Ultimate Guide to the Tuscany Wine Region

Rolling hills covered in vineyards are a common sight in Tuscany, Italy. See more wine pictures.
iStockphoto/Rolf Weschke

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For any true Italian wine connoisseur, Tuscany is must-see locale. The region is responsible for producing some of the most reputable wines on the planet. And for many, it's almost impossible to hear mention of Tuscany without picturing its rolling hills covered in grape vines. It's fitting that a country so prominent in the history of viticulture would have a rich history itself. In fact, Tuscany­'s story begins nearly 3,000 years ago when the Etruscans first settled the area, bringing vines and the art of grape cultivation with them.

There are more than 157,000 acres (63,500 hectares) of vineyards throughout Tuscany and the region produces almost 7.3 billion ounces of wine every year [source: Wine Country]. For a long time, Tuscany turned out enormous quantities of wine without any rules or regulations. More recently, however, production has been nearly halved as quality has come into focus and new laws have been put in place.

You'd be hard pressed to find a region more ideally suited for wine production than Tuscany. It could be called the land of balance. Equilibrium exists within the region that creates a climate perfectly suited for the cultivation of grapes. In fact, when the Etruscans first planted vines there they grew like trees -- producing a huge amount of grapes [source: Tuscany Wine].

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One of the most famous wines in the world, and perhaps Italy's most famous of all, is produced in Tuscany. Chianti can be traced all the way back to the 15th century [source: Easy Wine]. Interestingly, the Chianti of those days was a white wine rather than a red. The laws and standards by which producers make Chianti today weren't established until the 1900s.

In a country known for its wine, Tuscany produces more than 30 DOC wines and half a dozen DOCG wines [source: Wine Country]. DOC stands for Denomination of Controlled Origin, and DOCG stands for Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin. Both labels presume quality, and DOCG represents the highest standard in Italian wine. Recognizing 30 DOC wines means Tuscany has a reputation for great wine, which makes sense. After all, they've had 3,000 years to perfect it.

What events shaped viticulture in those 3,000 years? Check out the next page.

Tuscany Wine Region History and Culture

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As we've established, wine has been a part of Tuscany for more than three millennia. Some say that when the Etruscans first settled the area, they brought vines from Asia with them. However, others contend that the countryside was already heavily populated with wild grapes long before the Etruscans ever set foot on the soil. Upon finding the wild crop, the Etruscans set about domesticating, and eventually cultivating, the grapes that would someday be today's Sangiovese and Lambrusco varieties [source: Wine Country]. Whether the grapes were brought from Asia or they were a wild crop already living on the land, the cultivation of grape crops became a central part of Etruscan agriculture. When the Greeks arrived, the area was covered in grape vines and present-day Tuscany was part of a larger region that came to be known as Enotris, the "land of wine."

During the Middle Ages, merchants of the Sienese territory began planting vineyards systematically throughout the inland regions. Christianity had also made wine an important part of their rituals. As a result, Bishops, abbots, monks and priests began planting vineyards around churches and monasteries. The Benedictines became so adept at the cultivation of the grape, that they wrote manuals regarding the process, which are still referenced today.

Wine production throughout Tuscany continued to flourish and in 1710, the first flask of local wine crossed the Tuscan borders. It was a huge hit and Tuscany was soon providing wine for a larger market -- one that drank a huge amount [source: Tuscany Wine]. The Sangiovese grapes, which originated in the Sienese hills, gave Tuscany's Chianti a bold, unique flavor. Soon, many people were singing Chianti's praises. According to Medieval history professor Italo Moretti, in 1716, the Grand Duke of Tuscany established a boundary to localize and focus Chianti production [source: Moretti]. By concentrating production to this area, they were hoping to regulate wine trade.

For many, many years, Chianti would continue to be an important agricultural product of Tuscany -- until World War II devastated the region, leaving many people with seemingly insurmountable debts. Many farmers left the country in search of better lives. However, as so often is the case, out of adversity, came advances that would change Tuscany forever. In the 1960s, a law protecting wines was passed, and Vernaccia and Chianti became the first wines to receive a Designation of Origin, or DOC. In a mere 20 years, the quantity of wine being produced was cut in half and a new focus was placed on quality. The result has been world-wide recognition and a reputation for excellence [source: Tuscany Wine].

