Tuscany is continuously vying with Piedmont and the Veneto for the title of Italy’s most important wine region. Rightly so, for it produces a colossal amount of premium wine from a multitude of different sub zones and appellations. There are few wine lovers that have not experienced, at one time or another, the region’s holy trinity of Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Noble from the hilltop town of Montepulciano.
These iconic red wines represent three distinctive expressions of the thick skinned Sangiovese grape, a versatile variety that has adapted to Tuscany’s endlessly diverse terroir with impressive results. Chianti Classico, marked by the sign of the Gallo Nero (black rooster) and not to be confused with the more varied Chianti appellation, offers the best starting point for understand Tuscany. The gentle undulating hills between Florence and Siena produce austere, but ethereal red wines that display seductive notes of violet and black cherry. With age they can take on tertiary notes of mushroom and moss; with high acidity and a form tannic backbone. Chianti Classico is the quintessential accompaniment to a host of traditional hearty Italian dishes.
Much further south, in the old town of Montalcino, an even more rustic interpretation of Sangiovese has seen its reputation develop from a cult wine to one carrying serious international prestige. Production has expanded rapidly to meet a seemingly endless thirst (American driven) and as such a dynamic scene of boutique wineries and estates have sprung up. While Brunello commands high prices, fuelled in part by a lengthy stay in wood, a more approachable Rosso di Montalcino provides a credible introduction to area.
Although there is a rejuvenated interest in the production of white wine through the Ansonica and Vernaccia di San Gimignano varieties, it is Sangiovese and its many clones dominate viticulture here. In Montepulciano, another medieval town with a renaissance twist, Sangiovese is known as Prugnolo Gentile and gives gritty red wines with plenty of tannin and red berry fruit. Producer decisions in the cellar often influence the final style of wine, but while generally not as complex, or indeed age worthy as Brunello, it does offer a similar level of rusticity and Tuscan charm.
Brunello di Montalcino is one of the great red wines of Italy. Produced around the Tuscan town of Montalcino from a clone of Sangiovese, known locally as Brunello, it has come to represent one of the iconic monuments of the Italian wine scene. Capable of ageing and improving for many years, Brunello wines are typically full-bodied and structured with incredible depth, concentration and complexity. There are now dozens of boutique producers creating exceptional single vineyard wines.
Rosso di Montepulciano is the Tuscan town of Montepulciano’s entry level wine, which compliments the more prestigious Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG. Wines are frequently made from young vines, released with less maturation and sometimes feature high percentages of international varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Sangiovese makes up the majority of the blend.
Candia dei Colli Apuani DOC is one of the lesser known appellations in Tuscany. Created in 1981, it covers winemaking on the Tuscan coast, close to the towns of Massa, Carrara and Montignoso. White wines generally made with Vermentino, while reds are either made with Sangiovese, or interestingly, the very rare Barsaglina.
Although founded in 1990, the DOC of Colli dell’Etruria Centrale is rarely used. It was introduced in order to support ‘alternative’ wines produced in the Chianti and Chianti Classico areas. Whites in particular fit the bill, the majority of which are produced with Trebbiano Toscano.
Colli della Toscana Centrale is a relatively new regional appellation created in the centre of Tuscany, but is increasingly found on the labels of high quality wines. A number of producers in the Chianti Classico area use the appellation in order to express a little more varietal flexibility with their wines - notably in the use of Merlot and Syrah.
Colline Lucchesi is produced around the medieval town of Luca in the North West of Tuscany. Sangiovese and Merlot reign here as despite the appellation’s proximity to the coast, varieties such as Vermentino don’t seem to develop the same aromatic profile as it does in the Maremma, Liguria and Sardinia.
Grance Senesi was created in 2010 to offer some exposure for varietal wines produced around the Tuscan town of Siena. There are only a few hectares registered to the appellation, but in theory it provides a place for wines from Canaiolo Nero, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malvasia Bianca Lunga.
The Maremma area was upgraded from IGT to DOC in 2011 in recognition of the area’s inherent typicity. The area is primarily known for its reds from Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, although there are a number of white wines produced from Trebbiano Toscano and Vermentino.
Sangiovese produced around the town of Montecucco was recognised as a DOCG in 2011 for its ability to create outstanding wines. The appellation, located just to the north east of Grosseto, is celebrated by many as producing Sangiovese wines that can stand up to the wines of Montalcino and Montepulciano. The best and most age worthy tend to also carry the riserva designation.
Monteregio di Massa Marittima is a small but potentially interesting appellation in Tuscany. With a focus on Sangiovese, it produces wines from the rolling hills of the Maremma in the province of Grosseto. The DOC was created in 1994 and takes its name from the small town of Massa, around which many of the vineyards are planted.
Rosso di Montalcino is the baby bother wine of the world famous Brunello di Montalcino. Produced from Sangiovese around the town of Montalcino in Tuscany, and often blended with some Merlot, the wines tends to be soft, approachable and ready to drink a year or two from the vintage.
Named after the Romanesque 12th-Century Abbey of Sant’Antimo, this Tuscan DOC covers a similar territory as the world famous Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. Sangiovese is rarely used here however and the appellation exists to showcase wines from other grape varieties and particularly for white wines.
Terre di Pisa was created in 2011 to showcase the wines surrounding the Tuscan town of Pisa, and celebrate a viticultural heritage that dates back to the time of the Etruscans. Sangiovese dominates here, but there are also plantings of Merlot and Syrah. There are around a dozen wineries promoting their wines as Terre di Pisa.