Let's talk Tuscany. I have to be honest, this post was a difficult one for me to tackle for a few reasons. Firstly, Tuscany is Italy's most famous wine region and gave birth to some of the most important wines in the world, so I really wanted to do it justice. Secondly, despite it's size on the map, Tuscany is kind of a beast. Located in central Italy along the Tyrrhenian coast, Tuscany's most prominent red grape is Sangiovese and is used in the production of the majority of it's red wines. After careful consideration I've decided that in this post we're going to break down the following: Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano vs. Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and Super Tuscans. Let's dig in, shall we?
Chianti- Chianti is a region in the heart of Tuscany. The wines produced here are made with at least 80% Sangiovese grape. There are several different winemaking zones within Chianti, the most important of which are Classico and Rufina. Similar to my point on 'Soave Classico' in the previous post, Chianti Classico is considered the best wine in the region. You'll also see bottles that are purely labeled 'Chianti.' These are the table wines of Chianti and are great for everyday, easy drinking, affordable wines. On the flip side, you've probably also seen bottles labeled 'Chianti Classico Reserva' which means the wines have been aged in oak for a minimum of three years therefore giving them more flavor and complexity.
Chianti traditionally is high in acidity with dark cherry flavors, hints of spice and herbs, with medium body and tannin. Similar to other medium bodied Italian wines, Chiantis pairs well with pizzas, anything based with red sauce, grilled meats such as flank steaks or veal and burgers. They also go very well with cured meats such a prosciutto and spicy salami. Expect to pay $8-$12 for a bottle of Chianti, $10-$30 for a bottle of Chianti Classico/Rufina, $30-$50 for a bottle of Chianti Classico Reserva. I found a great bottle of Chianti Classico at Bond Street Wines. A little on the pricey side but well worth the splurge.
Brunello di Montalcino- One of the finest wines produced in Tuscany and Italy as a whole, Brunello di Montalcino is made exclusively from Sangiovese grapes grown on the hills surrounding the village of Montalcino. Despite the fact that Sangiovese is grown all over Tuscany, these particular vines are distinguished from others in the large size of the berries they produce. Brunello started to gain its reputation at the end of WWII and at the time, Biondi- Santi was the sole producer. In 1980, Brunello formally became Italy's first DOCG wine and today there are almost 200 producers. Brunello wines must be aged for a minimum of four years, two of which must be in oak.
Brunellos are characterized by their full, rich flavors, high acidity and smooth tannins making them an excellent pairing for braised meat, game, pasta with a rich ragu sauce or anything with truffles. These wines are high in alcohol content (14%+) and often carry tastings notes of ripe fruit, vanilla, tobacco and spice. Brunello wines usually start around $45 and go up from there. Here's a great Brunello for $45 from Bond Street Wines.
Montepulciano: Montepulciano can be a bit confusing in my opinion. I want to talk about both Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. Let me clarify that these are two very different wines. Vino Nobile is made from Sangiovese grapes grown on the hills that surround the town of Montepulciano. Alongside Brunello, it is one of Italy's finest wines. This is where it gets confusing. Montepulciano is also the name of a grape used to make the wine Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (amongst others), however, it really has no relation to the actual town of Montepulciano, they just share a name. #WelcometoItaly
Vino Nobile must be aged for a minimum of two years, one of which must be in oak. Wine makers traditionally will use larger barrels for the aging process so as to control the slow maturation of the wine, rather than to impart strong oak flavors as most barrels do. This wines are medium bodied and high in acidity with firm tannins. They pair well with similar dishes to Brunello and are also similar in price point.
Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is more of a everyday drinking wine. You've probably seen it on lots of restaurant menus. It's very approachable with medium body, soft tannins and ripe fruits. Because of the large production of Montepulciano grapes across Tuscany, there is quite a lot of variation in terms of flavors in these wines which I think makes them really enjoyable to drink. These wines range anywhere from $8-$30. I would definitely encourage you not to judge quality based on price point for this particular wine as I've tasted some great Montepulciano d'Abruzzo for under $10. These will pair with similar traditional Italian dishes as Chianti- pizzas, pastas, meats and cheeses. Here's a great example of a reasonably priced and complex Montepulciano d'Abruzzo for $12.
ART OF EARTH MONTEPULCIANO D'ABRUZZO 2012 - $12
Super Tuscan- Super Tuscan is perhaps the most misunderstood term in Italian wine...and for good reason. The short definition of a Super Tuscan is a wine that uses grapes that are not indigenous to Tuscany. The most common grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, however, this is made more confusing by the fact that there are Super Tuscans that are made from 100% Sangiovese. Again, #WelcometoItaly. Because there are so few concrete rules surrounding these wines, they have not been given DOC or DOCG status and are usually labeled as IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipical).
The good news surrounding these wines is that as they have grown in popularity they have also grown in volume, making high quality Super Tuscans available at much more affordable prices points than they once were. Here are three Super Tuscans at three different price points. All can be found and purchased online at Bond Street Wines!
That's a wrap on Tuscany. I hope you all feel a bit more informed and excited about Tuscan wines! Sure, a lot of them are crazy expensive and a bit daunting but there are also tons of affordable Tuscan wines that are also delicious and complex. I encourage you to try some for yourself! Stayed tuned for the final volume of the Italian Series next week- we'll be tackling Sicily!
Cheers and Happy Tasting! Ciao, ciao ;)