The history of viticulture inTuscanydates back to its settlements by theEtruscansin the 8th century BC.Amphoraremnants originating in the region show that Tuscan wine wasexportedtosouthern ItalyandGaulas early as the 7th century BC. By the 3rd century BC, there were literary references byGreekwriters about the quality of Tuscan wine.From thefall of the Roman Empireand throughout theMiddle Ages,monasterieswere the main purveyors of wines in the region. As thearistocraticandmerchantclasses emerged, they inherited theshare-croppingsystem of agriculture known asmezzadria. 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 grapeharvestinto wine that would be sold to merchants inFlorence. The earliest reference of Florentine wine retailers dates to 1079 and aguildwas created in 1282.
TheArte dei Vinattieriguild 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 toprostitutes,ruffiansandthieves. 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 merchantFrancesco di Marco Datini, the "merchant of Prato", who described it as a light, white wine. The Vernaccia andGrecowines ofSan Gimignanowere consideredluxury itemsand treasured as gifts oversaffron. During this period Tuscan winemakers began experimenting with new techniques and invented the process ofgovernowhich helped tostabilizethe wines and ferment the sugar content sufficiently to make them dry. In 1685 the Tuscan authorFrancesco RediwroteBaccoin Toscana, a 980-line poem describing the wines of Tuscany.
Following the end of theNapoleonic Wars, Tuscany returned to the rule of theHabsburgs. It was at this point that the statesmanBettino Ricasoliinherited his family ancestral estate inBrogliolocated 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,CanaioloandMalvasia— produced the best wine. In 1848,revolutionsbroke out in Italy and Ricasoli's beloved wife died, leaving him with little interest to devote to wine. In the 1850s OidiumUncinula necatorand war devastated most of Tuscany's vineyards with many peasant farmers leaving for other parts of Italy or toemigrateto the Americas.
Theregionof Tuscany includes seven coastal islands and is Italy's fifth largest region. It is bordered to the northwest byLiguria, the north byEmilia-Romagna,Umbriato the east andLazioto the south. To the west is the Tyrrhenian Sea which gives the area a warmmediterranean climate. The terrain is quite hilly (over 68% of the terrain), progressing inward to theApennine Mountainsalong the border with Emilia-Romagna. The hills serve as a tempering affect on the summertime heat with many vineyards planted on the higherelevationsof the hillsides.
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 ataltitudesof 500–1600 feet (150–500 meters). The higher elevations also increase thediurnal temperature variation, helping the grapes maintain their balance ofsugarsandacidityas well as their aromatic qualities.
AfterPiedmontand theVeneto, Tuscany produces the third highest volume of DOC/G quality wines. Tuscany is Italy's third most planted region (behindSicilyandApulia) but it is eighth in production volume. This is partly because thesoilof Tuscany is very poor, and producers emphasize lowyieldsand higher quality levels in their wine. More than 80% of the regions' production is in red wine.
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 toSassicaia, the brainchild of marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, who planted Cabernet Sauvignon at hisTenuta San Guidoestate inBolgheriback in 1944. It was for many years the marchese’s personal wine, until, starting with the 1968 vintage, it was released commercially in 1971.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 theirwine labelsand would be classified asvino 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.
Themarchese Piero Antinoriwas one of the first to create a "Chianti-style" wine that ignored the DOC regulations, releasing a 1971 Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon blend known asTignanelloin 1978. He was inspired bySassicaia, of which he was given the sale agency by his uncle Mario Incisa della Rocchetta.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 winebrandthat 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 IGTToscanadesignation in 1992 and theDOC Bolgheridesignation in 1994, while the pioneer Sassicaia was prized with its own exclusiveBolgheri SassicaiaDoc.
In addition to wines based on theSangiovesegrape, many well known Super Tuscans are based on a "Bordeaux-blend", meaning a combination of grapes typical forBordeaux(esp.Cabernet SauvignonandMerlot). 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.
While Tuscany is not the only Italian region to make thepassitodessert 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 androséstyles 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 aRiserva.
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