Tuscany: Behind the Region

Taking a Closer Look at Tuscan Wine


Winemaking in Italy dates back more than 3,000 years, so you can bet that by now this country has mastered the art of creating some of the most delicious and complex wines the world has ever seen. From the cool Alps in the north to the sunny coasts in the south, Italy offers a wide range of diverse wines ranging in style and flavor. But perhaps the most well known wine region of Italy is Tuscany, known not only for its beautiful landscapes and Florentine legacy, but also as home to some of Italy’s greatest vineyards.

Situated in the northern half of central Italy, Tuscany is known for producing hearty red wines such as Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino. But the tradition of Tuscan winemaking dates back long before the days of the straw-covered bottles. Ancient Etruscan tomb paintings show that wine was being both produced and appreciated as early as the 8th century, thereby marking the beginning of the grand tradition of Tuscan viticulture.
The unique climate of Tuscany makes for both healthy vines and high yields. The Tyrrhenian Sea directly to the west of Tuscany gives the area a fairly mild Mediterranean climate with strong sea breezes and plenty of sunlight. Past the beaches, however, lies a hilly terrain that eventually leads to the Apennine Mountains that run down the center of the country. Although it may sound like a bad thing, these hills actually act as barriers from both the winds and the intense summer heat while also providing the grapes with a more direct source of sunlight. Additionally, high altitudes often help grapes maintain their sugars, tannins, and thick skins (all of which make for a complex, deeply flavored wine).

But since not all wines are created equal, it helps to know how to pick out the best (and recognize the worst). Italian wines generally fall into three categories: Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), which refers to wines which are of the highest quality; Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT), indicates a medium-quality wine; and Vina da Tavola, which is common table wine. However, another unofficial category of Tuscan wines was born in the early 1970’s, now commonly referred to as the “Super Tuscans.” Since regulations stated that Chianti must contain certain amounts of the grape Sangiovese and local white grapes, some producers felt that they could make better wines if they just ignored the rules and used their own blends to make wines in the Chianti style. With the success of these wines, they sought to make their own name and sever all associations with Chianti, hence the name “Super Tuscans.”

Along with knowing the classification system, it helps to also know the major wine regions within Tuscany. Chianti, probably the most well-known region of Tuscany, is centrally located and known for growing red varietals such as Sangiovese and Canaiolo, and whites such as Trebbiano and Malvasia. Montalcino is located just south of the Chianti region, and tends to have a warmer, drier climate that results in rich and intense wines. In southeast Tuscany, you will find the region called Montepulciano, which most often produces full-bodied blends of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. And lastly, in the southwestern portion of Tuscany we have San Gimignano, best known for producing crisp white and sparkling wines that benefit from the sandstone-based vineyards.

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  • Snooth User: lisabc
    145687 63

    cool article!

    Jul 19, 2010 at 12:45 PM

  • Snooth User: jmwein01
    535452 5

    awesome article! my favorite region in the entire world! remember to always look for the pink rooster label on top when choosing Chianti wines!

    Jul 19, 2010 at 12:56 PM

  • Snooth User: Andrzejek
    415052 1

    Succinct and to the point, how about similar write-up on another exceptional Tuscan region Bolgheri next? even if the wines may be above average price range.

    Jul 19, 2010 at 1:48 PM

  • Snooth User: Rnpalmer
    458809 1

    Italian wines do not fall into three levels of quality. There are very high quality IGT wines (super Tuscans being just one example). The DOC and DOCG designations really give you an assurance of providence and production methods than quality assurance.

    Jul 19, 2010 at 2:28 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,989

    Thanks, Divya, for the article, but is this all? It reads like an introduction to further, meaty info that unfortunately is not there. I kept looking for a second page with more detailed description of the winemaking regions, practices and styles, and hopefully even a third page with some tasting notes from the wines themselves...

    Can we hope to hear more from you on the subject?

    Jul 19, 2010 at 3:33 PM

  • Snooth User: Rabbit256
    188236 25

    Another Tuscan DOCG, often forgotten in shadow of its more famous neighbours, is Morellino di Scansano - some good wines for reasonable price.

