Welcome to the final installment of our virtual tour of Italy’s wine regions. Today we explore the wines of Tuscany, celebrating the birthplace of the Renaissance… Toscana, Italy’s fifth largest wine “regione.”
Tuscany is a place of romance and legend, with a history as full-bodied as its wines. Tuscany covers nearly 9,000 square miles and has a population of 3.75 million. The capital is legendary Florence (Firenze), home to such wonders as Michelangelo, Dante and the powerful Medici family, just to name a few.
The wine regions of note are all located in the central part of Tuscany, from Florence in the north to Siena in the center and Montalcino (famous for Brunello) in the south.
Tuscany is the birthplace of three of Italy’s most important red wines:
- Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
- Brunello di Montalcino
Believe it or not, all three of these wines of Tuscany are made from the Sangiovese grape. Yet the wines taste quite different from one another. Why? There are many microclimates and many Sangiovese clones that impart their unique characteristics on the wines.
Americans know “Chianti”as a cheap flask wine, with a woven mesh grass covering. Truth be told, Chianti’s reputation in Italy during the 1960s and ‘70s wasn’t much different. According to Karen MacNeil’s The Wine Bible, “…Tuscany seemed to symbolize a kind of cultural chic. Chianti, in particular, was romantic, earthy ‘European,’ and fit the bohemian esthetic (and budget). But the old Chianti of red checkered tablecloths and amorous evenings was, for the most part, not very good wine. By the 1970s the market for Chianti – and the wine’s reputation – had reached an all-time low… Faced with the possibility of the industry’s demise, a handful of… producers in the mid-1970s began taking the first steps toward making wines that would be the polar opposites of ‘spaghetti Chianti.’”
Today, you find beautiful wines throughout Tuscany, including the three Sangiovese-based wines, Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino. Brunello is considered by many to be the best of these three wines. But it all depends on your taste. I highly recommend trying the three wines side by side to get a better sense of the similarities and differences.
Sangiovese is definitely the name of the game in Tuscany. In the last 25 or so years, Super Tuscans have also been making a name for themselves. My quick take on Super Tuscans is that they are the Italian version of big-bad California wines, very often with Cabernet Sauvignon as the base. While I enjoyed them, I was eager to get back to the classic Italian wines. I knew that I had plenty of California wine waiting for me when I got home ☺
Last but certainly not least, Tuscany is known for Vin Santo (holy or blessed wine), which is a beautiful dessert wine that is thankfully not just used for religious purposes. It’s very often served with biscotti at the end of even the most modest Tuscan meal.
Speaking of meals… Tuscan cuisine is comparatively simple. Olive oil is the base of choice, with legumes, cheese, veggies, fruit and bread accompanying. I was served a beautiful vegetable porridge that went incredibly well with the wines we tasted during our Chianti tasting.
Stories of Toscana could engage and delight for years. Combine that with the region’s wine history and variety, and you could truly spend every summer for the rest of your life there!
I hope you’ve enjoyed exploring the wines of Tuscany, along with the wines of the other Italian regions, as much as I have. If it has enticed you to explore Italian wine a little bit more, either at home or in Italy, I will consider this a worthwhile venture. Thank you for joining me.