Wine Guide Tuscany
Wine Guide Tuscany – Wine Region Map‘Paradiso terrestre’
There’s little excuse for ignorance of Tuscany’s great wines as the region is awash with fine quality at all levels. But avoid the most strongly branded names and seek out smaller or newer producers. Tuscany’s wine renaissance or rinascimento had its beginnings more than 30 years ago. Its artists include both individual producers and highly trained and experienced enologists that increasingly respond to what is required from both producer and site rather than imposing a uniform style. Outside investment and talent, including Swiss, English and American winemakers and entrepreneurs, also play a part. Since the turn of the century we are seeing more emphasis placed on native grape varieties, new or revived wine growing areas and the importance of expressing something of the wine’s origins or tipicità (typicality). As well as unprecedented quality from Sangiovese (topped up with Canaiolo, Colorino etc), and very good Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, more can now be detected of the different permutations of place, soil and climate. There is also better balance and less oak, allied to greater finesse and elegance.
Wine Region Map
Central Tuscany and the classic appellations
The heart of Tuscany is Chianti Classico, its most historic and still its most important wine zone. The blunder of massive replanting in the 1960s with productive but poor-quality clones has started to be atoned for by recent replantings that have benefited from the research project known as Chianti Classico 2000. While the Chianti Classico DOCG now permits increasing amounts of other, foreign varieties (in many instances still at the expense of natives such as Canaiolo and Colorino), it is still based for the most part on Sangiovese (with pure examples possible since 1996). The leading communes are Greve in Chianti, Barberino Val d’Elsa, Castellina in Chianti, Radda in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti and Castelnuovo Berardenga. Part of the communes of Tavarnelle Val di Pesa and San Casciano Val di Pesa are also included. While there are some discernible differences between each, as important are elevation, specific mesoclimates and soil types (there is much variation within each commune), better identified in sub-zones such as Monti (Gaiole) and Panzano (Greve). Interestingly, in a ‘Chianti Classico 2000’ tasting demonstrating the characteristics of different trialled clones there was as much affinity between wines from different clones grown in the same location, as those from the same clones but different sites. But arguably still more important is the style of winemaking. The use of new oak and variations in fermentation length, type, temperature, etc. all play a significant part in emphasising or smothering differences in terroir. Regular or normale Chianti Classico can be sold with a year’s age, whereas Riservas, which are more likely to have been barrique-aged, are only released from the beginning of the third year after the vintage (i.e. the 2003s from January 2006). While there is a trend to re-establishing Chianti Classico as their leading wine, some producers continue to promote a so-called Super-Tuscan, first created as a vino da tavola when the laws were more restrictive and now often sold under the Toscana IGT. These include varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, blends of the two together and blends of each with Sangiovese. There is also varietal Syrah and even Pinot Nero. This profusion of wine types is repeated in almost every important wine zone in Tuscany.
Chianti Classico is surrounded by several viticultural zones of differing size and importance. Immediately north in the hills closest to Florence, is Chianti Colli Fiorentini. Regular examples are often relatively light but can be characterful and perfumed, in part because they are much more likely to include small percentage of native varieties than Chianti Classico equivalents. North-east of Florence, from hills on either side of the river Sieve (but pressing up against the Apennines) is the small zone of Chianti Rufina where a small number of producers make a soaring, elegant expression of Sangiovese. Intruding into Rufina’s eastern flank is the high-altitude Pomino, notable for its historical inclusion of French varieties and its domination by Frescobaldi. From the other side of Florence are another minor Chianti zone, Chianti Montalbano, and the small but high quality zone of Carmignano. Though revived only since the 1970s there are historical references both to its quality and to the planting of Cabernet Sauvignon, of which 20 per cent may be added to Sangiovese. South of Carmignano and west of Colli Fiorentini is a further small Chianti zone, Chianti Montespertoli. West of Chianti Classico are the medieval towers of San Gimignano. Limited success with the white Vernaccia (see below) has resulted in increased planting of red varieties. Some fine blends, mostly Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, or a combination of these, are sold mainly as Toscana IGT in preference to a newish San Gimignano DOC. Lesser examples of Sangiovese tend to be sold as Chianti Colli Senesi. This zone extends from here south around the lower reaches of Chianti Classico and also surrounds the Brunello and Vino Nobile zones – often giving the fullest and meatiest non-Classico Chianti.
