Tuscany, the Italian province centred on Florence, produces some of the most famous wines of Italy. The traditional rich strong reds are a good accompaniment to the meat and game so typical of Tuscan cuisine. The production of white wines has recently increased, while the dessert wines which were always popular locally can now be found for export. While there are many more Tuscan varieties of wine, all the ones mentioned in the entry are widely exported and should be easily available in other countries.
Some Terms and Descriptions
The labelling of Italian wines is quite strictly controlled. This list explains the main terms used. However, some excellent wines may be produced outside this system, and therefore labelled only as table wines. The main traditional grape variety in Tuscany is the Sangiovese grape, used to make all the older red wines.
DOC (Demoninazione di Origine Controllata) - The wine must come from a particular carefully-defined area of land, and be produced by a traditional method.
DOCG (Demoninazione di Origine Controllata Garantita) - The extra G is the sign of a wine of guaranteed high quality.
Classico after the name of the locality specifies that the wine comes from the original, oldest wine-growing area.
Riserva after the name means that the wine has been aged longer, usually for at least two and-a-half years before bottling.
Vino da Tavola means table wine.
This is easily the most famous Italian wine. Its round, straw-covered bottles could once be seen in Italian restaurants all over the world. Unfortunately, these bottles became associated with cheaper, poor quality wine and are used by very few producers nowadays. Chianti is made from the Sangiovese grape, though traditionally a variety of other grapes could be added. A recent trend to use only the Sangiovese grape has improved the overall standard. There are actually seven different types of DOC Chianti, produced over an area stretching far beyond the original district. The size of the area meant that at one time the quality was very variable. While Chianti is now officially a DOCG wine, there is still some variation in quality. There is also quite a variation in taste, from quite light fruity younger types to the complex, richer older Riserva wines.
Chianti Classico is produced in the actual district of Chianti, the rolling countryside between Florence and Siena. The beauty of this area, with its vines, olives and cypresses, has attracted so many foreign, and especially English, residents that it is sometimes referred to as 'Chiantishire.' The limits of this district were set out by the Grand Duke Cosimo III in 1716. This area still produces most of the best Chianti. These richer, more mature Chiantis are considered a good accompaniment to various dishes of red meat and game.
Another particularly good Chianti district is the area northeast of Florence which produces Chianti Rufina. Most of the other Chianti districts are named after the nearest towns: Chianti Colli Senesi from the hills near Siena, Chianti Collini Pisane from the hills near Pisa, and so on. These outer Chianti districts tend to produce lighter and less complex wines than Chianti Classico and Chianti Rufina. These fresher, younger Chiantis are considered a suitable accompaniment to a wide range of dishes, including pasta dishes, risottos, roast chicken and other white meats.
Brunello di Montalcino
This is often considered the best Italian wine, and is probably the most expensive. Montalcino is a small hill town south of Siena, which used to be particularly poor. However, in the 19th Century a local landowner developed the Brunello wine, from a special variety of the Sangiovese grape, and the fortunes of the whole area have risen as a result. Brunello di Montalcino is a rich, dark-red wine, with a complex taste, which ages well. Since Brunello can cost €200 or more for one bottle of wine, many tourists settle for the cheaper, but still excellent DOC Rosso di Montalcino, a younger wine made from the same grapes. The area also produces the white dessert wine Moscadello di Montalcino.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Montepulciano is another southern Tuscan hill town, to the west of Montalcino. Its famous DOCG wine, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, is another rich dark-red wine made in the classic style from Sangiovese grapes. It is as complex and nearly as expensive as Brunello. Both Vino Nobile and Brunello are seen as ideal wines to accompany game such as pheasant or wild boar, and that favourite Tuscan dish bistecca alla fiorentina, a particularly large and tasty steak. Vegetarians who want to sample these wines should try them with mature local cheese such as pecorino or with dishes based on the strongly-flavoured wild porcini mushrooms.
Tignanello and Sassicaia
These wines were developed in recent years by wine-makers who began to experiment with French grape varieties and new wine-making methods. Since these did not fit the strict DOC and DOCG rules, the end result was the production of complex, expensive wines which are sold under the label of Vino da Tavola or table wine. These wines are sometimes referred to as 'Super-Tuscans.' Tignanello is produced in the heart of the Chianti district, using a mixture of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese grapes. It was developed by the aristocratic Antinori family, whose roots in the Chianti district go back 600 years, and whose labels proudly boast of '26 Generations.' The Antinori wine-producing empire includes Californian and Hungarian estates, as well as vineyards in the Orvieto district of Umbria. Another famous 'super-Tuscan' wine is Sassicaia, a Cabernet Sauvignon from near Livorno.
Vernaccia di San Gimignano
This is the most well known Tuscan white wine, partly because of its origin in the area around the famous hill town of San Gimignano. It is made from the Vernaccia grape, and is a light, dry wine of very reliable quality. It is a good wine to drink with seafood, or with Tuscan rabbit stew and other white meat dishes. It also complements cold meats such as prosciutto and salami.
Vin Santo is usually produced outside the DOC system. It is a sweet dessert wine made from grapes that have been left longer on the vines, then laid out on straw mats to partly dry. The best Vin Santo is a dark amber colour and has a rich, fruity apricot taste, but in the worst this is drowned by excessive sweetness. There is a huge variety of this wine in Tuscany since every farm may make some of its own. The traditional name of 'holy wine' is said to arise from a common priestly fondness for this wine. It is best drunk with the local sweet almond biscuits or the rich, nutty cake known as panforte da Siena.