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Italy

Central Italy

  • Tuscany extends along the Mediterranean coast from Liguria to Lazio, and is surrounded along the Apennines by Emilia-Romagna, Le Marche and Umbria. The region is sheltered by these mountains from the cold north wine, although winters can be cold, the summers are hot and dry. This seasonal variation gives the wines depth and structure.

    The most famous soil types of Tuscany is galestro, a type of rocky marl that provides near perfect amounts of water to the vines throughout the growing season. Similar soil with more sand and fewer rocks is called albarese, and the Maremma is characterized by gravel.



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  • The most well established region in Tuscany is Chianti. There are six subzones, with Classico at the center. Chianti Classico is composed of the communes of Greve, Radda, Gaiole and Castellina along with parts of San Casciano Val di Pesa, Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, Barberino Val d’Elsa (west) Poggibonsi (north) and Castelnuovo Berardenga (south).

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  • Altitude and soil are the key to style and quality, with the most structured, full bodied wines coming from the lower slopes (250–400 meters) with the highest content of Galestro soils, while those at higher altitudes or with sandier soils producer lighter, more perfumed wines.


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  • The wine of Chianti is based on the Sangiovese grape. Sangiovese is variable, due to the large number of clones, but in general it is a grape that lacks deep color and can be subject to oxidation. It is a grape with relatively high acidity, low extract, moderate sugar levels and moderate to high tannin content.

    There is also a fair amount of clonal variation with Sangiovese. One main type is known as Grosso, which is also called Prugnolo, Brunello, or Morellino. This is a widely planted clone, ripening earlier than other clones. It is used in Vino Nobile, Brunello, Morellino di Scansano, and by certain Chianti producers.

    Another main type is Piccolo, or Sangioveto, which has tighter bunches, smaller grapes. Sangiovese di Romagna, also widely grown in central Italy, is actually a separate grape with its own clones. The yield is generally higher, but quality is not necessarily lower. The best area for this type of Sangiovese is around Ravenna.

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  • Although grapes have been cultivated in this area for millennia, the origins of modern Chianti go back to the demarcation of the area early in the 18th century and the codification of the blend in the 19th century. This originally was meant to be based on Sangiovese, with the addition of Canaiolo, Malvasia, Trebbiano, Colorino, and Malvasia Nera. For many years, this basic blend was also strengthened with alcoholic, deeply colored wines from the south, such as Primitivo.

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  • The practice of adding wines from Southern Italy has certainly stopped, but blending in varieties such as Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah that ripen quickly and give the blend color, tannin, and an aromatic profile familiar to consumers in the world’s export markets is quite common. This trend has been complemented by other new methods, such as later picking, canopy management and green harvesting in the vineyards to get wines with higher alcohol, fuller body and softer tannins. In the winery, must concentration, rotofermenters, prefermentation cold soaks and performing alcoholic and malolactic fermentations as well as aging in new French barriques are all techniques used to maximize concentration and extraction. These practices make delicious wine, but wine that is not very characteristic of Tuscan style and tradition.

    One traditional technique in Chianti is the governo, or addition of partially raisined grapes to finished wine, provoking refermentation that adds body and glycerine to the wine, improving mouthfeel.

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  • Chianti Classico is surrounded by a number of satellite areas. Colli Fiorentini is located to the north around Florence, and is following around in a clockwise direction from Rufina and Pomino. Rufina is the satellite with the best reputation, and Pomino is a traditional DOCG near Chianti Rufina where Cabernet, Merlot and Pinot Nero are allowed to be used in the blend. Continuing to the south is Colli Aretini. Southwest of this area is Colli Senesi near Siena, containing Castelnuovo Berardenga. To the west one finds Montespertoli, Colline Pisane, near Pisa, and Montalbano, where Carmignano is also produced.

    Regulations have changed and now Chianti may be composed of only Sangiovese, or up to 20% of international varieties may be used in the blend. To qualify as Riserva, it must legally be aged for two years, including three months in bottle, before release.

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  • Chianti is not the only wine produced in Tuscany, however. South of Chianti in the hills surrounding Siena where Chianti Colli Senesi is also produced, two towns produce Sangiovese wines that are highly regarded. Brunello di Montalcino often enjoys a higher reputation than Chianti, probably due to the high quality clone of Sangiovese called Brunello used in the area. The area is also lower in altitude than Chianti, giving a warmer microclimate and the result is wines with greater structure. The denser soils help produce wines of great longevity, aged for three and a half years in wood. The younger vines are commercialized as Rosso di Montalcino.

