Tuscany is a hilly wine region that stretches from the Maremma on the Tyrrhenian coast in the west, to the mountains that separate it from Emilia-Romagna in the east. Most Americans are familiar with the picturesque fortified towns perched on hilltops, from movies like Under the Tuscan Sun and Stealing Beauty. It really is one of the most beautiful and romantic places I have ever seen. It contains nearly 9,000 square miles, but most of the important wine zones are in one area, between Florence in the North, Sienna in the middle and Montalcino in the south. Once home to dozens of grape varieties, in modern times the region has been identified almost exclusively with two grapes, the indigenous variety Sangiovese, and Cabernet Sauvignon (which since the 1980s has been one of the grapes used in the blends known as Super Tuscan).
Sangiovese is not an easy grape to grow. It is difficult to get the grapes to ripen evenly, and it tends to reinvent itself as a different variation (or clone). Chianti has come a long way since the days of cheap wine in straw covered bottles in the 1960s. That wine was a blend of Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Trebbiano (the later a white grape). The addition of Trebbiano caused a pretty empty, unbalanced wine, bought mostly because it was cheap and looked cute in its’ distinctive straw. In the 1970s, a group of innovative wine makers began experimenting with Cabernet Sauvignon based blends, (as well as Sangiovese), aged in new French oak barriques. Wineries like Sassicaia became the benchmark for producing Italian wines with a sense of place, and international appeal, but outside the rules of traditional Chianti. Many producers began to create these wines, which became known as Super Tuscans. In addition to these new wines, a greater effort was made to improve the overall quality of Chiantis, and in 1984 Chianti was elevated to DOC and DOCG status.
The area known for the richest, fullest Chianti is the original small hilly region known as Chianti Classico. It must by law contain 75% to 100% Sangiovese and up to 10% Canaiolo. Reservas must be aged in wood for at least two years, and are generally only made on the better vintages. The best Chiantis have plum and dried cherry flavors, can develop flavors of chocolate, cedarwood, saddle leather, earth, smoke, minerals, salt and exotic spices.
Brunello is Tuscany’s most revered wine. From the beautiful walled medieval village of Montalcino, these are big, powerful wines. They are made from a special clone of Sangiovese called Brunello. The best vintages of Brunello can take on a stunning elegance, suppleness and concentration. They are also very age worthy. Bottles of Biondi-Santi have been drinking beautifully after a hundred years.
Another noteworthy red wine is Vino Noble. Made in the town of Montepulciano from the Sangiovese clone known as Prugnolo, the best of these wines have a spicy concentration and balanced acidity.
The most noteworthy white wine is Vernaccia di San Gimignano. It is made from Vernaccia grapes grown on the slopes surrounding this beautiful hill town (known as the Manhattan of Tuscany for its many towers). It is crisp, dry and refreshing.
Also worth noting is the dessert wine known as Vin Santo. This wine has a delicate, creamy, honey-like flavor. It is made from Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes that are dried until half the liquid evaporates, before being crushed.
I hope you’ll make an effort to try some of these wines! We carry some of these in the market or I would be happy to order special wines in if you’re interested.
“In Vino Veritas- In wine there is truth” – Pliny the Elder
Our White Wine of the Month is the 2013, Balletto Pinot Gris, from the Russian River Valley. Bright and aromatic, with honeysuckle, apple and fig, balanced acidity and minerality.
Our Red Wine of the Month is the 2013, Vini Fantini, Montepulciano di Abruzzo. Full bodied, with cherry and plum flavors, good balance and firm tannins.
I get these wines as they become available, and quantities are limited.
So, Wine Club members please come in early to pick up your bottles, before they’re gone.
Sommelier, Maynards Market and Kitchen