By Dinah Leach
Thinking of the region of Tuscany conjures up romantic images for most people, whether they have visited this area of Italy or not: gently rolling hillsides peppered with grape vines and olive trees, and the glow of sunlight, said to be like nowhere else on earth. Add in ancient Roman ruins, Renaissance cities such as Florence with its notorious ruling family (Casa de’ Medici), the sidewalk cafes and beautiful views of the Mediterranean Sea, and you are dreaming of a vacation of a lifetime!
Tuscany (Toscana in Italian) is also a wine and food lovers’ paradise. Tuscany produces much quality wine in a vast number of appellations, some of which are probably very familiar. Red, white and rose wines are all made in Tuscany and are not limited to the region’s “calling card” red grape, Sangiovese. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Nero (same as Pinot Noir in Italy) and many local varieties abound. The local red varieties have names only a mother could love, such as Ciliegiolo, Canaiolo and Prugnolo Gentile.
While red wines dominate, whites are produced from international grapes like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as local white grapes such as Vernaccia, Trebbiano and Vermentino.
Vines are grown along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea all the way inland to the foothills of the Apennines, a mountain range that forms the “spine” of Italy. Chianti Classico DOCG, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG and Bolgheri DOC are probably some of the most important areas of production and the ones you are most likely to have heard of and tasted.
What’s this DOCG and DOC, you ask? These are terms in Italy that limit the production zone of Chianti Classico, for example, to a certain area. If your winery is outside that area, you may not call your wine Chianti Classico. You may think of them sort of like our system here in the United States, the AVA (American Viticultural Area). However, in Italy, producers are also limited to growing certain grapes, are regulated on how long the grapes must be aged in barrel, and must adhere to the vine training system.
Chianti Classico is probably the most well-know of all the appellations in Tuscany. It is located between Florence and Siena. Made from mostly (or all) Sangiovese, the wines are light-to-medium bodied and tend to have flavors of red fruits like cherry and strawberry along with garden herbs like oregano, sage and rosemary. The wines are great food-pairing partners with their high levels of acidity and brightness. Two truly fantastic wines are Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva and Mazzei Fonterutoli Chianti Classico.
Another beloved region of Italy is that of Brunello di Montalcino. Brunello must be made from 100% Sangiovese. These wines appear lighter in color than Chianti and the structure is firmer than that of Chianti. New oak may or may not be used in aging these wines, depending on the producer. Some famous producers in the Montalcino area are Altesino, Castello Banfi and Poggio di Sotto.
Finally, we have the “Super Tuscan” category. These are wines that generally do not qualify for another appellation because producers are using grapes that are not allowed in Brunello di Montalcino, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. They can range from 100% Sangiovese or Cabernet Sauvignon to blends of a wide range of varietals. Italy’s most famous wine is a Super Tuscan, Sassicaia. It is also one of the most expensive wines in all of Italy!
Hopefully, you will be able to visit and see the many wonders of Tuscany and enjoy the wines that are such an integral part of the Tuscan way of life. In the meantime, sit back and visit the region in a bottle of wine!
About the Author: Dinah Leach is the Wine Director and Sommelier for Angelina’s Ristorante of Bonita Springs. You may contact her with any wine questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.