Maps matter because place matters

I don’t advise buying a wine with a cute animal on the label. But a wine with a map on the label? That’s a whole ‘nother thing.

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Why do I say this? Does a chart showing boundaries and sea coasts and topographical lines make the wine inside the bottle taste any better than an image of a yellow-tailed kangaroo or a loon with a cigarette in its bill?

Well, no.

But labels do matter. The British wine journal Decanter reported years ago on a study showing that an animal name on a bottle of wine could more than double its U.S. sales.

According to research conducted by marketing firm A.C. Nielsen, Decanter wrote in its 2006 report, “just over 400 of the 1,000 wine brands introduced in the last three years remain in production. Of those, wines with animal pictures, names or brands outsold those that didn’t by a proportion of more than two to one.”

If only a map on the label could do as much.

The label of this week's featured wine features an antique map of Italy's Tuscan coast.

The label of this week’s featured wine features an antique map of Italy’s Tuscan coast.

Maps matter because geography matters, as I mused in my recent report on Uruguay, which not coincidentally was illustrated with a map highlighting this South American country’s location on the South Atlantic between Argentina and Brazil.

I’ve often made the point that wine owns a special place in the world of food and drink because it’s one of the few consumables that we enjoy not only with our senses but with our mind.

Become even halfway serious about wine and you’ll soon be intrigued not only by its flavor but by the stories and the lore that surround it. Learn about wine, learn about geology, agriculture, botany, science, and, not least, the history and geography of the many places where grapes are grown and wine is made. It’s almost like getting an advanced degree in a glass, with no tuition and no final exam!

Geography – the science behind maps – matters a lot in wine. Just about every wine we buy is identified not only by its grape and color but by where it came from. Were the grapes grown and the wine made in Italy, France, Argentina, Australia, the United States? Then we drill down to even finer points of detail: Piemonte, Bordeaux, Mendoza, McLaren Vale, California? It goes on down to even more fine-grained local appellations, denominations, protected geographical indications, lieus-dits and climats and more. And each of those places has its own geographical boundaries and, often, strict regulations about grapes, fermentation, vinification … it’s no wonder that a map can be one of our most important wine accessories.

Location matters. It matters because not only local traditions but other environmental factors from climate to exposure to hot winds and cooling breezes all make a difference to growing vines. Latitude, sunshine and shade, flat ground or draining slope, proximity to the ocean or other bodies of water, all these things, plus the critical variable of geology and the nature of the soil. All these characteristics are often mashed up into the broad concept of terroir. It all comes together to determine what grapes will thrive and produce the best wines for that particular place.

To visualize all this as consumers, we need maps. And that’s why seeing a map on the label – as I did on the Mocali “Fossetti” Rosso Toscano featured today – grabs my attention and prompts me to give the wine a second look, every single time.

Its traditional Tuscan Sangiovese (80%) and Canaiolo (20%) grapes are grown on soils of limestone and marl (mixed limestone and clay) in Montalcino, the Tuscan region best known for producing the excellent Brunello di Montalcino.

To be clear, the grapes that made this wine weren’t grown in from Brunello vineyards, but from neighboring vineyards not classified for Brunello, so it’s classified as Tuscany’s generic Toscana.

Does this mean it’s not as good as Brunello? That’s a value judgement. But it’s certainly not as expensive. You won’t find a good Brunello for less than $60, and the most sought-after labels quickly rise into triple digits. This wine sells for around $15, and it’s very good indeed.


Today’s Tasting Report

Mocali 2019 “Fossetti” Rosso Toscano ($15.99)

Mocali "Fossetti" Rosso Toscano

Made in Tuscany’s Montalcino region from 80% Sangiovese and 20% Canaiolo and labeled as unfiltered, Mocali “Fossetti” Rosso Toscano is an appealing example of a good, affordable Tuscan table red. Dark reddish-purple in color with a clear garnet edge, its delicious fresh black-fruit aromas waft from the glass, an appealing blend of black cherry, berries, and subtle spice. Mouth-filling flavors follow the nose, shaped by fresh-fruit acidity and soft, palatable tannins. It stays in balance with reasonable 13.5% alcohol. U.S. importer: Skurnik Wines, NYC. (Oct. 5, 2023)

FOOD MATCH: The importer suggests serving this wine with pasta or rice dishes, meats, or cheese. Knowing Sangiovese’s affinity for tomatoes, we were very happy with a simple bowl of spaghetti with fresh garden tomato sauce.

WHEN TO DRINK: It’s delicious now and not really meant for aging, but its abundant fruit and good balance suggest that there’s no rush to finish your stash.

At’s $14 average U.S. retail or even my local $16 price, this tasty Tuscan is a fine value in the middle teens.

Here is importer Skurnik’s fact sheet on this Rosso Toscano.

Here is more about Moscali, the Montalcino-based producer of this wine, plus a portfolio full of Brunellos.

Check prices and find vendors for Mocali “Fossetti” Rosso Toscano on

Read about the producer Mocali and its wines at this Wine-Searcher link.

Follow this Wine-Searcher link to learn more about Toscana IGT wines and browse listings for a variety of Toscana IGT wines and vendors.


Wine Focus October 2023 –
Benchmarks of Pinot Noir

Our Wine Focus for October takes up a simple question: Is Burgundy the only benchmark Pinot Noir?

If you believe this statement of tradition is true, taste a Burgundy of your liking and take a note. Disagree? Gather your notes on another Pinot Noir that proves your point. Either way, come over to our WineLovers Discussion Group and tell us about your Pinot Noir!


Find the wines you want

Explore Wine-Searcher is the place to go online if you want to find where to buy a particular wine that interests you. What’s more, offers so much more. It’s well worth a visit just to discover its many features, including its popular list of the world’s Top 10 Best Value Wines.


Good wines we’ve tried under $10.99!

Want tips to still more good, inexpensive wines? Here are Wine-Searcher links to vendors and prices for a bunch more wines for $10.99 or less that I’ve told you about in recent years. In some cases the prices may have risen over the $10.99 mark since I reviewed them, but they should still be excellent bargains. Please tell us about your favorites!


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