There is no wine bar in Italy that does not have great Tuscan labels on display, but the presence of Tuscany is a constant even in several wine lists worldwide. This popularity is the result of a fairly modern conquest, although from a historical point of view the region has a world record; in fact, for the first time in the world, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, over 3 centuries ago, issued a law to defend and promote four well-defined wine areas, creating what we would now call designation of origin.
The success that Tuscan wine producers have achieved is linked to the ability to satisfy commercial demands without compromising on the downside. Tuscany has triggered an enological renaissance in the late 60s, which has benefited all Italian wine and has established itself as a forefront region. The wine producers of Tuscany have been able to enhance the tradition with modern interpretations of their traditional vine variety, the sangiovese . At the same time, that have explored new winegrowing areas, cultivating international vines and making highly sought-after labels from wine lovers all over the world.
The Traditional Sangiovese
The first great wine from Tuscany dates back to the late nineteenth century and is due to the countercurrent yet far-sighted activity of Ferruccio Biondi Santi, the father of Brunello di Montalcino, who perceived that an adequate cultivation and vinification of sangiovese could result in a structured and long-lived wine. He was committed to developing his idea in the family estate Il Greppo, located in the upper part of the Montalcino hill. He selected the plants of a variety of Sangiovese identified as the best, called Sangiovese grosso or brunello, and reproduced them in a vineyard, which he cultivated with a lower yield of grapes than was the practice, thinking from the beginning to the maximum of quality instead of quantity; contrary to the practice, he vinified these grapes with a long maceration and kept the wine obtained for a long time in wooden barrels. The underlying objective was not a wine to be consumed or sold in a few months, on the contrary he had in mind a wine that could evolve over the years to compete with the great Château of Bordeaux.
He succeeded and since then the Brunello di Montalcino of Biondi Santi has never ceased to represent one of the highest expression of Italian wine. Starting from 1888 and only in the best years and from the oldest plants is produced the Brunello di Montalcino Riserva of the Estate Il Greppo of Biondi Santi, that with the vintage 1955 entered as the only Italian wine in the ranking of 12 wines of the twentieth century on “Wine Spectator”. It comes in the glass with a shade of ruby red penetrated by light, that with time turns to garnet red and takes on precious shades of orange. Its aromas are elegant and concentrated: orange peel and cherry, then spicy fragrances and withered petals of violet along with cigar, sometimes meat and leather. It impresses the palate with a refined and relaxed texture thanks to perfect tannins, that maintain their energy for a long time and let an endless fruity and savory progression stay with you.
New Style from the Coast of Tuscany
A boom in winemaking in the costal area of Tuscany is relatively recent. Sassicaia, on the market since 1972 (harvest 1968), acted as a trailblazer of an incredible enological progress of this area. What will become the most famous label of Tuscany was born as a house wine from a land that Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, Piedmontese origin, had as a wedding gift; but for 20 years it was only a family wine, to share with friends. The Marquis Incisa della Rocchetta, a lover of horses and great French wines, had decided to plant cabernet sauvignon in 1944, with the Bordeaux wines in mind. At the beginning nobody liked his wine; it was an innovative wine, too far from the local taste, and remained anonymous for 20 years, until with the support of his brother-in-law, Niccolò Antinori, and the oenologist Giacomo Tachis, Antinori consultant, the wine was put on the market. The vintages 1980, 1981 and then 1985 were worldwide successful and the extent of such success has not yet been exhausted. Sassicaia has triggered a chain reaction of the area and of the whole region, remaining however labeled for a long time as a table wine; only since 1994 it is a DOC wine (denomination of origin). The Bolgheri Sassicaia is obtained from Cabernet Sauvignon (85%) and Cabernet Franc, ages for two years in barrique, for a third new each year. When young it has the brilliant appearance of a ruby, dense and vivid, emanating a bouquet of concentrated perfumes with a balsamic opening that precedes berries and fresh flowers, but evolves releasing hints of chocolate, myrtle, spices, graphite. When it ages in the bottle, the color turns garnet red but does not lose thickness and to the nose it boasts orange and candied cherry, macerated fruit, savory and mineral sensations. On the palate it has an elegant and prodigious development: like a rolling skein unfolding and conquering the whole mouth with the vibration of silky tannins. It has a very long mineral finish that in some vintages can remind of truffle or game.
