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The History of Winemaking in Southern Tuscany

winemaking in Southern Tuscany

The history of winemaking in Southern Tuscany

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 across the various parts of the country, with no single region taking all the credit for great wine. These different places across the country tell their unique stories of how they come to be known for their winegrowing and winemaking experiences.

There is, therefore, no single story that cuts across every region as each region has evolved somewhat differently and uniquely, although bearing certain similarities with others. Tuscany is definitely one of the country’s amazing places whenever one thinks of wine from Italy and even globally.

The vintners of Tuscany in Italy would certainly be proud to say the same. The wine history in Tuscany, more so in its southern region, is one that is exciting to explore.

Tuscany wine history

Tuscany’s winemaking roots are traceable to the ancient Etruscan civilization that originally settled at what is presently referred to as Tuscany.  This was during the eighth century.

The settlers, while relocating to Tuscany, had carried with them vines from vineyards in Asia. Progressively, the Etruscans adopted viticulture as a major component of their farming activities.

It was during this period that viticulture for purposes of winemaking emerged as a highly important economic endeavor for the very first time.[1] With the grapevines growing stronger and wild, the merchants sought a market for wider markets.

There are nonetheless those that have argued how Etruscans merely stumbled on land with prosperous grapes and then began domesticating it as opposed to commencing its cultivation. The narrative that the wine history of the region originated from ancient civilization seems to have nonetheless been embraced more.

The Roman Empire’s role in Tuscany wine history

Prior to the arrival of the Romans, the Greeks had arrived in Tuscany. Their arrival was after the Etruscan, and at this time, the region was already full of grapevines. What is present-day Tuscany was called Enotris, which refers to the wine land.

However, they would succumb to the Roman Empire during the first century which would cause the region to adopt numerous mannerisms and customs of the Romans and Greeks.[2]

The Middle Age and Tuscany wine history

The Middle Age was a particularly key period in influencing the systematic planting of vineyards. Christianity is for instance considered to have played a role in encouraging the relevance of wine and its application as a sacred component of worship. It is not surprising, therefore, that monks, church fathers as well as priests took part in the systematic cultivation of vineyards around convents, churches, and even monasteries.

As a matter of fact, the act of grape cultivation was so proficiently done by Benedict monks, even to the point of having manuals on grape cultivation that are still applicable today.

The Renaissance period

The Renaissance period saw the production of wine continue to grow in Tuscany. In 1719, the pioneer bottle of local wine was for the first time sipped across the borders of Tuscany. It was a move that was accompanied by great success, as within a short span of time, thousands of liters of wine were being supplied to bigger markets.

Montepulciano and the origin of prestigious wines in Southern Tuscany

Montepulciano is not only known for its amazing wine quality but that such quality is infused with deep historical roots. Although a small area in Southern Tuscany, Montepulciano is the place of origin for exceptionally prestigious wines. The area possesses a stunning landscape and is rich with artistic heritage that blends with its natural beauty.

Even so, the wine did not appear in their area by chance. Wine history is largely attributable to the extreme development of civilization and the quest by the people to safeguard and enhance skill, heritage, and experience.  Prestigious drinks such as “Nobile” have evolved as a result. The fame of Montepulciano’s vineyards and wine is inseparable from its history.

A legend from the ancient days is said to have claimed Montepulciano’s existence to Lars Porsenna, an Etruscan king.  The king had migrated from Chiusi from the Mons Mercurious hill, after which his people followed him. From these ancient times, Montepulciano’s history has remained connected to wine. A good illustration of this assertion is the wine cup that was decorated with red figures that were discovered alongside numerous bronze artifacts in 1868.

The cup was found inside an Etruscan tomb not far from Tuscan, and this was also produced in Chiusi. An evaluation of the cup shows its depiction of the Flufuns image, which is the Estrucan replica of the wine god of Bacchus engaging in a game where the wine had a central role.[3]

Montepulciano wine

A narrative is given of how wine from Montepulciano attracted the Gauls. The hills had been named Arrunte or Arunte by a Chiusi Etruscan. Accordingly, the wine had been used to convince the Gauls to cross over the Alps, although the motive was one of vengeance.

