Tuscany is the largest, and most popular, wine-producing region in Italy. However, given its geographic diversity, it could be confusing to exactly pin-point the type of wines you are getting. While government had tried to develop laws and classification system similar to the French AOC, many great producers had chosen not to follow it.
The secret boils down to the art of blending – the relative mix of local vs. foreign grape varietals in the wine. Here, we explain why the blending formula is of utmost importance to Toscana producer.
grape varietal in Tuscany – Sangiovese
In Tuscany, we must start off by talking about Sangiovese, the most widely used local grape varietal. Sangiovese goes by different name across Tuscany. In Chianti Classico, it is called “Sangioveto”. It becomes “Brunello” when it goes to Montalcino or “Prugnolo Gentile” in Montepulciano. Not only the name differs across the region, winemakers hold very different view on the actual quality of Sangiovese.
Some thinks its quality is hopelessly inconsistent across vineyards and vintages. Some argue that with the right approach, its quality is just as good as its other world-class brothers like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo. Some winemakers feel that Sangiovese wines cannot age beyond a decade. Others firmly believe that with the right terrior and technique, the wine can last over a century.
Law restricts what can be blended to be classified as DOC/DOCG
Italy follows a similar French AOC system and classifies wines based on geographic origin. The highest grade is called DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), followed by DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata). To be classified as DOC or DOCG, the wines would need to follow specific blend formula. For instance, in 1967, Chianti DOC required wine to be a blend of 70% Sangiovese with 10-30% of other local grapes including Malvasia and Trebbiano (both are white varietal).
Born of Super Tuscan – winemakers want to try different blend formula
In the 1970s, some producers were not satisfied with the quality of wine adhering to the DOC regulation. Some winemakers wanted to make 100% Sangiovese; others want to blend with French varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but not required to use any white varietal. A new class of wines known as “Super Tuscan” emerged. They chose to give up their DOC/DOCG status and create blends in their own way. Yet, some of these Super Tuscans (e.g. Tignanello, Ornellaia, etc.) quickly earned international recognition and could charge much higher price than many Chianti DOC/DOCG wines. Many producers began to follow suit. These wines are often simply classified as Toscana IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica).
Eventually, the government tried to bring these wines back to the “official” system by changing the regulated blend formula. For example, Chainti DOC now allows 75-100% Sangiovese, up to 10% Canaiolo and up to 20% of foreign varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot; white varietal is prohibited. Nonetheless, many producers simply don’t care. They prefer to maintain their freedom and don’t mind being an IGT.
Our current selection, Tuscan Sun, aims to showcase a variety of interesting blends from Tuscany
We have included Tignanello 1981 - the winery which introduced the very first Super Tuscan by including 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot with 85% Sangiovese.
Badia a Coltibuono shows us the 100% Sangiovese wine from Chianti.
Superstar Valdicava will bring us the pleasure of Brunello (also 100% Sangiovese).
Tenuta Di Trinoro wants us to explore the often overlooked grape varietal, Cabernet Franc (78% in the blend), which can indeed flourish in the perfect condition in Tuscany.
Brancaia IL BLU, the top of the line from the winery, shows us the marriage of Merlot (45%) blending with Sangiovese (50%).
Is there a truly winning blend formula?
The answer is probably no. All of these wines enjoy international acclaim and have significant followers globally. The winemakers simply follow their heart. With understanding of their own terrior and techniques, they continue to create wine based on their own magic blend formula. They don’t care whether it’s DOC or DOCG, as long as the customers recognize their quality and remember who they really are. (So, marketing matters a lot here, and Italian wine classification system hasn’t helped a bit on this front…)
Anyway, give these wines a try, but bare in the mind the specific blend behind these wines. You will then understand and appreciate their differences even more.
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/parrish/2962599981/