When you think of beautiful wine country, Tuscany is probably one of those places that come to mind. But this Italian paradise isn’t just about stunning landscapes and romantic villas. As a wine region, Tuscany is one of the best in the world. Here’s what you need to know about Tuscan wines to help you truly appreciate what this famed wine region is all about. And I’ve even included a few wine recommendations to help you wrap your head around what makes this region so sensational.
Tuscany is a wine region geographically located in central Italy. Its capital, Florence, is best known as an art capital. (It is recognized as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance.) But this region is also known for producing great food and wine.
The best Tuscan wines
Tuscany produces both red and white wines but the most important Tuscan grape is the red grape Sangiovese. The best Tuscan wines, as far as annual awards go, are generally Sangiovese-based. However, that isn’t really surprising since approximately two-thirds of Tuscany’s vineyards grow Sangiovese.
But what are the characteristics of the Sangiovese grape?
Sangiovese is a late-ripening grape that is known to have pronounced aromas and flavors of cherry. Because it is a late-ripening grape that requires a lot of sunshine, it is rarely grown in parts of Europe north of Tuscany. That is part of what makes Sangiovese so special to the Tuscan wine scene.
Chianti, Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino
Chianti, pronounced key-on-tee, is probably the best-known of Tuscany’s wines. This Sangiovese-based red blend typically makes food-friendly red wines. When many people think of a red wine to pair with Italian food, it’s usually Chianti.
But Chianti is not the only wine in Tuscany made from the Sangiovese grape. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Siena’s Brunello di Montalcino are both made from Sangiovese.
What is a Super Tuscan?
Then there are the Super Tuscan wines. In a country where wine is built on traditions and esteemed classifications, these wines are breaking the mold (and achieving international stardom).
Super Tuscans are Tuscan red wine blends that may be made with non-indigenous grapes, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot or Syrah. Italian winemakers began experimenting with these “unsanctioned” blends in the 1970’s and 1980’s but it wasn’t until 1992 that Italy created a designation to make these wines “acceptable.” Super Tuscans now fall under the classification of Toscana IGT.
Other wine grapes growing in Tuscany
You can find wines from Tuscany made with grapes other than Sangiovese. Additional grape varieties currently thriving in the Tuscan terroir include Vermentino, Vernaccia, Trebbiano, Canaiolo Nero, Colorino, Malvasia Bianco, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir and even Chardonnay.
A Tuscan winery steeped in history
By most European standards, American wineries are considered extremely young. But by Tuscan standards, even most European wineries look young. Frescobaldi Toscana’s wine production dates back thirty generations. (That’s around 700 years if you’re into the math.)
You might think this would make Frescobaldi Tuscany’s first wine family but wine production in Tuscany is believed to have started with the Etruscans in the 8th century B.C. But don’t let that take away from what Frescobaldi has created. Seven hundred years is a commitment!
As a result of the family’s investment in the region, Frescobaldi has managed to cultivate a diverse collection of estates throughout the Tuscan wine region. And Frescobaldi is also known for both quality and sustainability. It is really hard to narrow down the wines for an introduction to Tuscany. But because of the power of the Frescobaldi name, not to mention the quality of the wines, I’ve chosen this impressive wine producer to represent this introduction to Tuscan wine.
Frescobaldi wines for a party or Italian dinner (including tasting notes)
The three Frescobaldi wines I’m highlighting make a nice introduction to Tuscan wine. It is a trio that nicely represents both Tuscany’s wine-growing past and present.
I also like these wines because they represent good value. They’re the kind of wines you could buy for an Italian-themed party. But I could easily see making any one of them your new “house” wine. And they all would work as the wine for a romantic dinner, for various reasons I’ll touch on in my tasting notes. But even if you aren’t planning to entertain any time soon, this little sampling of Tuscan white and red wines should help to get you excited to discover all that Tuscany has to offer.
Pomino Bianca Riserva DOC
If you thought Chardonnay was relatively new to Tuscany, you will be surprised to learn that it has grown on the Castello di Pomino estate since 1855. This Chardonnay was also the first white wine in all of Italy to be fermented in barriques, (oak barrels).
In addition to the romance of history, this wine has so much to add to your next romantic occasion. (Did you know that oak-aged Chardonnay is said to have aromas that resemble a female pheromone?) A big yet elegant wine, it glides across the tongue with delicious viscosity.
This is a wine I would serve either for a romantic dinner or a festive, winter party. A fairly substantial white, it is a white wine that red wine lovers will probably appreciate. It offers a bit of sweetness up front and a refreshing minerality that sets the for a good time. I’ve found this wine for under $35 but I’ve seen it retail for as much as $48, so shop around before you buy.
At $15 a bottle, this might be my new favorite Tuscan wine. It is easily one of the best-value Italian wines I can find. It is also among the most historic of Tuscany’s wines, as it comes from the original Frescobaldi estate – the one established 700 years ago.
A soft and fruity rendition of Chianti, this is a wine you can enjoy on its own, perhaps while cuddling with your lover in front of the fire, or with a simple, elegant meal. (I would serve it with equally delicate food, such as fish. But it would also be my choice for a red to serve with a vegetarian meal.)
This Chianti is made from a blend of Sangiovese with a touch of Merlot. It offers forest-y aromas of sage and dark berries. Faintly savory on the palate, it offers cherries and cocoa and a plush, easy-drinking style.
Chianti Classico DOCG
If you want to understand Chianti, this wine is a great place to start. The Sangiovese grapes for this wine are grown in a vineyard with an ideal, amphitheater shape to maximize sun exposure. This makes for ripe, intense Sangiovese. Interestingly, the winery does not release the varieties or percentages of other grapes blended to make this Chianti Classico.
But it is a substantial wine with brilliant ruby color. The nose offers sensual notes of paprika, fennel, candied orange and leather. It offers classic, cherry flavors on the palate and an impressive tannic structure.
This is a very well-made wine for $25 and one that should please any Italian wine lover.
Learn more about Tuscan wine
Of course, if you’re really interested in learning about Tuscan wine, this is just the tip of the iceberg. As with other respected, European wine regions, there are multiple classifications within Tuscany as well as interesting wine styles that don’t include Sangiovese. We haven’t even touched on vin santo!
If you want to get to know the wines of the Tuscan region in greater depth, I highly recommend Burton Anderson’s The Wine Atlas of Italy. It is an older book but as someone who has had the chance to sit in on Anderson’s lectures and even dine with him, I can tell you that if you want to know more about Italian wine, Anderson is a great teacher.
Want to visit Tuscany?
And if you’re ready to start exploring Tuscan vineyards for yourself, a good place to start your research is on Tuscany’s official tourism website, Visit Tuscany. Here you’ll find information not only on food and wine and places to stay but there’s even a whole section on planning a romantic trip. And don’t miss our recommendation for a Tuscan cooking school that’s among the best in Italy.
Photo of Tuscan vineyard by Rich Martello
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