Updated: Jun 9, 2021
Tuscany is a painting of warm sunsets and rolling hills, and when talking about its wine - a stronghold of tannin and acid. So we're in central Italy now - the medieval cities of Florence and Sienna roughly mark the middle of Tuscany, with its borders reaching about 100km north and 100km south, and halfway into the interior to include the stereotypical hills of Montalcino and Montepulciano inland, as well as Elba island and the coastal areas of Maremma. Along with the wine, It's the postcard adorning landscapes of olive groves, vineyards, walled towns and apero hour that brings people here.
Red wine is king, and Sangiovese is its standard bearer; within its borders, Brunello Di Montalcino, Chianti, Chianti Classico, Chianti Superiore, Vino Nobile Di Monepulciano, Rosso Di Montepulciano any many many more DOCG wines are produced from this characterful grape and wearer of many masks. Alongside these "Sangers", the broad and un-apologetically opulent "Super Tuscans" also fight for the limelight. Unlike the indigenous Sangiovese, these powerhouses are made from international grapes (commonly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah) beefed up from the Tuscan sunshine. Born from a pendulum swing reaction by local producers, in reaction to increasing legal red tape in the 80's as to what they can and can't put in their own wines; many of the best examples like Tignanello and Sassicaia now enjoy cult status and command big three figure retail prices.
Tuscany, or Toscana as it is in Italy, has had a tumultuous time with its image over the ages, and while it has a enviable reputation in the worldwide market, it can mean many different things to different people. It's big business. If the Piedmont (home of Barolo) to the north is Italy's "Burgundy" - home of winemakers in wellies and dirty fingernails - Tuscany is certainly the more economically savvy Bordeaux in this analogy. It's not the perfect comparison, but what I mean is that Tuscany, and Chianti in particular, realised the worldwide demand for their wines a long time ago. Chianti was recognised as an area of particularly good wine way back in the 14th century, and by 1870 the recipe for which grapes are allowed were put into law - Sangiovese obviously, but also Canaiolo and a small amount of white grapes, usually Trebbiano, were also permitted to add freshness. Skip to the 60's and the world is thirsty for Chianti, so naturally big demand promotes big business, and the vineyard range for what could be called Chianti were expanded into 'lesser' sites by basically double, and white grapes being more vigorous meant that some Chiantis hitting the shelves were not only being hastily made, but could contain up to 30% white grapes - not exactly the rich and concentrated wines expressing the specific terroir of yesteryear.
Don't let this get you down - things have turned around a lot and never has there been better wine being made in Tuscany - I'm just explaining why your Aunty and Uncle might wince at the suggestion of Chianti in a restaurant. Nowadays, the DOCG's of Chainti Classico and Superiore have been created to denote wines with stricter production rules, and grapes coming from the better sites - Chianti Classico's borders for example are set to the original range before the unfortunate expansion.
So let's get to chatting about the actual fun bit. Tuscany's whites are few and far between, often Trebbiano and Vernaccia are seen as trattoria plonk - light and sharp wines to wash down some Spaghetti alle Vongole - but treated well, both can create intense and rich wines. Mormoraia's barrel fermented Vernaccia Di San Gimignano is full of vanilla flecked almonds and biting green apples. Rose's pop up occassionally, but often with no designated style to adhere to, meaning they can vary wildly. Most are bottled under the Toscana DOC and produce a beefier Provencal type of wine, being light in colour with flavours of strawberries and cream, but more intense and often more fun than the classic Provence. Our favourite at the moment is the Rose from Tenuta Monteti. The wines of Chianti are characterised by a medium body with high acid and a tannin structure that can sometimes be rustic, but all the more charming for it. The better wines, like Monte Bernardi's Chianti Classico have dense aromas of violet and cherries with a fresh herbal undertone, exactly what you want with some salami. Brunello Di Montalcino is arguably the pinnacle of Sangiovese, with wines often seeing a lot of time in old oak as well as bottle to tame the biting tannins into supple, spicy and silky wines full of dried fruit, leather and sweet spices. The middle child of Tuscany's Sangiovese triumvirate is Vino Nobile Di Montalcino. They tend to be super well priced for the quality, overshadowed on either side price wise by Brunello and Chianti, and provide a broader less acidic juice than Chianti, with less tannin that Brunello. Often aged for a while in bottle (look for 'riserva' if this is your thing) like our favourite from Cannetto, they'll reward you with flavours of spiced plum, cigar box and almost have a caramelly tinge. Finally, the "Super Tuscans" as we touched on previously. These tend to be varying blends of Cabernet Sauvignon & Franc, Merlot and Syrah to produce wines that have the stereotypical ripe and rustic edge of Tuscany, but they've been brushed up a little and put a suit on. They're opulent and intense with cassis and blackberry aromas, and often see a fair bit of new oak. While not necessarily a "Super" Tuscan, as it's damn accessibly priced, the Non Confunditur by Argiano offers these big boy flavours with change from a £20. And that's Tuscany - albeit very briefly - wrapped up! If you're a slave to tannin and acid like us then there's more vinous exploration in these hills than a lifetime could ever cover. To help you pop some corks and get exploring, we've put together a little Tuscany twin case for an at home comparison of Sangiovese, or a four bottle case to sample some different colours.