Archive for the Wine Category

Wine In Tuscany Part X, Vin Santo

Vin Santo, Sweet Wine Made Using The Passito Method

This is the last of our series on Tuscan wine, and what better way to end up than with a wine made to accompany dessert? When visiting Tuscany you may come across Vin Santo (holy wine), a sweet wine made from air dried grapes. Usually the wine is made from white grapes, trebbiano and malvasia but in the case of Vin Santo Occhio di Pernice, sangiovese is used (sometimes with the addition of white grapes). Once picked, either the grapes are spread out on bamboo matting in a well ventilated room or the bunches are hung from beams). After 1-6 months air-drying the grapes have lost 35-40% of their water, they are pressed and the resulting liquid put in a small (100 litre) barrel. Air dying grapes to concentrate sugars and flavours is known as the passito method, it is commonly used in Italy to make dessert wines and, in Northern Italy, Valpolicella Amarone and Sforzato di Valtellina, both dry, concentrated red wines.

In the past fortified sweet wines were also labelled as vin santo but this is no longer permitted as it was detracting from the high quality and labour intensive passito method (you can make a sweet wine by adding a spirit part way through fermentation, this kills the yeast and leaves residual sugar in the wine, port is an example of a wine made this way), today such wines are called vino liquoroso. Depending on the restaurant you go to, it is possible to be served either type of wine with cantucci biscuits for dessert. More expensive restaurants are likely to offer the passito method vin santo whereas cheaper places are more likely to offer a liquoroso.

 

To start the fermentation a small amount of older vin santo is transferred from an older barrel to the new barrel containing the freshly pressed juice, this has a natural yeast (known as the mother yeast or madre) that kicks things off. These prized strains of yeast can be hundreds of years old if generations of your family have been making vin santo. A gap is left at the top of the barrel which allows the wine to oxidise. The extremely sugar rich environment slows down the action of the yeast and the resulting wines are usually 12-13% alcohol by the time fermentation stops. The Vin Santo is left in barrel for a minimum of 3 years but some producers age for 10. There is still a lot of residual sugar so the wine is sweet and persistent in the mouth with intense dried fruit, spice, honey, caramel and hazelnut aromas. The amber colour results from oxidation in the barrel as do the hazelnut aromas.

L’Occhio di Pernice (eye of the partridge) is made with sangiovese, as a result the colour is more orange with aromas of plum jam, caramel, honey, dark chocolate, coffee and tobacco.

You will find vin santo in other regions of Italy but Tuscany has by far the highest level of production, there are twenty four Vin Santo DOCs. 

Wine In Tuscany Part IX, Super Tuscan

Super Tuscan: Quality Wine Made Outside The DOC / DOCG Rules

Super Tuscan is the term given to the well made, expensive and sought after wines that are made outside of the DOC / DOCG rules. The first, in 1968, was Vigorello di San Felice a wine made from 100% sangiovese in the heart of the Chianti Classico area. At the time it was not permitted to make an unblended sangiovese and call it Chianti so the wine had to be labelled as Vino da Tavola. In 1970 Tiganello was the next to gain fame, produced in the Chianti Classico zone it is a blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. The other really famous Super Tuscan, Sassicaia, first released in 1971, is produced in the Bolgheri region near the coast and is at least 80% cabernet sauvignon. Today it has its own single estate DOC, Sassicaia Bolgheri DOC, so, if you are feeling really pedantic, it can no longer be called a Super Tuscan.

If you spend time visiting vineyards in Tuscany, you will find that many producers make at least one high quality (and expensive) wine that is made outside the local DOC or DOCG rules. They will be released as IGT wines and often feature international grapes such as merlot, carbernet franc, petit verdot and cabernet sauvignon, however, many will still be a blend of sangiovese with international grapes and some are even pure sangiovese. Usually these wines will be aged in the smaller barrels known as barriques which give more pronounced oak flavours and aromas to the wine. The high price commanded by these wines has led to new vineyards being developed, particularly in coastal areas which seem particularly suited to Bordeaux style blends. 

Wine In Tuscany Part VIII, The Mediterranean Coast

Tuscany, Northern Coastal Wine Growing Areas:

Colli Apuani, Colline Lucchesi, Collina di Montecarlo, Bolgheri, Montescudaio, Terratico di Bibbona, Val di Cornia, San Torpè, Terre di Pisa, Elba.

 

Northern Coastal Area

This includes the Colli Apuani and the Lucchesia, the latter takes in the Colli Lucchesi and the hills around the small town of Montecarlo.  

The Colli Apuani (200 hectares of vineyard) between Massa and Carrara (the source of white marble for Michelangelo’s sculptures) produces Candia dei Colli Apuani DOC, a white wine made principally with the vermentino grape and available in semi sweet (amabile) and dry versions.

The Colline Lucchesi in the Lucchesia area (of Lucca) produces wines that are 100% sangiovese and merlot as well as sangiovese blended with colorino, canaiolo and ciliegiolo. The Colline Lucchese Bianco DOC allows for 100% sauvignon blanc, 100% vermentino or a blend based on trebbiano.

Collina di Montecarlo produces simple fruity whites based on trebbiano toscano, often blended with sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio and pinot bianco, sémillion, vermentino and roussane. Montecarlo Rosso DOC is a blend with sangiovese as the base.

