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.