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Tuscany

Tuscany Wine Region

(Tuh · skuh · nee)

Does this match your vision of a sun-kissed Tuscany? Roads lined with tall cypress trees, rolling hills, medieval castles and bucolic small towns. It is all of that and more: a region of iconic cities, steeped in history, art and architecture. It is, many say, the spiritual home of Italian wine. But while Italy is blessed with numerous wine regions, Tuscany is unique for its wealth of multigenerational families—some spanning the centuries—that have been the stewards of their wineries. They are the keepers of Tuscan tradition and hold a vision for the future.

History

The origins of viticulture in Tuscany can be traced back to the Etruscans, who arrived in the area in the 8th century. They made and sold wine as a local commodity. During the Middle Ages, Benedictine monks cultivated vineyards, using the wines in church ceremonies. But the wine trade truly flourished in the 18th century under the mezzadria, the nobleman and merchant-driven system of sharecropping. The city of Florence—an important financial and commercial hub—was the logical marketplace.

The earliest reference to wine business in the city dates to 1079. By 1282, wine merchants‚ like many other tradesmen‚ formed their own guild, the Arte Fiorentina dei Vinattieri, which set strict regulations on how wine was to be sold and managed. The first recorded mention of Chianti dates from 1398, though it would not be legally defined until 1716. Other contemporaneous mentions of Tuscan wine are included in the writings of Dante and Boccaccio, and in 1685’s Bacchus in Tuscany, a dithyrambic poem that recounts Bacchus’s passage through Tuscany while sampling local wines. But it was the late 1970s that marked the modern age of Italian wine, heralding the introduction of wines like the Super Tuscan, which contributed a new and improved regional reputation.

 

Geography and Climate

Located east of Liguria, north of Lazio, south of Emilia-Romagna and west of Umbria, Tuscany is Italy’s fifth-largest region in area, covering nearly 8,900 square miles. Its wine production area comprises 48 total DOCs and DOCGs. They are spread across the plains of Maremma on the Tyrrhenian Sea to the steep hillsides with elevations between 500 and 1,600 feet in Montalcino and Chianti. (About 68% of the region classed as hilly—only 8% is flat.) The climate ranges from moderate maritime closer to the coast to hot summers in the interior and cooler climes in the high hills, where the significant diurnal temperature shifts benefit the grapes’ acidity and aromatics.

 

Grapes

Traditional red grape varieties include the predominant Sangiovese, comprising nearly two-thirds of the region’s plantings. Derived from the Latin sanguis Jovis (“the blood of Jupiter”), Sangiovese is the base for Chianti (which must contain at least 80% of these grapes) and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (requiring a minimum of 70%). The wines Brunello di Montalcino and Rosso di Montalcino must be 100% Sangiovese. Indigenous white grapes include Trebbiano, Vermentino and Vernaccia, all of which make dry, crisp wines, the most famous of which is Vernaccia di San Gimignano. The Super Tuscans use primarily Bordeaux grapes, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, as well as some Sangiovese. Other international whites include Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

 

Wine Production

After Sicily and Puglia, Tuscany is Italy’s third most-planted wine region, with vineyards mostly concentrated on hillsides. Though 80% of its production is devoted to reds, Tuscany produces dry white wines from Trebbiano, its most widely planted white variety; and Vermentino, especially around the sea-side appellation of Marmerra and the more established Vernaccia di San Gimignano. It also produces high-quality, red and white Vin Santo sweet wines.

Key regions include Bolgheri, Chianti/Chianti Classico, Carmignano, Brunello di Montalcino (considered a rival to Barolo), Maremma Toscana, Rosso di Montalcino, Rosso di Montepulciano and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

 

Classification of Wine

Tuscany is home to 11 regions bearing the label Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCGs) and 42 designated as Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOCs). Wines made under the Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) classification don’t meet the strict requirements of DOC and DOCG, but are still considered typical of the region. The Super Tuscans carry IGT status, though the new Bolgheri class within it allows for the Bolgheri and Bolgheri Sassicaia DOCs. The Vino da Tavola (“table wine”) category is the least regulated.

 

Famous Wines

Tuscany’s wine royalty includes names such as Antinori, Biondo-Santi, Barone Ricasoli, Donatella Cinelli Colombini and Poggio al Vento (Montalcino) and Frescobaldi. For a modern take on Super Tuscans, find Aia Vecchia, Marchesi Antinori Solaia, Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Grattamacco and Tignanello. For something in between, look for Bibi Graetz, Toscana IGT; Badia a Coltibuono and Cecchi in Chianti Classico, Capezzana in Carmignano, Selvapiana in Chianti Rufina, and Poliziano in Montepulciano.


Fun Facts

  • Pinocchio, made famous by the 1940 Disney film, was the eponymous character first published in 1881 by the Florentine writer Carlo Collodi.
  • While “all roads lead to Rome,” in 1339, Florence became the first city in Europe to pave its streets.
  • Pane Toscano, Tuscany’s iconic bread, is made without salt. It is also called pane sciocco, which translates to “saltless” or “foolish” bread and is traditionally used for panzanella, the Tuscan bread and tomato salad.
  • Bistecca alla Fiorentina, the classic Tuscan steak, is meat from the large white Chianina cattle. The ancient Tuscan breed was originally used as draft animals, but was later bred for consumption. Roman sculptors often favored the cattle as models, and the animals were also praised by the poets Columella and Vergil.
  • San Gimignano’s medieval towers once numbered 72. Today, only 14 still stand; the tallest is 200 feet.

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