Livorno (Leghorn) and Pisan Coast

The wine growing areas of Bolgheri, Montescudaio, Terratico di Bibbona, Val di Cornia, San Torpè, Terre di Pisa and Elba.

Bolgheri Bolgheri Sassicaia is the only wine from a single estate (called Tenuta San Guido) in Italy to have its own DOC. It is made from cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc and was originally produced for family consumption. In the 1970’s it became a cult wine, one of the first Super Tuscans, the vineyard’s position close to the sea, low altitude and soils comprising a stone/clay/sand mix give Sassicaia a similar quality to the great wines of Bordeaux. The number of hectares planted with vineyards in Bolgheri has increased massively, from 260 hectares in 1990 to 1140 hectares in 2014 and fifty producers. These other producers can label their wines as Bolgheri DOC, but only wines from the single estate, Tenuta San Guido, can be labelled as Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC, probably to be upgraded to DOCG shortly. 

There are three sub-zones within the Bolgheri region: the area in the hills; close to the sea and the intermediate areas (between hills and sea). The hills have soils derived from old alluvial (deposited by river) deposits, the intermediate area has alluvial soils with a high level of iron oxides (this area is the location of the Sassicaia vineyards) and the area nearest the beach has recent alluvial deposits mixed with sand from the beach. Bolgheri runs parallel to the coast, it is protected from cold northerly winds by hills and the summer heat is mitigated by sea breezes.

 

The Bolgheri DOC allows red and rosé wines to be produced as 100% varietals made from cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot. If the producer chooses, up to 50% syrah or sangiovese can be added to the blend and a small amount of petit verdot. 

In general Bolgheri wines have a deep ruby red colour, they are able to age for a long time and have intense aromas of mature dark berries, Mediterranean herbs and spice. They are elegant wines, powerfully alcoholic, soft, fresh (thanks to a good acidity) and tannic. You can find a limited amount of white wine from Bolgheri, generally made with vermentino and sauvignon blanc.

Terratico di Bibbona lies to the north of Bolgheri. In the north of the area the sandy soils have found favour with both local and international grapes. The centre (close to the town of Rosignano) is noted for powerful sangiovese blends that use international grape varieties. The south (around Bibbiona) is the closest to Bolgheri and produces similar wines, I’ve never tried these but it would seem like a good place to look for quality wines without the Bolgheri price tag.

Val di Cornia lies to the south of Bolgheri. Val di Cornia DOC allows for a wide range of wines which blend sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot and syrah. You will also find 100% varietals and whites made from ansonica (inzolia) and vermentino. Val di Cornia also has a Val di Cornia DOCG, a blend of 40% sangiovese and the rest 60% merlot and cabernet sauvignon. The area around the town of Suvereto (in the centre of Val di Cornia) has its own Suvereto DOCG, which allows for varietal wines of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and sangiovese as well as blends of cabernet and merlot.

Colline di Montescudaio is just inland and adjacent to Terratico di Bibbona (north of Bolgheri). Whites are generally made with vermentino and reds with sangiovese, cabernet and merlot.

San Torpè is a large wine growing area around Pisa that produces simple whites from vermentino and trebbiano.

Terre di Pisa almost overlaps entirely the San Torpè region. Reds produced here are sangiovese or sangiovese blended with international grapes.

Elba the island of Elba has 300 hectares of vines, famous for sweet wines from air dried grapes (the passito method) Elba Aleatico Passito DOCG is a sweet wine made from air dried aleatico grapes, it has a concentrated smell of blackberries, fruits of the forest, red flower petals and sweet spice. L’Elba Moscato Passito is made from moscato grapes and unsurprisingly, L’Elba Ansonica Passito (citrus and peaches in syrup aromas)  is made from ansonica grapes. Dry white wines are made with vermentino, ansonica and procanico (the local name for trebbiano). You will also find rosé made from sangiovese and reds made from sangiovese blended with canaiolo, ciliegiolo and syrah.

 

Tuscany, Southern Coastal Wine Growing Areas:

Morellino, Montecucco, Monteregio di Massa Marittima, Parrina, Capalbaio, Pitigliano and Sovana. 

La Maremma and Grossetano (Southern Coastal Area)

La Maremma, the southern coastal area of Tuscany is the new frontier in Tuscan winemaking and has two DOCGs, Morellino di Scansano and Montecucco DOCG. The Maremma has a mild climate due to its proximity to the Mediterranean and plenty of sunny days.  The Maremma wine zone includes the towns of Grosseto, Massa Marittima, Scansano, Pitigliano and Capalbio. Once famous for cowboys called butteri, much of the coastal area is now a national park. The Maremma DOC includes wines made from the entire Grossetto region, the wines released under the DOC are whites made from a trebbiano blend and reds made from a sangiovese blend. Within the Maremma, the winemaking areas are Morellino, Montecucco, Monteregio di Massa Marittima, Parrina, Capalbaio, Pitigliano and Sovana.

