The Hills are Alive with Tuscan Wines
With its idyllic hilltops and country roads, Tuscany is a popularly visited destination in Italy. However, there’s more to Tuscany than its stunning views. The region’s fine wine selection is a different reason altogether.
Tuscan wine culture has existed for over 3,000 years. This region’s wine products are competitive in the local industry and have cemented Italy’s place as a major player globally. With its unique quality and variety, Tuscan wines are met with high demand and high regard. From various blends and appellations, Tuscany has a lot to offer to any wine enthusiast.
The Beginnings of Tuscan Viticulture
The romantic scenery of the Tuscan wine region makes it the most famous of all Italian wine locales. Before the first settlers arrived in Tuscany, wild vines already grew in great numbers throughout the region. The ancient Etruscans were the first settlers of the Tuscan region. They moved to central Italy more than 3,000 years ago, and they are believed to have first domesticated and bred the local vines in the hills.
Much like the Greeks, wine played a big part in the lives of the Etruscans. Even then, they already believed that wine carried medical properties, as well as mystical ones. As early as 7th century B.C., the Etruscans were already exporting wine products to the southern regions of Italy.
When the region was conquered by Rome in the fourth century, the Romans introduced new winemaking practices. And after the fall of the Roman Empire, Christian monks continued to develop wine cellar techniques well into the Middle Ages.
In the Renaissance period, the aristocrats and merchants created a system where Tuscan landowners provided the land for planting in exchange for half of the yearly crops. During this time, half of their grape harvests were sold as wine to merchants in Florence. By the 14th century, Italians have completely embraced the wine lifestyle and were drinking more than 400 liters of wine per year.
Most vineyards in Tuscany are in the hillsides, at altitudes of 500-1,600 feet. These areas receive direct sunlight that allows grape varieties to thrive fully. 60% of the Tuscan terrain is hilly, and climate varies in other parts as well. Vineyards found in higher altitudes get more variation, which helps grapes attain a balance of aroma, sugar and acidity levels.
The Chianti and other Tuscan Wines
After the Napoleonic Wars, Tuscany fell into the rule of the Habsburg. During this period, the market started longing for more Tuscan wines. In the 18th century, more wines have crossed the Tuscan Grand Duchy to serve the wine-drinking population of Italy.
They became known for their Chianti and Chianti Classico wines, the iconic red wines that are still the best-known Italian wines today. Chianti was once packaged in a squat bottle inside a straw basket. Today, the Chianti area is Tuscany’s largest wine region.
In the 19th century, statesman and winemaker Baron Bettino Ricasoli re-established his family’s estate at Broglio at the heart of the Chianti area. He studied the varieties and processes that can be applied to Chianti production. He discovered that the Chianti worked best using three local varieties. One of these three is the Sangiovese grape, which was growing abundantly in the Sienese hills around that time. He blended it with Canaiolo and Malvasia to produce the best Chianti. The ratio became 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, and 15% Malvasia.
In the 1960s, Italy introduced a quality assurance system for their products, specifically for wine and cheese. The Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) and Denominazione di Origine Controllada e Garantita (DOCG) were based on the assurance that the products were indeed made in their place of origin. However, not all Tuscan wine producers followed suit.
In the 1970s, a class of wines called the Super Tuscans emerged in the market and were made outside of the rules of the DOC and DOCG. These producers were able to dictate their own prices, and eventually became cult favorites. In 1992, the system included the Super Tuscans in their qualifications.
Aside from the Chianti, Chianti Classico, and Super Tuscans, Tuscany also produced great white wines such as Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Bianco d’Elba, Bianco di Bolgheri, Bianco di Pitigliano, Bianco di Val di Nievole, and Vermentino. In addition, Cabernet Sauvignon emerged to be another important grape for Tuscan wine production.
Lastly, Tuscany is also known for the Vin Santo dessert wine. It was called “Holy Wine” because the grapes were left to dry in airy conditions just before Holy Week.
Tuscan wines are indeed a must-have for any enthusiast. Should you find yourself longing for these Italian treasures, visit us at Singapore Wine Vault and try out the finest Tuscan tipple.