Tuscany is continuously vying with Piedmont and the Veneto for the title of Italy’s most important wine region. Rightly so, for it produces a colossal amount of premium wine from a multitude of different sub zones and appellations. There are few wine lovers that have not experienced, at one time or another, the region’s holy trinity of Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Noble from the hilltop town of Montepulciano.
These iconic red wines represent three distinctive expressions of the thick skinned Sangiovese grape, a versatile variety that has adapted to Tuscany’s endlessly diverse terroir with impressive results. Chianti Classico, marked by the sign of the Gallo Nero (black rooster) and not to be confused with the more varied Chianti appellation, offers the best starting point for understand Tuscany. The gentle undulating hills between Florence and Siena produce austere, but ethereal red wines that display seductive notes of violet and black cherry. With age they can take on tertiary notes of mushroom and moss; with high acidity and a form tannic backbone. Chianti Classico is the quintessential accompaniment to a host of traditional hearty Italian dishes.
Much further south, in the old town of Montalcino, an even more rustic interpretation of Sangiovese has seen its reputation develop from a cult wine to one carrying serious international prestige. Production has expanded rapidly to meet a seemingly endless thirst (American driven) and as such a dynamic scene of boutique wineries and estates have sprung up. While Brunello commands high prices, fuelled in part by a lengthy stay in wood, a more approachable Rosso di Montalcino provides a credible introduction to area.
Although there is a rejuvenated interest in the production of white wine through the Ansonica and Vernaccia di San Gimignano varieties, it is Sangiovese and its many clones dominate viticulture here. In Montepulciano, another medieval town with a renaissance twist, Sangiovese is known as Prugnolo Gentile and gives gritty red wines with plenty of tannin and red berry fruit. Producer decisions in the cellar often influence the final style of wine, but while generally not as complex, or indeed age worthy as Brunello, it does offer a similar level of rusticity and Tuscan charm.
Although founded in 1990, the DOC of Colli dell’Etruria Centrale is rarely used. It was introduced in order to support ‘alternative’ wines produced in the Chianti and Chianti Classico areas. Whites in particular fit the bill, the majority of which are produced with Trebbiano Toscano.
Colline Lucchesi is produced around the medieval town of Luca in the North West of Tuscany. Sangiovese and Merlot reign here as despite the appellation’s proximity to the coast, varieties such as Vermentino don’t seem to develop the same aromatic profile as it does in the Maremma, Liguria and Sardinia.
The Maremma area was upgraded from IGT to DOC in 2011 in recognition of the area’s inherent typicity. The area is primarily known for its reds from Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, although there are a number of white wines produced from Trebbiano Toscano and Vermentino.
Rosso di Montalcino is the baby bother wine of the world famous Brunello di Montalcino. Produced from Sangiovese around the town of Montalcino in Tuscany, and often blended with some Merlot, the wines tends to be soft, approachable and ready to drink a year or two from the vintage.