General Tuscany Facts
- a.k.a., Toscana
- Tuscany takes its name from the Etruscans.
- Soils were formed millions of years ago leaving rich marine sediments.
- Ideal mediterranean growing climate.
- Chianti is the most famous of Tuscan wines but Brunello is the greatest.
- Super Tuscans, a category (with no official status) created in the 80s and 90s, includes both reds and whites.
- 11 DOCGs – Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Carmignano Rosso, Morellino di Scansano, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Elba Aleatico Passito, Montecucco Sangiovese, Suvereto, Val di Cornia Rosso.
- White – Vernaccia, Malvasia, Trebbiano, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Moscadello, Sauvignon, Vermentino, Grechetto
- Red – Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Mammolo, Colorino, Syrah, Cabernet, Gamay, Malvasia Nera, Montepulciano, Pinot Nero
- White – Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Moscadello di Montalcino, Galestro
- Red – Brunello, Chianti, Vino Nobile, Carmignano, Morellino di Scansano, Bolgheri Sassicaia, Rosso di Montalcino
- Whites and reds – Bolgheri, Elba, Parrina, Pomino, Sant’Antimo
From time immemorial Tuscany, located on Italy’s geographic center and bounded by Liguria, Emilia-Romagna, the Marches, Umbria, Latium and, along the whole of its western edge, the Tyrrhenian Sea, has been recognized as one of the country’s premier agricultural regions. Ninety percent of Tuscan territory is either under cultivation or in forest. Only 8% is infertile and non-productive.
Tuscany takes its name from the Latin word “Tuscia,” which referred to the region and to the Etruscans who were known to the Romans as the “Tusci.”
It is, and for thousands of years has been, one of the leading winemaking regions of the Italian peninsula. The region’s enologic traditions date at least to the Etruscan period.
The principal vineyard areas are the hills of Montalcino in Southwestern Tuscany, Chianti in central Tuscany, the Mugello area to the north and the Chiana Valley to the south, Montepulciano to the east, San Gimignano to the West and a strip along the coast known as the Maremma.
The most widely cultivated varieties are prevalently indigenous, although they are now well diffused in the other regions. They include Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Trebbiano Toscano, Malvasia Toscana or del Chianti, Vernaccia and Vermentino.
The reputation of Tuscany’s DOCG and DOC wines is well established both in Italy and abroad. Chianti was one of the first wines to be shipped beyond the national borders, having been exported since the 18th century in the famous “fiasco” (straw-wrapped, round-bottom bottles).
The whites, mostly dry, well-balanced and full of taste range from Vernaccia di San Gimignano to Bianco di Pitigliano, Vermentino, Montecarlo Bianco, Galestro and others, such as Moscadello di Montalcino, with its lush, yet reserved sweetness. Another intriguing wine is Vin Santo, a typical product of Tuscany.
Vin Santo can be either sweet or dry. The sweet is more prized. It is made with partially dried grapes, whose juice is fermented and aged in small oak barrels for a period of three to five years. During that time, the wine is subjected to extremes of heat in the summer and cold in the winter.
Ideally, after extended aging, you find a warm, deliciously sweet but not syrupy wine. It is called Vin Santo (holy wine) because, as one of the legends tells us, it was given to hospital patients during the pestilence of the 1300s and was said to have “resurrected the dead.”
Tuscany has also pioneered the growing of noble grape varieties not traditionally planted in the region. Today we find Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio sharing a place in the Tuscan sun with Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Mammolo, Syrah, Malvasia, Trebbiano and others. The results are wines that are winning the appreciation of consumers the world over.
THE DOCGs of TUSCANY
BRUNELLO di MONTALCINO
Today this is one of Italy’s most acclaimed wines – yet it was scarcely known 30 years ago. Brunello was first produced in the 1860s by the Biondi-Santi family.
Brunello di Montalcino is produced with 100% Sangiovese, locally known as Brunello. In order to be called Brunello di Montalcino, the wine must age for at least two years (since 1995 vintage) in oak or chestnut followed by at least two years in the bottle. Riservas require no less than five years of age. Aging begins January 1st following the harvest.
Brunello di Montalcino is deep ruby red and tends toward garnet with age. Its bouquet is rich and sometimes hints of violets and/or chestnuts. It is dry, well-balanced, tannic when young, but becomes round and harmonious with age.
The name Chianti is traced to the Latin “clangor” meaning the shrill cry of birds or the screeching of trumpets. Legend has it that the black rooster (the Etruscan symbol used by the “Classico” consortium) was the dawn bird whose shrill cry would chase away the evil spirits of the night.
Chianti’s zone of production is bounded on the north by Florence, the south by Siena, the west by Pisa and the east by Arezzo. It consists of seven areas: Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colli Senesi, Colline Pisane, Montalbano, Rufina and Montespertoli.