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG is a wine like no other in Tuscany. Here it is hotter and drier than in any other major zone and the bigger, more muscular wines offered by an ever growing number of producers (out of almost 200 in total) have maintained high prices thanks in part to a more singular, focused image that has been effectively promoted both locally and on foreign markets. Yet the quality of these pure Sangiovese (locally called Brunello) wines varies greatly. Excessive woodageing requirements (in large oak casks) were blamed for the wines drying out, especially in lighter years when there is insufficient fruit to support it. However, though the wines are only available from the fifth year after the vintage (the 2010s in 2015) there is now much greater flexibility about the type of wood used to age the wines and some styles are characterised by their use of new oak.
The introduction of Rosso di Montalcino DOC, effectively a second wine, has helped cash flow. Its more accessible, fruit-driven style also means these wines can be drunk much younger, though some examples have better structure and depth than lighter, more forward Brunello and need at least 3–5 years’ age. Some of the most structured and ageworthy Brunello come from the higher ridges (400–500m) but many individual subzones are beginning to emerge – the hill of Montosoli (350m) is the best known. Sant’Antimo DOC covers examples of blends of Sangiovese and other (foreign) varieties as well as varietal examples from other grapes grown in the zone. Between Montalcino and Montepulciano lies the large newish DOC of Orcia centred on the Orcia River valley. Podere Forte gives a startling indication of what is possible from high hillside vineyards. On the south-eastern edge of this zone, near the Umbrian border, is Sarteano, notable for the wines of Tenuta di Trinoro.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG lies to the east of Montalcino around its own small historic town. Unlike Brunello, pure Sangiovese (here called Prugnolo Gentile) was not permitted until very recently and many examples contain a percentage of Canaiolo and sometimes Mammolo. Vino Nobile has had difficulty reclaiming its historic status but there are an increasing number of good producers and most examples are very competitively priced. Lesser vineyards are assigned as Rosso di Montepulciano which is not the same concept as Rosso di Montalcino and most examples are much more modestly structured and for drinking within a couple of years of the vintage. Further east in the Val di Chiana a new Cortona DOC has been created with provision for varietal Merlot and Syrah (and Chardonnay – see below) among other varieties, and is already being utilised by Antinori, Avignonesi and Tenementi D’Alessandro. Further north in the Valdarno (and east of Chianti Classico) is another minor Chianti zone, Chianti Colli Aretini, currently being rescued from its former obscurity by Petrolo and others, though the best wines are sold as Toscana IGT.
Many of Tuscany’s new stars come from within the areas discussed above but increasingly important are the mostly unexploited western and southern areas of viticulture first highlighted by Sassicaia but developed at an accelerating pace over the past couple of decades.
