The History of Tuscany Wine
Italy is home to some of the best wines in the world. It is nonetheless interesting to know that Italy’s wine-growing and winemaking are spread all over the country, with no single region being credited with producing the country’s best wine. Each wine region has its own unique story and history of how it came to be known for its wine. This article will focus on exploring the history of winemaking in Southern Tuscany.
Tuscany Wine History
The origins of Tuscany’s wine can be traced back to the Ancient Etruscans, who lived in what is now Tuscany in the seventh century. These Etruscans are believed to have migrated to Tuscany from Asia and brought grapevines with them. When they arrived in Tuscany they began planting these vines and making wine with the grapes. Over time, grapes and winemaking became more and more important to the Etruscan people. They even began trading and selling their wine to nearby communities, making wine a major source of their income.
The Greeks and Romans
Prior to the arrival of the Romans, the Greeks occupied Tuscany. The Greeks arrived after the Etruscans, so the region was already full of grapevines. At this time present-day Tuscany was called Enotris, meaning ‘the wine land’. The Greeks succumbed to the Roman Empire during the first century causing the region to adopt numerous mannerisms and customs of both the Greeks and Romans over a relatively short period of time.
Tuscany Wine in the Middle Ages
The Middle Ages was a particularly key period in influencing the systematic planting of vineyards. The Catholic Church played a significant role in encouraging the consumption and creation of wine for various rituals. So it should not be surprising that monks, as well as priests, took part in the systematic cultivation of vineyards around convents, churches, and even monasteries. Benedict monks became so proficient at grape cultivation that their manuals are still widely applicable today!
The Renaissance Period
During the Renaissance, Tuscany’s wine industry flourished. In 1719, the first Tuscan wine was exported outside the region. The demand for Tuscan wine quickly began to grow and soon thousands of liters of wine were being exported to various other regions outside Tuscany.
Montepulciano and the Origin of Prestigious Wines in Southern Tuscany
The Montepulciano region (unrelated to the grape variety, Montepulciano) is renowned for its high quality wine. The wine and region have deep roots in history, and Montepulciano’s vineyards and wine reputation are inextricably linked to its past. Today the wine region possesses a DOCG, the highest quality rating in Italy called Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
Did You Know: There is also an Italian grape variety called Montepulciano, but confusingly it is not used to produce wine in Vino Nobile de Montepulciano. Instead the grape variety, Sangiovese is used.
A legend from the ancient days claims that Montepulciano owes its existence to Lars Porsenna, an Etruscan king. The king and his people had migrated from Chiusi to Mons Mercurious Hill in Montepulciano. And of course, they brought their grapevines and winemaking knowledge with them.
Since the end of the Middle Ages, the area around Montepulciano has been known for its high-quality wines. Francesco Redi, a poet, born in 1626, is said to have boldly said that Montepulciano was the king of all wines.
Redi was not the only one to demonstrate his appreciation for Montepulciano’s excellent wines. Thomas Jefferson, a founding father of the United States, was fond of Montepulciano wines. In 1816, Jefferson wrote to Thomas Appleton, “for the present, and I confine myself to the physical want of some good Montepulciano” Without a doubt, the area is able to produce excellent wine. It has earned its position in Tuscany’s wine heritage.
On July 1, 1980, the region was given DOCG (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin) status, further attesting to the quality of wine made here. The DOCG is called Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. A second DOC (Denomination of Controlled Origin) was formed in 1989, called Rosso di Montepulciano. A DOC is a slightly lesser quality level than DOCG, but the wine produced in this DOC is still praised as a delicious wine but at a slightly lower price point.
Tuscany Wine and the Rise of Maremma Toscana
Maremma Toscana is Southern Tuscany’s third-largest appellation. It is located in the province of Grosseto and makes rosé, sparkling and white wines. The region is referred to as the “wild west” of Tuscany due to its landscapes and winemaking techniques. Notably, Maremma is considered to possess some of the most spectacular vineyards in Tuscany. Even so, the Maremma Toscana wine region has not always been a haven for viticulture. It has been a gradual, yet phenomenal transformation. The region’s wine history is quite thrilling.
The region was within the Etruscan Empire before it was overwhelmed by the Romans. Interestingly, at this time the region was a wild, deserted marshland. Later in the 1700s, the Grand Duke of Lorraine led an army to conquer the land. Shortly after the marshes were drained in order to create space for agriculture and winemaking.
In the 1990s, there was a quick, yet massive shift. This got the attention of winemakers from other parts of Tuscany, and they quickly began putting money into Maremma. After decades of winemaking, the Maremma area today offers a diverse selection of red, white, and rosé wines. This area is also known for Super Tuscans, like the Marchesi Antinori Le Mortelle “Poggio all Nane.” There is currently no DOC (Denomination of Controlled Origin) located within this region.
On this Day
On February 18, 1626: Francesco Redi, a poet, and famed scientist was born. He would later declare Montepulciano the king of all wines. It is a declaration that was equally backed by other renowned personalities, such as Thomas Jefferson.
On July 12, 1966: Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was given DOC (Denomination of Controlled Origin) status.
On July 1, 1980: Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was granted DOCG (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin) status. It is a status that gave it more prominence and value to the region and wine.
Want to read more about Tuscany? Try out these books!
Aversano, Riccardo, Boris Basile, Mauro Paolo Buonincontri, Francesca Carucci, Domenico Carputo, Luigi Frusciante, and Gaetano Di Pasquale. “Dating the beginning of the Roman viticultural model in the Western Mediterranean: The case study of Chianti (Central Italy).” PLoS One 12, no. 11 (2017): e0186298.
Cole, Rufus. “Francesco Redi (1626-1697): Physician, Naturalist, Poet.” Annals of Medical History 8, no. 4 (1926): 347.
“History of Vino Nobile.” n.d. Dionora. Accessed January 13, 2023. https://www.dionora.it/travel-suggestions/history-of-vino-nobile-2/.
Robillard, Hunte. Maremma Toscana Wine Region, Tuscany: 10 Best Bottles (2022). https://www.vinovest.co/blog/maremma-toscana#link-4