Tuscany. The mere name, for the initiated, conjures up images of the very finest that la bell’Italia ~ “beautiful Italy” ~ holds in store. From its resort-studded seacoast to dazzling white marble mountaintops, from treasures of art and architecture to pastoral farmland, Tuscany truly offers something for everyone. You’ll discover timeless medieval villages amid the rolling hills. Grand cities, steeped in centuries of history and tradition.
While you revel in everything Tuscan, you’ll enjoy some of the most superb cuisine to be found anywhere ~ and to complement them, world-class wines with finesse, style, and an unmistakable “sense of place.” The Sangiovese grape forms the backbone of all but one of the “denominated” red wines of Tuscany. These 11 sub-regions show distinct differences in what is known as “terroir“: the effects of soil, terrain, climate, and other naturally occurring factors in the vineyards that can strongly influence the finished wines.
4 Tuscan wines that use Sangiovese grapes
Among these, four stand out as the most widely recognized Tuscan wines in the world:
Wines from the Chianti Classico DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, or “guaranteed controlled designation of origin”) ~ a unique zone in the geographic heart of the larger Chianti district ~ is known for its elegance, balance, perfume and concentration, and its long, rich finish.
The Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, made from 100% Sangiovese in Tuscany’s driest premium wine region, yields wines with high acidity and mouthfilling ripe fruit.
The wines of the Chianti DOCG, from sub-zones that spread over a wide area (and which include the highly regarded Chianti Rufina), are often lighter and more “easy drinking.”
And Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, from slopes in the southeast, is deep in color, with firm structure and tannin.
History of Chianti Wines
These wines may be iconic in Tuscany today, but this hasn’t always been the case. Though the Etruscans had been making wine in the Chianti region since about 600 BC, and may have developed an early form of Sangiovese, the question is still open.
By the 18th century, Grand Duke Cosimo de’ Medici himself established the Lega del Chianti (Chianti League) to unite the region, elevate overall quality, and help promote Chianti’s top-ranked wines. In 1716, in fact, his edict established the world’s very first exclusive wine-growing area, protected by law. This doctrine was refined even further, from 1924 on, by Italy’s first consortium of grape growers and winemakers.
In 1932, when a decree divided Chianti into seven distinct areas, wine made within the original geographic limits gained permission to use the term “Chianti Classico,” reflecting its centuries-old claim to the region’s superior quality.
Through the decades that followed, Chianti Classico continued developing its distinct identity. In 1996 it acquired its own DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, or “guaranteed controlled designation of origin”), officially separating it from the remainder of Chianti. This prestigious step, and the added regulations that came with it, have helped elevate Chianti Classico’s quality and image to new heights. Another distinction that Chianti Classico wine has acquired, for its own exclusive use, is the eye-catching Gallo Nero (black rooster) seal, on the neck of the bottle. Additionally, a serial number enables the consumer to track specific details of the wine’s origin.
As these wines evolve, winemakers strive toward raising the bar even higher. By planting different “clones” (sub-varieties) of Sangiovese, in different “microclimates”; modifying grape blends, which, for example, are no longer required to include white grapes; updating winemaking techniques and equipment; they continue, vintage by vintage, to enhance the superb wines that will ultimately grace our tables.
Though Sangiovese is the most widely planted red grape varietal in Italy, it can be somewhat tricky to handle. (With a name that means “Blood of Jupiter,” this is no surprise!) It needs just the right climate and weather to develop and ripen properly during its unusually long growing season.
Spring “bud break” comes dangerously early, and the thin-skinned grape clusters can rot if autumn rains start before the October harvest. But under the right conditions, and in the right hands, Sangiovese can be transformed into a true masterpiece in the wineglass.
Sangiovese in the glass and on the table
Complex and ageworthy, these wines can show a broad range of aromas and flavors, including tart red fruits such as cherry, berries and pomegranate; tea, spice, chocolate, tobacco, leather, herbs, nuts and vanilla; and even licorice and tar.
Overall, wines made primarily from Sangiovese have a solid, medium-weight tannin structure, moderate alcohol levels, and generous levels of acidity. All of these features make Sangiovese-based wines exceptionally fine partners to food.
And when it comes to the classic foods of Tuscany, one needn’t look any further for quintessential Italian cuisine. Top-flight olive oils, juicy ripe tomatoes, fragrant fresh herbs, and vegetables from artichokes to zucchini all thrive in the Tuscan sunshine. Home cooks and restaurant chefs alike prepare an endless array of pasta specialties. Fishermen bring in a vast assortment of ocean treasures. Hunters bag game large and small. Foragers uncover wild mushrooms in secret spots. Farmers raise sheep, goats and cattle for cheese and meat.
Tuscan cooking is honest, direct and full-flavored. And for the incomparable wine ~ anchored by Sangiovese ~ that accompanies it, it’s a perfect match!
Let’s pour ourselves a glass, and raise a toast together to the treasure trove that is Tuscany. Come for a visit~ you will never want to leave. Salute!