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  • The town of Montepulciano east of Montalcino is the home of Vino Nobile de Montepulciano. This is a wine made from the Prugnolo or Brunello clone of Sangiovese with the possible addition of Canaiolo, Mammolo, and international varieties such as Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. It should not be confused with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo which is made (confusingly enough) from the grape called Montepulciano in the Abruzzo.

    Although Vin Santo is produced throughout Tuscany and in other regions as well, Montepulciano is particularly well-known for its production.

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  • Located northwest of Chianti Classico in the region that produces Chianti Montalbano, Carmignano is a very old and well respected region. In 1975, Carmignano was the first Italian region to require Cabernet, at least 10%, in the blend. The legal maximum is 20%, although this is sometimes surreptitiously exceeded. A maximum of 20% Canaiolo and 10% Trebbiano are also allowed but seldom used by good producers. Barco Reale di Carmignano is a DOC created as a second wine to Carmignano, in much the same way that Rosso di Montalcino is a second wine for Brunello. It is essentially used for young vine Carmignano.

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  • Additional Tuscan regions include Montecarlo and Colline Lucchesi, north of Carmignano, which is a Sangiovese based wine with generous helpings of French varietals, and the coastal DOCs of Maremma, which include the DOCs of Montescudaio, Bolgheri, Val di Cornia, Massa Marittima, Scansano, Parrina and the island of Elba, where Napoleon was exiled. One curiosity of Elba is the production of the sweet red wine from the Aleatico grape, partially sun-dried.

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  • Trebbiano is the most common white grape in Tuscany, as in Italy in general, where it has 130,000 hectares, or about 320,000 acres planted. It is a grape that produces neutral fruit character with little aroma, but it yields well, is easy to grow and vigorous, with thick skins. It buds late which protects it from frost and it ripens late.

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  • Among the other white grapes of central Italy, Malvasia is a bit fuller in body. Vernaccia is probably the grape with the most character and is best known as a wine from San Gimigmano. Some producers in the Maremma are also producing refreshing Vermentino. Other grapes that can appear include Moscadello (Moscato), Ansonica, Grechetto, Drupeggio, Verdello and Bellone.

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  • Like Tuscany, Umbria produces mainly red wine from Sangiovese. For years very traditional, Umbria is now on the cutting edge of winemaking in Italy, due in part to the influence of enologist Riccardo Cotarella. In Umbria, several indigenous grapes often enter into the blend, including Sagrantino around Montefalco, Ciliegolo and Cesanese as well as international varieties such as Merlot. The whites tend to be Trebbiano/Malvasia blends, like Orvieto. Usually vinified dry, they are sometimes made abboccato (semi-sweet), and very occasionally muffato, or botrytised. Verdello, Grechetto & Garganega are sometimes used for blending.

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  • Le Marche on the Adriatic is hilly country with a temperate climate and calcareous soil, that is not well known for wine production. The best-known white is Verdicchio and those made from Castelli di Jesi being most often exported. Other whites tend to be a Trebbiano/Malvasia blend, sometimes with the addition of indigenous grapes like Passerino, Maceratino, and Bianchello del Metauro, and imported varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco. The best-known reds are Rosso Conero and Rosso Piceno, which are both a blend (60/40, usually) of Sangiovese and Montepulciano.

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  • Lazio is the region around Rome, and it is not well-known for the quality of its wine. Some properties are making blends from Cabernet, Merlot and Sangiovese and a white based on Trebbiano. These are produced in the area of area of Montefiascone, of Est! Est!! Est!!! fame. Red wines are usually dominated by Sangiovese and Montepulciano with the addition of Cesanese and other indigenous grapes. Aleatico is also produced in a fortified style.

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  • The Abruzzo is known essentially for two grapes, Montepulciano and Trebbiano. The Montepulciano is a black grape, and has nothing to do with Vino Nobile produced in Tuscany. It is a late-ripening grape with thick skins, giving wines that are deeply colored and show medium acidity and forward fruit character without excessive depth of flavor.

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  • Molise is a region that shares the influence of Abruzzo and its Montepulciano with that of Campania to the south. Little quality wine is known from this region, but quality is getting better. Various red wines are popular, most based on Aglianico and Montepulciano, and whites from Falanghina, Fiano and Greco.

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