Florence’s region continues to advance its position as the nation’s most dynamic producer of premium wines, following decades of turning out popular Chianti in straw-covered flasks. Tuscany’s modern renaissance in wine began in Chianti, in the central hills around Siena and Florence, but it rapidly spread to take in the strip along the Mediterranean coast that was not previously noted for vineyards. Much of the progress has come with classical reds based on the native Sangiovese vine, Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Carmignano, all DOCG. But growing success with other reds has been augmented by new styles of whites to enhance the region’s reputation. Chianti, still the dominant force in Tuscan viniculture, is the most voluminous and widely sold classified wine. Its multifarious nature is quintessentially Italian.
Chianti is produced in eight distinct zones and adjacent areas that cover a vast territory of central Tuscany. In those hills variations in soil and climate contribute as much to the individuality of each authentic estate wine as do winemakers’ quests for creative styles. Some Chianti is still fairly fresh, easy and quaffable, though a growing portion is rich and elaborate and capable of becoming aristocratic with age. Much Chianti is identified by its subdistricts, most prominently Classico. What Chianti has in common with all of the traditional red wines of Tuscany is its major grape variety Sangiovese. From good vintages, pure Sangiovese wines are rich in body and intricate in flavor with deep ruby-garnet colors. Some are smooth and round almost from the start, but others need years to develop the nuances of bouquet and flavor.
Tuscany’s appellation of greatest stature is Brunello di Montalcino. Brunello is now issued under more than a hundred labels, representing small farms, established estates and even international corporations. Brunello producers also make the DOCs of Rosso di Montalcino (a younger wine from Sangiovese), the sweet white Moscadello di Montalcino (from Moscato) and a range of wines that carry the appellation Sant’Antimo.
Not far from Montalcino is Montepulciano with its Vino Nobile, made from a type of Sangiovese known as Prugnolo Gentile. The nobile entered the name centuries ago. After a lapse of decades, Vino Nobile has made an impressive comeback under DOCG and is once again living up to its name. Producers may also produce the DOC Rosso di Montepulciano as a younger alternative to Vino Nobile. Carmignano rates special mention. Today this rare red from Sangiovese and Cabernet ranks as DOCG, though the red Barco Reale and other wines of Carmignano remain as DOC. Pomino is a high altitude DOC zone with a red that blends Sangiovese with Cabernet and Merlot and a special white which includes Chardonnay and Pinot. Among numerous other DOC reds, Morellino di Scansano, grown in the coastal hills of the Maremma, is strongly on the rise.
The Sangiovese-Cabernet blend of Tignanello served as the model for Tuscany’s new style of red wine aged in small oak barrels or barriques instead of ancient casks. Then came Cabernet-Sangiovese blends and, later, reds from Merlot, Syrah and Pinot Nero. Inspired by the success of Cabernet and Merlot in Bolgheri, wines from the coastal sector of Tuscany have risen rapidly in prestige to challenge the central hills for supremacy. In the heart of the Maremma, as the coastal hills of southwestern Tuscany are known, lies the Morellino di Scansano zone, source of a red based on Sangiovese.
Other DOC zones of promise include Val di Cornia, Montecucco, Monteregio di Massa Marittima, Montescudaio, Capalbio and Sovana. The pride of many a Tuscan winemaker is the rich Vin Santo, which has become DOC in many zones around the region. Vin Santo can be an exquisite dessert or aperitif wine. Most Vin Santo is made from white varieties, mainly Malvasia and Trebbiano, though the type called Occhio di Pernice comes from red wine grapes. Until recently, Tuscan whites rarely enjoyed much prestige. Exceptions to the rule stand out from the crowd. Vernaccia di San Gimignano has enjoyed a revival that led to its promotion as the region’s first white DOCG. Vermentino has spread through the coastal hills as a white variety of outstanding promise. Recently, whites of depth and complexity have been produced in Tuscany, made from such international varieties as Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Pinot Bianco and Grigio.