    Jul 19, 2010 at 4:09 PM

  • What about the Nobiles? I'll admit the Brunellos are to die for but the Nobiles di Montepulciano are pretty tasty too and as highly regarded.

    Jul 19, 2010 at 5:08 PM

  • Snooth User: moravcs
    274740 1

    Unbelievably misinformed. (1) DOC/DOCG/IGT as a quality distinction is 30-40 years out of date, missing the major revolution in Tuscan wine-making over the past generation, leading to Supertuscans, numerous non-DOC top wines, etc. (2) Most Supertuscans are not from the Chianti, but from the region to the West or South, such as the Maremma, not even mentioned here--but the hottest wine-growing areas in Tuscany for several decades at least. (3) At the latitude of central Tuscany, the Apennines do not border on the Tuscan hills but along the border of Umbria and the Marche, an entire province to the East. (4) San Gimignano is not in SW Tuscany, either geographically or oenologically. Consult a map!

    Jul 19, 2010 at 5:10 PM

  • Agreed moravcs. It's a grave misrepresentation to suggest that the Italian classification system offers a guide to quality.

    Jul 19, 2010 at 7:10 PM

  • The Italian classification system exists to guarantee the consumer that what's in the bottle is what's supposed to be in the bottle - and it accomplishes that quite well. As for classifying the wines - that's up to the person who's drinking it! Some people prefer a vino da tavola over the most refined and expensive Riserva. It's a matter of taste - no one's wrong and no one's right!

    moravcs, you're absolutely right about the Appenines not bordering the hills of Chianti and that they're farther to the west in Umbria and le Marche... which are both entire regions and not provinces!

    Jul 20, 2010 at 9:33 AM

  • Snooth User: mgkeane
    265220 19

    I'm far from an expert, but must say that this article was too short and general to satisfy as a learning experience. I fell in love with Tuscany last year during a visit there, and was hoping this would provide a more in-depth look. I'm finding the comments much more instructive!! Thanks all.

    Jul 20, 2010 at 10:12 AM

  • Snooth User: jemmie
    127427 2

    I agree that the author needs to look at a map of Tuscany. She not only omits the wines of Bolgheri and the Maremma, as several comments point out, but also those of the Carmignano area near Lucca.

    Jul 20, 2010 at 1:35 PM

  • This piece was meant to be a general introduction to Tuscan wine, and I hope it doesn't sound as if I'm intentionally omitting certain wines in favor of others. I should clarify my explanation of the classification system: Though not created as an indicator of quality, in general, DOCG wines tend to be notorious for their outstanding and consistent quality (Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, etc.). However, that is certainly not to say that excellent VdT does not exist (and I assure everyone it does). Wine is subjective, and as TgiFlorence said, it's a matter of taste!

    I also wrote this piece in a 3-part series, so stay tuned for more information on specific Tuscan varietals and producers!

    Jul 20, 2010 at 2:39 PM

  • Snooth User: ksimback
    226880 33

    Very demanding crowd here... Tuscany is a region so deep with wine culture that it could take a book to give it the proper justice (and there are many, including some great ones on just Chianti or Brunello for an even deeper dive into specific parts of Tuscany). I liked the article as an introduction and it sounds like there's more to come... looking forward to it!

    Jul 21, 2010 at 12:51 PM

  • Snooth User: PasoGina
    527306 16

    I find it interesting that the comments above to correct the authors mistakes are so aggressive. It would be nice to see those who may be more informed about the subject to politely correct mistakes instead of condemning the author. After all, aren't we all here for the same reason? To learn more about wine and interact with people who have similar interests.

    Jul 25, 2010 at 10:49 AM

  • Snooth User: imasngr
    530493 3

    Just give me some Moscato d'Asti!

    Sep 30, 2010 at 1:06 AM

  • Snooth User: docgav
    641732 7

    Just had Baiocchi Vino Nobile du Montepulciano Riserva 1985 today which I think was before DOCG status. Stunning. Such balance, complexity and length. Alas this is no longer made and was my only bottle.

    Nov 18, 2010 at 12:58 PM

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