It’s not all about Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino in Tuscany – there’s far more grapes and areas to discover in this unique part of Italy, but so many seem to get overshadowed. Tuscany is in fact home to 11 DOCGs, along with 41 DOCs, then there’s Super Tuscans, and of course the lusciously sweet Vin Santo – there’s a lot of wine to be missing out on!
– Brunello di Montalcino
– Chianti Classico
– Elba Aleatico Passito
– Montecucco Sangiovese
– Morellino di Scansano
– Val di Cornia Rosso
– Vernaccia di San Gimignano
– Vino nobile di Montepulciano
The history of winemaking in the area dates back to the Etruscans in the 8th century BC, where it became an integral part of their daily lives. The Etruscans imported the vine from the Orient, and they soon began selling wine across ocean. Into the Middle Ages, the wine grew in importance, not only being safer than water, but also as an important part of religious services. The earliest reference of a Florentine wine retailer actually dates back to 1079, with a guild being created in 1282. The “Arte dei Vinettieri” guild established strict regulations on how the wine merchants could go about their business; no wine to be sold within 100 yards of a church, and they were prohibited to sell to children under 15, prostitutes, ruffians and thieves. Tuscan soon gained popularity, especially those from the Chianti region, and in 1903 winemakers set about marking boundaries in the area. Into the 50’s and 60’s, Chianti was getting a little out of hand with production soaring and relaxed regulations in what was actually going into the bottle. In the late 60’s a law on protecting the wines was set in place, which saw the introduction of the DOC (Vernaccia and Chianti).
The Sangiovese grape is Tuscanys most prominent grape, however many different clonal varieties exist. Other important grapes grown in the area include Canaiolo, Colorino, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Malvasia nera, Mammolo, Trebbiano, Malvasia, Vermentino and Vernaccia.
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (and Rosso di Montalcino)
A whole post dedicated to Brunello di Montalcino can be found here but here’s a little information on the wine to get you up to speed.
Brunello is the name of the local Sangiovese clone grown around the village of Montalcino, located just south of the Chianti Classico zone. It’s a lot warmer and drier than Chianti, and produces wines with more colour, tannins, richness and body. The wine is required to be aged for at least 4 years prior to be released, and for Riserva wines 5. Also from this region we find Rosso di Montalcino, a wine made from the same grapes, from the same vineyards and in a similar style, but not aged as long, sometimes they are even declassified Brunellos. They are lighter in body, and more approachable in their youth.
This is an area 10 miles northwest of Florence, centred around the city of Carmignano. It’s an area identified by Cosimo III de’ Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, as one of the superior wine producing areas of Tuscany and was granted special legal protection rights in 1716. In the 18th century, wine producers developed a tradition of blending Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon, long before it became popular for the Super Tuscans. The region was awarded DOC status in 1975 and promoted to a DOCG in 1990.
Chianti and Chianti Classico
The Chianti zone is Tuscany’s largest classified wine region, and produces a vast amount of wine (over 8 million cases a year). It’s split into 2 DOCGs; Chianti and Chianti Classico. The Chianti Classico zone covers the area in between Florence and Siena, which is the original Chianti zone, and is where some of the best, and most expressive wines come from. The larger Chianti zone is further divided into 6 DOC sub zones; Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colline Pisane, Colli Senesi, Montalbano, Montespertoli and Rufina.
Chianti is permitted to include a minimum of 80% Sangiovese, and 20% of any other red wine grape grown in the region (such as Canaiolo and Colorino).
Chianti Classico includes the communes of Castellina, Gaiole, Greve and Radda.
Elba Aleatico Passito DOCG
These wines are from the Aleatico grape from the Elba Island, just off the Tuscan coast, producing a natural, not fortified Passito style wine. The grapes are left on the vines for as long as possible and dried for around 2 weeks on wooden racks before being crushed and pressed. The wines produced are fairly high in alcohol, yet retain good levels of acidity, with fruity and floral aromas. The area was awarded its’ DOCG status in 2011.