The earliest documentation of Montepulciano wine is perhaps 789. It was a time when an Arnipert Cleric had offered the San Salvatore church land that had vineyards cultivated on it. Later on the exportation and trade terms of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano would emerge.[4] Notably, the production of excellent wines from the Mons Pulitianus was recognized toward the close of the Middles ages and into the mid-sixteenth century.

Francesco Redi, a poet, born on 18th February 1626, is remembered to have once avowed how Montepulciano was the king of all wines.[5] This was in 1685. Interestingly, apart from many others attesting to this declaration, Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano was considered not an ordinary kind of Italian wine. B

eing a product of Tuscany’s winemaking region, the Vino Nobile was a testament to the many decades of tradition supporting Fransesco’s claims.

Notably, while the “king” title is one that may be contested, it definitely stands within the upper tier as counting among the best red wines from Italy. Redi was, however, not the only one that showcased his love for Montepulciano’s great wines. There was also Thomas Jefferson.  A founding father of the United States, Jefferson also showed his love for Montepulciano wines.

Undoubtedly, the region is indeed a haven for great wine and has earned its place in Tuscany’s wine history.[6] Moreover, the historical aspects of Montepulciano’s winemaking techniques, including the tunnels and caves full of gigantic oak casks, reveal the great importance of an underground haven to the ancient winemakers from in Montepulciano. Although most of the casks may presently be too old to be used, a few select ones are said to contain wine that may find their way to one’s table.[7]

The DOCG recognition is one of the aspects that are central to the quality of wine. The July 1, 1980 recognition of DOCG (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin) status is one that gave the Vino Nobile a new life. This recognition, however, came after the 1966 DCO (Denomination of Controlled Origin). Moreover, Rosso di Montepulciano was also created to define the various aspects of the wine, including alcohol content, aging, and yield per hectare. [8]

Maremma Toscana

Maremma Toscana is Southern Tuscany’s third-largest appellation. This is the Grosseto province and is characterized by a wide array of rose, sparkling and white wines. The region is referred to as the “wild west” of Tuscany due to its landscapes and techniques of winemaking.

Notably, Maremma is considered to host among the most spectacular vineyards in the whole of Tuscany. Even so, the Maremma Toscana wine region has not always been a haven for viticulture. It has been a gradual yet phenomenal transformation.[9]  The region’s wine history is quite thrilling.

The region was equally at the core of the Etruscan Empire before it was overwhelmed by the Romans. Interestingly, the original picture of the region was a marshland that was wild and deserted. It would later be reclaimed in the 1700s under the leadership of the Grand Duke of Lorraine which went to the 1800s.

During this time, swamps that were heavily forested were drained to allow viticulture and other farming activities. There was a sudden yet enormous transformation in the 1990s. At this point, winemakers from other Tuscany regions could not resist investing in Maremma. [10]

Decades later, the Maremma region now boasts of a wide variety of its widely produced styles of red, white, and rose wines. Similarly, the region is equally known for the Super Tuscans, such as the Marchesi Antinori Le Mortelle ‘Poggio alle Nane.’ However, there are no DOC names on the wine bottle labels.

On this Day

On February 18, 1626:   On this day, Francesco, a poet, and famed scientist, was born, and he would declare decades later how Montepulciano was 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: On this day, Vino Nobile was given the DOC (Denomination of Controlled Origin) status.

On July 1, 1980: On this day, the Vino Nobile was granted the recognition of DOCG (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin) status. It is a status that gave it more prominence and value to the Vino Nobile.

Want to read more about Tuscany? Try out these books!


 

 

References

[1] 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.

[3] https://www.dionora.it/travel-suggestions/history-of-vino-nobile-2/

[5] Cole, Rufus. “Francesco Redi (1626-1697): Physician, Naturalist, Poet.” Annals of Medical History 8, no. 4 (1926): 347.

[6] Hailman, John R. Thomas Jefferson on Wine. Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2006.

[9] Robillard, Hunte. Maremma Toscana Wine Region, Tuscany: 10 Best Bottles (2022). https://www.vinovest.co/blog/maremma-toscana#link-4

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