Bolgheri has become homeland of experimentation, and a few years later brought to light another memorable bottle: Masseto, a merlot wine that with the 1988 vintage in a blind tasting routed the great French and Californian merlots. Masseto is released from a very particular vineyard of Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, a winery founded by Lodovico Antinori. Tenuta dell’Ornellaia immediately aimed exclusively at producing fine wines, using international collaborations of the highest level. The vineyard of the Masseto is very particular: it stands out from the rest of Bolgheri, as it is a single block of clay from the Pliocene and Pleistocene that can resemble the soil of Pomerol in Bordeaux. Here the merlot grapes acquire an extraordinary polyphenolic richness that gives great depth to the wine. Masseto appears deep to the sight and inebriates the sense of smell with a very wide range of perfumes that slide one after the other without dampening the intensity. Everything in it is exalted to the maximum: the fruity of the merlot, the fragrance of the Mediterranean herbs, the profusion of spices and the smell of smoked meat. It is really full bodied, voluminous and impressive; its tannins are velvety and bind to balsamic reflections that stay with you for a long time. Today Masseto has stratospheric prices and is one of the few Italian wines listed on the British stock index of the great wines of the world.
The Revolution of Supertuscan Wines
It was a revolutionary project as well that of Piero Antinori, in the area of the Chianti Classico, determining the birth of Tignanello, that has been a real model of excellence and elegance. The Tignanello vineyard is a beautiful vineyard in the area of San Casciano, with white stones placed at the base of the vines to reflect heat and sunlight on the bunches. In 1970, Tignanello was released as a Chianti Classico Riserva, with the classic blend used at the time (it included, in addition to sangiovese and colorino, the presence of white grapes). But one year later Piero Antinori rebelled to the tradition and followed a different path: international vines were blended with Sangiovese, resulting in the exit from Chianti Classico denomination and being just a table wine, in terms of law; but in reality it is one of the first Supertuscans, those wines of character and elegance that aim for excellence. To release Tignanello Piero Antinori had hired Giacomo Tachis, as a consultant, the same winemaker of Sassicaia.
Sangiovese is aged in French barriques instead of large casks. Each single step of the production of this great wine is carried out with meticulous dedication. It is a very elegant wine to the eye for its bright ruby color, it boasts intense and penetrating flavors, it is very well balanced, has a smooth enveloping taste without loosing the drinkability of a great wine of Tuscany!
A Renewed Approach to Winemaking
The 80s were years of great transformation of the wine system. Next to the great bottlers and the historical companies, small winemakers and company wines emerge and quickly establish themselves on global market.
In the area of Chianti some special wines form sangiovese grape speak for themselves, like the Flaccianello della Pieve of Tenuta Fontodi, that fully reflects the experience of “Chiantishire” so sought after by foreigners on holiday in Tuscany. Tenuta Fontodi, owned by the Manetti family, is located in the heart of the Chianti Classico, more precisely in the valley that opens up south of Panzano, the so-called “Conca D’oro” (golden basin), a natural amphitheater between 350 and 450 meters above sea level, particularly suited to the cultivation of the vine and to the production of great wines. But the golden basin of Chianti is not only the the perfect combination of soil, altitude and exposure, but rather it is a microcosm where the work of man marries the multiple resources of nature: olive groves , orchards, woods, animal farms. “Chiantishire” is a life style, representing a very high quality of life in the farmhouses with terracotta floors and fireplaces where the rhythms are measured.
The Flaccianello della Pieve, a 100% Sangiovese wine, is the perfect combination of life, work and nature. It represents the liveliness of a village festival, the welcoming and conviviality of the people of Chianti. this is the character of the wine with a full and decisive taste. In the early years it keeps the impenetrable bright ruby color alive. The nose is generous evoking blackberry and raspberry jelly, syruped black cherry, then a chocolate praline, coffee and continues with eucalyptus, licorice, mace. It has juicy tannins, it seeks softness on the palate without hiding its impetus.