Montecucco Sangiovese DOCG
These Sangiovese wines (minimum 90%) are from the area of Montecucco, in the central southern part of Tuscany, right in between the towns of Montalcino and Scansano, and was awarded its’ DOCG status in 2011. The production area comprises of 6 villages; Cinigiano, Civitella Paganico, Campagnatico, Castel del Piano, Roccalbegna and Arcidosso e Seggiano. The wines must be aged for 12 months in oak barrel, and a further 4 months in bottle. For the Riserva wines a requirement of 30 months is needed, 24 of which are spent in barrel.
Morellino di Scansano DOCG
Another Sangiovese based wine from the area around the village of Scansano in the Maremma region of coastal Tuscany. Morellino is the local name for Sangiovese, possibly coming from the colour of the local horses (morello) or from morello cherry; one of the tasting notes the wine is known for. With a requirement of at least 85% Sangiovese, the wine does not need to be aged in wood, but has to be released in March after the harvest, meaning that it will have 8 months bottle age. For the Riservas’ the wines can be released on January the 1st, 2 years after the harvest, with at least 1 year in wood. The wine was granted its’ DOCG in 2007.
Situated in the southern area of the Livorno province, just south of Bolgheri. These Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot based wine were awarded its DOCG status in 2011, having previously been part of the sub-zone Val di Cornia. The main focus is for the wines of a Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend, which is a great example of how Tuscany has learnt to except these Bordeaux varieties as their own.
Val di Cornia Rosso DOCG
Situated just south of Bolgheri, it comes as no surprise that this area specialises in French grapes. Granted its DOCG status in 2011, it’s another fairly new area of interest. The wines must be at least 40% Sangiovese, with the rest of the blend being Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, and up to 20% of any other authorised red grapes.
Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG
This is a white wine from the Vernaccia grape around the town of San Gimignano, south of Florence. In 1966 it was the first wine to receive its DOC designation. It’s considered Tuscanys’ best white wine, and produces dry wines with a full body, notes of honey and great minerality.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG
This area received its DOCG status shortly after Brunello di Montalcino in 1980. The area is situated in the southeastern region of Tuscany, and the wine is primarily made up of Sangiovese, known locally as Prugnolo Gentile, which is required to make up 80% of the blend. Canaiolo and Mammolo make up the remaining percentage of the wine, with some producers also using Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The wines are required to age for 2 years prior to release, with an extra year for the Riserva wines.
An unofficial category of Tuscan wine, while many wines actually claiming to the the “first” Super Tuscan, most will agree that the credit belongs to Sassicaia, when marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta planted Cabernet Sauvignon at his Tenuta San Guido estate in Bolgheri in 1944. Starting out as the families personal wine, it wasn’t until 1971 when the 1968 vintage was released commercially.
The growth of these Super Tuscan wines runs parallel to a movement in the Chianti zone too. Prior to the 1990s, Chianti could be composed of no more than 70% Sangiovese and had to include at least 10% of one of the local white wine grapes. Producers who didn’t follow the rules could not use “Chianti” on their label and were classified as “vino da tavola”. By the 1970s, the market for Chianti was struggling, and the wines were perceived as lacking in quality, which followed by many wine producers thinking that they could produce better quality wines if they weren’t being hindered by the DOC regulations. This led to marchese Piero Antinori creating a first “Chianti-style” wine that ignored the DOC rules, by releasing a 1971 Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon blend in 1978 called Tignanello, inspired by Sassicaia (he was the nephew of Mario).
Other producers began following suit, and soon the prices of such wines were consistently beating the prices of some of the best known Chianti.
Perhaps a little too late, it was decided to modify the Chianti DOC regulations and to “correct” the issues of the Super Tuscans, so that many of the original wines would now qualify as standard DOC/DOCG Chianti. But this had little effect, and many of the producers brought their Super Tuscan label back under legal regulations. Bolgheri DOC and Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC were created in 1994.
A passito style dessert wine (meaning holy wine) from a blend of Trebbiano, Malvasia and Sangiovese. The wines are aged in barrel for a minimum of 3 years, and 4 if a Riserva.