Understanding Tuscan Wines
If you are planning a trip to Tuscany than you must make room for a day to explore its rich wine country. This article will help give you a brief description of the different wines you can find throughout the region. If you want to start planning your wine tasting adventure, please read my post: Guide to Wine Tasting in Tuscany.
Italy in general and Tuscany in particular are known for their red wines. While northern Italy is associated with plentiful white wines, Tuscany’s most recognized white is from the Vernaccia grape grown near San Gimignano. The red wine grape most identified in the region is Sangiovese. However, other red wine grapes are widely grown and utilized including Cabernet Savignon, Merlot, and Canaiolo. Tuscany’s most identified red wine is Chianti, which is primarily made from Sangiovese.
The Chianti wine region is spread across a wide area from Pisa to east of Florence to south of Siena with overlapping DOC and DOCG regions, and wines made from Sangiovese grapes within this region can be called Chianti (minimum 80% Sangiovese). This dispersed area is categorized into 7 sub-areas: Chianti Classico, Colli Arentini, Colli Fiorentini, Colline Pisane, Colli Senesi, Chianti Montalbano, and Chianti Rufina. Chianti Classico is the largest, most well known and is the area most people generally consider when Chianti is mentioned. Chianti wines from Chianti Classico are specifically identified with the Gallo Nero (“Black Rooster”) label. Though some have come to believe the Black Rooster is indicative of higher quality, it is only a label indicating the wine is from the region. While the winemakers within this region have all worked to improve the standards, the quality, price, and likeability will vary considerably. You should note that a bottle of wine simply labeled Chianti is likely to be from grapes grown from a combination of the Chianti regions.
Gallo Nero (Black Rooster) on a Chianti Classico Bottle
The most prestigious Tuscan wine is Brunello di Montalcino, produced only from Sangiovese grapes, which are grown around the medieval town of Montalcino located some 40 km SSW of Siena. This area is somewhat warmer and slightly drier than the Chianti Classico region, and thus the wines tend to be bolder than their Sangiovese counterparts. Brunello is required to be aged 4 years, with at least two years in oak, and the reserves require 5 years aging with two and a half years in oak. Brunello thus tends to be more expensive than other Sangiovese wines and will not disappoint the palate.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is a DOCG wine in the Montepulciano area about 25 km east of Montalcino. This wine must be at least 80% Sangiovese.
In more recent years, winemakers have extended the boundaries of traditions and have started developing wines known as Super Tuscans. These typically are blends of a variety of red wine grapes and the makers have chosen not to adhere to the strict labeling requirements identified above. Perhaps the most well known are Tignanello, which is from Sangiovese grapes grown in the Chianti Classico region, and Sassicaia, a cabernet sauvignon wine made in the Bolgheri region near the Tuscan coast.
In my opinion, the Maremma area, (an area containing Bolgheri) which is along the coast southwest of Florence, offers some exciting wines that are not as well known as their Tuscan relatives identified earlier, but certainly produces some complex and well structured wines: Bianco di Pitigliano and Morellino di Scansano are the two most famous.
Vin Santo served with Cantuccini
Finally, a discussion of Tuscan wines wouldn’t be complete without mentioning its famous dessert wine, Vin Santo. Made primarily from the Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes, it tends to be expensive due to the 4 year plus process to make true Vin Santo. Vin Santo is often served with Cantuccini, or biscotti as they are called in North America.