Situated in the northern half of central Italy, Tuscany is known for producing hearty red wines such as Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino. But the tradition of Tuscan winemaking dates back long before the days of the straw-covered bottles. Ancient Etruscan tomb paintings show that wine was being both produced and appreciated as early as the 8th century, thereby marking the beginning of the grand tradition of Tuscan viticulture.
But since not all wines are created equal, it helps to know how to pick out the best (and recognize the worst). Italian wines generally fall into three categories: Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), which refers to wines which are of the highest quality; Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT), indicates a medium-quality wine; and Vina da Tavola, which is common table wine. However, another unofficial category of Tuscan wines was born in the early 1970’s, now commonly referred to as the “Super Tuscans.” Since regulations stated that Chianti must contain certain amounts of the grape Sangiovese and local white grapes, some producers felt that they could make better wines if they just ignored the rules and used their own blends to make wines in the Chianti style. With the success of these wines, they sought to make their own name and sever all associations with Chianti, hence the name “Super Tuscans.”
Along with knowing the classification system, it helps to also know the major wine regions within Tuscany. Chianti, probably the most well-known region of Tuscany, is centrally located and known for growing red varietals such as Sangiovese and Canaiolo, and whites such as Trebbiano and Malvasia. Montalcino is located just south of the Chianti region, and tends to have a warmer, drier climate that results in rich and intense wines. In southeast Tuscany, you will find the region called Montepulciano, which most often produces full-bodied blends of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. And lastly, in the southwestern portion of Tuscany we have San Gimignano, best known for producing crisp white and sparkling wines that benefit from the sandstone-based vineyards.