Many people say that Tuscany ranks alongside the region of Piedmont as the most well known wine growing region in Italy. Though Tuscany provides a contrast with Piedmont on the one hand by its rural and quite often antiquated methods of production, and on the other hand by the somewhat elitist image of their top wines. Tuscany also enjoys worldwide popularity, with wines such as Chianti, Brunello, Nobile di Montepulciano, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Galestro and Sassicaia have great a great reputation with wine lovers everywhere. Tuscany is the perfect embodiment of wine and culture, many of Italy's greatest poets, artists and composers have sung in praise of chianti.
Historically, wine growing in Tuscany has always been subject to political influences, landowners - especially the clergy and nobility - set up the mezzadri, or sharecroppers whereby tenant farmers where allowed to cultivate the land in return for half their crop. After World War II the larger estates where broken up and the mezzadri retreated into the cities and it was feared that wine growing in Tuscany would be forgotten. Luckily, many business men saw the opportunity to invest in the larger estates and began a serious restoration project in the region.
This re-birth of the Tuscan wine industry lead to improved methods of production and more importantly a rebirth in quality. The region looked to Oenologists from France and Spain to rebuild the regions reputation. New vineyard techniques, new harvesting methods, a more quality based ethos and higher standards of overall production where adopted and the modern day Chianti was born. Experiments in new pressing methods and the use of new wooden barrels for maturing the wines were carried out, even experiments in producing and blending French wine varieties such as Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay and all were found successful, much to the annoyance and disgust of Italian wine purists. But modern Italian wine was born, and it bore the Tuscan name.
Unfortunately, many of these new wines fell way out of the Italian DOC system, therefore where not eligible for any classification, and to this end, Carmignano - one of Tuscany's oldest wine producing regions - was forced to sell its top wines as table wine. Luckily, many producers ignored this and the trend for high-quality, inventive and non traditional Tuscan wines shone through.
The Sangiovese grape in particular became the shinning light of the Tuscan wine industry. Sangiovese is ideally suited to hilly, terraced vineyards, produces well at great altitudes where great fluctuations between day and night time temperatures are usually a problem. Sangiovese is not just responsible for the great wine Brunello di Montelcino, but also accounts for a great percentage of Tuscanys premier wine, Chianti. Following a change in Italian wine law in 1990's Chianti may now be made from exclusively Sangiovese grapes.
Sangiovese guarenteed the quality of Nobile di Montelcino and Morellino di Scansano, of Carmignano and some of the other great table wines which are now known as The Super Tuscans.
Other Grape Varieties
Other red varieties that continue to deliver great quality Tuscan wines include many native French varieties - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and to a lesser extent Pinot Noir and Shiraz, are now producing great Tuscan wines.
White varieties, unfortunately, are a different story. In the 1980's Trebbiano was used to make Galestro but has now pretty much vanished without a trace. Occassionally, a good Chardonnay can be found and Vernaccia di San Gimignano and white Montecarlo wines still enjoy a good reputation worldwide. Tuscan whites have never been approached with the same prestige and class that has been achieved by Tuscan reds.
Chianti is not just one of Italy's most popular wines, it is one of the oldest in production and is produced in the greatest quantities. Chianti far outstrips, Asti, Soave, Prosesso and Valpolicella. In a good year 1.3 million hectolitres (around 24.42 million Gallons )of Chianti is bottled. Chianti is not just one single product, it is a generic term which encompasses very different wines all produced in the same area of Tuscany.
At the heart of the region is possibly its most famous wine Chianti Classico, which has recently been granted separate designation of origin, the historical central area of Tuscany between Florence and Siena. It was with this region , 150 years ago, that Baron Ricasoli developed his recipe for Chianti. Ricasoli specified that the wine should consist of a blend of 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo Nero, 10% white Trebbiano Toscano and 5% other grape varieties. The wine was blended to give Sangiovese more colour and flavour and also making it more drinkable when young.
Nowadays Riscolis recipe is obsolete, new talented wine growers are getting better quality and character from Sangiovese alone, therefore the wine no longer needs so many constituents to its blends. Today varieties such as Cabernet, Shiraz and Merlot are used in Chianti blends.
Modern Chianti Classico has great finesse and an ideal match to the cuisine of Tuscany. The names given to the wine and the grape varieties used within it are now set out in legally defined zones of the Chianti region and are all very different. One of the most famous zones is that of Chianti Rufina which is produced in a small wine growing region to the east of Florence. When new these wines have much more acidity than Chianti Classico, but have very good ageing potential.
Other notable wines produced in the Chianti region include Colli Fiorentini (near Florence), Colli Aretini (near Arezzo), Colli Senesi (large area near Siena), Colline Pisane (near Pisa), Montalbano (west of Florence, where Carmignano is also produced) and Montespertoli (a new region near the town of the same name. Most of these wines are of notable quality to Chianti Classico.