The history of viticulture in Tuscany dates back to its settlements by the Etruscans in the 8th century BC. Today, Tuscany is home to some of the world’s most notable wine regions. There are over thirty DOC (Controlled Origin Denomination) and half a dozen of DOCG (Controlled and Guaranteed Origin Denomination) wine classes. In the 1970s a new class of wines - known in the trade as Super Tuscans - emerged. These wines are considered of very high quality, command high prices and have become cult wines.
The Sangiovese grape is Tuscanys’ most prominent grape, however, many different clonal varieties exist. Cabernet Sauvignon has been planted in Tuscany for over 250 years, but has only recently become associated with the region due to the rise of the Super Tuscans. Other international varieties include Cabernet franc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot noir, Sauvignon blanc and Syrah. Of the many local red grape varieties Canaiolo, Colorino, Malvasia Nera and Mammolo are the most widely planted. For Tuscan white wines, Trebbiano is the most widely planted variety followed by Malvasia, Vermentino and Vernaccia.
Chianti and Chianti Classico (DOCG)
The zone for Chianti was defined in 1716 and, in 1874, Barone Ricasoli invented the “recipe” for Chianti: Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Malvasia The territory of Chianti runs on a north/south axis, from Florence down to Siena. It’s the famous land of vineyards and hilltop towns, with Greve, Radda and Castellina forming a triangle in the very heart of Chianti (the Chianti Classico).
The typical Chianti route is the Via Chiantigiana (N222), which winds up and down through the hills and valleys of this most popular area. The predominant grape variety is Sangiovese, but the laws allow for an addition of between 10 and 15% of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. A Riserva wine is one that has been aged longer before being released.
There are 5 DOC zones: Chianti Rufina (north east of Florence, produces some of the most complex and long-lived wines in Chianti), Chianti dei Colli Aretini (the hills around Arezzo produce a medium-bodied Chianti, soft and best drunk young), Chianti dei Colli Senesi (from the hills to the south and west of Siena, this is the largest Chianti sub-zone), Chianti dei Colli Fiorentini (all styles of Chianti, from light everyday stuff to some excellent Riserva), Chianti Montalbano (west of Florence).
In the 18th century, the producers of the Carmignano region (near Prato to the west of Florence) developed a tradition of blending Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon, long before the practice became popularized by the Super Tuscan.
Brunello is the name of the local Sangiovese variety that is grown around the village of Montalcino. Located south of the Chianti Classico zone, the Montalcino range is drier and warmer than Chianti. The wines tend to greater power and longevity than Chianti, with perhaps less finesse. They can command huge prices. Brunello di Montalcino wines are required to be aged for at least four years prior to being released. In 1984, the Montalcino region was granted the DOC designation of Rosso di Montalcino. Often called “Baby Brunello”, this wine was developed to boost cash flow whilst waiting for the Brunello to age, but has found its own following, with many viewing it as more a Chianti style.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (DOCG)
The DOCG covers the red wine of the Montepulciano area, in the hills south-east of Siena. The Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is required to age two years prior to release, with an additional year if it is to be a riserva. The recent use of French oak barrels have increased the body and intensity of the wines. The Rosso di Montepulciano is aged in oak barrels for 1 year only.
Morellino di Scansano (DOCG)
Maremma is not only home to the Super Tuscan Sassicaia, but also to Tuscany’s newest DOCG, the Morellino di Scansano, which makes a fragrant, dry Sangiovese based wine.
In addition to the great, well-known and appreciated reds, the Tuscan production includes a few distinguishable whites, the most notable among them being, without doubt, the Vernaccia di San Gimignano (DOC). Other delicious whites include the Bianco d’Elba (from the Elba Island), Bianco di Bolgheri, Vermentino, Bianco di Pitigliano and Bianco di Val di Nievole.
Tuscany is also known for the Vin Santo (Holy Wine), a delightful dessert wine, amber from oxidation and made from Malvasia or Trebbiano grapes which have been dried in cool airy huts.