Tuscany is a treasure trove of historical treasures unique in the world: it is rich in cities of art and small picturesque villages with immense cultural heritage, but it is also extraordinary for its bewitching panoramas made of the bucolic countryside and gentle hills.
Tuscany has forty-one Denominazioni di origine controllata (DOC) and eleven Denominazioni di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) and six sub-categories of IGT wines today. Tuscany is one of the most famous and prolific wine regions anywhere in Europe. Climate is a vital factor in this region's success as a wine region. Warm, temperate coastal areas are contrasted by inland areas where increased diurnal temperature variation helps to maintain the grapes' balance of sugars, acidity and aromatics. One variety that particularly thrives on these hillside vineyards is Tuscany’s signature red grape, Sangiovese. In Montalcino it goes by the name Brunello, whence Brunello di Montalcino. In Montepulciano, it is known as Prugnolo Gentile. Under the name Morellino it is the grape used to make Morellino di Scansano. Sangiovese also features in Chianti, in which it is joined by small amounts of Canaiolo and Colorino, as well as increasing quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Vernaccia di San Gimignano is the name of both the white grape and wine produced in Tuscany and was the first Italian wine to receive a DOC appellation in the late 1960s, earning DOCG status in the early 1990s. Wines are usually bright, citrusy, and crisp, showing more of a mineral profile with age.
Vermentino does best in poorly fertile soils and salty marine air, with dry climates and bright sun exposure. Vermentino white wine can range from light and fresh to structured and high in alcohol, offering a large range of flavors and aromas. Typically Vermentino wines are dominant in citrus to ripe tropical fruit flavors with floral and herbal notes and a saline finish.
Sangiovese is the crown jewel of Tuscany. It was introduced by the Etruscan population, and its name recalls the Etruscan word “Sanisva,” which refers to a funeral offering. Legend also suggests that since the red grapes were very juicy, rich, and strong, they were thought to be associated with the glorious blood of Jupiter, as the name suggests. Sangiovese stands on its own as a monovarietal but is also commonly blended with softer grapes to lend to the final wine’s composure. The soil for this varietal is crucial and can make a big difference in the wine’s quality and how its aromatic profile is expressed.
Before DNA typing existed, Ciliegiolo used to be commonly confused with Sangiovese and other red grapes growing in Tuscany and Umbria. Its name comes from the Italian for “cherries,” which is the dominant aroma that characterizes the wine. Often used to blend, Ciliegiolo yields fruit-forward, crisp, slightly sweet wine with a graceful, refined mouthfeel, red cherry-berry notes, and smooth tannins. It does not need much in bottle aging, but even though drinkable young, it has the strength of character and real interest.
This red grape varietal takes its name from the Latin “dies caniculares,” meaning “the dog days of August,” when this grape changes its color. Until the 1800s (pre-phylloxera), Canaiolo was the main grape of the Chianti blend. It was then switched to predominantly Sangiovese with Canaiolo added for fruitiness and the ability to soften the tannins of powerful Sangiovese. The two meld well together, and it is still commonly added to Chianti blends today. On its own, Canaiolo wines are soft and mellow, with elegant aromatics, herbaceous flavors, and gentle tannins.
With the rise of Super Tuscans, the most famous of which come from Bolgheri, Cabernet Sauvignon has become a much more prominent variety in Tuscany. But despite the relatively recent appearance of such “international” French varieties in Tuscan wines, native red varieties still reign supreme with Sangiovese as King. For white wines, Vernaccia produces the region's best dry white wines, while many others exist, generally a blend of Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia Bianca. The best expression of this marriage is the famous sweet wine, Vin Santo. Tuscan cuisine is based on “cucina povera,” a rural style based on seasonal and natural ingredients. These include olive oil, unsalted bread, wild mushrooms, vegetables, and either salt-cured or grilled meats that pair well with age-worthy red wines.