Tuscany is the most celebrated and instantly recognisable of all of Italy’s wine regions. Winemaking here has a long pedigree – the Etruscans, precursors to the Romans, were growing grapes and enjoying the fruits of their labour over two thousand years ago. Winemaking is such an integral part of Tuscan life, that it is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer variety of wines on offer, so here is a guide to help you appreciate the best Tuscany has to offer – with recommendations on wonderful places to stay on your tasting tour!
MONTALCINO (Brunello di Montalcino)
Perhaps one of the Tuscan wines with the biggest name outside of the region, Brunello di Montalcino takes its name from the variety of Sangiovese grapes used in its production. To receive the coveted ‘DOCG’(Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) quality mark on its label, Brunello di Montalcino must be made in the region surrounding the town of Montalcino, about 30 miles south of Siena, have been aged at least five years and not contain any other grape varieties.
Taste-wise, Brunello di Montalcino is known for notes of hazelnut, candied cherry and chocolate – more so the longer it has aged. It is best paired with hearty rustic food that contains red meat or game and also with hard cheeses, like pecorino or parmesan.
For a decent Brunello, prices begin around ₤12 to ₤15 for a 2011 or 2012 vintage.
To taste some of the best Brunello di Montalcino around, we recommend the Banfi estate, only a short drive from Montalcino. The descendants of John F, Mariani have been rediscovering and refining age-old techniques to produce some award-winning vintages. Better yet, Banfi Il Borgo, the five-star luxury hotel on the estate allows guests to taste a wide selection of the estate’s wines. Sample it paired with their outstanding Tuscan cooking and learn about the winemaking process in detail.
CHIANTI (Chianti Classico)
Thanks to the refined tastes of one Hannibal Lecter, Chianti Classico is probably Tuscany’s most famous wine by name alone. The iconic Chianti bottle, nestled in a tight straw basket is also instantly recognisable and a standard item of decor in Italian restaurants around the world.
Chianti Classico is a robust, dry red wine. To receive its DOCG, the grapes must be grown in the distinct region that lies between Florence to the north and Siena to the south. Unlike Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti is a blended wine, meaning that 80% of the grapes must be of the Sangiovese variety, while the remaining 20% can come from a list of approved red grape varieties. If these conditions are met, it can also be awarded the seal of the black rooster somewhere on the bottle, meaning that the winery is a member of the ‘Chianti Classico Consortium’.
A good Chianti Classico is tart and spicy, almost herby in taste. The longer it is aged, the more complex the flavours will become, revealing specific notes of cherry and plum. Chianti Classico, much like Brunello di Montalcino pairs well with meat, game and strong flavours. Once again, hard cheese, as well as cured meats also go well with Chianti Classico.
Good Chianti Classico begins from around £15 to £20. Gran Selezione varieties, indicating ageing in excess of two years, cost in upwards of £30.
Stay at Villa Vignamaggio, just a short drive from the town of Panzano, this boutique hotel located in a 16th-century villa, is just part of a rolling estate known for its superb contributions to Chianti Classico production. Wine tastings, pairing meals and guided tours are all highlights.
Villa Mangiacane, south of Florence, in addition to providing superb luxury accommodation also produces acclaimed Chianti Classico. Guests of the hotel are treated to wine tastings and vineyard tours normally inaccessible to the general public.
Il Borro, just outside of Florence, is another retreat for those wishing to indulge in a wine holiday in the Chianti Classico region. This fabulous hotel, owned by the Ferragamo family features a winery that specialises in Chianti wines, with wonderful rustic suites and an award-winning restaurant.
While slightly outside the region known for Chianti Classico, the vineyards at Il Falconiere grow and bottle their own distinct Chianti Riserva. This hotel is an excellent base for exploring Tuscany in general.
MONTEPULCIANO (Vino Nobile di Montepulciano)
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is one of the wines that put Tuscany on the wine travel trail during the 20th century. To the east of the Montalcino region, the wineries surrounding the town of Montepulciano have been growing and harvesting grapes for centuries to make this wine, which was celebrated in literature and song. To qualify for its DOCG, the wine must originate not more than a few kilometres from the town, be comprised of at least 50% Sangiovese grapes and be not aged less than two years.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano has similar taste to the Brunello di Montalcino, but with a smokier, more complex finish that brings to mind tobacco and leather. Like the majority of Tuscan wines, this wine goes very well with meat, in this case, boar, pork sausages and truffles – essentially, hearty winter foods with strong flavours to match the wine.
Wines from Montepulciano, perhaps due to their celebrated heritage, cost a little more. Expect to pay more than ₤20 for a good Montepulciano wine.
Our recommendations for winery visits near Montepulciano include Avignonesi (Via Colonica 1) and Tenuta Valdipiatta (Via della Ciarliana 25/A). both accessible from our luxury B&B, La Locanda di San Francesco. Montepulciano is also under forty minutes away by car from Il Falconiere hotel and winery, which makes a variety of Tuscan wines.
MAREMMA (Morellino Di Scansano)
Hailing from Tuscany’s maritime coast, Morellino Di Scansano is an underrated gem. Distinguished from wine varieties like Chianti Classico or Brunello di Montalcino by its fresh crisp taste, the growing conditions are unlike anywhere else in Tuscany – high altitudes and a number of south-west facing slopes. To be awarded its DOCG, a Morellino di Scansano must be grown within a 12.5km radius of the small village of Scansano and comprise no less than 80% Sangiovese grapes. Unlike the other wine varieties mentioned, it has no ageing requirement.
Morellino di Scansano is fresh and fruity in taste – slightly sweeter than most Tuscan reds, with a hint of violets. Many say it goes well with game birds, such as pheasant, in addition to the beef and steak dishes the Maremma region is known for.
Until very recently an underrated, more obscure Tuscan wine, you can pick up a bottle of Morellino di Scansano for between £10 – £15.
To sample some sensational Morellino di Scansano, visit Fattoria la Pupille or Poggio Argentiera. Both are close by our luxury hotel, Argentario Golf Resort or its boutique cousin, Locanda Rossa and wine tours of the region can be arranged with both.
Of course, we have only managed to highlight a small number of the variety of wines produced in Tuscany. To do it proper justice, we’d need an entire book!
As always, Anna Dixon, our head of reservations, can assist in helping you find the perfect base for your next Tuscan adventure.