The Tuscan coast and southern Maremma
The most northern of the Tuscan coastal zones is the Colline Lucchesi for wines from slopes on either side of the historic and beautiful town of Lucca. As in the east at Rufina, the vineyards lie close to the Apennines and there is a growing number of progressive producers. Plantings in the more restrictive zone around the town of Montecarlo include several French varieties and many of the best wines from both DOCs are sold as Toscana IGT. Some way south and east of Pisa the hills are demarcated as Terre di Pisa for another of the minor Chianti zones but Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends of high quality are made. Similarly promising wines are being produced from within the Montescudaio DOC which has recently made more provision for non native varieties, though again some of these and many of the Pisane wines are sold as Toscana IGT. From Castello del Terriccio, located on the periphery of these zones but one of the most high-profile producers in the area, it is but a short distance south to the famous zone of Bolgheri. Bolgheri (and the commune of Castagneto Carducci) is where the narrow strip of the coastal Maremma might be said to start properly. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominate but Sangiovese is not completely ignored and the DOC (which includes a single-wine sub-zone for Sassicaia) covers
blends that include any (or all) of the three varieties. There is a mix of both smaller producers, such as Enrico Santini, Michele Satta and Le Macchiole, and big powerful names including Antinori (Guado al Tasso), Gaja (Ca’ Marcanda), Frescobaldi (Ornellaia) and A & G Folonari (Campo del Mare). Upcoming are the wines of a joint venture between Delia Viader of the Napa in California and Piemonte producer Stefano Gagliardo. There is still more potential to the south of Bolgheri. One such hotspot is Suvereto, where Cabernet and Merlot again are favoured and the wines of Tua Rita, Montepeloso and Gualdo del Re have incited others such as Vittorio Moretti of Bellavista (Petra) to join the action. The wider, encompassing DOCG of Val di Cornia adjoins Bolgheri in the north but also contains a southern outcrop north of Piombino on the coast.
The next step south on an emerging coastal patchwork is Massa Marittima which opens out into the southern Maremma. Of emerging importance, it has its own extensive DOC: Monteregio di Massa Marittima. South of Grosseto is Morellino di Scansano DOCG, the most important appellation in the southern Maremma for Sangiovese-based reds (led by Le Pupille). Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are also important here, though only given IGT status. The area between them is also demarcated, as Montecucco DOCG, and connects up with Brunello. Other southern appellations include Parrina, overlooking the coast at Orbetello and centred on the vineyards of a single producer, La Parrina. Sovana DOC extends to the border with Lazio and makes provision not only for Sangiovese-based reds but also varietal Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Most of Italy’s best and most original dry whites can be found under the North-East, Central and Southern Italy sections. In Tuscany there is generally less excitement even if there are reasonable quantities of attractive everyday whites. The problem for long has been the dominance of the humdrum Trebbiano grape. Deciding what to replace it with is rarely a priority for producers in this red-oriented region. Many have worked with Chardonnay (and the new Cortona DOC embraces it) but while a small number of examples are very good, most lack the elegance or class that might inspire greater dedication and even better results. Equally only a handful of examples have emerged with the structure that would guarantee greater longevity. Best known is Vernaccia di San Gimignano which can be reasonably characterful if most examples lack the depth or style that it’s DOCG status implies. Several of the coastal appellations offer whites, including Colline Lucchesi and Montecarlo whose grapes include Sémillon and Roussanne. From Montescudaio, Trebbiano is complemented by Sauvignon Blanc and Vermentino, the latter two also showing good style in Bolgheri. Val di Cornia sanctions Vermentino with Trebbiano and from further south in the Maremma good Vermentino can also be found. Bianco di Pitigliano, which overlaps with the most southern red DOC, Sovana, is a dedicated white wine zone for occasionally characterful Procanico/Greco/ Malvasia blends.
Tuscany’s best and most individual wine from white grapes has to be Vin Santo though it varies enormously in quality, style and sweetness. Made from dried grapes, usually hung from rafters, the best examples tend to be predominantly Malvasia rather than Trebbiano. They range from dry to rich, concentrated and sweet, and from the gently oxidised and fruit-rich (with preserved fruits and citrus peel) to more old-fashioned, more overtly nutty oxidised examples. Like the best extra virgin olive oils, few taste alike. As exciting as it can be, price and quality are often a reflection of the efforts that have gone into its production. Vin Santo del Chianti, Vin Santo del Chianti Classico and Vin Santo di Montepulciano have all obtained DOC status. The one or two good examples of the sweet wine Moscadello di Montalcino DOC (from Moscato Bianco grapes grown in the Brunello zone) are also
worth a try.