Tuscany is a wine area of Italy full of associations for an English wine drinker. A host of famous Denominazione, together with the coining (in the 80s) of the Super-Tuscan tag, have kept the wines in the public eye. In addition for a certain period it was a very fashionable part of the world to visit for trendy (though “establishment”) Brits – so Anglicised as to gain the term Chianti-shire!

For all that it is an important wine area. It has the third biggest production of the Italian Provincia, producing over 6% of Italian wine. Around 87% of it red, and about two thirds of the grapes are Sangiovese.

In fact very nearly 70% of all Tuscan wines have some Sangiovese in them – there are 8% or 9% each of Bordeaux-type wines or other red wines altogether (Pinot Nero, Syrah, local varieties…).

In addition 13% of Tuscan wines are white using Trebbiano, Malvasia, Vermentino and Vernaccia, the first two often in the white dried-grape style of sweet wine: Vin Santo.

Sangiovese itself has several other names – they aren’t quite synonyms as they refer to differing local clones. Brunello (in Montalcino), Prugnolo (in the area around the town of Montepulciano – which has nothing to do with the grape of the same name), Sangioveto (in the North)….

There are 11 Tuscan DOCG. [Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita – the top level of Italian wine classification]. 

7 are Sangiovese based:  Chianti Classico; Chianti (with the option to indicate one of 7 sub-regions or Chianti Superiore); Brunello di Montalcino; Vino Nobile di Montepulciano; Carmignano; Morellino di Scansano; Montecucco.
Suvereto is based on Cabernet and Merlot with Sangiovese supporting; Val di Cornia also has Bordeaux grapes but 40% minimum Sangiovese.
Vernaccia di San Gimignano is a white wine from the East side of Siena province.
Elba Aleatico Passito is a dried red grape dessert wine from Elba.

The maps below give an indication of where the DOCG (and DOC) are located:

Central Tuscany

Central Tuscany

 

Outer Tuscany

Outer Tuscany

There are also 41 DOC [the next level Denominazione di Origine Controllata], these are similarly Sangiovese dominated and some are step-down versions of the DOCG (e.g.: Rosso di Montalcino rather than Brunello di Montalcino). There are also 6 wider IGP [Indicazione Geografica Protetta].

Chianti is the juggernaut of Tuscan wine. 3 of every 8 bottles bears the Chianti or Chianti Classico name. Yet frustration at the rather weird path of the Chianti rules gave rise to the Super-Tuscan boom and a wider diversity of styles in the 1980s and 90s.

Until 1996 Chianti had to be made to a formula which limited Sangiovese to a maximum proportion (70%) and required the use of other red and white grapes (Canaiolo and  Malvasia). The Sangiovese content was raised to a 75% minimum in 1996 (80% in Classico) and Canaiolo restricted to 10% maximum. Other “international” red grapes (Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet) were permitted up to 20% and the requirement for white grapes dropped. In 2006, in the Classico, white grapes were outlawed.

This meant that – until 1996 – wines with no white content, too much Sangiovese or some Cabernet (say) could not be called Chianti. Leading many producers to make wines that could only be labelled “Vino di Tavola”, despite sometimes costing 3 to 6 times as much as Chianti. These wines were called Super-Tuscan.The rules changes meant many – though by no means all – could use the Chianti name again – but many chose not to as their wines had become individually known by their Super-Tuscan name.

For me the issue now isn’t so much the name but the depth and style of wine. For wines that are 80%+ Sangiovese, the other 20% is more a matter of style than a change in type. The question is rather how age-able and serious is the wine.

There is a bit of a division among Sangiovese wines between relatively lighter, forward quite high-acidity wines that work with pizza and pasta – and deeper, age-worthy complex wines that work with richer dishes.

One can find very good examples of both… Most Sangiovese IGT, basic Chianti, Rosso di Montalcino, some Classico… fall into the first group. Brunello, Chianti Classico Riserva, most Super-Tuscans… fall into the second (and are twice, three times the price…). In addition there are some impressive and pleasurable wines in between, including some Chianti Classico and Vino Nobile.

What interests me is the structural profile of Sangiovese itself. With some very great exceptions it seems that the grape has a more even profile than Cabernet Sauvignon, with attack and middle palate prominently featuring sour-cherry acidity then a plummy (and with age – dried fruit) middle… However by the very highest standard some examples can fade slightly at the finish… a gap that seems tailor made for filling out with a dash of Cabernet…

We’ll try examples to test that thesis…

Notes will be posted in 4 or 5 days.

Until then…

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