The Wine & Food of Toscana
Ask a room full of people what their favorite region of Italy is, and the unanimous answer might very easily be Toscana. But ask them why, and you'll
likely receive a multitude of answers: picturesque rolling hills, ancient walled villages, signature dishes of Bistecca alla Fiorentina and Coniglio al Vino Bianco, the duomos and plethora of priceless art....And someone is certain to mention the wine: probably Chianti or Brunello di Montalcino— or possibly the darlings of Toscana's modern persona, the Super-Tuscans. Though each one of these
celebrated categories is unique, they all bear a substantive relationship to Sangiovese. In 1990, nearly 10% of all Italian vineyard land (more than 247,000 acres) was planted to some form of Sangiovese (it offers many clonal variations and names to match: Brunello, Prugnolo Gentile, and Morellino, to name but the most familiar). Sangiovese constitutes the principal variety of Toscana's finest reds, the sole grape permitted in Brunello di Montalcino, and the basis of Chianti and the vast majority of Super-Tuscans. In order to begin to understand the nature and significance of its many manifestations, however, one must undergo a brief immersion study in the region's history, the evolution of its wines, and the producers who have championed both.
Traces of vinous DNA material found in proximity to
today's Chianti Classico zone attest to the likelihood
that wild vines predated humanity in central Italy.
The Etruscans discovered and cultivated these vines
as early as the 9th century, and Sangiovese is one of
the grapes that featured in their viticultural efforts.
Despite its extensive winemaking history, this land has not been insulated from the difficulties in establishing a definitive identity. The Romans cherished the wines for their gentile, often elegant qualities. Much later, as Italy was developing as a nation, the great Barone Ricasoli, author of the first official "recipe" for Chianti in the late-19th century, identified two conceptions-a light, young wine blended with a good portion of white grapes, and a serious wine comprised primarily of red grapes crafted with the cellar in mind.
However, by the late sixties, Chianti bore little resemblance to the powerful and
structured wines of its past. Toscana's period of economic recovery following WWII precipitated a marked shift in focus. Cash-strapped Tuscans set off to merchandise their wine to the world, leaving quality pretty much behind them in the interest of quantity. The traditional formula conceived by Ricasoli was severely compromised through wrongful interpretation and the allowance of a disturbing proportion (up to 30%) of white grapes. Chianti was no longer a wine of longevity, but rather, synonymous with the ubiquitous straw-covered fiaschi. Chianti and Tuscan winemaking had reached an all-time low, and the governing classification system was doing little to amend the state of this vino nation.
Oddly enough, it was a fellow regional expression that came to the rescue of the down-and-out Chianti, a wine that would revolutionize the zone. The phenomenon in question-the Super-Tuscan-was both a movement and a wine style, as opposed to a new formula that rewrote an inferior conception. Commencing as a radical reaction to the state of Chianti and the quaffable wines of the region, it acquired the moniker Super-Tuscan, as the wines concerned defied regulations regarding viticultural and vinification practices. In another sense, however, the term also signified the unprecedented quality winemakers realized while paying homage to the wines' region of origin. The movement not only produced a new breed of exceptional wines but also precipitated a renaissance for all Tuscan wines.
Surface: 8,877 sq mi
Density: 60/sq mi
Vernaccia di San Gimignano
*Sangiovese—known in various areas
by the following names:
- Brunello or
- Prugnolo Gentile
- Chianti Classico
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Terre di Siena
Salamini Italiani alla
Other Regional Specialties
Bistecca alla Fiorentina