While winemaking certainly didn’t originate in Tuscany (Toscana), the first steps toward perfecting it did. The history of winemaking in Tuscany goes back to Etruscan times and enjoys an unbroken chronology up to the present day.
The Nature of Tuscan Wineries
Tuscany is a land of rolling hills and valleys. Fog creeps into the valleys but usually leaves the hilltops unaffected. Most of the best vineyard sites are on the south and south-eastern facing hillsides at elevations from around 650—1,650 feet. Vineyards dedicated to white varieties are found at slightly higher elevations. Most Tuscan wineries are small family operations, many having remained under family control for many generations. Most of Tuscany’s finest wines are handcrafted from beginning to end in relatively small quantities and may be difficult to find outside major urban centres or wine merchants that specialize in Italian wines such as Wine Expo in Santa Monica, California.
Tuscan Grape Varieties
Sangiovese, of course, is the most widely planted red grape in all of Italy; its homeland is Tuscany and no other province in Italy or country beyond Italy’s shores has been able to replicate the magnificent quality that moved Cosimo III de’ Medici to declare Chianti the world’s first delimited controlled appellation in 1716. Sangiovese was never considered to produce a complete wine even in its Chianti homeland; so, a formula for “rounding it out” was developed by Baron Bettino Ricasoli in the mid-19th century. His formula, consisting of 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, 10% Malvasia (later amended to allow Trebbiano), and 5% other Tuscan varieties. This formula led to thin, acidic wines that were offered to the international market in straw-covered bottles known as fiascos. The term fiasco remains with us defining a ludicrous failure. Everything changed in 1996 when Italian wine law was amended to allow up to 100% Sangiovese in the Chianti mix and included a substantial listing of acceptable varieties to be used, including international varieties. So, today’s Chiantis are very likely the best ever made.
Vernaccia is Tuscany’s best white variety and a special clone grows around the scenic town of San Gimignano under DOCG protection. Many consider it Italy’s best white variety, competitive with Arneis, Greco, and Fiano.
Vino Nobile and Brunello
These very distinguished wines come from two small villages south of the Chianti zones. Both are distinguished by indigenous, superior clones of Sangiovese. Vino Nobile is restricted to the town of Montepulciano. It’s Sangiovese clone, Prugnolo Gentile, is blended with small amounts of Canaiolo (for colour) and Mammolo (for aromatics). Brunello, often considered one of Italy’s greatest wines, is pure Sangiovese from the Sangiovese Grosso clone. It is the product of Montalcino’s 300+ producers and always commands a high price. It is best enjoyed ten or more years after the vintage.
Tuscan White Varieties Reviews
2005 Panizzi Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG; 13.5% alc.
Round, fruity, appealing Vernaccia with a very faint background sweetness from ageing in small oak barrels. Delicious as a stand-alone wine but works very well with light food courses such as grilled vegetables. Highly recommended.
2007 Tiberini Pulcinculo Bianco Maturato IGT; 14.5% alc.
Unlike any other Italian wine we’ve tasted, this substantial white wine made from Pulcinello grapes is aged in large neutral oak barrels. Its slightly oxidative nose and flavour are reminiscent of a dry Sherry and could be successfully served as a cocktail wine with nuts and olives.
2007 Fattoria di Faltognano Chianti DOCG; 13% alc.
Perhaps the finest inexpensive Chianti in the current market. This Chianti, from a winery that has remained in the same family since 1000 A.D., offers an excellent balance of fruit and acidity, rich, ripe, spicy cherry notes, and moderate tannins. Delicious and recommended.
2005 Fattoria di Faltognano Chianti Montalbano DOCG; 13% alc.
This is Faltognano’s flagship Chianti from Montalbano, a distinguished zone in Chianti’s northwest. At a price point of $36, look no further for a superior example of great Chianti. Rich, deep, complex, and perfectly balanced. Highly recommended.
Other Tuscan Reds
2007 Santa Vicenza Morellino di Scansano DOCG; 14% alc.
A full-bodied, deeply coloured Sangiovese with small amounts of Ciliegiolo and Alicante added. Morellino is an alternate name for Sangiovese. A fruit-forward inexpensive wine more in line with New World rather than traditional Italian style.
2004 Tiberini Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG; 14% alc., $41
Excellent Vino Nobile at a very attractive price. Wonderful food-friendly wine. Highly recommended.
2003 Marchese Pancrazi Rosso Casaglia IGT; 13% alc., $36
One of the rare bottlings of 100% Colorino, a grape that is beginning to replace Canaiolo in Chianti blends. An interesting, very dark and dense wine whose primary virtue is to add depth of flavour and deeper colour to other base wine.
2000 Cerbaiona di Diego Molinari Brunello di Montalcino DOCG; 14.5% alc., $101
After ten years this Brunello still drinks like a youthful wine. A very fine, exquisitely balanced wine, to be sure, but at its price point we are more inclined to spring for a first-rate Chianti that achieves maturity in half the time. Choose this Brunello for long-term cellaring.