A tour of the wines of Tuscany

When most Americans think of the Italian countryside, the picture in their minds is Tuscany. In the western center of Italy, the region of Tuscany contains two of the most beautiful cities in Italy, Florence and Siena. Beyond these two scenic marvels, the region features rolling hills with stately cypress trees and a number of picturesque hill fort towns often surrounded by miles of vineyards that produce some of Italy’s best wines. Tuscany is Italy’s most toured region, overrun by tourists in the summer months but still crowded in other months.

Comparing the wines of Tuscany to those of Piedmont, the first notable difference is that most of the wines of Piedmont, especially the reds, are made from 100% of the featured grape. In Tuscany only one of the three most famous red wines, Brunello di Montalcino, must be made totally from a single grape. That grape, Sangiovese, is also the primary grape in the other two notable red wines, Chianti Classico and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which are generally blends.

Probably the best know of the Tuscan reds is Brunello di Montalcino, a 100% Sangiovese red wine that is produced from grapes grown on the hills surrounding the hill fort town of Montalcino. Regulations for this wine require 48 months aging with at least two years in oak and four months in the bottle. Brunello is generally the most expensive of the three reds, but you can get a similar wine with less aging for half of the price if you buy Rosso di Montalcino.

About twenty miles from Montalcino lies the hill fort town of Montepulcino where the excellent Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is produced. Originally this wine was required by regulation to contain a blend of grapes with Prugnolo Gentile (the local name for Sangiovese) as the primary grape (approximately 80%) and other locally grown red grapes the remainder. However, today this wine can be 100% Prugnolo Gentile though many of the traditional winemakers still blend other reds as before. Like Brunello, there is a Rosso di Montepulciano which is essentially the same wine with less aging sold at about half the price.

The third well-known red is Chianti Classico, another blend of primarily Sangiovese and other red grapes. The “Classico” term refers to the geographical area originally defined in the early 1700s by Cosimo III as the only one able to produce this wine. There are many Chianti wines found in the US today ranging from the straw bottles to many excellent and expensive alternatives. Do not be put off if you see a Chianti without the “Classico” marks as there are many excellent producers outside the “Classico” area. I love some of the smaller producers such as Lecce e Brocchi and Fattoria Uccelliera.

Another interesting red wine from Tuscany is Morellino di Scansano, a blend of Sangiovese and Alicante. Produced on the far western side of Tuscany overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, this is an excellent yet little known here in the US red wine. I like the offerings from Vignaioli di Morellino Scansano.

You will also find a number of other red wines, generally blends often including locally grown French varieties. Most of these are worth a try.

White wine lovers, don’t despair. There are some very nice white wines produced in Tuscany. Probably the best known is Vernaccia di San Gimignano. This smooth, dry white wine is made from the Vernaccia grape grown on the hillsides surrounding the picturesque hill fort town of San Gimignano, a tourist mecca. This wine sometimes contains other white grapes, particularly Chardonnay. It is perfect as an appetizer and very good with seafood dishes.

Producers frequently offer locally grown French varieties such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. There is even a white Sangiovese ( see my earlier article for more details). Another white on the rise is Vermentino grown mainly in the western Maremma area. However, the house white wine in Tuscany will almost always be Trebbiano.

But overall, Tuscany is primarily a red wine region, offering a number of excellent wines.

Winery in the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany.  PHOTO: TERRY DUARTE

Winery in the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany. PHOTO: TERRY DUARTE

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