Morellino di Scansano DOCG is the most famous wine from the region, Scansano itself is inland and at at 500 metres above sea level, but the DOCG region extends quite close to the coast. In general the area has low rainfall and a warm climate, providing ideal conditions for ripening of the local variety of sangiovese, morellino. The DOCG permits a minimum of 85% sangiovese blended with international varieties or alicante bouschet (a cross of petit bouschet and grenache), canaiolo, colorino and ciliegiolo. There are two styles of Morellino di Scansano, the wine released from the previous year, aged in stainless steel and usually using a blend of local varieties, in which fruit dominates both the nose and flavour. Aged Morellino di Scansano usually has a high percentage of sangiovese, the wine is aged in oak for up to 12 months, and, in the case of the most structured wines, has a long maceration (the period that the wine is left on the skins) to extract more polyphenols.

These wines tend to be alcoholic and tannic with notes of cherry, menthol and spice. A Riserva is aged for 2 years in large oak barrels (botte) and has more intense fruit and spice aromas.

Montecucco Sangiovese DOCG the area where this hard to find DOCG wine is grown lies between Morellino di Sacansano (to the south), Montalcino (to the north) and the west facing slopes of Monte Amiata (to the east). The DOCG sangiovese wines have good structure and minerality. DOC wine from Monte Cucco are sangiovese (reds) and vermentino (whites).

Monteregio di Massa Marittima In the north of the Maremma, around the towns of  Castiglione della Pescaia and the Colline Metallifere (metallic hills) reds made from sangiovese predominate along with white wines from trebbiano and vermentino. In the furthest north of the region, the red wines have a lively acidity thanks to the chalky soils, Monteregio Rosso, a little further to the south, has galestro soil (crumbly clay rock) and produces wines with surprising structure and tannins.

Pitigliano and Sovana In the south east of the Maremma, Pitigliano DOC is produced around the town of the same name, red wine from the area can be released as Morellino di Scansano DOCG as it falls within the area. The base grape in the blend is trebbiano but the rules permit a variety of grapes such asmalvasia bianco, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. The Sovana DOC applies to red and rosé wines made from sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Also, look out for the sweet aleatico (a moscato grape with darker skin) wines with aromas of rose-hip and raspberry.

 

Winemaking Areas In The Coastal Regions Of Tuscany

Wine In Tuscany Part V, Central Tuscany: Brunello Di Montalcino

Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

Brunello di Montalcino the hills around the Tuscan town of Montalcino produce some of the most expensive and sought after wines in Italy, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. In fact, in 1980, Brunello became the first ever area to be awarded DOCG status (if you’re not sure what this means look at my post on Italian Wine Terms. The area in which Brunello di Montalcino can be grown is a rough square shape with Montalcino located in the north east of the square, it is about 16km across, there are around 250 producers, of whom one third own less than three hectares of vineyard. The production is limited, around 6.5 million bottles are produced each year. The grape used to make Brunello is a particular sangiovese clone, brunello or sangiovese grosso, which has a high level of polyphenols and tannin in the skin. The soils here are chalk and schist, a combination of grape, microclimate, soil and elevation mean that the wines here are highly structured and suitable for lengthy ageing. Brunello is made from 100% sangiovese grosso grapes, has been grown in the DOCG area, has to spend at least two years in oak and cannot be released until 50 months after the harvest. If you come across a bottle labelled Riserva, it will have spent three years in oak.

There are four distinct areas within the DOCG zone, north, east, south and west. The north facing slope has the widest change in temperature and limestone soil known as crete. The wines made here are robust and packed with aroma, in the mouth they have noticeable minerality and acidity.

The western facing slope has a warm climate mitigated by winds blowing in from the Mediterranean, the wines here are noted for their minerality and longevity. The eastern slopes are the coldest and the grapes take longer to mature on the vine, producing wines that are highly structured with lively acidity and decisive tannins. The southern slopes produces wines with the highest alcohol content thanks to the lower rainfall and higher temperatures.

In addition to the variation caused by terroir, there are two distinct winemaking styles, some producers opt for ageing in botte, the traditional larger barrels, which give a more subtle oak influence whilst others use smaller barriques. Traditional style Brunello di Montalcino has a intense garnet colour (an orange tinted red) with earthy aromas along with leather and tobacco. In the mouth it has a good acidic backbone and important tannins. Modern Brunellos have a deep ruby colour with intense aromas of fruit and sweet spice, they tend to be softer and less austere.

Other wines from Montalcino include Rosso di Montalcino DOC, again made with 100% sangiovese grosso but aged for less time, Sant’Antimo DOC, a very flexible denomination that allows for several types of wine including red and white wines and Moscadello di Montalcino DOC, a sweet wine made with moscato grapes. The Brunello DOCG area overlaps with a part of Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG, however, most producers will not release any wines under this denomination thanks to the higher price commanded by Brunello di Montalcino DOCG.

Montalcino & The Surrounding Area

Wine In Tuscany Part IV, Central Tuscany: Chianti

The Chianti Wine Region In Central Tuscany

The term Chianti has been around since 1398 but the original wine produced in the Chianti area was white. By 1716 the area now known as Chianti Classico was officially established. In 1870 Barone Riccasoli wrote a recipe for Chianti which listed sangiovese as the principle grape blended with 15% canaiolo and 15% malvasia bianca. There are still producers who will make Chianti with a percentage of malvasia bianca or trebbiano but this is not permitted in Chianti Classico.