All Chianti (including that from the separate DOCG for Chianti Classico) can now be produced from 100% Sangiovese. However, the composition for Chianti is as follows, Sangiovese 75% to 100% and Canaiolo Nero up to 10% with two white grapes, Malvasia and Trebbiano up to 10%. An addition of no more than 15% percent other red varieties authorized in the zone, is also allowed for the wine simply called Chianti. Chianti with subzones listed or, that uses Superiore, is allowed up to 20% other red grapes of the zone, but may not include more than 10% of any single variety.
Chianti, Chianti Colli Aretini, Chianti Colli Senesi, Chianti Montalbano and Chianti Colline Pisane may be sold as of the succeeding March 1st. Chianti Montespertoli may not be released until June 1st. Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Chianti Rufina and that labeled Superiore must age until September 1st of the year following harvest. Riserva wines will now be aged also two years including three months in the bottle before release,
but they must achieve an alcohol of at least 12%. Those riservas also from the subzones Colli Aretini, Colli Senesi, Colline Pisane, Montalbano and Montespertoli require an alcohol of 12.5%. Aging for the riservas begins as of January 1st of the year following the harvest.
Chianti is brilliant ruby red with garnet tinges when aged. The bouquet is vinous and hints of violets. It is dry and balanced. Chianti that has undergone “governo” is more lively and round.
Producers of Chianti Classico have received an independent DOCG with a new set of rules to distinguish their wines from those of the seven other zones of Chianti.
As with Chianti, it is now legitimate to produce Chianti Classico from Sangiovese alone. The use of red Canaiolo and white grapes is no longer obligatory in any Chianti zone. However, producers do still have the option of using those complementary white and red varieties. The composition can be as follows for Chianti Classico. Sangiovese (80% to 100% and up to 20% other red grapes). While prior to the 2006 vintage, up to 6% white grapes were allowed, it is no longer possible to use white grapes in Chianti Classico.
Wine without the Riserva distinction cannot be sold until October 1st following the harvest. Chianti Classico must have a minimum of 12% alcohol while the Riserva requires a minimum 12.5%. Chianti Classico must age until October 1st of the year following harvest, while the Riserva must age a minimum of 24 months (at least three in the bottle). Aging begins as of January 1st following the harvest.
The Classico zone between Florence and Siena, where wines called Chianti were first made in the late Middle Ages, rates distinction from other districts created later as demand for Chianti grew. Yet Chianti Classico producers insist that their separate DOCG isn’t intended to express superiority but rather to enable them to improve quality further by following methods in step with modern times. Winemakers in the other Chianti zones would be free to re-interpret rules in their own ways.
Chianti Classico is bright, ruby to garnet with orange to rust reflections when aged. The bouquet is vinous and hints of violets. It is dry and balanced. Chianti that has undergone “governo” is more lively and round.
VINO NOBILE di MONTEPULCIANO
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, not to be confused with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, is a compendium of grape varieties. Grown on the slopes of the town of Montepulciano, the grape varieties of Prugnolo Gentile (local name for Sangiovese) minimum 70%, with the addition of no more than 20% Canaiolo and/or other reds of the zone, with no more than 10% non-aromatic whites (with the exception of Malvasia del Chianti), make a wine suitable to its noble name.
Vino Nobile has been produced for centuries by the aristocracy or noble families of Montepulciano. The wine may have been produced first by the Jesuits when they settled in Montepulciano during the 13th century. The wine was used for the Holy Mass and soon became a favorite of Pope Paul III and was exported by the “noble” families to many markets beginning in the 14th century.
The wine requires a minimum of two years aging. It may be two years of wood aging or 18 months in wood followed by the rest in other containers, or it may be a minimum of 12 months in wood plus at least six months in the bottle (prior to bottle aging it would be required at least 6 months in other containers). In the case of the last two (the aging in wood may not begin until April 30th). A wine with at least three years of aging (at least six in the bottle) may be classified “Riserva”. Aging begins January 1st.
Vino Nobile is garnet in color and tends to brick with age. The nose is delicate with a bouquet reminiscent of violets. Its taste is dry, slightly tannic, but rounds out with age.
The first citations of a Carmignano wine go back to the 14th century. A document drawn up in 1369 shows that Carmignano costs four times as much as any other in wine in commerce in that period.
In 1716, Tuscan Grand Duke Cosimo de Medici issued a decree in which he established production standards for Carmignano. Those same terms were reapplied in setting the boundaries of the new Carmignano in 1975.
Carmignano is produced with Sangiovese (minimum 50%), Canaiolo Nero (maximum 20%), Cabernet Franc and/or Cabernet Sauvignon (10%-20%) and Trebbiano Toscano, Canaiolo Bianco and Malvasia del Chianti, alone or together (10%). A maximum of 10% other red varieties of the zone may also be added. Carmignano must age until June 1st of the second year following the harvest with a minimum of 8 months in wood. Carmignano Riserva may not be released until September 29th (Feast of St. Michael and Carmignano) in the third year following the harvest and must age at least 12 months in wood.