Tuscany Wine Region Agriculture

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Grape growing and the cultivation of wine have been central to the agriculture of Tuscany for nearly 3,000 years. When grape vines were first introduced to the region, they grew wild and produced an incredible abundance of grapes. In fact, the Etruscans were able to harvest so many grapes that they sold them in markets across the seas creating a great source of revenue for the region. Although wine production in Tuscany was cut nearly in half over the last 50 years of the 20th century, the quality of wine being produced increased substantially and wine production continues to be an important part of the region's agriculture.

Many people aren't aware of Tuscany's shear size. With a land mass of 8,880 square miles (23,000 square kilometers) Tuscany consists of a number of distinct wine regions and many different climate types. Overall, the region can be described as having a mild Mediterranean climate. Small variations are a result of geographical location. For example, thanks to regular rainfall, the hills have milder summers than the valleys, which can be very hot in the summer months. Winters are mild with sunny days, but have the ability to get very cold at night, especially in the hills [source: Choose Tuscany].

As is the case throughout much of Italy, the climate and soil type create ideal growing conditions for a number of different grape varieties. The region never gets too wet and it never gets to dry. This balance is an important factor in the area's ability to grow grapes. Sunny hillsides throughout Tuscany provide perfect locations for vineyards, never getting too hot or too cold. It's as though the region was designed with the cultivation of grapes in mind [source: Italy Travel To Tuscany].

The most well-known and distinguishable varieties of grapes that grow in the region are the noble Sangiovese and Vernaccia. Sangiovese, a red grape, is the main varietal used in the production of Chianti, and Vernaccia, a white grape, is responsible for giving the region its first Denomination of Origin. Another notable white is the Trebbiano grape, used to make Vin Santo, the "holy wine" [source: Wine Country]. Other grapes grown in Tuscany are Vernaccia, Canaiolo, Ciligiolo, Masseretta, Mammolo, Malvasia, Moscadella and Vermentino.

Read on to learn how all those grapes come together to make some famous wine.

Famous Wines of the Tuscany Wine Region

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Tuscany boasts more than 30 DOC wines and another half a dozen DOCG wines. DOCG stands for Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin.

Even if you haven't tasted Chianti, you would probably recognize it. Chianti is the wine that traditionally came in bottle enclosed in a straw basket called a fiasco. Many Italian restaurants leave bottles out on the tables or use the empty bottles as candleholders. However, today, very few producers still use this technique for bottling. Instead, Chianti comes in regular-looking bottles.

The wine was first given its name in the 13th century and although it was originally made mainly from Sangiovese grapes, Canaiolo grapes can be used today. Only wines that originate from the Chianti region of Tuscany can be called Chianti.

There were seven Chianti zones established in 1932 each producing distinct Chianti. They are Chianti Classico, Chianti Montalbano, Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Chianti Rufini, Colli Senesi, Colline Pisane, and Colli Aretini [source: Wine Intro]. Chianti Classico is by far the most well known of these. It features a black rooster on the bottle.

The most notable white wine from the region is Vernaccia di San Gimignano. This wine is made from a grape of the same name and the variety can only be found in Tuscany. Vernaccia di San Gimignano was the first Italian wine to receive the DOC recognition in 1966 and is still the only Tuscan white wine that has been recognized with a DOCG label. Aside from Chianti, Chianti Classico, and Vernaccia di San Gimignano, four other wines are designated as DOCG; Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulcino, Carmignano, and Morellino di Scasano [source: Tuscany Wine].

Another wine that should be mentioned is the Vin Santo, or holy wine. The origin of this wine dates back to 1348 when a Franciscan friar tried to soothe plague victims with the sweet wine. People began to believe that the wine had special powers of rejuvenation [source: Tuscany Wine].

For more wine-related information, visit the links on the next page.

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Sources

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