Today the area producing Chianti has increased and there are now eight officially recognised Chianti growing areas, including the original area, Chianti Classico. The Chianti region now stretches between Montalcino in the south and Pistoia in the north, and from Arezzo in the east and San Gimignano in the west. The Chianti Classico region is more or less directly between Florence and Siena. Total production of Chianti is 70,000,000 litres of which 25,000,000 litres are Chianti Classico DOCG, recognisable by the black cockerel on the label around the neck.

Because there are so many Chianti zones and rules it is quite easy for the consumer to become confused. The latest rules state that a Chianti Classico (from the original Chianti zone) should be at least 80% sangiovese with no white grapes added, the other permitted grapes are local red varieties such as canaiolo, colorino and malvasia nera or the international varieties cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Chianti from outside the Classico region should be should be at least 70% sangiovese with the remaining made up with local varieties or cabernet sauvignon and merlot. A small amount of white grapes (trebbiano and malvasia) are permitted. Additional varieties are not obligatory, a Chianti can be 100% sangiovese if the winemaker wishes.

To the best of my understanding the following correct: If a Chianti is attributed to one of the sub-zones (Chianti Classico, Rufina etc.) it will be labelled as a DOCG. There are, however, many Chiantis produced within the Chianti region that are outside one of the DOCG sub-zones (or made with grapes that derive partially from a sub-zone) and these are labelled as DOC wines. This is because the region is actually larger than the eight DOCG zones. I’ve trained as an Italian sommelier and I still feel a bit uncertain about this, so, if you are an ordinary consumer, don’t be surprised if you are feeling confused! 

Chianti Classico as mentioned above there are rules that distinguish Chianti Classico from other Chiantis. Not only does it come from the original Chianti area but the minimum amount of sangiovese is higher (80%). There are three distinct styles of Chianti Classico, traditional, innovative and international.

Traditionalists use the local Varieties Of Grape (sangiovese, colorino, ciliegolo, malvasia nera) and age the wine in large barrels called botte. Innovators use traditional grapes but age the wine in small barrels (barriques) which give the wine a pronounced oak. Internationalists use international varieties of grape in the blend and also age in barriques.

There are 6800 hectares of vineyard in Chianti Classico. Greve, San Casciano, Radda, Gaiole and Castelnuovo Berardenga are the main towns and slight variations in the soil type produce different wines from each each area. In general, the wines produced here are elegant and can withstand a long ageing thanks to their tannins and acidity.

Colli Senesi to the south of Chianti Classico, the Colli Senese actually comprises three separate areas. The northern area includes San Gimignano, Colle Val d’Elsa, Monteriggioni and Siena, some of this area overlaps with the DOCG for Vernaccia di San Gimignano. The south east includes Murlo and Sovicille and the south east Sinalunga, Pienza and Chiusi, the latter overlaps with the Brunello di Montalcino and Montepulciano DOCG zones. There are 1400 hectares of vineyard in the Colli Senese and generally, wines with a good structure and typical cherry aromas are produced here

Rùfina 800 hectares located at the north east of the Chianti zone, the area overlaps with that of Pomino wine. Historically, wines from Rufina supplied the city of Florence as they could be loaded onto boats and taken down the river. The wines, when young, are fruity and tannic but a Riserva can age for twenty years.

Colli Fiorentini The hills surrounding Florence comprise 620 hectares of vineyard. The wines are fruity with moderate structure, often undergoing a short period in oak.

Montesperstoli became part of the Chianti region in 1996, a small area next to Colli Fiorentini, there are 1400 hectares of vineyard producing wines with a lively acidity.

Colli Aretini The hills around the town of Arezzo have 140 hectares of vineyard producing wines of medium structure.

Colli Pisane the westernmost Chianti region has a milder climate influenced by  the Mediterranean Sea. The wine here is softer with distinct notes of cherry.

Montalbano at the north west of the region makes less structured wines for drinking at a younger age.

Wine In Tuscany Part III, Tuscan Wine Growing Areas

Wine Growing Areas In Tuscany 

There are two major areas of wine production in Tuscany, the central hills and the Mediterranean coast.

Central Tuscany includes all of Chianti (Chianti Classico and the other Chianti areas), Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Carmignano, Valdarno and Val di Chiana

The Mediterranean Coast includes the traditional wine growing areas of the Maremma (the province of Grosseto, where you will find Morellino di Scansano DOCG), the islands of Elba and the hills around Lucca and the Apuan Alps. More recent wine growing areas include the area around Livorno (Leghorn) which includes Bolgheri, Montescudaio and Val di Cornia, here, international varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot dominate.

Wine In Tuscany Part II – Vines & Grapes

Vines & Grapes Grown In Tuscany

There are around 58000 hectares of vineyard in Tuscany, vines are mainly planted in hilly areas, 85% of the vines are red grape varieties with sangiovese the main grape. 69% of wines are classified as DOP (DOCG and DOC) and 25% IGP (usually labelled as IGT). For an explanation of Italian Wine Classifications, see my blog post. The percentage shown after each listed variety is the percentage out of total vines planted in Tuscany.

Red Grapes 

Sangiovese makes up 65% of the vines planted in Tuscany, it is a late ripening grape (end of September / early October). It is often blended with traditional varieties such as canaiolo nero, malvasia nera and colorino or international varieties such as cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

There are several varieties of sangiovese: sangiovese grosso (also known as dolce or gentile), sangiovese piccolo (or forte), prugnolo gentile, sangiovese romagnolo and morellino (also known as sangiovese del Grossetano). Sangiovese grosso, used in the famous Brunello wines from Montalcino, has a thick skin that gives the wine more colour and tannin.

