Do you love wine? Are you thinking of taking a trip to Tuscany to sample the nectar and not sure where you should go? Not to worry as we will make touring the wine regions in Tuscany easy!
As a certified Sommelier, people ask me all the time which are the best wine regions in Tuscany. To answer that question, we must first understand the immensity and diversity of this winemaking region. To make it easier I will break the region down into a few smaller, digestible sips ( excuse the pun).
First of all, we must remember that Tuscany is an entire region in which you have many historical cities including Florence, Siena, Pisa, and Montepulciano. The beautiful thing about all of these cities is that they are completely different from the other, even though they are all within a few hours of each other. So enough talking and let’s get into the thick of it.
The Major Wine Regions of Tuscany
Let’s first start with some geography. The region of Tuscany is located right in the middle of Italy. On the Western front you have the sea and then it moves inland. For wine, we can first break it down into 2 Macro wine zones-
- The hills of Central Tuscany- This area is dominated by the red grape Sangiovese. The micro wine areas are the Chianti, Siena, Montepulciano, San Gimignano
- the Tyrennian Coast of Tuscany- The hills of Candia and Lucca, Elba, Maremma and Bolgheri
Do many of these not sound familiar to you? That’s ok, I will now go more into detail about each micro area
This is probably the most known wine in Italy to most people. The name Chianti still conjures up that red wine in the wicker basket with the eggplant shape. Would you believe that the name Chianti was first used in 1398 to signify a white wine!!
Today the wine region of Chianti is located about an hour south of Florence in the Northern part of Tuscany. When you buy a bottle of Chianti, you will know because it will have the black rooster on the label.
Why the black rooster? Legend has it that a race took place between a Florentine and Sienese horseman to decide where the borders of each respective republic should start and end. Each of them would take off from their respective cities at the rooster’s crow and the point where they met would decide the boundary. The Florentines chose a black horse that they didn’t feed the night before. The horse was so hungry that it actually took off before the sun came up and the horsemen met only 7 miles from the walls of Siena.
In this way, Florence was able to annex the entire Chianti area and assigning the territory with the black rooster. The story is good and now you know why if there is no black rooster, it is not Chianti.
Tours of Chianti & Florence
Le Colline Senesi ( The Sienese Hills)
This is one of the most exciting wine regions in Tuscany. The area comprises the wines of San Gimignano, Montepulciano and Montalcino among many others, but we will concentrate on the 3 aforementioned since they are the most famous.
This Medieval hilltop town is often referred to as the Manhattan of Tuscany due to the many Medieval towers looming in the city. It is a lovely city to visit and takes about one hour to walk through it from one side to the other.
While there are many stores where you can shop, the real reason you are here is the wine- and one wine, in particular, Vernaccia di San Gimignano.
Vernaccia di San Gimignano is a white wine that has been around since ancient times. While there are a few different styles of production you will find strong mineral notes with citrus overtones. Enjoy a glass, or bottle, after strolling through this Medieval Manhattan.
I feel obliged to make a disclaimer at this point. Montalcino is one of my favorite cities, not only for its beauty but for its prized wine- Brunello di Montalcino. It is hard to dispute the reign of Brunello as the top wine or at least in the top 3 of best wines in Tuscany.
The requirements to make this wine are quite rigid. It can only be made with 100% Sangiovese grape. It also cannot be released without being in the winery for at least 50 months with at least two of those years having settled in barrels.
For the Riserva, it must wait another year still to be released to the public. Therefore if the grapes were picked in 2010, the earliest you would be able to sample a bottle would have been in 2014 and for the Riserva in 2015.
For my own preference, if you only have one day in Tuscany, then this is the place you must come too. Bear in mind that besides the amazing wine, the beautiful landscape of rolling hills has many people calling this area god’s country.
While not as popular as its big brother, Montalcino, Montepulciano has a special wine of its own- Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. This is a wine that should not be missed since it is quite different than the others mentioned above.
While the main grape used is Sangiovese, like with Brunello, the rules for this wine allow other varietals to be used. This includes also using international grapes such as merlot. To taste this wine from the time the grapes are picked you will have to wait at least two years and if it is a Riserva, then 3 years. As of late they have introduced the smaller, French barrique barrels to soften the bite of this bold wine.
Something very unique in Montepulciano is the many tunnels below the hill where the city is perched on. They were created back in ancient times to guess what.. store wine! You can also find most of the main producers in the area, have shops right in the city itself, so if you don’t have a car, then you can visit the city and taste the best wines!
The Coastal Area
The western coast of Tuscany is along the Mediterranean sea. In this area, you will find the wine regions of Bolgheri and Maremma. The contrast with the inner part of Tuscany is huge. It is as if you are not in Tuscany anymore until you hear them speak and the wines are completely different.
Bolgheri is the Italian answer to the French Bordeaux. It all started back in 1944 when the Marchese Mario Incisa Della Rocchetta planted 2 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc. What happened next would start a revolution in Italian wine.
In 1968 Bolgheri Sassicaia burst onto the scene as one of the powerhouse wines of the country. The combination of the international grapes used, the sandy and clay soils and the influence of the sea breezes made comparisons between Sassicaia and the Cru Classés of Bordeaux. Starting in the 1970s, Sassicaia became a cult-wine and one of the best Italian wines to age.
These mixtures of international grapes and local varieties led to the term- SuperTuscans, in the 1980s. Even though within wine circles, these wines are extremely popular, Bolgheri is still not a huge destination for tourists. Therefore if you get a chance and have a car, go check out the area for a day and enjoy some exquisite wine!
For a long time, the Maremma was the new frontier of Tuscan wine. Located right on the coast, it is where many investors experimented with different wines. Their efforts have paid off, considering that now it is recognized as one of the top wine-producing micro-regions.
The most recognizable wine in this area is Morellino di Scansano. The dominant grape here is Sangiovese 85%. After that many grapes, including international varieties, are used to create a smooth, fruity wine with a long finish. The Riserva requires a minimum of 2 years in oak barrels and creates a very structured wine with spice on the nose and prune jam.