A taste of Tuscany… in Tuscany

Ah Tuscany! Is there a more beautiful place on earth? This part of central Italy produces many famous wines, all based on the Sangiovese grape. Every year in February, the DOCG consortiums of Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino invite journalists from around the world (this year from 39 countries) to preview the last several vintages of their wines that are about to be released, as well as barrel samples of the most recent vintage. Once again this year, I made the scene and am happy to report my findings.

The huge Chianti Classico denomination is recognized by the black rooster symbol on the bottle. Made from a minimum of 80% Sangiovese and aged for about one year (two years for Riservas), the vintages that are currently being released or available are the 2008 to 2010 vintage.

In the few days in Florence, there were some 450 wines from 150 producers available for tasting. A massive undertaking indeed, if you chose to taste absolutely everything.

From what I tasted, the 2008s are coming around nicely and starting to evolve with lots of harmony. The 2009s appear to be excellent showing plenty of toasted oak, ripeness, concentration and good acidity. Real crowd pleasers indeed! This classic vintage is full of textbook flavours of toasted black cherry, leather, violets, mineral, earthiness and even walnut. The wines are well structured with plenty of fruit focus.

My tasting of the 2010s proved interesting. Last year when tasted, they were barrel samples with good colour, aromatics and balancing acidity. Now with a year of evolution, they have morphed into highly drinkable, round, supple wines with good fruit and softish tannins. A vintage that in my mind, will provide easy accessibility and earlier drinking.

Vino Nobile is produced around the hilltop village of Montepulciano and made from at least 70% Sangiovese (known locally as Prugnolo Gentile) and aged at least two years (three years for Riservas) before being released. Its sister wine, Rosso di Montepulciano can be released after seven or eight months. Most of what was available for tasting from 34 wineries were the 2009s, 2008s and 2007s.

The 2009s are not overly rich but displayed reasonable fruit, balance and extract. The 2008s are elegant with abundant red fruit and floral notes. Not excessively rich in extract, but infinitely enjoyable over the shorter term! The 2007s are well-balanced, concentrated and have lots of aromatics. The occasional 2010 Rossos are very tasty and consumable.

For many, the king of Tuscan reds is Brunello, produced around the hilltop village of Montalcino, exclusively from the grape of the same name (local name for Sangiovese). The wine is generally aged two years in oak and at least four months in bottle. However, most producers will not release their regular bottlings until approximately 50 months after the harvest and an additional 12 months for the Riservas. Front and centre this year were the 2007s, awarded five stars by the consortium. (The 2006s last year were awarded five stars as well. It’s not too often Brunello boasts back-to-back five-star vintages.) Although a good vintage with fair concentration and solid structure, the fruit doesn’t seem as opulent, the tannins are firmer, the alcohol higher and the wines more austere. They will probably age decently and more than likely drink earlier than the 2006s, but overall, the 2007s just aren’t as “sexy”.

There were numerous samples of the 2006 Riservas, so I took full advantage of trying them. Most are rich, concentrated, savory and just darn right fabulous, needing five to 10 more years of aging. Brunello’s kid sister, Rosso di Montalcino must age for six months in oak and six months in the bottle before release, Many 2010s were available for tasting. Fruity, soft and supple, these wines are drinking nicely and easy to like.

Lovers of Sangiovese take note. Recent vintages of wines from Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino continue to provide great sipping that is truly a “taste of Tuscany”.

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