When I ran my wine club in New York – and when I write that, picture me and 6 of my closest friends hanging out every month; the only thing that made it a wine club instead of a totally normal boozy hangout was the following – I wrote an email to all the attendees a week in advance.  It was intended as a wine facts cheatsheet so that we all knew a little something about the region we were tasting that month and could casually factdrop with each other as we sipped. Serious research went into this (I remember, because I often fell down rabbit holes while poring over websites and winebooks to put them together when the work I got paid for sat idly by), but it was also not-so-secretly a vehicle for me to up my previous personal puns-per-paragraph record.  The puns were typically literary or musical in nature, though sometimes meandered through pop culture territory.  Wherever these ideas come from, I can’t turn it off, so if you plan to return to this blog, you have officially been forewarned.

wine writing is serious business

Wine writing is serious business

I write for my own knowledge… my nose isn’t very good, so it helps me to know what to expect, and then look for it during the tasting, so I can keep building my internal library of tastes and smells.  Fingers crossed, I can eventually summon them cavalierly with a snap of my fingers after only the slightest whiff.  (In this fantasy I wear a monocle.)  But until then, hammering the facts home with some humour in hopes that something sticks around will have to do.

There have only been a few times during my short tenure as a wine club research editor (?) when my puns failed me, and the writeup for Tuscan night was one of them.  Nothing good rhymes with Tuscany.  Or Tuscan.

Also, for the first time ever, the host sent me a list of the wines we’d be drinking, which I now know to be a dangerous thing.  I GET SERIOUS!  The second I sat down to write the email with the wine list in front of me (and exhausted some of my pun-t up energy on searching for a good title), I couldn’t help but get lost in the research on each individual wine.  Whether it was a Chianti, or Brunello or Super Tuscan; how much Sangiovese each contained; what kind of weather characterized the year’s vintage, and what we could expect.  So without much further ado about nothing, here is my update of the Tuscan wine club notes post tasting.

All of Tuscany’s Wines are Super

I’ll start with a few names that you may recognize if you’re looking for, or heard of or even vaguely referenced in someone else’s conversations.

The Grape

The most important grape in Tuscany is the Sangiovese varietal, which is a red grape, and plays a significant role in almost every Tuscan wine.  It typically has medium-plus tannins and high acidity, which means it can age well, and can pair easily with a variety of foods.  That said, many grapes grow well in Tuscany, from local varietals such as Trebbiano and Malvasia, to popular international varietals (particularly grapes native to Bordeaux and even Burgundy) such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, etc. We’ll talk more about this in a second.

Chianti

Look for the sign of the Black... errr  Rooster (and definitely not the other thing) for high quality Italian... wine.

Look for the sign of the Black… errr Rooster (and definitely not the other thing) for high quality Italian.  Italian WINE.  Geeze.

Chianti is a region, not a grape; but certain wines from the area, following a specific requirements, will classify as Chianti Wines.  Italy has always been a country with a fascinating relationship with rules, as they often change particularly when it comes to wine; the Tuscan region is a great example of this.  The baseline requirement is that all Chianti must contain a minimum of 75% Sangiovese plus the balance made up of local varietals.

Chianti is the larger area (like a state or a province) in the hills of Tuscany between Florence and Siena, but has several smaller sub-zones with even more strict regulations.  As a rule, the smaller the area or sub-division, the more premium the wine is, so this is a good thing.  Some of those sub-zones that you might recognize include Chianti Classico and Chianti Ruffino.

Wait...where's the Super Tuscan?

Wait…where’s the Super Tuscan on this map?

Brunello di Montalcino

Montalcino is a village 30 km to the south of Siena.  The wine called Brunello (meaning ‘little dark one’) must contain 100% Sangiovese grapes, although it took the unification of the Italian regions in the 1870s and several years of comparing notes for the Montalcinians to realize that they were using the exact same grape as their northern neighbours and new BFFs in Chianti.  Because these wines have to be aged for at least 4 years; minimum 2 in barrels, you can expect a Brunello to be more full-bodied and complex, than a Chianti.

