There isn’t an apt introduction that accurately captures the essence of the sunny, central Italian region, Tuscany. Words fall short to describe its beauty, and if you have never been to the Italian countryside, you have no idea of what I’m trying to express here.
Tuscany is described in one word: MAGIC.
Tuscany, a.k.a. Toscana in Italian, is one of the 20 regions in Italy. It is located in central Italy and is notorious for its hallucinating landscapes, rich history, artistic legacy, and influence on high culture. Yes, you read that right.
Tuscany can be called the flagbearer of the whole “high culture” subculture.
“the subculture that encompasses the cultural objects of aesthetic value, which a society collectively esteems as being exemplary works of art,and the intellectual works of literature and music, history, and philosophy, which a society considers representative of their culture.”
Ref: Williams, Raymond. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1983), Rev. Ed., p. 92.
It is the birthplace of the whole Renaissance movement and the home of two important Renaissance men who took culture to a whole new level: Michelangelo and Da Vinci.
But more importantly, for us wine connoisseurs, it is home to the world’s famous trifecta: Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. These three major wine-growing areas paired with the Bolgheri region bring the whole world to the birthplace of the “Super Tuscan Wine.”
All over the Toscanan land there are around 50 varieties of wines, majorly red and a few famous whites. But the primary grape being the Sangiovese.
The Avengers of Wine: Meet the Super Tuscans
Super Tuscans, the well kept secret of Tuscan wines, are believed to have started with Sassicaia, the legendary Tuscan Red, a wine created by Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, the legendary wine whiz and dreamer, who planted Cabernet Sauvignon at his Tenuta San Guido estate in Bolgheri in 1944.
The Sassiaca even earned acclaim at a Decanter event, knocking out several of its Bordeaux counterparts to the ground.
The rise of Super Tuscans came from dissatisfaction with the restrictive Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) rules of the Chianti zone prior to the 1990s. At that time, Chianti wine could not have more than 70% Sangiovese grape (considered the “workhorse” grape of central Italy) and needed to include at least 10% of one of the local white wine grapes.
But that didn’t please these Wine rebels.
One such rebel, Marchese Piero Antinori, created a “Chianti-style” wine that disregarded the DOC regulations, introducing a 1971 Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon blend called Tignanello in 1978.
Antinori’s wine, which took its cue from Sassicaia, started a trend of high-quality non-DOC wines, with producers preferring to build a recognizable wine brand based on merit rather than regional name recognition.
This trend started picking up like wildfire in other wine-growing regions in Italy, especially in the late 1980s in other regions of Tuscany, such as the Piedmont in the Northwest and Veneto in the Northeast. The pressure on the Chianti DOC rules eventually led the regulators to reconsider and finally accept many of the original “Super Tuscans” to qualify as standard DOC/G Chianti.
The Super Tuscan had its genesis in the flat plains of the Tuscan coast. Here, it’s the sea breezes, not the height, that cool things down, making it perfect for growing the red grapes from Bordeaux—Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
When you visit a local Tuscan wine shop, you won’t see the words “Super Tuscan” written on the label. Instead, look for Tuscan wines with the IGT classification, many of which will simply be labeled as “Rosso” or “Toscana Rosso.”
The category was sold under a simple IGT Toscana designation because of its unique, non-indigenous set of qualifiers. When you do travel to Tuscany for your next wine adventure, you shouldn’t miss out on these bad boys. It is truly the taste of revolution.
Planning your Tuscany Wine Tour
Embarking on an immersive full-day wine-tasting tour in the picturesque Tuscan hills is a trip of a lifetime. Tuscany is enveloped in a triangle, with the Mediterranean Sea kissing its western coast, shouldered by the Apennine Mountains on its northern end, and the rolling hills of Chianti and Montalcino at the heart of it.
At the heart of Tuscany lie the expansive, fertile lands of Chianti, the region’s largest wine-producing area. But to limit Chianti to merely a wine would be an understatement. It is an intricate interplay of traditions and flavors that leaves you spellbound.
Among Chianti’s treasures, two stars shine the brightest: Chianti DOCG and Chianti Classico DOCG, both born of the robust Sangiovese grape although they flaunt unique personalities, each bearing its own distinct signature.
Of the two, Chianti Classico DOCG often commands the spotlight. This exquisite blend, hailing from vineyards at higher elevations, offers the perfect synergy and harmony of sun, soil, and altitude in its creation. On the other hand, the iconic Chianti Classico is a true flag-bearer of Italian wines on the international stage.
Tuscany has an experience for every personality. If you’re someone who indulges in the rustic charm of hill towns, the quaint town of Montepulciano is a must-visit destination for you.
Tucked away in Tuscany, it’s a steep climb from the main entrance at the village’s bottom to its apex, but it’s worth every step. As you ascend, you’ll pass by cellars and wine bars, each inviting you to sample their delightful Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
Here, each bottle would have at least 70% Sangiovese grapes with supporting red grapes such as Canaiolo or Mammola, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG requires a minimum aging period of 24 months. The town is a treasure trove of spots to sample this wine. One such standout place is La Vineria di Montepulciano. Here, you can relish a selection of wines from different makers, paired with charming charcuterie boards stacked with local cheeses and dried meats.
If you go southward from the realm of Chianti, you arrive in the lush territory of Montalcino. Montalcino holds the crown for producing the king of Sangiovese wines, Brunello di Montalcino.
Montalcino town is a must-visit to soak up the local village vibes. Not just the reds, there are some popular white wines in the area, don’t miss out on trying the Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Trebbiano, Malvasia, Vermentino, or the sweet Vin Santo (or Vinsanto). Each offers a different experience to tantalize your taste buds.
Your trip to the land of the Toscano is certainly going to be the trip of a lifetime. Apart from being the birthplace of the Renaissance movement, the place also boasts no less than seven Unesco World Heritage Sites, including Florence, Siena, San Gimignano, Pisa, and Pienza, as well as the landscape and lifestyle of the Val d’Orcia via the Medici villas and gardens.
Not just wines, but Tuscany still draws literary pilgrims from around the globe. For instance, Frances Mayes’ bestseller, Under the Tuscan Sun (1996), brought in (and still brings in) a fresh wave of American tourists in search of the Tuscan dream. It is also a fan favorite for its road trips and is a safe area with a relatively low population density outside of major urban areas. Perfect for a soul search while sipping some of the world’s finest wines.
So, prepare your senses and taste buds. The Tuscan dream awaits.
Want to read more about Tuscany? Try out these books!
References and Citations
Williams, Raymond. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1983), Rev. Ed., p. 92.Photo of Michaelangelo: Attributed to Daniele da Volterra – Metropolitan Museum of Art, online collection (The Met object ID 436771)
DOCG – Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita
IGT – Indicazione Geografica Tipica — The IGT category is the broadest category of Italian wines. All grapes within any IGT wine should come from the region stated on the label.
Decoding Italian Wine – A Beginner’s Guide To Enjoying The Grapes, Regions, Practices and Culture of The Land of Wine by Andrew Cullan and Ryan Anthony McNally
Insight Guides Tuscany Travel Guide