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Super-Tuscans

Tuscan wine

Tuscany

Tuscan wine (Italian Toscana) is Italian wine from the Tuscanyregion. Located in central Italy along the Tyrrhenian coast, Tuscany is home to some of the world's most notable wine regions. Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano are primarily made with Sangiovese grape whereas the Vernaccia grape is the basis of the white Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Tuscany is also known for the dessert wine Vin Santo, made from a variety of the region's grapes. Tuscany has thirty-three Denominazioni di origine controllata (DOC) and nineDenominazioni di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG). In the 1970s a new class of wines known in the trade as "Super Tuscans" emerged. These wines were made outside DOC/DOCG regulations but were considered of high quality and commanded high prices. Many of these wines became cult wines. In the reformation of the Italian classification system many of the original Super Tuscans now qualify as DOC or DOCG wines (such as the new Bolgheri label) but some producers still prefer the declassified rankings or to use the Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) classification of Toscana. Tuscany has five sub-categories of IGT wines today.

History

Banqueting scene in theTomb of the Leopards Winemaker and politician Bettino Ricasoli

The history of viticulture in Tuscany dates back to its settlements by the Etruscans in the 8th century BC. Amphora remnants originating in the region show that Tuscan wine was exported tosouthern Italy and Gaul as early as the 7th century BC. By the 3rd century BC, there were literary references by Greek writers about the quality of Tuscan wine.[1] From the fall of the Roman Empireand throughout the Middle Ages, monasteries were the main purveyors of wines in the region. As the aristocratic and merchantclasses emerged, they inherited the share-cropping system of agriculture known as mezzadria. This system took its name from the arrangement whereby the landowner provides the land and resources for planting in exchange for half ("mezza") of the yearly crop. Many Tuscan landowners would turn their half of the grapeharvest into wine that would be sold to merchants in Florence. The earliest reference of Florentine wine retailers dates to 1079 and aguild was created in 1282.[2]

The Arte dei Vinattieri guild established strict regulations on how the Florentine wine merchants could conduct business. No wine was to be sold within 100 yards (91 m) of a church. Wine merchants were also prohibited from serving children under 15 or to prostitutes, ruffians and thieves. In the 14th century, an average of 7.9 million US gallons (30,000 m3) of wine was sold every year in Florence. The earliest references to Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wine date to the late 14th century. The first recorded mention of wine from Chianti was by the Tuscan merchant Francesco di Marco Datini, the "merchant of Prato", who described it as a light, white wine. The Vernaccia and Greco wines of San Gimignano were considered luxury items and treasured as gifts over saffron. During this period Tuscan winemakers began experimenting with new techniques and invented the process ofgoverno which helped to stabilize the wines and ferment the sugar content sufficiently to make them dry. In 1685 the Tuscan authorFrancesco Redi wrote Bacco in Toscana, a 980-line poem describing the wines of Tuscany.[2]

Following the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Tuscany returned to the rule of the Habsburgs. It was at this point that the statesmanBettino Ricasoli inherited his family ancestral estate in Brogliolocated in the heart of the Chianti Classico zone. Determined to improve the estate, Ricasoli traveled throughout Germany and France, studying the grape varieties and viticultural practices. He imported several of the varieties back to Tuscany and experimented with different varieties in his vineyards. However, in his experiments Ricasoli discovered that three local varieties— Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Malvasia— produced the best wine. In 1848, revolutions broke out in Italy and Ricasoli's beloved wife died, leaving him with little interest to devote to wine. In the 1850s Oidium Uncinula necator and war devastated most of Tuscany's vineyards with many peasant farmers leaving for other parts of Italy or to emigrate to the Americas.[3]

Climate and geography

Vineyards aroundSiena

The region of Tuscany includes seven coastal islands and is Italy's fifth largest region. It is bordered to the northwest by Liguria, the north by Emilia-Romagna, Umbria to the east and Lazio to the south. To the west is the Tyrrhenian Sea which gives the area a warm mediterranean climate. The terrain is quite hilly (over 68% of the terrain), progressing inward to the Apennine Mountains along the border with Emilia-Romagna. The hills serve as a tempering affect on the summertime heat with many vineyards planted on the higher elevations of the hillsides.[4]

The Sangiovese grape performs better when it can receive more direct sunlight, which is a benefit of the many hillside vineyards in Tuscany. The majority of the region's vineyards are found ataltitudes of 500–1600 feet (150–500 meters). The higher elevations also increase the diurnal temperature variation, helping the grapes maintain their balance of sugars and acidity as well as their aromatic qualities.[5]

Wines and grapes

Sangiovese grapes harvested in theMontepulcianoregion.

