The fact that Tuscany contains six DOCG appellations and thirty DOC speaks volumes as to its prestigious place in Italian wine hierarchy. Some of the DOCG names are considered the very finest in the country, i.e., Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Carmignano. The actual Chianti DOCG has another seven sub-classifications, each with its own particular blend of soils and climate. As you might imagine, there is great rivalry and competition between the producers and estates of the region who often contend head to head in international competitions.
The actual topography starts in the northern slopes of the Apennine Mountain Range and runs toward the Mediterranean Sea with numerous limestone sedimentary formations that are idea for growing vines. Small pockets that contain the area’s moisture provide additional microclimates for the varied root stock.
In addition to the incredible amount of sangiovese grown in Tuscany, small amounts of cabernet sauvignon, canaiolo, ciliegiolo, mammolo and vernaccia are also grown. While most of Tuscany’s grape production is red, the regions outstanding white is certainly the highly regarded Vernaccia di San Gimignano, considered among Italy’s greatest white wines. There is also a special holy wine, or Vino Santo, a dessert delicacy usually made from trebbiano grapes that have been left to dry in an airy place until the start of Holy Week before being made into wine.
Greve in Chianti is effectively the market town of the Chianti Classico wine area. Unlike the majority of Chianti towns, Greve is located on the floor of a valley instead of on a hill top, about half-way along the scenic Chiantigiana highway (SS 222) that runs from Florence to Siena.
Wines have been produced in Tuscany for more than 3000 years, first by the Etruscans, followed by the Greeks, and later by the Romans, and have always been considered among Italy’s best. The wines have ranged from red to white and then back to mostly red, due to the fact that the principle Tuscan grape is the fabled red sangiovese, the backbone of Tuscan wine production.
As few as five decades ago, numerous consumers identified Tuscany’s wines by the colorful fiascos (wicker flasks) that identified many Chianti bottles, most of which were very basic red wines. A lot of the wines were produced by large wine cooperatives, who utilized the grapes from many small growers in their area. Then, the main emphasis was on volume and not necessarily quality. But, in terms of wine years, that time was long ago and today’s Tuscan wines are on par with many of the finer wines from even the most exalted wine producing countries.
Chianti continues to be Tuscany’s premier wine but it is a far cry from its older version. Tight new laws of appellation (DOC in 1963, DOCG in 1984) have made the region among the most controlled in the country and have given rise to a new wave of high quality wines that grace stores and fashionable restaurants.
Incredibly similar to its California look alike Napa Valley, Tuscany is quite hilly and built around the ancient Florence to Siena highway. Many wine estates abound, complete with rustic red clay topped buildings of historical distinction and easily among the most identifiable in the world. Like Napa Valley, these wine properties produce their own estate-bottled wines that are much sought after.
Many wine experts consider Tuscany the near-perfect growing area for grapes, due mostly to its location and excellent combination of climate and water. Giacomo Tachis, the greatest Italian wine expert (inventor of the perfect wine Sassicaia) put it thusly: "Here there is light, the sun. Radiant sunlight and the right soil are the soul of wine. But the tradition of the countryside and the memory of men are the solid bases of the extraordinary Tuscan wine culture."
If all of the above factors are put together, it is easy to see why Tuscany’s wines carry such elevated credentials. International competitions have further enhanced many Tuscan wines’ reputations and even the super-selective British wine press has often praised the nobleness of many of Tuscany’s prized selections.
Tuscany is also among the most visitable places in the wine world. A short drive South from Florence and the majesty of the Tuscan countryside spreads out before you like a cover from a travel magazine. There are so many small, ambient places to stay that it is unnecessary to count. A savory local cuisine that is designed to accompany Tuscany’s range of great wines makes the trip even more unbelievable. The settings are incomparable, the foods rich and delicious and the wines simply complete some of the great gastronomic experiences in life.
Tuscany’s varied wine selections comes in both reds and white, but the reds are the true masterpieces of the region. Where the soils vary slightly, so do the resulting wines and the inevitable comparisons are made from neighbor to neighbor. Two DOCG Chianti Classicos, made just miles apart, can have totally different characteristics, a fact that adds to the area’s allure.
Featured Italian Wine Regions
Azienda Agricole il Poggiale
Shortly after World War II, the Finocchi Family purchased the il Poggiale vineyards and winery that had been part of the famous and huge Barco Reale Vineyard. The Barco Reale dated back to the 1600’s and was part of the vast royal Medici Vineyards. Many of the same vines planted then are still producing grapes to this day and are among the most treasured in all of Italy. Il Poggiale was initially divided into three distinct sections, one planted in morello, the second in trebbiano and the final in cabernet sauvignon and malvasia del chianti, both used for blending.
The dexterous trebbiano grape produces a marvelous white wine that rivals any in the Carmignano District and indeed the entire country. The wine has been a dominant factor in international competitions and is highly respected throughout the entire wine world. In a country not particularly known for its whites, the il Poggiale Trebbiano is considered among the elite of Italian whites.
Il Poggiale is known as such due to the fact that it is situated on a series of small poggi, or knolls that cascade through the hills of Carmignano and is the local way of saying ‘the house on the side of the hill.’
Podere Le Poggiarrelle
Since its is located only 5 kilometers (slightly over 3 miles) from il Poggiale, it seems reasonable that the two winery names sound similar. Also part of the Medici royal vineyards, Le Poggiarelle Vineyards were acquired by the Favillini Lenzi Family in 1970. The name Le Poggiarelle is a diminutive way of saying ‘several small hills’. Additionally, the vineyards had been abandoned for more than a decade when the Lenzi family bought the property. These vineyards were first planted in the ninth century in a zone that also supported wonderful olive trees that produced splendid olive oil. The entire farm has been resorted to its former beauty and historical setting down to even the smallest detail.
Today’s Le Poggiarelle’s entire production is completely organically produced, where no phytochemicals are used in its production, which is a relative rarity in Italy. For decades, its wines have faired well at international levels and its Carmignano DOCG is considered the region’s superior red wine.
By the way, the olive oil produced at Le Poggiarrelle is also considered among the superior olive oils in the entire country, no mean feat in olive-rich Italy.
Our third selection is the Cantine Bonacchi 2004 Chianti Riserva, produced from Cantina Bonacchi’s modernistic winery in Quarrata, a town in the Montalbano Hills, in the very heart of the Chianti production zone.
Cantine Bonacchi and owner/winemaker Andrea Bonacchi own 60 hectares (a little over 148 acres) of vineyards, 40 in the Montalbano zone and 20 in the Classico Gallo Nero along with additional vineyards in Montalcino near Sienna.
While Chianti can trace its origins back to the middle ages, in 1716 the area became officially recognized. In 1932, a ministerial decree gave it added importance. To be an accredited Riserva, the wine must be aged two years in oak barrels, then another three months in bottles and must have a minimum alcoholic content of 12 %. This wine is produced from one of Cantine Bonacchi’s premier vineyards and is 100% Sangiovese. The Bonacchi Chianti Classico DOCG has performed well on the international wine stage and is considered one of the top Chiantis to be found anywhere in the world.