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Bevi l'acqua come un bue e il vino come un re - Italian proverb

Tuscany was the theme of a wine tasting event we recently organized. In order to sample the different wines of the region, we tasted five wines from different appellations, one white and four reds. With the wines were served a variety of antipasti such as olives, tomatoes, focaccia, prosciutto, salami and Italian cheese.

Characteristics of the region

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Not so long ago, Tuscany was mostly known as a supplier of straw basket Chianti. Fortunately for wine lovers, it is now one of the nation's most dynamic producer of premium wines. This beautiful region, well known for its hills covered with olive trees, cypresses, vines and villas, has now six areas identified as Denominazione di Origine Controllata et Garantita (DOCG) which is the highest level in the Italian classification system: Chianti including its best subzone Chianti Classico and the new Carmignano denomination, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and the white wine denomination Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Furthermore, table wines also known as Super Tuscans have had a growing reputation since the 1980s. Because they wanted to craft wines for modern palates, some Tuscan winemakers started blending trendy but non authorized varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to Sangiovese. Originally, these wines had to be classified as Vino da Tavola, the lowest level in the classification system but in 1992, the Italian government introduced a new category called Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) that allowed winemakers to venture outside the strict DOC and DOCG regulations without making concessions to the quality of their wines.

The Sangiovese varietal with its clones Brunello and Montepulciano's Prugnolo Gentile is the predominant grape and backbone of the regional production. It is often blended with local grapes like Canaiolo Nero, Trebbiano and Malvasia.

The tasting

The white wine

Our first wine was a white wine from the San Gimignano area. Being a blend of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Chardonnay, Malvasia and Vermentino, it could not use the Vernaccia di San Gimignano denomination. Nevertheless, the 2002 Teruzzi & Puthod Terre di Tufi was delicious. With aromas of citrus, white blossom and honeydew melon on the nose, it had a generous full-bodied mouthfeel followed by a fresh, lively finish. It was a perfect appetizer wine that worked very well with our antipasti.

The red wines

We started our selection of red wines with a Chianti Classico. Situated between the cities of Florence and Siena, Chianti Classico is the heart of Tuscany and produces wines of elegance and power. It has an ancient origin and was already well established by the early fifteenth century. Today, several styles of wines are being produced in the Chianti region. A wine labelled Chianti is usually a simple fruity wine made for early consumption. Chianti Classico is a more serious wine with stricter production rules. Finally, Chianti Classico Riserva is the most ambitious version made for the cellar. It uses top quality Sangiovese vines and is aged longer in wood and in bottle. The 1999 Chianti Classico Riserva Fattoria di Felsina exhibited a deep, bright color and a nose of cherries and smoky flavors. On the palate, it started with a rather bold attack and a slightly tannic finish but after some decanting time, the wine became smoother and rounder.

Our second red wine was a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Montepulciano is an charming Etruscan town in the southern part of the Siena hills, where Sangiovese is called Prugnolo Gentile. As early as the sixteenth century, the wines of Montepulciano had already great reputation and in the second half of the eighteenth century they were accorded the description of noble. Coming from a warmer production zone, the wine is usually fuller in body and more alcoholic than Chianti. The 2000 Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Vigna Asinone is named after the shape of the single vineyard from which it is vinified, a shape like an ass's back. The wine displayed a deep color and a fruity bouquet of red berries. On the palate, it was medium to full-bodied with a good balance between fruit and acidity. I liked the wine's elegant finish and its great versatility with food.

Our next wine was a Brunello di Montalcino. This denomination is an enclave in the Colli Senesi (hills of Siena) Chianti subzone, around the little town of Montalcino. Located twenty five miles south of Siena, Montalcino enjoys a warmer and dryer climate than most of the Chianti zone. With rockier and less fertile soils it produces concentrated and age-worthy wines. Brunello di Montalcino is a relatively modern invention for a country like Italy, which has been producing wines for about 3,500 years. Around 1870, Ferruccio Biondi-Santi began to grow a Sangiovese clone known as Brunello or Sangiovese Grosso, that had smaller berries and appeared to be more resistant to attacks by phylloxera. Soon Biondi-Santi started producing a 100% Brunello wine which was rich, dense and age-worthy. The reputation of what was clearly Tuscany's answer to Barolo steadily grew over time in Italy and internationally. Showing a deep red color, the 1999 Brunello di Montalcino La Mannella had an intense fruity nose, a rich and juicy mouthfeel with soft tannins, followed by a complex, lengthy finish. This wine was a true pleasure to drink and was the group's favorite wine of the evening.

We ended the tasting with a Toscana IGT, a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, that did not follow the traditional denomination laws. The 2001 Antinori Villa Toscana Rosso displayed familiar Bordeaux blend aromas of currant and berries. The palate was full-bodied with a firm structure and a complex multi-flavored finish. This wine was very food friendly and very popular among the tasters.

See our previous Brunello tasting report
See our other tasting reports.