Nobile di Montepulciano

…comes from the village of Montepulcino and contains a minimum of 70% Sangiovese (are you starting to see a pattern here?), although several winemakers take pride in regularly making wines with 100%.  Montepulciano’s point of difference is due to its mineral-rich soil – richer than either Chianti and Brunello.  The soil’s gift to the wine is its delivery of more delicate, fruity flavours, compared to the heavier, bolder notes (despite similar grape usages) to its fellow Tuscan-eers.

Super Tuscan

no secret identities here

No secret identities here

Super Tuscans can still include Sangiovese, but it is not required; they can also come from anywhere in Tuscany.  It is a unique style of wine which came into style in the 1970s when Chianti winemakers felt they could make better wine outside of what the local wine production restrictions allowed for quality wine (ie. compete with Bordeaux).

As such they are styled to resemble classic Bordeaux blends, and often include red grapes typical to Bordeaux, especially Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. This new term was coined in 1992 to separate this undefined new wine from the lower quality vin de tavola or table wine in the region.  Because of the broader restrictions on geography and permitted grape content, Super Tuscans have a wide range of aromas and flavours that can be fruity and racy (acidic) to lush and tannic.  As in Bordeaux, wine producers tend to maintain a consistent blend of grapes from year to year.  For example, the Tignanello blend is always 80% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc.

Unlike the other wines we’ve discussed above, you’re less likely to find the term Super Tuscan on the label.  Two ways you can unmask this caped crusader:

  1. Get to know the brand names: Tignanello, Sassicaia, San Martino, Fontalloro, Il Bosco, Vigorello, Centine and Cortaccio to name a few.
  2. If the wine comes from the Tuscan region (Toscana IGT or Indicazione Geografica Tipica) but doesn’t bear one of the sub-regional labels AND still commands a high price point, you’re probably looking at a Super Tuscan.  (Unless it puts its glasses back on, and then it is back in disguise as a mild-mannered journalist.  I mean, table wine..)

Tasting

Officially we tasted four bottles; unofficially the evening went on a little beyond the four Tuscans, but that’s for another posting at a later date.  You’l notice that my tasting notes get a little more …sparse… as the evening wears on so the good news is that everything was tasty; the better news is that there are no real spoiler alerts here, so you should go out and explore Tuscan wines on your own!

  • Badia a Passagiano 2009; Chianti Classico (100% Sangiovese)
    • Bright red, medium intensity
    • Tobacco/smoke, pepper and hints of sour cherry on the nose
    • Really well balanced between medium acidity and tannin; all the same flavours on the palate that I got on the nose
    • Good body and complexity with a long finish.
    • Really enjoyed this one – was probably my favourite because I was surprised at how smooth it was.  I could drink this again and again. (And if I remember correctly, I DID do that, which is why this ended up being the best documented wine tasting of that evening for me…)
  • Argiano 2009; Brunello di Montalcino (100% Sangiovese)
    • Deeper red, medium intensity as well
    • Smoke, mushrooms and white pepper on the nose
    • Big punchy tannins hit you right away when you take a sip.  I remember wondering if this smooths out more with a longer decant or with more bottle age.
    • Similar palate notes to the nose; but mouthfeel was a bit rough around the edges compared to the other wines that night.
  • San Polino 2009; Brunello di Montalcino (100% Sangiovese)
    • Deep red (I’m starting to see a pattern here…although the lights could have been dimmer by then. Not going to lie, this is where the notes started to go off the rails.)
    • Brighter nose than the Argiano; a little oak, but (black?) cherries as well as some spice
    • Big but smooth tannins
  • Tignanello 2010; Super Tuscan (80% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc)
    • Tignanello is one of the original Super Tuscan pioneers, with their first vintage under this name in 1971
    • This is big, bold and beautiful; we let it decant for most of the evening, and saved it until the end – a perfect way to wrap up our sojourn into Tuscany without ever leaving the dinner table.
  • Tuscan sampler

    No, Officer, I can’t tell which one of them jumped me…. maybe number 3?

    And that wraps it up for today! I’d love to hear about your adventures in Tuscany, especially any fun surprises, so be sure to let me know.

(Visited 232 times, 232 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *