Tuscany is an ideal example of the time-honored tradition that if something works, there's no reason to change it. The enlightened region in central Italy emerged from the Dark Ages centuries ago and has evolved into a prominent culture ever since. The wine in Tuscany, influenced by the sub-light Mediterranean Climate further inland and culture, is some of the best to pair with vast varieties of food.
The region has been accused of being snobbish by claiming it has given law to the English, science to the Germans, culinary impressions to the French and fine wine, art, literature and architecture to the rest of the world. With contributions like these, the swagger becomes tolerable.
Its landscape, modified very little since the dictatorial Medici regime, is like a Renaissance painting with rows of cypress and pine trees, olive groves and fabled vineyards. Rolling hills dappled with Etruscan crypts, stately stallions and herds of prized Chianina steer, are focal points in the picturesque panorama. Critics insist, without much exaggeration, that Western civilization was rediscovered in Tuscany. Their title for the region is "The perfect center of man's universe." And nowhere is this declaration more evident than the capital city of Florence, considered as the intellectual hub of Italy.
Florence takes center stage with the adopted slogan "Una Bella Figura" (a beautiful appearance). Even Rome or Venice can't compare to this treasure trove of Renaissance and other iconic works of art.
Sangiovese is the Main Tuscan Red Varietal
Tuscany, with a population of 3.7 million, has more wine fields (148,000 acres/59,893 hectares) than any of Italy's 20 wine regions with the exception of Sicily and Apulia. Grapes flourish here due to a near-perfect climate, altitude and soil quality that combine to create the complex wine for which the area is noted.
Sangiovese, arguably the most widely used of all Italian grapes, is the mainstay in the majority of Tuscany's reds. Over time, it has acquired various names. In Montalcino, it is called Brunello. In Montepulciano, it is known as Prugnolo Gentile. Sangiovese is also featured in Chianti in partnership with Caniolo and Colorino, as well as the noble grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Three Tuscan products are among the the top-rated Chiantis in a recent edition of Wine Spectator magazine. They are Rocca di Montegrossi Vin Santo del Chianti Classico 2007 ($100), Rodano Chianti Classico 2012 ($20), and Antinori Vin Santo Chianti Classico 2011 ($39).
Another Tuscan treat is Brunello di Montalcino, so special that it requires a specific drinking glass. The tumbler is larger than generic wine glassware and exposes the wine to more oxygen to stimulate the flavors. This wine is made from 100 percent Brunello, a Sangiovese clone with hints of violet, leather, berries and chocolate, and aged two years in wood.
Iconic Art Displayed in Florence
Since the 19th century, hordes of tourists have converged on the historically rich city to admire and take snapshots of the original Michelangelo's "David," Botticelli's "Venus on the Half Shell," Brunelleschi's "Dome" and the creations of other art and literary titans like Dante, DaVinci, Cellini and Boccaccio.
The Florentine table has always been set with the abundance of the fertile area's renowned wine, olive oil, fresh fruit and vegetables, fish from the nearby coast and game in season. Carnivores can pacify their palates with Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a thick, juicy Chianina steak usually served with white Tuscan beans. Visitors with Florence on their itinerary can experience authentic Tuscan cuisine and wine at Enoteca Pinchiorri, a local restaurant noted for matching tradition with innovation. Owner-wine director-namesake Giorgio Pinchiorri and sommelier Allesandro Tomberli have assembled 4,000 different labels from their imposing 100,000-bottle repertoire.
About 52 miles west of Florence and high on most tourists' agendas is the legendary Leaning Tower of Pisa -- 183 feet tall and 294 steps of tilted architectural artistry. Southeast of Pisa lies Siena, a walled city with enough stunning cathedrals, piazzas, towers and museums to fill a photo album.
Surrounding these scenic towns are vineyards prolific with grapes from which much of the world's primo vino is made. Though Chianti is popular, it is a small part of a sprawling wine domain from which half of the output is rated DOC or DOCG. This, however, doesn't imply that the other half is average or ordinary.
Exceptional Tuscan Merlot Priced at $225
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano got its title from noblemen who preferred it over other local wine in the 1600s. It comes from southeastern Tuscany, where it is aged two years in oak barrels, has a silky texture and is versatile enough to be paired with antipasti, sharp cheese and grilled meat.
In discussions with this region's wine, the term "Super Tuscans" comes up regularly. That's the colloquial name for a newer, more expensive blend mostly from Bolgheri. To distinguish these wines from everyday vino da tavola (table wine), they are made with non-indigenous grapes such as Merlot and Cabernet Franc plus occasional Sangiovese, and priced in the $100 range.
If cost is not an issue, there's a Merlot named Le Macchiole Toscana Messorio, identified as ripe and expressive with cherry, plum, currant, leather and earth notes matched with refined tannins. Both the wine and price are exceptional -- $225 per bottle.
From simple table whites and sturdy reds to luxuriant dessert wines, there's a wine for every taste from Tuscany. Whether or not it is the best wine in Italy is debatable, even though the Tuscans claim it is. It's been that way for centuries, and not likely to change any time soon.