Tuscany, My Tuscany
(April 24, 2008)
when Chianti came in straw-covered, pot-bellied bottles that made
great candle holders? That container was called a "fiasco"
in Italian, which coincidentally describes the state of Tuscan wines
That was the year when Marchese Piero Antinori released a new version
of Tignanello, the product that thumbed its nose at Italian appellation
laws and would create a whole new category of wine – Super Tuscans.
The 1970 vintage of Tignanello, a single-vineyard wine, was the
traditional blend of Chianti grapes as set down in the mid-19th
century by Baron Ricasoli – Sangiovese, Canaiolo and a small portion
of white grapes, Trebbiano and Malvasia. This recipe became enshrined
in the DOC regulations, but the presence of white grapes in the
blend made for wines that would not age and in the 1960s most Chiantis
tasted like red ink. Remember those red-table-cloth restaurants
with Chianti bottles thick with candle wax? The bottle made more
of a statement than the wine inside it. A revolution was needed
if Chianti was to regain respect.
|My Five Favourite
Affordable Italian Wines
Antinori Peppoli Chianti Classico 2005 ($19.95, Vintages
Frescobaldi Castiglioni Chianti 2006 ($14.85, LCBO #545319)
Masi Campofiorin 2005 (Veneto, $17.30, LCBO #155051)
Morante Nero D'Avola 2005 (Sicily, $15. 25, Vintages #40816)
Viticoltori Alto Adige Lagrein San Pietro 2005 (Alto Adige,
$14.95, Vintages #51714)
By dispensing with white grapes, adding Cabernet Sauvignon to Sangiovese
and fermenting the wine in French barriques, Antinori created a
great wine. But since it did not respect the DOC appellation it
had to be labeled as a humble vino da tavola (table wine), in spite
of the fact that it was more expensive than Chianti Classico Riservas.
Today, Tignanello is an icon wine along with such other Super Tuscans
as Le Pergole Torte, Guado al Tasso, Ornellaia, Sassicaia and Solaia.
What the emergence of these wines did was to make Chianti producers
look twice at the wine they were making and improve production techniques.
The vino da tavola anomaly was rectified in 1992 by according these
wines a new denomination – IGT (Indicazione Geografico Tipica),
which added another confusing layer to Italy's already Byzantine
Tignanello and its ilk are international in style and speak more
to the varieties from which they are produced than the soil in which
they grow. The classic wines from Tuscany are made from the Sangiovese
grape, which must be at least 75% of the blend and can be as much
as 100%. (My favourite Chianti producers, incidentally, are Isole
e Olena, Castello di Volpaia, Fonterutoli, Castello di Ama, Fontodi,
Selvapiana and Vicchiomaggio.)
The Sangiovese grape is the pride of three distinct regions of
Tuscany – Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino (Sangiovese is known here
as Brunello) and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (locally called Prugnolo
– little prune). The Classico zone for Chianti is located between
Florence and Siena, with seven other satellite zones that surround
the Classico area, such as Rufina, Colli Fiorentini and Colli Senesi.
Brunello di Montalcino, a hour's drive south of the Classico region,
is Tuscany's most expensive and longest-lived red wine. Top producers
here are Altesino, Biondi-Santi, Frescobaldi, Il Poggione and Poggio
Antico. The less-costly wine of the region that matures earlier
is Rosso di Montalcino.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, whose vineyards circle Siena, is
perhaps not as noble as its name suggests, but there are some spectacular
wines produced here by Avignonesi, Terre di Bindella and Poderi
Boscarelli. Like Brunello, this region also makes a less costly
wine called Rosso di Montepulciano.
The most famous white wine of Tuscany is Vernaccia de San Gimignano,
grown around the walled town of that name that is famous for its
slender towers. The wine is minerally and crisply dry with citrus
and stone fruit flavours. Try Montenidoli, Teruzzi e Puthod and
The other Tuscan delight is Vin Santo, a sweet or semi-sweet white
wine made from Trebbiano and Malvasia or Grechetto. The wine is
fermented in sealed barrels in warm attics for up to five years
and the producer never knows exactly what he's going to get. The
best I've tasted come from Avignonesi, Isole e Olena, Badia a Coltibuono,
Selvapiana and Frescobaldi.
I must confess to having a special affection for Tuscany. I spent
my honeymoon there and have been back several times since. Its hilltop
towns, with their sentinel-like cedars and red-tiled roofs, surrounded
by vineyards and connected by perilously winding roads, are enchanting.
The food is terrific and the people the most hospitable you'll find
on the planet. What better place to discover these wonderful wines.
Article by Tony Aspler
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