Tuscany (or Toscana to the Italians) is quite possibly the most archetypal Italian region. With rolling hills, bright blue skies, small hilltop villages with dusty
side roads, centuries-old farmhouses and olive groves you could be forgiven for thinking you have just walked onto the set of Gladiator. What is most overwhelming, however, is the vast number of vineyards covering the area. Spanning from the Tyrrhenian Sea in the west to the low mountains near Emilia-Romagna in the east, it is difficult not to be charmed by the patchwork of vineyards in this area. Much of the more esteemed vineyards are located in the middle, near Florence in the north and Sienna in the south. To get to these goldmines, however, requires a stomach of steel as there doesn’t seem to be a straight road in sight as you wind through the beautiful Tuscan countryside (if you suffer from car sickness, you have been warned)!
For a long time, wine has been the most humble of comforts in Tuscany, forever on the table at Italian mealtimes. The main feature will be red as Tuscany is home to four of Italy’s most notorious red wines: Chianti, Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. All four of these wines are made from the grape variety, sangiovese. This variety is the single greatest grape for Tuscan wine producers and all who love Tuscan wines. Derived from the Latin sanguis Jovis “the blood of Jupiter”, the word sangiovese is said to have been given to the wine by the monks residing near Monte Giove (Mount Jupiter), in Emilia-Romagna. This is still hugely apt as sangiovese really is the life blood of Tuscany.
If you have ever indulged in a glass of these four brilliant wines you will know that they are all vastly different, despite the fact they all come from sangiovese. This is for multiple reasons but location is largely responsible. Tuscany boasts a huge range of mesoclimates, which means that the grape experiences completely different levels of sun, water and aspect. Consequently, the wines that are made from these grapes are hugely variable. Sangiovese is also somewhat of a high maintenance grape that rarely ripens evenly. Therefore, slightest differences in temperature and climate can have massive impacts on the end result; we really are talking stone-throwing distances having massive impacts. Finally, there are a crazy amount of sangiovese clones in Italy, all resulting in different styles of wine. To put it into context, the small area of Chianti Classico has 239 clones alone!
Much of the old world is tied up in tradition and legislation, which has resulted in some outstanding wines. Tuscany, however, has gone rogue and now produces what have been dubbed as “Super Tuscans”. Note: The term Super Tuscan is a consumer term and will therefore not appear on the label. These wines are big, bold and flamboyant and are made all over Tuscany, but particularly in and around the village of Bolgheri; it is here where the most infamous Super Tuscan, Sassicaia, started. Made up of Bordeaux grape varieties (to varying degrees) along with sangiovese and then aged in new French oak, this is now a hugely prestigious wine of Tuscany and wines can fetch up to hundreds of pounds a bottle. Super Tuscans really do show just what can happen when you throw the rule book out the window.
Sangiovese has that classic Italian sour cherry quality that works so well with food, especially tomato based dishes. If you are wanting a lighter, rustic Italian red to go with something like Spaghetti Bolognese then Chianti is the Tuscan wine for you. If you are wanting a slightly fuller version and something a little bit more special then Chianti Classico. Both, however, are brilliant wines to match with food as the acidity in these wines cleanses your palate between each bite.
Wanting something a little bit chunkier, then you need a Nobile di Montepulciano. Red berry fruits are on the palate but a sturdier body means richer red meat would work well. Tuscany is home to thousands of wild boars and if you are lucky enough to have a Tuscan boar stew then a Nobile di Montepulciano is the Tuscan for you. Want a slightly lighter, cheaper option: Rosso di Montepulciano!
If these don’t sound big enough, that’s because you need a Brunello di Montalcino. Known as ‘the nice dark one’, this wine is filled with rich dark fruits and is richer and rounder than the other three. Aged for four years, this wine is a beast! The more affordable, younger sibling: Rosso di Montalcino.
Finally, if it’s a special occasion and you want to have some fun then you have to try a Super Tuscan! It’s a seriously plush wine that can very much be drunk on its own. If you want a food matching then it has to be rich red meats or barbequed food. Either way, these are special wines.
Oh, and don’t forget to finish with a sweet hit of Vin Santo del Chianti Geografico…