black and white truffles, that pair beautifully with a well-aged Brunello di Montalcino. In the coastal cities, it is nearly impossible to avoid seafood, all of which would benefit from a glass of cold Vermentino. Ultimately, you would have to be trying to have a bad time to not find a delicious pairing of Tuscan food and wine.
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