Fall for Tuscany

A culture that designates a specific word for something takes it very, very seriously.

Vendemmia in Italian, translates to harvest of the grapes. Each autumn, vendemmia is cause for celebration — friends and relatives come to pick the grapes when they are succulent on the vine. Too late, and they shrivel to raisins. Too rough, and they ferment before their time.

The trick is to get it just right. But never fear — the Italians have been perfecting vendemmia for centuries.

Wine Region: Modern Tuscany

Tuscany’s roots are in the vineyards planted by its pre-Roman founders, the Etruscans, in the 8th century. The region has had many masters: both Roman and Byzantine emperors had a go, followed by ruling families like Medici, Habsburg and Bourbon. For a hot second, even Bonaparte, when Napoleon gave the Duchy to his sister. And that was all before 1865, when it became part of modern Italy.

Through fortune’s ebb and flow, Tuscan winemakers have invested in their vineyards and wineries and today’s vintages are better than ever. And surprisingly affordable, speaking of fortune.

Wines of Tuscany:

The first DOC and DOCG zones were established in Tuscany, giving Italy an appellation system similar to that of France. Today, over 50 labels are approved by these authorities, plus a third, IGT wines of Italy. In terms of ranking, DOCG has the most strict regulations, followed by DOC. IGT was created for wines such as the famed ‘super Tuscans,’ which use international grapes like Cabernet and Merlot.

Some of them are better known globally than others:

Chianti, Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva: Perhaps the best-known name in Italian wine, Chianti has more than shaken off its association with the unfortunate straw-coated bottle (in Italy that is appropriately called ‘fiasco’). Whether 100% Sangivovese, or blended with other Italian or international grapes, these are elegant and refreshing, and tend to be less refined than the Brunellos.

Brunello di Montalcino: The more serious older-brother of Chianti, crafted from pure Sangiovese.

Super-Tuscan: Wines that use international grapes grown in Tuscany, such as Merlot. May also be blended with Sangiovese.

Vin Santo: “Holy wine,” a sweet dessert wine typically made from a blend of Trebbiano and Malvasia.  There is a red version made from Sangiovese too. Typically aged at least three years and sometimes more, their combination of high acid and sweetness is lovely.

Lydia Strohl