Tuscany is synonymous with wine and, for good reason. Here, in northern Italy, vineyards are stitched into the gentle, rolling hills. They make up part of the beautiful fabric of the region. And, you don’t need a Tuscan wines guide
to tell you that the juices pressed from the grapes grown here produce some of the best wine in the world. It would be near impossible to try to list all the fantastic wineries and enotecas found here. But, here’s a humble attempt at giving you a few places we think are worth seeking out.
The Grape that Reigns Supreme
Before we get into anything, we must take a second to discuss a very important grape.
The success of Tuscan wine owes everything to the Sangiovese grape. In this part of the world, the Sangiovese reigns supreme. Before you can think about Chianti, Super Tuscans or Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, you must first think about this grape.
The first recorded mention of the grape comes from a 16th-century essay by agronomist Gian Vettorio Sedorini who praised the grape for its ability to produce great wine. But, the origins of the Sangiovese grape are still not entirely known. Some historians trace it back to the enigmatic Etruscans, stating that they were the ones to cultivate it in Tuscany. Whereas, other historians credit its origins to Roman winemaking. Whatever the case, by the 18th century, the Sangiovese grape had grown so popular that people planted it widely throughout the Tuscan region.
In 2004, the Istituto Agrario di San Michele all’Adige discovered that the grape is a cross between Ciliegiolo and Calabrese Montenuovo. And, two of its most common families are the Sangiovese Piccolo and the Sangiovese Grosso.
Approximately 80 percent of all wines produced in Tuscany come from the Sangiovese grape. It is extremely versatile and dependent on how the grape is approached, it can bring about vastly different qualities. Flavors range from tart cherry to jammy strawberry, to roasted red peppers and ripe tomatoes.
A 50-kilometer drive south of Siena through the Val d’Orcia, and kicking off this Tuscan wines guide is Montalcino. This town, located atop a hilltop overlooks the valley. And, boasts some of the richest, fullest wines not just in Tuscany, but all of Italy. Specifically, the Brunello di Montalcino. For wine aficionados, or those who just like a great red, Montalcino is a must.
Beyond its fantastic wine, the town is a little Tuscan gem. A picturesque medieval town with beautifully preserved buildings and a rich history. The town resisted Florence long after Siena had succumbed to the Tuscan capital. For its efforts, it eventually earned itself the title “the Republic of Siena in Montalcino.”
There are over 250 wineries in the Montalcino area producing Brunello at some of the best wineries in Tuscany. In short, a fantastic glass of red will always be within arms reach.
Banfi has played a pivotal role in putting Montalcino wines on the map. This major producer, located about 20 minutes outside of the town proper, boasts a wonderful Taverna. Or, if you’d rather, unwind in their adjacent enoteca in a bar that recreates the atmosphere of a traditional Tuscan wine shop. Here, you can find all the wine Banfi produces from their Pinot Grigio to their Brunello di Montalcino. And, if you’d like to take some home with you, you can buy by the bottle or a case.
Owned by Italian coffee juggernaut Illy, Podere le Ripi is one of the area’s finest biodynamic vineyards. Here, across 54 hectares of breathtaking countryside, some of the most delicious and sustainable wines are grown. Vineyard founder, Francesco Illy, credits the distinct flavors of the wine to the lack of treatment given to the soil. He believes that this allows for the grape to express the geological and chemical structure of the soil. Whether you buy that or not, the wines are exceptional.
Only a short 5-minute drive out of Montalcino proper is Biondi Santi. Here grew the vines that birthed the first ever bottle of Brunello di Montalcino. This is one of Italy’s historic estates, and it offers, if booked in advance, free tours around its grounds. The wines produced here are robust, yet delicate and age and improve over time spectacularly well.
Even if you don’t know what Chianti is you have undoubtedly know the name. And, for those who were around through the 70s Chianti will surely make you think of bulbous lamp like bottles wrapped in a cheap straw sheath. But, wine produced in this region, when handled properly, sparkles and pairs fantastically with traditionally trattoria style meals. Think tomato-based dishes and saucy pasta.
Although not clearly defined, the Chianti region sits between Florence and Siena. And, extends east towards the Valdarno and out west to the Val d’Elsa. As with so much of Italy’s countryside, the landscape is stunning and composed of green, undulating hills lined with vineyards, olive groves, and old stone villages.
The Chianti wine region is home to some of the best wineries in Tuscany. And, stretches so far that you almost can’t move for the number of beautiful towns where you can kick back with a great glass of wine.
