Tuscany is the region with the longest tradition of winemaking in Italy. From the Etruscans, through the regulations of the glamorous House of Medici, to today’s Super Tuscans, this area is home to the most exciting stories and finest products of Italian viticulture.
Located in the Tyrrhenian side of central Italy between Lazio and Liguria, the hills and vineyards of the Tuscan countryside are one of the most recognisable and iconic landscapes in the world today.
Tuscan wine history started around the 8th century BC. Out of the many innovations introduced to Italy by the Ancient Greeks, the grape vine was one of the most greatly appreciated and cultivated by the Etruscans over the following centuries.
Etruria’s territory pretty much matched today’s Tuscany, but its influence on viticulture and winemaking extended above and beyond its borders and into its neighbouring areas, such as today’s Piedmont.
Around the 1st century AD Tuscan wines were mainly consumed by locals, with the Romans preferring the wines of Gaul and the Iberian Peninsula during the imperial age.
A significant milestone for wine in Tuscany came in 1266 with the guild named “Arte dei Vinattieri”, which started defining the rules for trading, with restrictions that included the banning of the sale of wine near churches and to children under 15, prostitutes and felons. Members of the guild were wine traders and tavern owners.
In 1670, Cosimo III of the House of Medici wanted to gift the kings of Europe in order to strengthen diplomatic relationships. It was then that Tuscan wines increased their popularity among nobility in England, Austria, France and Holland.
Still under the reign of Cosimo III, 1716 saw the introduction of restrictions that mandated specific wines can only be produced within certain geographical regions. It was the first example of what was later called DOC, a sign of the immense care of Cosimo III for viticulture.
But sometimes rules are made to be bent…
During the 1970s, the famous rebellion of Marquis Piero Antinori coined the legend of Super Tuscans: red wines from Tuscany that included non-indigenous grapes. Antinori first played a pivotal role in spreading the then newly born and unknown Sassicaia from Tenuta San Guido, afterwards releasing a 1971 Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon blend known as Tignanello in 1978.
Other producers followed the trend initiated by Antinori and prices started eclipsing some of the most well-known Chiantis, creating a brand of their own that still represent an excellence of winemaking to this day.
Tuscan climate is Mediterranean, with little seasonal change throughout the year and mild winters. It’s also in winter that most precipitation occurs, which increases chances of drought during the grapevine growing session and may require supplemental irrigation.
Because of the terrain of Tuscany being 68% hilly, very often vineyards are planted on higher elevations to ensure the summertime heat is tempered, reducing the risk of hazards.
Vines in Tuscany cover around 54,000 hectares, including the Florence and Pisa countryside, accounting for about 60% of the total.
In 2016, Tuscany produced around 3m hectolitres. with red wines continuing to make up the vast majority of production in the region, around 90% in total.
In the last 10 years, production seems to be fluctuating greatly, although staying within a 10% margin during this period.
The export turnover of Tuscan wines was around 940m Euros in 2017, completing a 69% growth over the last ten years.
The most important grape variety in Tuscany is Sangiovese, particularly suitable for the hot and dry climate of the region. Sangiovese is the only grape variety allowed in production of the famous Brunello di Montalcino, as well as the base for several blends, including Chianti and Super Tuscans.
Super Tuscans also have a significant role in Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot being planted in the region: combined with Sangiovese, the result is called “Bordeaux-blend” after the region from which these grapes are associated.
For white wines, there are Trebbiano, Pinot Grigio, Moscato, Malvasia and Vernaccia.
The style of Tuscan wine is deeply influenced by the vast usage of Sangiovese, a versatile grape that allows different approaches to wine-making, with flavours ranging from cherry and strawberry to ripe tomatoes and roasted peppers. Sangiovese is high in both acid and tannin.
Chianti, perhaps the most well-known Italian wine, is food-friendly and provides just enough acidity to cleanse the palate of whatever food it’s paired with.
Brunello di Montalcino is extremely complex: it has extensive ageing potential and requires a relatively long time in the bottle before it becomes ideal to drink. It’s considered to be one of the finest wines Italy has to offer.
Finally, Super Tuscan wine is extremely rich with grapes added to the blend bringing excitement and diversity to Sangiovese. It often requires a couple of hours of decanting before drinking for the flavours and aromas to fully come up.
Tenuta San Guido is commonly known by the name of its most famous wine: Sassicaia. It was created in 1940s by the Marquis Mario Incisa della Rocchetta in his quest to rival great wines of Bordeaux. The first release of Sassicaia is dated from 1968. It was a hit and pushed production to be quickly modernised.
Biondi Santi claims to be the inventor of Brunello di Montalcino. The first record of the wine dates back to 1869, referring to a 1865 release of Clemente Santi’s Brunello, despite the fact the family vineyards were already well established by then.
Valdicava means literally “valley of Cava” and the estate is located in a valley in the north side of Montalcino, in an area called Montosoli. The estate was founded by Bramante Martini in 1953, when he decided to take the opportunity of returning to the property where his ancestors, centuries earlier, used to be sharecroppers. It is recognised worldwide as one of the finest representatives of Italian winemaking.