Erik Neilson on October 10, 2017 0 Comments When it comes to wine production regions that have stood the test of time, few can compare to Tuscany, one of the most-loved parts of Italy by wine lovers worldwide. Grapes were first cultivated by the Etruscans nearly 3,000 years ago, grown in such wide abundance that they were often sold overseas and quickly became the area’s most trusted cash crop. Today, Tuscan wine most often involves the Sangiovese grape, and although production is certainly less omnipresent than it was even just 50 years ago, quality is higher than it has ever been in the past. New to the Tuscany Region? Here’s a primer on this coveted wine region, including everything you need to know to enjoy an exemplary glass of Tuscan wine. Sangiovese: Tuscany’s Red Grape of Choice The first thing that many people learn about Tuscan wine is the fact that one specific grape tends to reign supreme across all red styles — Sangiovese. For scope, 80% of all wines produced in Tuscany are produced with red grapes, the vast majority of which use Sangiovese as a grape. Though white wine is produced thanks to the help of the Vernaccia grape, these styles tend to be hyper-local and are rarely the topic of conversation outside of Italy. The Sangiovese grape is unique in that different approaches to wine-making can bring out vastly different qualities that may not exist otherwise. Sangiovese wines can range in flavor from tart cherry-like and jammy strawberry to more vegetal tasting notes, such as roasted red peppers and ripe tomatoes. It’s high in both acid and tannin, making it one of the more versatile grapes available to winemakers in the area. While oaking is not a prerequisite for every style, Sangiovese does end up in barrels the majority of the time. Oak aging tends to be light, although wines such as Brunello di Montalcino can see quite a bit of extra time on oak, which lends to the ability to age these wines for up to 18 years in the bottle. Though tough to pin down with one specific tasting note, anyone that loves a glass of Syrah will find a great deal to love about Sangiovese thanks to its smoky, rustic qualities that juxtapose nicely with fruit-forward acidity. Tuscan Red Wine Styles It would be easy to assume that Tuscan wine lacks variation due to the wide usage of the Sangiovese grape, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. There are a small handful of wines that not only strongly differentiate themselves from one another but have also gone on to become some of the world’s most popular styles. Here are just a few examples: Chianti Chianti is perhaps the most well-known wine to come out of Italy, thanks in large part to it being so incredibly food-friendly. It’s produced in extremely high volume and exported all throughout the world, and there’s no way that Chianti could ever exist without the presence of the Sangiovese grape as its backbone. While Sangiovese clones can be used to create lesser-quality Chianti, there’s no true substitute for the real thing. When fresh, Chianti springs to life with notes of bright raspberries and earthy sage, showcasing just enough acidity to cleanse the palette of whatever is being eaten alongside it. Chianti is also available in the Classico Riserva variety. These wines typically see a great deal of oak and are much deeper in both color and flavor than young Chianti. Notes of blackberry, cocoa, violets and baking spices are usually present in Chianti Classico Riserva, growing in intensity as the bottles are aged. Brunello di Montalcino Another well-known Tuscan wine that makes excellent use of the Sangiovese grape, Brunello di Montalcino is extremely complex and considered by some to be one of the finest wines Italy has to offer. Leathery and reminiscent of damp earth, Brunello di Montalcino is associated with extensive aging potential, and indeed requires extensive time in the bottle before the wine can become “approachable.” Bottles do not come cheap, but when stored and aged properly, they’re the perfect addition to anyone building up their wine collection. Super Tuscans For those interested in getting a sense of how modern winemakers in Tuscany are approaching the Sangiovese grape, nothing can compare to the experimental nature of Super Tuscans. These wines typically do not adhere to DOC regulations, although this should not be taken as an indication that they are of low quality. On the contrary, Super Tuscan wine tends to be extremely rich, to the point of requiring at least an hour or two of decanting before consuming. Sangiovese does tend to take center-stage, but additional red grapes are often added to the blend, bringing new and exciting flavors to the table. In most cases, Super Tuscans will see a great deal of oak before ending up in the bottle. 3 Must-Try Bottles of Tuscan Wine There’s no better way to learn more about the wines of Tuscany than to taste them yourself. Here are three “must-try” bottles you should be on the look out for. Altesino Rosso di Altesino 2013 Altesino Rosso di Altesino 2013 is a beautiful Sangiovese blend that incorporates a bit of Cab and Merlot to great effect. Rich and meaty on the nose — yet relatively light on the palate — notes of earthy violets and tart cherry dominate, making this wine drink strikingly similar to an Oregon Pinot Noir. At under $20 for a bottle, it’s also one of the most stellar price points in Tuscan wine. Finishes dry with slight spice. Monteverro Terra di Monteverro Toscana 2012 One of the more powerful Tuscan reds you can expect to stumble upon, Monteverro Terra di Monteverro Toscana 2012 is bold, meaty and delightful. Refined and elegant, the wine features notes of vanilla, spice box, dark chocolate, blackberry and grilled meats. It’s exceptionally smooth for a Super Tuscan, featuring one of the longest finishes in all of Italy. Dry, with notes of cedar present throughout. Nottola Anterivo 2010 Those who are partial to tannins will find a great deal to love about Nottola Anterivo 2010, one of Tuscany’s most sturdy and complex wines. It’s a Super Tuscan that falls right in the middle of being not too dry or too sweet, full of vanilla notes and well-structured to the point of changing like a chameleon as the bottle breathes. Dark cherry and notes of cigar smoke dominate, allowing this wine to pair nicely with rich meats braised in tomato sauce. Tuscany is certainly the pride of Italy, and those who have yet to discover the region will quickly fall in love with its gorgeous takes on the Sangiovese grape.