Bring Something New to the Table With a
Gorgeous Italian Vintage
Here’s the truth about my relationship with Italian wine. I’m Italian, so when I started to get to know French wine, it wasn’t easy for me to admit its superiority. However I couldn’t ignore it, and found myself opting for the St. Emilion over the Brunello every time.
Then, I spent some time in Tuscany.
Something happens when you go beyond the standard vacation, and really immerse yourself in the daily rhythms of a new place for a month or more. And after my first extended stay in Florence a few years ago, I finally fell in love with Italian wine, and found I could experience and appreciate it for its own unique qualities, rather than trying to measure it up to the French.
So while my white of choice was once exclusively Montrachet, I now love to mix it up with a little Vermentino—especially during the Holidays. Some may say they’re a time of tradition, but I also think there are plenty of opportunities to step outside the box. And why not start with the wine? So you might go beyond the Pinot this season, let this easy guide to Tuscan wine empower you to peruse the Italian aisle and pick up something fabulous!
The most widely planted grape
in Italy and the foundation of
many basic reds, it thrives in
Tuscany’s hot, dry climate, and
produces a rich and
A soft, neutral grape
used mainly in
Chianti blends. It’s
also a mainstay of
These traditional French
grapes are grown as popular
blending agents in Italy,
contributing to Chianti wines
and “Super Tuscan” wines.
A grape from Sardinia widely
planted in Tuscany with
tasting notes similar to
Sauvignon Blanc. I love Tuscan
whites made with this grape.
in San Gimignano, this
grape has famous roots
poets and artists.
This name describes a
variety of grapes used to
produce white table
wine and dessert wines
like Vin Santo.
Brunello di Montalcino
100% Sangiovese Grosso
Many consider Brunello to be Italy’s finest red wine and it is by far my favorite. The only Tuscan red that’s not a blend, it’s made with 100% of a Sangiovese clone perfected in the Montalcino area south of Florence and producing fuller and juicier grapes. Brunello is also prized for how well it stands up to aging. A typical bottle will have been aged at least 5 years, while a truly exquisite one has been waiting 10 or more for you to open it.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Minimum 70% Sangiovese + Local Red Varietals
This DOCG classified wine blends Sangiovese with local varieties like Canaiolo and Mammolo and is aged for at least 2 years. Some consider it a good alternative to Brunello.
Minimum 70% Sangiovese + Red Varietals
Italy’s most famous wine, Chianti is a red blend made with mainly Sangiovese grapes, produced all around Tuscany. Chianti is not aged very much, with a typical bottle aged 6 months and a Gran Riserva only about 2.5.
In recent years, some Tuscan winemakers have been aiming for the highest possibly quality without adhering to DOC standards, and making some truly special blends using both local and French grapes. These have come to be known as Super Tuscans, and they can be truly fabulous.
Vernaccia di San Gimignano
Minimum 90% Vernaccia + Local White Varietals
San Gimignano is a fabulous town and this wine owes much of its popularity to being the local favorite since the Renaissance. Using the locally-grown Vernaccia white grape, it’s aged only as much as 12 months and holds a DOCG appellation.
Like French wine, Italian wine has a variety of naming conventions and classifications. It can be named by grape and region, by just the region, or by a brand name. Along with the name of the producer and the vintage, the government’s appellation system is what helps identify exactly what’s in the bottle. The system was established in 1963 to promote Italian grapes, and ensure the reputation of exported wines. Here’s how it works:
Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita
The label DOCG is reserved for the highest quality wine that has met not only specific production requirements, but also passed a blind taste test.
Denominazione di Origine Controllata
A bottle that says DOC is also produced according to strict guidelines, but without the taste test guarantee.
Indicazione Geografica Tipica
This less-strict category was created to identify wine of quality that falls outside of DOC regulations. “Super Tuscan” wines and other blends using non-Italian grapes earn this rating.
Vino da Tavola
The most basic wine available, this is Italy’s mass-produced table wine, never aged and made according to no specifications.
Words To Know
Means the wine is from within the region’s original boundary.
Refers to a higher quality standard, greater concentration, and often a minimum aging requirement.
Indicates there’s been an extended period of aging, and many producers only make these from exceptional vintages.
You can spot a high-quality bottle of Chianti Classico by the gold and black rooster seal. The seal comes from a 13th-century legend about two knights from Florence and Siena, embarking on a race to end a dispute between cities. The race was to begin when the roosters sang at dawn. The two knights would run toward each other and wherever they met would be the new border between cities. Story goes that the Florentines got a black rooster, kept it in a box with no food, and that way got it singing before dawn. The Florentine knight got a head start, and met the knight from Siena just 20km outside the city walls. Victory!