DNA testing has shown that sangiovese derives from a cross between the local ciliegiolo and calabrese mantenuovo, a vine from southern Italy that has all but disappeared. Sangiovese excels in Tuscany, thanks to the climate, the soils and the long tradition of winemaking in the area. The high acidity and tannin gives the wines longevity and makes them particularly adaptable to food pairing, it can make interesting table wines along with highly structured, quality wines such as Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Chianti Classico and Morellino di Scansano, all of which have DOCG status.

Sangiovese wines tend to be ruby red with a medium intensity, the typical aromas are violets, cherries and forest berries. With oak ageing it develops aromas of leather, earthy autumn leaves, tobacco and often has background notes of menthol and eucalyptus. In the mouth they have notable structure, a good balance between acidity and minerality, the sensation of alcoholic warming, notable tannin and a finish of fruit and spice.

Canaiolo Nero (4%), Malvasia NeraMammolo, Ciliegiolo (1%), Colorino (1%) and L’Aleatico are all grapes that are traditionally blended with sangiovese to soften its tannins. 

Ciliegolo (1%) is grown predominantly in the Maremma, a costal region in southern Tuscany. It makes wines that are of medium intensity in their colour, and, as the name suggests, have a strong aroma of cherries.

Colorino (1%) when used on its own rather than blended with sangiovese, produces wines that, as the name suggests, are intensely coloured and full of polyphenols. 

L’Aleatico (0.2%) grows on the Tuscan coast and the island of Elba. Between the towns of Pitigliano and Sovano it is used to produce a passito (naturally dried grapes) sweet wine that is rich in colour and smells of forest fruits and nutmeg with a notable tannin in the mouth.

The international red varieties commonly grown in Tuscany include Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc (6%), Merlot (6%), Pinot Nero (noir) and Syrah.

Cabernet Sauvignon & Cabernet Franc The Carmignano region near Florence has grown cabernet sauvignon for over 300 years but in the 1990’s it became commonly used in Chianti and other sangiovese based Tuscan wines. The Bolgheri area on the Tuscan coast makes some of the most highly regarded (and expensive) cabernet wines with refined tannin and herbacious and menthol notes.

Merlot As with cabernet sauvignon, merlot has been commonly added to Chianti and other Tuscan sangiovese based wines since the 1990’s. As a single blend, merlot comes into its own on the Mediterranean coast with intense fruit flavours combined the variety’s trademark softness.

Syrah The Syrah produced around Cortona is considered to be the best example of this wine in Italy, the aroma is of wild cherry, sweet spice with matching tannin and softness. It is also grown on the coast around Grossetto, Lucca, Pisa and Livorno.

Pinot Nero (pinot noir) Tuscany is generally considered to be too warm for pinot nero, so it is mainly grown in specific areas with a cooler climate, the Mugello, Il Casentino and the higher hills around Lucca.

White Grapes

Trebbiano Toscano (7%) is the traditional white grape in Tuscany, in the past it was grown for its high yields but today it is used for simple white wines and the famous Vin Santo a Passito (made from air dried grapes), sometimes together with Malvasia del Chianti (3%). 

Vernaccia di San Gimignano (1.5%) grows around the town of San Gimignano and makes a delicate wine with aromas of crab apple and thyme when young, after ageing in oak it becomes more complex, structured and develops a noticeable minerality.

Vermentino (1.5%) grows along the coast and makes wines with notes of apple, citrus and tropical fruit with aromatic herbs and noticeable acidity. (This is the main white grape in Sardinia and further north along the coast in Liguria).

L’ansonica (called inzolia in Siciliy) is cultivated on the Mediterranean coast and also on the islands of Elba and Giglio. It produces wines with notes of Mediteranean herbs and a decisive minerality.

Moscato Bianco is grown around Montalcino (where it is called moscadello). Production has increased in recent years. It produces a golden, sweet wine with aromas of apricot and peaches preserved in syrup.

Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are also grown across Tuscany and produce some excellent wines.

Wine In Tuscany Part I (An Overview)

Tuscan Wine, A Quick Introduction

In Tuscany the sangiovese grape is king, the famous wine growing areas of Montepulciano (Vino Nobile di Montepulciano), Montalcino (Brunello di Montalcino), Chianti and Scansano (Morellino di Scansano) all base their wines on this grape. Sangiovese is one of world’s great grapes. it produces wines with high acidity, alcohol and tannin – perfect for ageing.  In recent decades the Tuscan coastal area of Bolgheri has become renowned for award winning bordeaux style blends of cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and merlot that command suitably high prices.

Most of the wine growing areas are hilly, near the coast (Tuscan Coastal Winegrowing Areas) there is a mild climate with hot, dry summers mitigated by coastal breezes and mild winters with a reasonable amount of rainfall. 

Further inland, (Central Wine Growing Areas In Tuscany) the climate is more continental, the summers are hot and dry and the winters colder with higher rainfall than at the coast. The chain of hills that comprise this area run from the southern coastal region, the Maremma, continuing to Montepulciano and Montalcino, on through the Chianti region and finish near Lucca in the north of Tuscany. The soils are principally chalky clays which give the wines a complex structure.

