Italian wine accounts for roughly one third of the world’s total production. Despite its prominent role, Italy has struggled to create a strong brand image in the mind of the average consumer – often failing to achieve the recognition gained by the French and the New World producers.
However, wine production in Italy goes back centuries. Amphora remnants discovered from the Etruscan period show that viticulture was present in Tuscany as far back as the 8th century BC and Tuscan wine was exported to Southern Italy and Gaul as early as the 7th century BC. By the 3rd century BC, Greek writers often referred to the excellent quality of Tuscan wines.
These days, for many first-time visitors to Italy, the range of wines on offer can be confusing, but good local wines can be easily discovered with a little bit of research. Tuscany, the most popular destination for British holidaymakers, produces many world-renowned wines. The hilly landscape doesn’t just make for stunning holiday photos. It helps to temper the summer heat and suits the Sangiovese grape found within the famous Chianti area.
The Chianti region is the largest producer of wine in Tuscany, producing over 8 million cases per annum. The region is split into two DOCG (denominazione di origine controllata) – Chianti and Chianti Classico.
The Chianti Classico region produces consistently high quality and relatively affordable wines. Lying between Florence and Siena, it makes for an enjoyable day trip to stock up on supplies while viewing the stunning Tuscan landscape. Chianti Classico wines must contain a minimum of 70% Sangiovese (in fact increasing to 80% for the more prestigious Chianti Classico DOCG). Other varieties that may be included in a bottle of Chianti Classico include Canaiolo, Colorino, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. These are typically medium bodied wines designed to be aged and can be laid down for years before being enjoyed.
The Chianti DOCG region lies in the western part of the district of Pisa, in Florence north of Chianti Classico, around the Siena hills, Arezzo, Rufina and Pistoia. These wines must contain at least 75% Sangiovese, a maximum of 10% Canaiolo, no more than 10% Malvasia and Trebbiano and up to 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Not surprisingly, given the huge variations that this can create, Chianti wines can vary enormously and are designed to be drunk relatively young.
For those seeking one of the most sought-after wines in the world, take a trip west from Siena towards the coast and you will reach the Sassicaia estate at Bolgheri. This is the home of the Super Tuscan! Sassicaia is widely considered to produce one of the finest Cabernet Sauvignons retailing for in excess of £100 per bottle.
Or, for something more affordable – head south east to Montepulciano and you will find Vino Nobile de Montepulciano. Retailing for as little as 8 euros per bottle in most Italian supermarkets, the wine is highly regarded in Italy and is easily a match for many more costly wines found in UK supermarkets. In Montepulciano, the wines must be a minimum of 70% sangiovese but also include the addition of other varieties.
Alternatively, why not try a glass of Brunello di Montalcino. Brunello is the name of the local Sangiovese grape variety grown around Montalcino. Here, the red wine is made using 100% pure Sangiovese grapes. The vineyards here tend to see less rain and experience more heat than the Chianti Classic region further north leading to a richer, more intense tipple. Wines must be aged for at least four years and the result is typically a fuller bodied wine with a deep, rich colour. Since the 1980s, this region is also home to the Rosso di Montalcino. These will typically use the same grapes as the Brunello but aren’t aged as long creating a lighter wine which can be drunk sooner.
Other red wines produced in Tuscany include Carmignano. Not surprisingly, wine production in this case is centred around Carmignano, which lies North West of Florence. This wine blends Sangiovese grapes with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Or there are also some newer varieties too including Morellino di Scansano from Maremma in south Tuscany. Grosseto is also emerging as one of Tuscany’s newest wine regions producing both red and white wines.
80% of Tuscan wine production is in red wine but Tuscany is also home to the dessert wine Vin Santo (meaning holy wine), which is made from a variety of the white grape varieties found in the region including Trebbiano and Malvasia (although it is also possible to find red and rose styles of vin santo made using sangiovese grapes). And Tuscany is also where you will find the Vernaccia grape, which forms the basis of the white wine Vernaccia di San Gimignano. The Parrina region is also known for its white wine made by blending Trebbiano and Ansonica grape varieties. And Pitigliano’s white is known for its eclectic mix of a number of different white grape varieties including chardonnay, grechetto, pinot blanc, verdello, malvasia and others.
And finally, let’s not forget Tuscany’s famous island of Elba. Some of the wines produced here include a sparkling Terbbiano wine and a sweet passito wine.
Find the perfect Tuscany villa from which to explore Tuscany’s wine region and taste all these tipples for yourself!