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To consider modern day Tuscan wine, one should give props to the Etruscans, who inhabited this central Italian region starting in the 6th century BC. Tuscany is a land of abundant sunshine, rolling green hills, spring water, a spectacular breezy coast and rich soils. If you’re going to set up a civilization, this is a pretty terrific place to do it. Especially if you have a bunch of gods that need worshipping with the heavy consumption of wine.
But around the 4th century BC, the Etruscans left this beautiful landscape, for all intents and purposes absorbed into the Roman culture. Their civilization, the villages and agriculture they set up, was left to the elements and the vineyards dried up. Through the centuries, people returned to the region. But it spent a lot of time under dispute by various factions such as the Pisans, Sienese and Florentines. It was a dangerous place to live, what with all the hidden marauders and mosquito-ridden swamps, though many of the grapes planted there continued to grow wildly.
Say what you will about Mussolini, but it was under his fascist government in the 1920s that Tuscany was rebuilt and became a prime vacation spot. Wine production was slowly returning to there once again. By this time, Brunello and Chianti from the region’s signature grape, Sangiovese, were produced. But only a few wineries were developing wines of the high standards we now associate with Tuscany. Most of the Chianti, while popular, was rustic table wine, the kind in the “fiasco” bottles with the straw basket on the bottom.
In the early 1940s, Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta moved to Bolgheri on the coast. In the interest of making wines for private consumption, he imported Cabernet Sauvignon vines from Bordeaux’s Chateau Lafitte and established a little vineyard called Tenuta San Guido. While very rustic at first, he began to develop his wines into what evolved into Sassicaia, what some say is the duperest of the so-called Super Tuscans.
Today, many wines of Tuscany are considered Italy’s finest, with an impressive number of DOCGs, wines that are given the highest level of quality designation. Besides the Sangiovese giants of Chianti, Brunello, Morellino di Scansano and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Montepulciano, incidentally, is NOT the grape but the place in this case), and the rise of the Super Tuscans, there are a vast amount of wines worth exploring from this region, and dozens of subregions. For example, Vernaccia di San Gimignano is a versatile, dry white vinified in styles from young, crisp and light to aged and full-bodied. The Vin Santos made from dried Trebbiano grapes and Passitos produced from Elba’s Aleatico grape are some of the world’s finest dessert wines. One can plan a whole meal with Tuscan wines from whites to rosés to reds and even finish it off with some fine Tuscan grappa. Buon appetito! ~Amanda Schuster
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