Wine has literally been a part of the Tuscan civilization for over 3,000 years. From the time the ancient Etruscan’s settled in the gently rolling hills of Tuscany, viticulture, and wine production have been an important element of everyday life and indeed was even considered to be mystical. Like the ancient Greeks, the vine and the olive tree were not only fundamental to the Etruscan diet but were also considered to be sacred plants with lifesaving properties. In this day and age when doctors are constantly uncovering more proof of the health benefits of wine and Olive Oil, the great irony is that the Etruscan’s realized this a few thousand years ago!
History of Wine Making
Wine-making in Tuscany has evolved over the centuries, with new practices being introduced by the Romans, Christian monks in the Middle Ages and well-heeled aristocrats during the Renaissance. Certain Tuscan wines famous today such as Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, have had a following and been well known outside of Italy since the 16th century. William III and Jonathan Swift both had a penchant for their Vino Nobile and Chianti was well known in the English court from the 17th century onwards.
Tuscany is a much larger region than many people realize and it encompasses many different wine regions and climate types. The one thing most regions have in common is the selection of grape varietals. In general, Sangiovese is the dominant red varietal and Trebbiano is the dominant white varietal. The north west of Tuscany is mountainous and is famous for the beautiful Apuan Alps, the San Pellegrino water source and for the marble quarries that Michelangelo himself used to visit for his sculptures (which came from the village of Massa Carrara, a village that still quarries marble today!) The climate in the north is continental with hot summers and freezing winters. Also in Northern Tuscany, the medieval walled town of Lucca is one of the most beautiful destinations in Italy. Wine is made in the hills around Lucca going towards a village called Montecarlo, and the wine road is called the Strada del Vino Colline Lucchesi e Montecarlo.
Colline Pisane & Chianti Classico
Further south you have Florence straight down and Pisa towards the coast. The wine region around Pisa is called the “Colline Pisane”. Florence is one of the famed “Citta d’Arte” (Art cities), referring to its enormous amount of Renaissance architecture, painting, and sculpture. This is where the famous region of Chianti begins. Chianti is actually quite a large wine producing area, with many subregions. Chianti Classico DOCG, the most prestigious of all the subregions, runs from Florence southwards towards lovely Siena. Badia a Coltibuono is an excellent Chianti Classico producer. Chianti Rufina DOCG, the 2nd best sub-region runs slightly northeastwards from Florence and is very picturesque. Classic red Chianti wine is made both with Sangiovese and even some white Trebbiano or Malvasia.
Brunello di Montalcino
Southeast of Florence, lie the beautiful villages of Cortona and Arezzo and the gorgeous medieval hamlets of Montalcino and Montepulciano. Montalcino is most famous for its Brunello di Montalcino DOCG wines, made with a clone of the Sangiovese, called both “Brunello” and “Sangiovese Grosso”. The Brunello wines are chic and expensive, with such excellent producers including Argiano. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG is named after its hamlet and is one of the best wines in Italy, along with Brunello. The main grape to make Vino Nobile is Prunolo Gentile, again a clone of Sangiovese. Avignonese is a mythical Vino Nobile producer (and also famous for their “Vin Santo” wines, made with dried “Passito” grapes).
Heading west, and then dipping south, you will run into the coastal Maremma region. The Maremma is where the “Super Tuscan” wines are made. These wines never received DOCG status from the regulatory councils, as they blended prohibited French varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with the local Sangiovese. For years, these expensive wines were ridiculously labeled as “Vino da Tavola”, but in recent years they have received DOC status. The most famous wines from this little-touched wine region include Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Tua Rita and Petra.
Finally, other wines of note in Tuscany include Vernaccia di San Gimignano, made in the outskirts of the gorgeous town of San Gimignano. To conclude, Tuscany is extremely varied in landscapes and wine styles and boasts some of the most well-known and superb wines made in Italy today.