The wine has a lively ruby-red color tending to garnet with age. Its perfume is vinous and intense with hints of violets and its taste is dry, balanced and velvety. The wine may be produced in a Red, Rose’ or Vin Santo version but only the Rosso has been accorded DOCG status.
VERNACCIA di SAN GIMIGNANO
Many hypotheses have been advanced to explain the origin of the word Vernaccia. Some experts have argued that the name is derived from the Latin word vernaculus, meaning a place or locale. Others say it is derived from the name of a Ligurian town in the area of Cinque Terre, Vernazza.
Vernaccia has been highly appreciated for hundreds of years. Today its production is restricted to the hilly territory of the commune of the same name in the province of Siena. The wine is produced with at least 90% Vernaccia grapes grown solely within the DOC zone; up to 10% other non-aromatic whites may be included.
When the wine is aged for no less than one year (beginning January 1st following harvest), it is entitled to the designation Riserva.
MORELLINO di SCANSANO
Morellino di Scansano is a wonderful red wine whose name is said to come from the wild “morellini” stallions which once roamed the hillsides of Scansano. The stallions and the wine are said to be so named for the deep, dark, almost Rhone color of their skins and the wines the grapes produce.
The wine is made with a minimum of 85% Sangiovese and maximum of 15% other local red grapes. Morellino is deep ruby in color with garnet reflections and a vinous character. The wine must age for a minimum of six months beginning January 1st after harvest. Wines designated Riserva must age a minimum of 2 years, at least one in wood, with an alcohol of 13%.
ELBA ALEATICO PASSITO
Elba Aleatico is produced with the Aleatico grape grown on the island of Elba, part of the region of Tuscany. Following harvest, the grapes are dried for a period of 10 days or more. Elba Aleatico Passito may now be sold before March 1st of the year following the harvest. The wine is deep ruby in color with an intense nose and sweet, rich body.
Montecucco Sangiovese is intense ruby red with characteristic red fruits in the nose. The taste is dry, harmonious and lightly tannin. The wine is produced with a minimum of 90% Sangiovese with a maximum of 10% other local red grapes with the exclusion of Malvasia Nera and Aleatico. The wine must age for a minimum of 12 months in wood and may be released April 1st of the second year after the harvest. Riserva may also be produced. It must age at least 30 months, 24 of which must be in wood. It may not be released until September 1st, of the 3rd year following the harvest.
Suvereto is produced with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and may be used alone or together, up to 100%. An addition of 15% other local red varietals (non aromatic) may also be included. Suvereto Sangiovese must contain a minimum of 85% Sangiovese with a maximum of other non-aromatic local red grapes. The wines must age until June 1st of the second year after harvest. Suvereto Sangiovese Riserva must age until January 1st of the 3rd year following the harvest. The riserva must spend 18 months in wood and at least six in the bottle. The wines are ruby, with a delicate perfume, dry and velvety on the palate.
VAL di CORNIA ROSSO
Val di Cornia Rosso is a red with a minimum of 40% Sangiovese, with the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (alone or combined) to a maximum of 60%. Other local red grapes may be added up to 20%. The wine may not be consumed prior to May 1st of the second year following harvest. Riserva must age until January 1st of the 3rd year following harvest and at least 18 months of that aging must be in wood and six months in the bottle. The wines are ruby red with a delicate vinous nose, dry and velvety on the palate, with great body.
In 1978, Banfi became a winemaker by acquiring a former feudal domain in the area of Montalcino. It is located in San’Angelo Scalo, a sleepy, whistle-stop, spaghetti-western type town, about three miles from Montalcino’s 14th century fortress.
The estate has 7,100 acres, about 11 square miles. However, only 2,400 acres are currently planted to the vine.
The climate is typically Mediterranean, eminently suited to the growth of the vine and the olive tree, both plants being gifted with enough strength to withstand prolonged droughts, such as those that occur in the summer and warrant irrigation in July. The plants send their roots deep into the ground where they find the moisture needed for survival.
The soil, excessively rocky, poor, and unyielding, offers no promise of generous crops. It is rich, however, with nutrients vital to the health and complexity of the fruit concentrated there when the area was under water four million years ago. Evidence of this are the fossilized sea shells that blanket the vineyards. The main components of the soil are limestone, sandstone and layers of clay. When combined with humidity, this clay forms a hard shield that impedes the burrowing of the vine’s root so it has to be removed, not an easy task. Huge rocks and boulders with which the soil is constellated also have to be painstakingly removed.
The days are hot, but the nights are breezy and cool, so the fruit does not “cook” but reaches a gradual, complete maturation.