A recent Thursday night wine tasting at our local wine shop Fine Wines of Stockton was Chianti and Italian Reds. We had the opportunity to taste 6 Italian red wines, four of which were Tuscan and two were from other Italian regions. This got me curious about Tuscan wines, Tuscan food and where is Tuscany any way?
Tuscany is in the center of Italy, on the “left” coast opposite the island of Corsica. Included in this area are the picturesque cities of Florence, Pisa and Siena. Think the de Medici family, Leonardo de Vinci, the leaning tower of Pisa and the Renaissance art of Florence. In contrast to the large cities of the Tuscan region, the countryside is quiet with vineyards, olive trees, wheat fields and pastures. Did you read or watch “Under the Tuscan Sun?” Remember how beautiful the hilly countryside was in the movie? The weather is very California-like. Very warm summers, cool spring and fall with very cold winters. A great change of seasons.
The food is described as simple. Tuscans use basic herbs, wild game (rabbit, boar), beef, goat, lamb and chicken. Meats are often grilled over a fire or cooked on a spit. Fruits and vegetables are abundant. Egg based pastas, cooked beans and soups are very common. And truffles are in season in the fall, coinciding with the grape harvest. What a perfect combination of local ingredients! Flavors are described as concentrated and dishes are often simmered on the stove for some time. With the exception of the truffles, sounds very California-like.
Tuscany’s most prominent grape is Sangiovese, along with its many clonal variations. Also planted are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Italian varietals include Malvasia, Vermentino and Trebbiano.
Tuscany may be best known for its Chianti and Chianti Classico wines. It is produced in the Chianti region between Florence and Siena. This wine, famous for its short bottle wrapped in straw (not used much now), has been produced in the area around Florence since the thirteenth century. This wine is predominantly Sangiovese, with up to 10% Canaiolo, and up to 20% of other approved varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah). Chianti may contain white varietals blended in, not Chianti Classico, however. Flavors vary by region, but in general have good fruit, good acid (due to cool nights) and significant tannins. Chianti is generally a good food wine.
In addition to Chianti, the region produces what are called Super Tuscans. These wines are made from experimental blends, (Bordeaux blends) and for this reason cannot be classified as Chianti. These wines are classified under the less restrictive, and more recent classification, Indicazione Geografica Tipica. IGT wines represent regional efforts to produce unique wines from small geographical areas. The term Super Tuscan is a marketing term applied to these very big flavored, heavily tannic wines that pair well with grilled meat. They are aptly named. These wines in general are big wines that will age well and can carry prices to match.
In addition to Chianti and Super Tuscans, the region produces a variety of wines in the vino de tavola (table wine) classification. These affordable wines are considered everyday table wines with no guarantee of quality.
Additional classifications, Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) and Denominazione di Origine Controllata Garanita (DOCG) are produced in the region as well. These classifications date back to the 1960s and 1980 respectively. In 1992 the laws were re-written to increase the number of DOCG wines to 15 from the original 6. (For 2012 there are 12 DOCG classified wines in Tuscany). The DOC classification was intended to guarantee accurate labeling of wines. DOCG intends to designate higher quality wines.
Tuscany produces notable wines in the DOCG classification. The first to be so classified, Brunello di Montalcino, is produced around the village of Montalcino. Brunello, the Sangiovese clone grown in this region produces concentrated, full flavored wines with good structure. These wines are aged 4 years before release.
Vino Nobile de Montepulciano is another example of a DOCG classified wine from the region. Prugnolo Gentile, the Sangiovese clone grown in the area of Montepulciano, comprises 80% of the grapes in this wine. These wines age for two years before release, and to be labeled Riserva, must age an additional year.
As the weather cools, think about finding a hearty Tuscan recipe to make. There are many websites out there where you can find all kinds of Tuscan recipes. Cook a stew or soup, make pasta and then find a Tuscan wine to pair with it. Take a trip to your local wine shop and choose a Chianti, Brunello or Nobile de Montepulciano to enjoy with your dish. Maybe pick up all three and prepare a series of Tuscan menus to pair with your wines.
All of the Tuscan wines we tried in the tasting were quite nice and would make a good addition to an Italian meal.
My top tip for choosing a wine from Tuscany involves no long air flights and no change in time zones required. Just take a trip to the grocery store and your local wine shop. You will undoubtedly learn a great deal about Tuscan wines from your local wine merchant. Then, go home, get cooking, have a glass of wine and enjoy your evening!
Who knows, this may inspire you to take a trip to Italy where the are many villas in Tuscany to rent.