Wines With a View
To consider modern day Tuscan wine, one should give props to the Etruscans, who inhabited this central Italian region starting in the 6th century BC. Tuscany is a land of abundant sunshine, rolling green hills, spring water, a spectacular, breezy coast and rich soils. If you’re going to set up a civilization, this is a pretty terrific place to do it. Especially if you have a bunch of gods that need worshipping with the heavy consumption of wine.
Around the 4th century BC, the Etruscans left this beautiful landscape for Rome. Their civilization, and the villages and agriculture they set up, were left to the elements and the vineyards dried up. Through the centuries, people returned to the region, but it spent a lot of time under dispute by various factions such as the Pisans, Sienese and Florentines. It was a dangerous place to live, what with all the hidden marauders and mosquito-ridden swamps, though many of the grapes planted there continued to grow wildly.
Say what you will about Mussolini, but it was under his dictatorship in the 1920s that Tuscany was rebuilt and became a prime vacation spot and wine culture once again grew. Sure, there was the ubiquitous plonk in the fiasco basket bottle, but also the finer juice. Today, many wines of Tuscany are considered Italy’s finest, with an impressive number of DOCGs, wines that are given the highest level of quality designation. Like nebbiolo in Piedemont, sangiovese rules the kingdom here, starring in Chianti, Brunello, Morellino di Scansano and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Montepulciano, incidentally, is NOT the grape but the place in this case).
From these classic wines grew the neoclassic, so-called Super Tuscans - wines that contain non-indigenous grapes like cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, etc. - and are classified as IGT’s (Indicazione Geografica Tipica), which simply proves the grapes were grown in Tuscan soil. Incidentally, people think planting French grapes in Italy is something that began in the mid 20th century. However, they’ve been growing there since the 16th century when Catherine de Medici brought vines from France. The mid 1960s was when Tuscan wine producers decided to really do something with them.
Drinking Tuscan wine is a history lesson unto itself. One can explore examples of traditional winemaking, taste a more experimental, innovative style or try wines that are informed by each of these approaches. Here are several reds to try as you sip your way through the Tuscan countryside. (Incidentally, terrific whites are made in Tuscany too. So much wine, so little time…)
The Trifecta of Tuscan Tradition - Montepulciano, Brunello and Chianti
Avignonesi is an organic winery that uses 100% estate grown varietals from 495 acres of land in the Montepulciano and Cortona appellations. They went old school in their Montepulciano style, using 100% sangiovese (30% of other varietals are allowed), with Australian-born winemaker Ashleigh Seymour giving true voice to that grape. You can taste three levels of Montepulciano from this winery, each with their own expression.
- The Rosso di Montepulciano 2012, which spends 8 months in oak, is herbal, bright and tart with just the right pinch of spice. It’s a perfect pizza wine that costs a mere $19.
- Their Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2012 expresses a more of a floral and dark fruit character, retaining that herbal note, more roasted this time, with a pretty earthiness. It rests 12 months in barriques and 6 months in large oak casks, with a minimum 6 month bottle aging before release.
- Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Grande Annati 2012 is only produced in the best vintages, when the grapes are allowed the most balanced hang time. It’s the Roberto Benigni of the range, a true character. It is at once dark and brooding, but with a mineral brightness, playful sweetness and mysterious spiciness.
Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona “Pianrosso” 2009 is a modern style gem from the highly regarded Brunello di Montalcino wine region. Pianrosso is a single vineyard wine made from 100% sangiovese grown in its ancient soils, aged exclusively in Slovenian oak. It’s bursting with fresh summer berry fruit that tastes as though it was dipped in the deepest, darkest Valrhona chocolate.
The motto of Frescobaldi is “Let the land speak for itself.” The Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva 2011 is a Chianti that likes to chat. Its sangiovese was grown in the Castello di Nipozzano estate, just east of Florence, in the Rufina zone, under the winemaker Eleonora Marconi. This wine expresses itself with a sophisticated brightness and stern earthiness, yet when you spend some time with it, is prone to wild berry tangents and cheeky sprinkles of spice. It also happens to be another $19 value.
Stepping Out of the Traditional Box
Il Sasso Carmignano 2013 from Piaggia winery is a blend of 70% sangiovese, 20% cabernet sauvignon and 10% merlot, grown between S. Cristina a Mezzana and Poggio a Caiano in the Carmignano region. The winery’s founder, Mauro Vannucci, was one of the first pioneers of the Super Tuscan movement in the 1970s. In a large sense, this wine is where old and new meet. It has a classic dark berry taste with a funky roasted herb note and is a true pleasure to sip.
Le Cinciole Camalaione 2009 is a thoroughly modern blend of 70% cabernet, 15% merlot and 15% syrah. That’s right. No sangiovese at all. Unlike most of its French counterparts, the style is fresh, with bright fruit and herbs, toasty, but not overoaked, and soft tannins. While it’s drinking well now, this wine is truly cellar worthy and can be enjoyed for years to come.