Around the Chianti region the soils have small rocks known as alberese (small chalk stones) and galestro, a crumbly clay rock that give longevity and elegance to the wines. On the coast the clay is mixed with sand and, generally, a high mineral content is noticeable in the wines from this area.

As in much of Italy, the various DOC and DOCG zones often overlap, for example producers of Brunello di Montalcino DOCG and Montepulciano DOCG could, if they wished to and followed the appropriate rules, release their wines as Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG.

Tuscany has also become famous for the “Super Tuscan“, expensive and high quality wines that are made outside the local DOC or DOCG rules, often using international grape varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot, sometimes with the addition of sangiovese and sometimes without. However, when dealing with wine in Italy, nothing is simple and there are a few supertuscans that are actually pure sangiovese.

Tuscany is also famous for Vin Santo, a complex dessert wine made from air dried grapes that is often served with cantucci biscuits after a meal.

Wine In Umbria

Umbria & Wine – An Overview

The region of Umbria is located right in the centre of Italy, the landscape comprises hills, valleys and mountains as well as Lake Trasimeno. Most of the wine growing areas follow the Tiber and other river valleys or are found around the Lake. Since the 1990’s the region’s wines have increased considerably in quality, and, although, by no means as famous (or easily found) as wines from neighbouring Tuscany, their reputation is growing steadily. The climate in this landlocked region is continental, hot summers and cold winters with plenty of ventilation for the vines and rainfall throughout the year (but predominately in the autumn and winter).

You may have come across Orvieto Classico DOC, the famous white wine grown on volcanic soil in the south of the region around the town of the same name. Other wines that you may have noticed outside of Italy are the reds Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG and Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG. There are several other DOC wines produced in the region as well as a number of excellent IGTs. If you’re not sure what the terms DOCG, DOC and IGT mean, don’t worry, read my post on Italian Wine Classification and hopefully all will become clear!

A View Of The Pian di Marte From The Preggio Vineyard, Umbria, Italy
A View Of The Pian di Marte From The Preggio Vineyard, Umbria, Italy
A wine glass full of Trebbiano Spoletino, a white wine from Umbria
A wine glass full of Trebbiano Spoletino
View towards Ursula's house and surrounding vineyards.
View towards Ursula's house and surrounding vineyards.

Umbrian Wines & Vines

Around 90,100,000 litres of wine are made in Umbria each year, from roughly half red and half white grapes, 45% DOP (DOCG and DOC) and 44% IGP (IGT).

53% of the wines are red or rosé, the main red grapes are sangiovese, merlot, sagrantino, cabernet sauvignon and montepulciano. The main white grapes are trebbiano and grechetto.

Grape Varieties Grown In Umbria

Red Grapes (percentages are of all grapes grown in Umbria):

Sagrantino (8%) is found mainly around the town of Montefalco from where it originates, and is known for making tannic, full bodied wines. There are hardly any wines with Sagrantino in it from outside Umbria. It is used to make Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG (as a varietal) and blended to make Rosso di Montefalco DOC.

Sangiovese is the most widely grown grape in Umbria contributing to 20% of the total. Sometimes blended (often with cabernet sauvignon and merlot) or made as a varietal, it is most famously used in Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG where it is blended with Canaiolo and other varieties.

Ciliegiolo (2%) is grown all over Umbria but has become associated with the town of Narni which produces a varietal wine with this grape. The wine is delicate, fruity and light in tannin.

Canaiolo Nero (1%) is a local grape, usually added to blends for alcohol, body, softness, fruity aromas and a slight bitterness in the finish.

Montepulciano (2%, note this is a grape and is not the town in Tuscany also famous for wine) is grown all over Umbria but particularly around Terni.

Gamay (1%, confusingly, this is not the Gamay grape used in Beaujolais Nouveaux but is actually Grenache, also known as Garnacha or Cannonau if you drink Spanish and Sardinian wine.) This grape is grown around Lake Trasimeno where it is suited to the climate, sometimes called Gamay del Trasimeno.

Merlot (11%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (5%) are the main red international varieties, these are often blended with Sangiovese (frequently used in Umbrian IGTs) and sometimes released as Bordeaux style (Cabernet and Merlot) wines.

White Grapes (percentages are of all grapes grown in Umbria)

Grechetto (11%) is found all over Umbria, in the past it was often used to make rustic wines intended for local consumption, however, with the use of modern winemaking techniques, the quality of wines from this grape is rising steadily and there are now some excellent examples available. The two main varieties are Grechetto di Todi and Grechetto di Orvieto (used with Trebbiano and other varieties to make Orvieto Classico wines).

Trebbiano (15%). The main varieties grown in Umbria are Toscano, Giallo (yellow) and increasingly Spoletino (Spoleto is an Umbrian town). Trebbiano is a high yielding vine and in the past was often grown for this reason, however, if the crop is kept under control with good vine management it can produce wines with a good acidity, structure, citrus and vegetable aromas, sometimes reminiscent of a sauvignon blanc.

Malvasia Bianca (4%) grows mainly in the north of Umbria, where, if you can find a bottle, it produces a delicate wine with good acidity and aromatics. My local vineyard, I Girasoli di Sant’Andrea, blends it with grechetto and a grape from northern Italy, friulano, to make an excellent, reasonably priced white.

