Julie Harrison - Italian Wine (Part Two): Tuscany And The South

Publish Date
Thursday, 26 May 2016, 6:20PM
By Julie Harrison

Tuscany is arguably the most famous wine region in Italy as it is the home of Chianti.  Chianti wines are famous for their cherry, herbal, earthy flavours with strong tannins and high acidity. The region located between Sienna and Florence is where the best wines are produced under the Chianti Classico DOCG classification.  Outside of this area lie 7 Chianti DOCG sub regions with  Chianti Rufina DOCG  being the most highly regarded.   There are different rules for aging, alcohol level and varietal make up for Chianti DOCG and Chianti Classico DOCG wines.   Top wines in these DOCG’s will be labelled Riserva.    The core grape of Chianti is Sangiovese with regulated additions of other varieties being permitted, such as the traditional Canaiolo and Colorino as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Until recently the highest level of Chianti was a Chianti Classico Riserva but a new top layer was added in 2014 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione.  

Some of the best wines from Tuscany fall under the IGT classification.  Prior to the establishment of this category, wines produced in Tuscany that did not follow the Chianti DOC rules had to be labelled as lowly Vino da Tavola.  These were often blends of international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, with or without a Sangiovese component and many were extremely good wines. With the advent of the IGT classification these wines, known as “Super Tuscans” were able to be separated out from the Vino da Tavola wines (although prior to this the price tag usually gave it away!).  They can vary widely as there are no rules as to what the blend is.  A wine might be  100% Sangiovese or  a Bordeaux blend  of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc.   They can be recognised by looking for IGT Toscana on the label.

Montalcino in southern Tuscany is home to the wonderful Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. Made from 100% Sangiovese the wine is  powerful, rich and luscious  with bold fruit flavours and ages well.   If you are after something softer try Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG  from around the hilltop town of Montepulciano, which is Sangiovese blended with a maximum of 30% of other Italian varietals.    The wine is full bodied with strawberry and cherry fruit characters.  

Heading east from Tuscany to the other side of the boot you come to the Marche region which produces Verdicchio; a dry, crisp, medium bodied white wine.  South of the Marche is  Abruzzo which is famous for Montepulciano d’Abruzzo which refers to Montepulciano the grape variety and not Montepulciano the town in Tuscany! These deeply coloured wines have soft tannins with flavours of cherry, blackberry and oregano.   They are generally an easy drinking red that are best consumed young although some producers are now making dense, concentrated, rich wines that are designed to be consumed after a few years.  Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is a white wine made in this region.   Trebbiano is the most planted white grape in Italy but is not known for making great wine and is usually  part of a blend, distilled or used for vinegar production.    However some Abruzzo wineries make very good wines out of this “workhorse” grape.   A good Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is crisp and acidic with citrus, honey and peach  flavours and works well as an aperitif.   Trebbiano is called Ugni Blanc in France and is main grape grown for Cognac production.

The region of Puglia is the heel of Italy and is where you will find the red grapes Negroamaro and Primitivo.   This very warm climate produces rich, ripe, fruit forward wines.  The Negroamaro grape produces a full bodied wine with plum, baked red fruit, spicy characters with low acidity.   Primitivo wines are deeply coloured, usually high in alcohol with wild berry fruit and cherry flavours as well as a hint of spice.  It is a very close relative of Zinfandel.   Another red wine found in Southern Italy, mainly in Campania and Basilicata,  is made from Aglianico.    It is a stong, tannic wine with flavours of plum, chocolate and spice and it needs some time in the cellar before being ready to drink.

Sicily is one of Europe’s oldest wine regions and is famous for the fortified wine Marsala, which is a cousin of  Port or Sherry.   When it comes to table wine look out for wines made from  Nero d’Avola.  This grape makes big full bodied reds, with cherry and black plum flavours and is well worth a try.  A white wine you might see from Sicily is Zibibbo, which when made dry is light and refreshing and  is great with oysters.  Sicily also produces some good wines made from international varieties such as  Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. 

There is an increasing range of Italian wines coming into New Zealand so take the chance to try something new when you visit your local wine retailer.

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