Editor’s Note: While Carl is out recovering from a surgery to repair an aortic dissection we’ve asked some of his good friends to fill in with their wise words on wine in his absence. Today’s blog is another from guest blogger Tom Welsh, general manager and partner at Tapastrie restaurant in downtown South Bend, Indiana.
Following my recent blog on the Piedmont wine region of Italy, we should take a look at another of Italy’s major regions: Tuscany.
Tuscany is located in the northeast part of Italy, but further south of Piedmont. It is a very large region and, as you will see on the map, it has a mindboggling number of regions and sub regions. It is too much to contemplate here in detail so I will just give an overview of the better known of these areas.
About 80% of Tuscany’s production is red wine. Tuscany’s signature red wine grape is Sangiovese. It is a grape that has adapted genetically to its various environs and thus can express very different characteristics. It is generally a high acid grape that produces wines from light bodied/colored and floral to very dark, tannic and pungent.
Many other varieties, both indigenous and international, are grown and vinified in Tuscany. Other red varieties include: Canaiolo, Colorino, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Pinot Nero (Noir). The principle white varieties are Trebbiano, Malvasia and Vermentino. A sweet red wine known as Vino Santo is also produced in Tuscany.
Probably the best known of the Tuscan regions is Chianti. Chianti lies mostly between the cities of Florence and Siena. It has several sub-regions, the most notable of which is Chianti Classico. Chianti DOCG wines must contain a minimum of 70% Sangiovese, while for Chianti Classico DOCG it is 80%. The rest is usually Cabernet, Merlot and/or the others grown in the region, and can also contain up to 10% white grape juice. While we all became familiar with inexpensive Chianti in the round bottomed bottles wrapped in straw (known as fiascos), modern Chianti wines can be quite complex and delicious. Chianti wines are required to age for 12 months before release. Bottles marked Riserva have an additional year of aging.
Produced in a small area around the town of Montalcino, the king of Tuscan wines is Brunello di Montalcino (BdM). The unique terroir and long aging requirements produce an elegant (eventually) wine that can age for decades. Its name is both reflective of the town and the fact that Brunello is the local name for the clonal variety of the Sangiovese grape that grows in the area.
BdM wines are 100% Sangiovese and are aged for a minimum of four years (two in barrel) before release. Early in life they are tannic and tight with high acid and aromas and flavors of cherry, strawberry, cranberry, dried flowers, licorice, coffee and earthy mineral. As they age they develop a multifaceted character retaining some of the fruit and mineral and adding nutty, dried leather and other savory components. Great Brunellos don’t reach their peak for 8 to 10 years, but it is worth the wait!
Because of the long aging requirements for Brunello, the area also produces Rosso di Montalcino, also 100% Sangiovese, which is sometimes called, “baby Brunello.” These wines are released after only one year of aging and as such are fruitier and more accessible at a young age. They are also significantly less expensive than Brunello and while less complex, are quite enjoyable to drink.
Another quality DOCG wine from Tuscany is Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, made from grapes around the town of the same name (not to be confused with a grape called Montepulciano, which will appear in a future column). These are a minimum of 70% Sangiovese, blended with Caniolo and small amounts of other local varieties.
But enough about Sangiovese based wines! For generations winemakers in Tuscany have been making quality wines from international grape varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon has been grown in Tuscany for 250 years). For many years, these wines had no legal status other than Red Table Wine. Much like the plight of California wines made from less than 75% of any one variety led to the coining of the term “Meritage,” these wines came to be informally known as “Super Tuscans.”
In 1994 the designation IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) was created to recognize these wines, many of which come from the Tuscan region of Bolgheri. These are commonly “Bordeaux Blends,” meaning they are made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, but they may also contain Syrah, Sangiovese or any number of other grapes from the area. Many of these have achieved cult status, the most famous of which being Villa Antinori’s Sassicaia.
Needless to say, there is much more to Tuscany than this, so I encourage everyone to check out as many of these varied and delicious wines as possible. Reading about them is interesting but tasting them is what it’s all about!
Calendar of Events
- April 17th – International Malbec Day
- May 4th – International Sauvignon Blanc Day
- May 9th – National Moscato Day
- May 21st – National Chardonnay Day
- May 25th – National Wine Day
- June 11th – National Rosé Wine Day