The Grapevine – Tuscany Greats

Italy has been producing wine for 3,000 years and it is said that Italy is not a country, just one gigantic vineyard from the North to South. Tuscany is one of 20 wine producing regions in Italy.
Within Tuscany lies the Chianti and Chianti Classico grape growing and wine producing areas. Chianti wine is made predominantly from the Sangiovese grape producing wines that can be spicy, medium bodied, with nuances of cherry and raspberry flavors.  Sangiovese is a warm weather varietal that thrives in the Tuscany region of Italy.
Tuscan winemakers produce three different qualities of Chianti wine and as you look at the label on the bottle you will see one of the three following designations that are important to understand.
1. Chianti a basic table wine from a broad general area within the Tuscany wine region.  This is the least expensive Chianti.
2. Chianti Classico this wine is more expensive and comes from the inner historic district of Chianti.  This is a better quality wine that has been given more attention in the winemaking process.  The grapes come from better vineyards that produce wines with a sense of place.
3. Chianti Classico Riserva these are the finest Chianti’s made from the very best grapes,  receiving laborious winemaking attention, and have been aged for a minimum of two years and three months.  The Classico Riserva’s also come with the highest price tags.
Chianti is great wine to drink with an Italian meal, high in natural acidity assuring that your wine pairing will bring out the best flavor in your meal.  Chianti is a medium bodied wine that will not compete with your meal and remember with big robust foods you do not want a wine that is equally robust or they will simply nullify one another.
Some rogue winemakers in Italy produce wines that do not adhere to Italian wine laws; they wanted to produce wines that are stylistically different.  In Tuscany there is a style of wine that is referred to as “Super Tuscan”.
Super Tuscan is a term that was coined by wine critic Robert Parker in the 70’s; he was a fan of these signature wines and brought them to the world’s attention.  Sassicaia is an artisan “Signature Wine” crafted by Marquis Mario Incisa della Rocchetta who owns an estate on the coast of Tuscany.
The first Sassicaias were produced in the 40’s and had become a more finely tuned version by the 60’s thanks to Marquis’ persistence.  Piero Antinori who owned an old winery in the Chianti Classico region and was related to the Incisa della Rocchetta was familiar with the Saccicaias.  Antinori produced Tignanello in 1971 and this wine was modeled after the Saccicaia except it was made with Sangiovese and aged in oak barrels.  In later years Cabernet Sauvignon was also blended in the Tignanello.
A couple of the best known “Super Tuscans” are Tignanello and Summus, these wines are bold, robust, tannic, and have a mighty personality.
There are other styles of wines made from the Sangiovese grape of Tuscany too.
Brunello wines are made from 100% Sangiovese and are big full bodied and bold wines that typically need a minimum of five years of aging and sometimes as much as ten. The best Brunello wines are expensive because of their limited supply.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is also made from Sangiovese grapes but is blended with the Canaiolo grape varietal.  Unlike a Brunello this wine style is medium bodied, readily available, much less expensive, and easier to drink wine at a much younger age.
The Carmignano wines are dry redwines based on a standard modern Tuscan blend of Sangiovese (at least 50% of the final blend), Canaiolo Nero (up to 20%), Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc (10–20% each). The wine is similar in style to Chianti, which may now also be made using a portion of Cabernet Sauvignon.  For an entire series on the Great Wines of Italy visit my blogsite at
Liquid Planet features an excellent selection of wines and is located in the heart of Downtown Missoula.

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