Greve isn’t quite the picturesque medieval town you want it to be. In fact, most of its architecture is very modern. But, any Tuscan wines guide
will tell you that Greve is the doorway to the Chianti wine region. And, in September, this little town hosts the wine fair
, Expo del Chianti Classico.
Sitting on the hills just outside of Greve proper, this winery is easily accessible by car from Florence. And, is only a short 2-kilometer walk from Greve. Running the show is a wonderful husband and wife team. Although their experience in wine does not stretch back generations, the quality of the wine they produce speaks for itself. Tours around the beautiful grounds provide an insight into the fermentation process, the hand selection of grapes and a guided wine tasting. For the mega-wine enthusiasts, Viticcio also allows visitors the possibility to make their own blend of wine that they can take home.
This estate is 30 kilometers from Siena and well worth a day trip. Or, for those interested in an extended stay, Castello also offers up four renovated 18th-century suites that guests can stay in.
Castello di Ama derives its name from the production of its full-bodied, elegant red wines. Alongside calculated production methods, the Schist based Galestro soil and bedrock play an important role in the quality of the Sangiovese grapes grown here. What makes a trip to this estate even more worthwhile are the contemporary art installations peppered throughout the property.
Spread across 72 hectares of vineyards, the wines produced on this estate are vivid, rich and fruity. Laura, current head of Castello di Monsanto, has built on the tradition of her family before her and revolutionized. Taste also in the wines made under her management great emotion and passion. To tour this magnificent property, you need to book in advance.
Super Tuscan Wines
For those of you who exist outside of the wine world, you’re probably wondering, “what are super Tuscan wines?” It’s a good question, with a pretty straightforward answer. Super Tuscan wines are from Tuscany, red, and include in their production the use of non-indigenous grapes. That is to say, grapes that were not originally grown in Italy. We’re talking grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. Winemakers began making wines in this style as a result of a general frustration felt towards rigid, slow to change winemaking laws. It wasn’t until 1992 that wine laws changed, finally allowing winemakers more creativity when producing their product.
This is the town where the first internationally acclaimed Super Tuscan, Sassicaia, came from, projecting the little town of Bolgheri and Super Tuscans onto the world’s wine stage. The town sits at the top of a five-kilometer long road lined with cypress trees made famous by the Nobel Prize-winning poet, Giosuè Carducci. The town is best known for its numerous enotecas, the Bolgheri music festival and, of course, the Tenuta dell’Ornellaia winery.
Established in 1981 by Marchese Lodovico Antinori, Tenuta is comparatively a very young winery. Their production of Super Tuscans was born out of a response to the microclimate of the area. In Bolgheri, unlike in Chianti, the Sangiovese grape doesn’t quite stand up alone in the same way. It ripens too quickly. In fact, prior to the arrival of the super Tuscans like of Tenuta, the region produced very few reds. Now, the estate produces much sought after wines in its Ornellaia, Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, and Masseto. And, while it may not boast a fancy castle, the grounds are still beautiful and the wines stunning and surprising.
In the southern part of the Maremma, Scansano is a place for those who love the great outdoors. This medieval town is charming and located on a raised outcrop that overlooks a thickly wooded gorge. From here you can enjoy nature reserves and natural parks that boast stunning landscapes. What’s more, the area is off the tourist trail and so little frequented by tourists. That said, wine lovers the world over travel far and wide to sample and pick up the wine that has made the town famous, Morellino di Scansano.
So, not exactly a winery. But, this is a tremendous little cellar where you can sample different wines too. The staff are very friendly. They will help try to find you a wine or wines (if you’re so inclined) that caters to your tastes. Afterall, if you might as well come out of Tuscany with at least a couple bottles of something tasty.
Nestled in the countryside 10 kilometers south of Scansano is the stunning Terenzi estate. And, while here too, you can book to stay in their accommodation, the emphasis is very much on wine. The estate itself is relatively young, but the atmosphere is still warm and rustic. The tasting room is a beautiful open plan affair that opens upon onto a veranda that boasts spectacular views. They produce eight wines, five of which are reds and the centerpiece is, of course, the Morellino di Scansano. This wine is bright and full-bodied with cherry flavors and hints of dried herbs. It’s delicious, quaffable and has you coming always coming back for more.
And with that, so concludes, as previously stated, our humble Tuscan wines guide. May it guide you to the bottom of some unforgettable glasses of wine in some unforgettable parts of Tuscany. Cheers.
Chianti Wine Tour: 2 Wine Tastings and 2 Villages
The Essence of Tuscany: Chianti Region and Wine Tasting
Montepulciano Wine Tours: Visit Montalcino and Pienza