After Piedmont and the Veneto, Tuscany produces the third highest volume of DOC/G quality wines. Tuscany is Italy's third most planted region (behind Sicily and Apulia) but it is eighth in production volume. This is partly because the soil of Tuscany is very poor, and producers emphasize low yields and higher quality levels in their wine. More than 80% of the regions' production is in red wine.[4]

The Sangiovese grape is Tuscany's most prominent grape; however, many different clonal varieties exist, as many towns have their own local version of Sangiovese. Cabernet Sauvignonhas been planted in Tuscany for over 250 years, but has only recently become associated with the region due to the rise of the Super Tuscans. Other international varieties found in Tuscany include Cabernet franc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot noir, Sauvignon blanc and Syrah. Of the many local red grape varieties Canaiolo,Colorino, Malvasia nera and Mammolo are the most widely planted. For Tuscan white wines, Trebbiano is the most widely planted variety followed by Malvasia, Vermentino and Vernaccia.[

Super Tuscan

Tignanelloone of the early Super Tuscans.

Super Tuscans are an unofficial category of Tuscan wines, not recognized within the Italian wine classification system. Although an extraordinary amount of wines claim to be “the first Super Tuscan,” most would agree that this credit belongs to Sassicaia, the brainchild of marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, who planted Cabernet Sauvignon at his Tenuta San Guido estate inBolgheri back in 1944. It was for many years the marchese’s personal wine, until, starting with the 1968 vintage, it was released commercially in 1971.[6] The growth of Super Tuscans is also rooted in the restrictive DOC practices of the Chianti zone prior to the 1990s. During this time Chianti could be composed of no more than 70% Sangiovese and had to include at least 10% of one of the local white wine grapes. Producers who deviated from these regulations could not use the Chianti name on their wine labelsand would be classified as vino da tavola - Italy's lowest wine designation. By the 1970s, the consumer market for Chianti wines was suffering and the wines were widely perceived to be lacking quality. Many Tuscan wine producers thought they could produce a better quality wine if they were not hindered by the DOC regulations.[7]

The marchese Piero Antinori was one of the first to create a "Chianti-style" wine that ignored the DOC regulations, releasing a 1971 Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon blend known as Tignanelloin 1978. He was inspired by Sassicaia, of which he was given the sale agency by his uncle Mario Incisa della Rocchetta.[6] Other producers followed suit and soon the prices for these Super Tuscans were consistently beating the prices of some of most well known Chianti. Rather than rely on name recognition of the Chianti region, the Super Tuscan producers sought to create a wine brandthat would be recognizable on its own merits by consumers. By the late 1980s, the trend of creating high quality non-DOC wines had spread to other regions of Tuscany, as well as Piedmont and Veneto. Modification to the Chianti DOC regulation attempted to "correct" the issues of Super Tuscans, so that many of the original Super Tuscans would now qualify as standard DOC/G Chianti. Most producers have brought their Super Tuscans back under legal regulations, notably since the creation of the less restrictive IGT Toscana designation in 1992 and the DOC Bolgheridesignation in 1994, while the pioneer Sassicaia was prized with its own exclusive Bolgheri Sassicaia Doc.[7]

In addition to wines based on the Sangiovese grape, many well known Super Tuscans are based on a "Bordeaux-blend", meaning a combination of grapes typical for Bordeaux (esp. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot). These grapes are not originally from the region, but imported and planted later. The climate in Tuscany has proven to be very good for these grapes.

Vin SantoEdit

Main article:Vin Santo

While Tuscany is not the only Italian region to make the passitodessert wine Vin Santo (meaning "holy wine"), the Tuscan versions of the wine are well regarded and sought for by wine consumers. The best-known version is from the Chianti Classico and is produced with a blend of Trebbiano and Malvasia Bianca. Red and rosé styles are also produced mostly based on the Sangiovese grape. The wines are aged in barrels for a minimum of three years, four if it is meant to be a Riserva.[8]

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