Tuscan wines, particularly Tuscan red wines, have improved out of all recognition during the course of the past 45 years. This generalisation applies almost universally throughout the Region of Tuscany to the extent that one no longer has to search for a good wine but rather for either an outstanding wine and/or a wine that particularly suits ones taste. The Tuscany DOC and DOCG rules have changed for the better (for example, there is no longer a requirement for trebbiano or malvasia grapes in Chianti Classico) and are applied with greater strictness than in earlier days, including a significant percentage of wines being subjected to “surprise” analysis. In addition, there are now many wines designated IGT that are outstanding in taste. IGT stands for Indicazione Geografica Tipica and means that 85% of the grapes used to make the wine come from the designated territory. IGT wines were therefore foreseen to be and often are the equivalent of the old “vino da tavola”. However, there are also many truly excellent wines having a composition that does not match the local DOCG requirement. These are consequently labelled IGT but are infinitely superior to many normal IGT quaffing wines.
Here we provide a few links and recommendations that are updated from time to time as I come across Tuscan wines that are unusually good and that provide value for money.
For information on how to arrange wine tastings of Tuscan wines on the estates that produce them, please refer to our page on Chianti Wine Tours.
ITALIAN AND TUSCAN WINE GRAPES
• Tabulated information with brief descriptions of the grapes traditionally and currently used in Italian wines and Tuscan wines in particular:indigenous (autochthonous) Italian wine grape varietals.
• A list of indigenous Tuscan wine grapes with lengthier descriptions.
SUPER TUSCAN WINES
• “Super-Tuscan” wines – Mario Incisa della Rocchetta and his Sassacaia, and Antinori and his Tignanello, the first so-called super-Tuscan wines made from a blend of indigenous (usually sangiovese) grapes and imported grape varietals (usually French, especially merlot and cabernet franc).
CHIANTI AND ITS WINES
• The tragical and dolefull historie of Chianti – Chianti – the evolution of a DOCG wine – a brief history of the fall and rise of one of the world’s best-known and most-loved red wines, from a sangiovese-based plonk watered down with undistinguished white grapes to its marvellous present-day incarnation, still sangiovese-based but with taste- and colour-enhancing blends incorporating merlot, cabernet franc and other exotic and indigenous grapes.
• The three Chiantis – Geographical Chianti, winemaking Chianti and Chianti Classico.
• A brief note on Vin Santo, the wine of friendship in Tuscany.
• The Consorzio del Vino Chianti Classico Gallo Nero owns and oversees the use of the “Gallo Nero” (black rooster) trademark that guarantees a bottle of real Chianti wine.
• Chianti Classico wine region of Tuscany – accommodations, Chianti wine tasting, Chianti Classico map
• A few of many recently up-and-coming Chianti properties. First, six very good and justly-priced Chianti Classicos and their IGTs:
– Azienda Agricola Savignola Paolina – located near Lamole and Panzano, produces an excellent IGT named Il Granaio. It also has an attractive tasting room that once housed the olive oil press and where groups may organise vertical tastings.
– Terre di Melazzano – located near Greve in Chianti and produces sound Chianti Classico as well as a Riserva and a new Rosata (rosé). The Azienda has a well-organised tasting and direct sales room for its wines and olive oil, and it also offers accommodation if you would like to stay on a working vineyard. Terre di Melazzano also does wholesale exports throughout the world.
– Podere San Cresci is located at the Romanesque Pieve of the same name above Greve in Chianti. Sergio Ballini produces an excellent, competitively-priced Chianti Classico together with an outstanding IGT composed of a blend of cabernet franc and merlot. Becherale, named after the Borro del Becherale below the Podere San Cresci vineyards, is the newest IGT from Podere San Cresci.
–Azienda Agricola Le Regge makes a Chianti Classico Riserva from Sangiovese grapes with a small addition of Cabernet Sauvignon and Canaiolo, a Chianti Classico from Sangiovese plus some Merlot and Canaiolo, and an excellent Rosso Toscana IGT composed of 50% Carbernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot. This winery is located just outside Greve in Chianti.
– Azienda Agricola Corte di Valle offers wine tours, direct sales, their own saffron and B&B accommodation in the main villa of the winery (rather than in farm buildings, as is usually the case). They are located at Greti, a few km from Greve in Chianti.
• More expensive, prize-winning wines include:
– Castello Vicchiomaggio has been famous for many years both for its architecture and for its wines. The castle has a restaurant and provides a highly-reputed combination of wine tasting and lunch.
– Castello di Verrazzano, also located in the Val di Greve near Greve in Chianti and offers an interesting wine tour and wine tastings. The castle is the ancestral home of the navigator Giovanni di Verrazzano and the interesting small museum dedicated to him forms part of the tour.
– Molino di Grace is a relative new-comer (restoration of the property began in 1996) that has achieved international fame with remarkable rapidity. The vineyards are located near Panzano in Chianti and the wines are a product of the genius of Franco Bernabei, the oenologist.
WINES OF SOUTHERN TUSCANY
South of Sienna and south of the last outpost of Chianti territory (Castelnuovo Berardenga), there are two further important wine-producing areas, both in the Val d’Orcia. These are Montalcino and Montepulciano.
• Brunello di Montalcino – brunello is the local name for the sangiovese grape and Brunello di Montalcino must be composed 100% of the local brunello clone of sangiovese. Although the modern rules for making Brunello were first laid down by the Biondi Santi family in the late 1880s, the current industry has its roots in the 1960s when there were still only a handful of producers. The normali selection is released onto the market 50 months after harvest and the riserva is released a year later. The current aging requirements were established in 1998 and require that Brunellos are to be aged in wood for 2 years and at least 4 months in the bottle before release. Brunellos usually reach their prime six to eight years after harvest.
• Rosso di Montalcino – rosso is the second DOC of Montalcino. This wine may not be released prior to 1 September of the year following the vintage. It is required to be 100% brunello grape grown in a strictly delimited zone around Montalcino. In general these wines are vini da tavola but some estates are producing Rosso di Montalcino of very high quality, especially in good years. In some cases they are as good or better than many Brunellos of the same year.
• Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is a DOCG produced in the vineyards surrounding Montepulciano. Unlike Brunello di Montalcino, it is a blend made primarily from the sangiovese grape varietal known locally as prugnolo gentile (minimum 70%), blended with canaiolo nero (10%–20%) and small amounts of other local varieties such as mammolo. White grapes are no longer required. The earliest reference to Montepulciano’s wines refers to the establishment of a wholesaler in the town on October 17 1350. In 1549, Sante Lancerio, bottler for Pope Paul III Farnese, referred to Montepulciano’s wines as “most perfect, fit for gentlemen.” In the 17 C, Francesco Redi, a celebrated native of Arezzo, wrote, “Montepulciano of all wines is king.”
Blending has tended to make these wines very similar to one another in the past, but three changes have given new life to Vino Nobile. First was the recognition of the DOCG in 1980. The second was the formation of a new DOC, Rosso di Montepulciano, in 1989 for exactly the same grape blend. This has allowed producers to reclassify some of the wines originally intended for Vino Nobile di Montepulciano to the Rosso di Montepulciano DOC. As a result, lesser wines can be used in the new DOC and this has raised the overall quality of wines sold under the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG. Even more importantly, the increasing impact of very talented oenologists throughout Tuscany has enhanced quality and individuality.