Tuscany is where wine, food, history and culture all come together. Tiny villages, rolling hills and the aromatic Eucalyptus trees bordering roads and walkways are what come to mind when I think of Tuscany. Then, of course, there is the wine.
Just north of Rome, Tuscany lies on the west coast of Italy. With a distinctive Mediterranean climate, the region is ideal for wine production, particularly sun-loving sangiovese.
But Chianti is probably what put Tuscany on the worldwide wine map. Chianti is both a wine and a wine region. The wine, predominately made with sangiovese, is very dry and high in acidity. But pair Chianti with just the right food, and the marriage creates a balanced and harmonious wine-tasting experience. In terms of quality, Chiantis are all across the board. Fortunately they are not costly, so trial and error can be the path to success.
The Chianti region is in the heart of Tuscany between the chic city of Florence and the laidback town of Siena. Within Chianti is Chianti Classico, a superior wine and region in terms of quality. A major distinction between Chianti and Classico is that Classico wines must be at least 12 percent alcohol. Chianti Classico Riserva is aged additionally and considered Classico’s very best.
Travel a little farther south to Brunello di Montalcino, a region (and wine) situated in the quaint hilltop town of Montalcino. Brunello (100 percent Sangiovese Grosso clone—a further distinction of the sangiovese varietal) is the classic Tuscan premier wine. Brunello is the King of Tuscany: big and tannic, with several years needed for its tannins to fully soften. What is a winery to do while waiting for Brunellos to age and still have some cash flow? Rosso di Montalcino is sangiovese that is young and is sent to market at about a quarter of the price.
Travel east across the Montalcino vineyards about 20 miles to Montepulciano, from where Vino Nobile and Rosso di Montepulciano hail (not to be confused with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo farther south). These wines have somewhat suffered in the U.S. market, living in the shadow of Brunello. They make very similar wines with a minimum of 70 percent Sangiovese Prugnolo clone (another classification of sangiovese) and at least one year in oak. Many Montepulcianos rival the Brunellos, so if you find one on a wine list, chances are, it is going to be a good buy.
Moving southwest to the coast is the Maremma region and the town of Bolgheri, where the ‘Super Tuscans’ hail. ‘Super Tuscans’ are Sangiovese-based wines blended with other more well-known grapes like cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah.
Tuscany is filled with many noteworthy regions and grapes, including San Gimignano, known for its vernaccia grape, a nice crisp white. Other notable Tuscan whites include trebbiano and malvasia.
Whatever your pleasure, you can certainly find some treasures under the Tuscan sun. All you have to do is take a sip.
TASTING TIP: RIM VARIATION As red wine ages, it looses color pigments, and the wine displays ‘rims’ or ‘bands’ of color. So if you have a 15-year-old wine, you may have 3 bands of color (darkest in center and lighter towards the outside). So if you know the color of a young red, open an older version to see the different colors.
WINE RECOMMENDATION: Brunello (my wife, Arlene’s, favorite red) is a must-have taste. Savor the flavors as the wine opens up. Sample different Chiantis, and be sure to try them with food.
Stanley Browne is a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, a Certified Specialist of Wine by the Society of Wine Educators, and the owner of Robust Wine Bar in Webster Groves. He is a 30-year veteran of the restaurant, hospitality and wine industry.