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 bucolic countryside and gentle hills.
Chianti, Brunello di Montepulciano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Super Tuscans from Bolgheri are some of the most famous wines in the world and adored by collectors, and they all hail from the gorgeous region of Tuscany.
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 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 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 offer. Legend also suggests that since the 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 wine, but is also commonly blended with weaker grapes to lend the final wines strength. The soil for this varietal is crucial and can make a big difference in the quality of the wine and how its aromatic profile is expressed.
Before DNA typing existed, Ciliegiolo used to be commonly confused with Sangiovese and other 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 the way of bottle aging, but even though drinkable young, it has 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 blend 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 the 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 varieties still reign supreme. For white wines in this region, keep in mind that Trebbiano is Italy’s most produced white grape and Vermentino has quite a few taste similarities to Sauvignon Blanc and a sweet wine called 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 pairs well with age-worthy red wines.