When you say Tuscany, what comes to mind? Rolling landscapes, villas on the side of a hill, vines as far as the eye can see?
Now if I say Tuscan wine, then what comes to mind? Is it the Chianti from around Florence or the Brunello from Montalcino? Or maybe it’s Nobile, formerly called Vino Nobile, from Montepulciano? Not be confused with the Montepulciano grape from Abruzzo. If you are a white wine drinker, do you lean more toward the Vernaccia wines of San Gimignano? What’s that? You had no idea there was also a white wine produced in Tuscany? You are not alone. While Vernaccia from San Gimignano was the first white DOCG (Denominazione de Origine Controllata e Garantita) in the country, its reputation is still not very well developed outside Tuscany. You will not find many, if any, Vernaccia wines on LCBO general list shelves. Maybe one or two appear in vintages every year but don’t count on it. The other three are easier to find. In fact, Chianti has its own shelf in the LCBO and at least two Chiantis see a release through the vintages section every offering (for those not keeping count, that’s at least four each month).
So, shall we start with the basics about Tuscan Wine? Here goes. When it comes to wine tourism, Tuscany is Italy’s number one tourist destination. I am lucky enough to go every year for the Anteprime Toscana, an annual event held for journalists to assess the latest iteration of Tuscan wines. Usually this happens in February, perhaps not the best time to be in Italy as it is still ‘winter’, but their winter is much milder than Ontario. Each time I go, I get the same reactions from people: it’s either on their bucket list, they are going soon or have just been, or it is lovely and I need to go again. My mother has been repeating that last sentence for years.
With all these people coming and going, or wanting to go, to Tuscany, you would think their wines would be less of a mystery. Yes, there’s the food, the views, the countryside, the rolling hills, the miles and miles of vineyards. Italy is the only country in the world where north to south, there is a continuous line of grapes growing. That line is not always straight but no longitudinal line is without a grapevine.
Let’s start with the three red wines of the area: Brunello, Chianti and Nobile. Those are not actually grapes, as many believe but rather wine styles from different areas within Tuscany. It is important to remember that the primary Tuscan grape is Sangiovese, the mainstay of the three above mentioned wines. It makes up a greater amount of the blend of the finished wine. In the case of Nobile and Chianti, it is the majority of the wine and with Brunello it makes up the entire wine.
So let’s talk a little about Chianti. Chianti is no longer the old-time straw basket wine. Those bottle and basket combinations are now known as ‘fiasco’ – and they truly are that: a terrible way to market wine, because it looks cheap and denotes cheap. The story of the cheap Chianti your parents drank, or you drank when you were younger, all have a fiasco involved. There are still people with fond memories of those bottles but the image of Chianti has changed and Chianti can now be broken down into two main kinds: Chianti and Chianti Classico.
Chianti Classico, is represented by the black rooster on the throat of the bottle, it is the historic region of Chianti, or the original area. Once Chianti became popular, everyone started snapping up land and making Chianti in and around the region but the original producers wanted to separate themselves from the newcomers, so they had the original geographical area designated as its own special region: Chianti Classico.
Today the classical region is starting the process of subdividing into smaller sub regions and that is a subject for a more in depth article another day. The idea of sub-zoning a major area is nothing new. Niagara did it years ago, and the notion stems from the Burgundian idea of Cru and Clos, which bring things right down to a micro-vineyard area. The bottom line here is grapes that come not just from a large area like Chianti but from a specific area within the larger area, all the way down to, in some cases, a single hectare or half hectare of grapes, will make a more terroir-specific wine than just a general mish-mash of grapes from all over the vineyard.
And it’s not just Chianti Classico. Nobile is in the process of creating their Crus, or subsections, within their region, and Brunello has been doing it in some form or another for decades, calling theirs ‘vineyard selections.’ All this means that in years to come there will be more choice, more diversity and more to learn about wine and no doubt, a few more shekels will come out of your pocket in the process. But then learning about and enjoying wine is all part of the process and the fun.
Now go find yourself a favourite Chianti, you know you have one, pour a glass and dream about your next trip there.
Cin Cin. Alla nostra salute.