Il Verdello (2%) often blended with grechetto and trebbiano toscano to add intensity and freshness.

Chardonnay (3%) and Sauvignon Blanc (1%) are also widely grown in Umbria. sauvignon blanc is used in the famous “muffato” (moldy) dessert wines from Orvieto which are made from grapes dried out by the botrytis mold, also known as noble rot.

Wine Growing Areas In Umbria

Wine Regions In Umbria

There are six principle wine growing areas within the region of Umbria, these are Perugia-Assisi, Torgiano, Lake Trasimeno, Montefalco-Todi-Colli Martani, Terni and Orvieto. I should add that the Upper Tiber Valley, where we are based, is an up and coming wine area where you can find some superb wines at very reasonable prices.

The Upper Tiber Valley is the most northerly wine growing area in Umbria. The vineyards are scattered around the hills of the Tiber and adjoining valleys. Most producers seem to ignore the Colli Altotiberini (Upper Tiber Hills) DOC because no one has heard of it, and instead put out some excellent value for money wines (mainly reds) that usually feature sangiovese under an IGT label. This is the area where most of our rental villas are located, if you come here, don’t expect to drive through endless vineyards but do be prepared to discover some good local wine at a very reasonable price.

Trasimeno, Perugia, Assisi and Torgiano: these four wine regions stretch across the centre of Umbria, Trasimeno borders Montepulciano in the west and, in the east, the Assisi region finishes on the western slopes of the Appennine foothills.

Lake Trasimeno wine area borders Montepulciano in Tuscany, Colli Perugini to the east and Colli Altotiberini to the north. Wines from the Lake area do not command the same price as those from Montepulciano, but, on the western side of the Lake, the vineyards from the two regions are often adjacent. I have drunk many excellent wines from small producers in the Trasimeno area and will be definitely be writing more posts about vineyard visits here in the future. The climate and soils around Trasimeno are suited to growing sangiovese, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and ciliegiolo. Also look out for Gamay Trasimeno DOC, in reality the grape called gamay trasimeno is identical to grenache. White wines are made with grechetto, trebbiano toscano, pinot grigio and bianco and there is also a small amount of chardonnay produced.

Colli Perugini The area covered by Colli Perugini DOC (Perugian hills) is south of Perugia and is bordered by the right bank of the Tiber. To the west the zone borders the Lake Trasimeno DOC.  The Assisi DOC Sangiovese and trebbiano toscano are the main varieties grown here. Typically, red blends are sangiovese with the local variety ciliegiolo or merlot and cabernet sauvignon.

Torgiano A small (250 hectare) wine area to the south east of Perugia that produces wines of great structure with high alcohol content and minerality. The area has its own DOCG, Torgiano Rosso Riserva, (note that only the riserva is DOCG, if a wine is labelled simply “Torgiano Rosso” it will be the less prestigious DOC. Maybe you’re starting to feel confused, I didn’t say this would be easy! Until recently there was only one vineyard that made Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG, Lungarotti, who basically had a DOCG created for their wine. They have now been joined in production of the DOCG by their neighbours, Terre Margaritelli. The Torgiano reds are blends of (mainly) sangiovese with ciliegolo and montepulciano grapes. Torgiano Rossa Riserva DOCG is the same blend (supposedly the white grape trebbiano is also permitted, but I would be surprised if either of the two producers add it) and is aged for three years giving it more structure and intense, complex aromas of dried flowers, chocolate and Mediterranean herbs.

Assisi As in the rest of central Umbria, the main grape is sangiovese, often blended with cabernet sauvignon and merlot to make Assisi Rosso IGT. The Assisi Rosso blends that I have tried are reliably good and great value for money. White wines are usually made with grechetto and trebbiano toscano.

Montefalco The Montefalco area is directly south of Torgiano and to the east of Colli Perugini, it is just to the south west of Asissi The countryside around Montefalco and the small towns of Montefalco, Bastardo, Bevagna, Castel Ritaldi, Giano dell’Umbria and Gualdo Cattaneo comprise the Montefalco wine growing area which is famous for the uniquely Umbrian grape, sagrantino.

Sagrantino is a thick skinned late ripening variety that (due to its thick skin) is rich in polyphenols and high in sugar (due to late ripening). It is possibly the world’s most tannic grape and needs careful ageing in oak to mellow out. Traditionally made as a “passito” sweet wine, sagrantino’s thick skin means that the grape is ideally suited to being dried indoors after harvest.  The drying process has the effect of concentrating the sugars and when the grapes are pressed a small amount of juice is obtained. Most of the wineries making sagrantino make a limited amount of Sagrantino Passito DOCG (usually sold in half bottles) but these days the grape is most commonly used to make a dry wine,  Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG (also called Sagrantino Montefalco DOCG). Be warned, this is not a wine for the  faint hearted, it is not made for sipping gently on its own, it requires a hearty meal to balance the tannins.

Sagrantino di Montefalco is a deep ruby red, it has to be aged for 34 months before release and 12 months of this should be in the bottle. The nose is usually of dark fruit, sweet spice, tobacco and balsamic notes.

Colli Martani, Todi and Spoleto The Colli Martani district includes both the Montefalco and Todi wine areas as well as some of the Spoleto wine area too. As a result, many of the wineries in these areas will put out a white wine made with grechetto under the Colli Martani DOC. There is also a Colli Martani Sangiovese DOC but I don’t think that I have ever tried a bottle.

The town of Todi has its own variety of grechetto, Grechetto di Todi, this makes a wine high in alcohol and acidity with a nose of tropical fruit, yellow flowers. As with all wines made with the grechetto grape, it usually has a delicate aftertaste of almonds.

The town of Spoleto is best known for the trebbiano variety called Trebbiano Spoletino. This increasingly popular grapes make wines with intense fruit aromas and flavours. I definitely recommend trying some when you come to Umbria.

Orvieto and Lago di Corbara The Lago di Corbara wine area is almost all within the Orvieto Classico region. The Corbara Lake was created by a dam across the Tiber. Here you will find grapes such as aleatico, cesanese and colorino grapes as well as pinot noir and merlot. The lake created ideal conditions for making sweet wines from grapes that dehydrated on the vine by botrytis mold, for this to occur you need regular foggy mornings and sunny afternoons.

The Orvieto wine growing area actually crosses into the region of Lazio in the south and borders the Lago Trasimeno region in the north. It is famous for Orvieto Classico DOC white wines with good structure and minerality thanks to the area’s volcanic soils. Trebbiano toscano and grechetto are the principle grapes but verdello, canaiolo bianco, malvasia and chardonnay can also go into the blend. Traditionally the wine was slightly sweet (aboccato) but these days 95% of production is dry wine.

If you like dessert wines do look out for Orvieto Muffa Nobile, produced around Lago di Corbara by allowing the Botrytis cinerea (noble rot) mold to dehydrate the grapes (see above).

Terni The Colli Amerini (Amelian hills) DOC covers the extreme southern point of Umbria, the local grape variety, ciliegolo, is used in the red wine here but also look out for wines made with malvasia toscana. Sangiovese is also widely grown here and is used in many IGT wines from the area.

Italian Wine, What Are The Terms DOCG, DOC, DOP, IGT & IGP?

I will soon be publishing posts on Umbrian Wines and Tuscan Wines, and, rather than write it out for each post, I thought I’d write this guide to quickly explain the terms DOCG, DOC, DOP, IGT and IGP and Vino da Tavola. Wine, along with artisan produced foodstuffs, is often associated with particular regions that grow (or raise) certain varieties of plants and breeds of animals. Food and wine classifications are intended to protect the quality and the genuine ingredients of these foodstuffs, but, because there are so many classifications, they can often lead to confusion for the consumer. In the consumer friendly new world, wines often feature the grape variety prominently, however, in Italy and much of Europe, a lot of wine is labelled with the name of the region and the consumer is therefore expected to know what blend of grapes are in the wine. Many people (and even some internet wine merchants) think that famous Italian wine regions such as Brunello or Chianti are the grape variety (in case you are wondering, Sangiovese is the only variety of grape in Brunello and is also the main grape used in Chianti).

In 2011 the European Union decided to standardise the classification of wine across European countries to make life easier for the consumer. So far things haven’t simplified much because most producers are still sticking to the old classifications whilst the new terms DOP and IGP are used by others. The new terms, DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protettiva) and IGP (Indicazione di Origine Protettiva can be applied to locally produced food and wine. The old terms, DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) and VdT (Vino da Tavola) apply only to wine.

It”s tempting to suggest that the Italians start again, re-labelling their wines by grape variety first and region second, however, there is too much tradition and jealously guarded reputation for this to ever happen. The complicated world of Italian wine can be discovered bottle by bottle and the varied geography, latitudes and grape varieties will always provide something new.

DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita)

If a wine is labelled DOCG then the grapes are grown and the wine is made in one of Italy’s best wine producing areas. There are strict rules permitting the grapes varieties (and clones) used, the yield per hectare, the percentages in which they can be blended and the length of time for which the wine must be aged before release.

DOCG is now included under the new European wide category DOP, but, because DOCG status is so prestigious, it is unlikely that you will find a DOCG labelled as DOP. It is important to remember that, whilst a wine labelled as DOCG will, more often than not, be top quality, the “Garantita” doesn’t guarantee that the wine will be excellent. It simply guarantees that the wine is from the specific region, made with the right grapes and has followed all the rules.

DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata)

The are so many DOC zones in Italy that I doubt if anyone can remember them all. These are wines specific to an area and made with particular grape varieties under particular rules.

A DOC is, in theory, superior to the next category IGT, but many winemakers choose to ignore their local DOC because the rules are inflexible and hardly anyone outside the area has heard of it. DOC wines are also included in the the new DOP category and sometimes you will see “DOP” on the label.

IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica)

A much looser category that many wine makers prefer for their wines as they are not constrained by grape variety. You will find the region in which the wine was grown, whether it is red or white, and, if a grape makes up 80% of the total, the wine can be labelled as being of that variety.

Originally introduced as a way of classifying quality wines that fell outside the DOCG and DOC categories, IGT wine is widely produced across Italy and often includes international varieties of grape. You will often find that IGT wines are excellent value for money. IGT is equivalent to the European wide IGP label and you will sometimes see it on bottles.

VdT (Vino da Tavola)

To be labelled VdT, a wine has to come from Italy and be made from grapes.

The grapes may have been grown in one region and the wine made in another.

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