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The Vernaccia di San Gimignano

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from Wikipedia the free encyclopedia

Toscana wine is Italian wine from the Tuscany region. Located in central Italy along the Tyrrhenian coast, Tuscany is home to some of the world's most notable wine regions. Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano are primarily made with Sangiovese grape whereas the Vernaccia grape is the basis of the white Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

Tuscany is also known for the dessert wine Vin Santo, made from a variety of the region's grapes. Tuscany has twenty-nine Denominazioni di origine controllata (DOC) and seven Denominazioni di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG).

In the 1970s a new class of wines known in the trade as "Super Tuscans" emerged. These wines were made outside DOC/DOCG regulations but were considered of high quality and commanded high prices. Many of these wines became cult wines. In the reformation of the Italian classification system many of the original Super Tuscans now qualify as DOC or DOCG wines but some producers still prefer the declassified rankings or to use the Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) classification of Toscana.

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The history of viticulture in Tuscany dates back to its settlements by the Etruscans in the eighth century BC. Amphora remnants originating in the region show that Tuscan wine was exported to southern Italy and Gaul as early as the seventh century BC. By the third century BC, there were literary references by Greek writers about the quality of Tuscan wine.  From the fall of the Roman Empire and throughout the Middle Ages, monasteries were the main purveyors of wines in the region. As the aristocratic and merchant classes emerged, they inherited the share-cropping system of agriculture known as mezzadria. This system took its name from the arrangement whereby the landowner provides the land and resources for planting in exchange for half ("mezza") of the yearly crop. Many Tuscan landowners would turn their half of the grape harvest into wine that would be sold to merchants in Florence. The earliest reference of Florentine wine retailers dates to 1079 and a guild was created in 1282.

The Arte dei Vinattieri guild established strict regulations on how the Florentine wine merchants could conduct business. No wine was to sold within 100 yards (91 m) of a church. Wine merchants were also prohibited from being served to a child under 15 or to prostitutes, ruffians and thieves. In the fourteenth century, an average of 7.9 million gallons (300,000 hl) of wine was sold every year in Florence.

The earliest references to Brunello di Montepulciano wine date to the late fourteenth century. The first recorded mention of wine from Chianti was by the Tuscan merchant Francesco di Marco Datini, the "merchant of Prato", who described it as a light, white wine. The Vernaccia and Greco wines of San Gimignano were considered luxury items and treasured as gifts over saffron. During this period Tuscan winemakers began experimenting with new techniques and invented the process of governo which helped to stabilize the wines and ferment the sugar content sufficiently to make them dry. In 1685 the Tuscan author Francesco Redi wrote Bacco in Toscano, a 980-line poem describing the wines of Tuscany.

Following the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Tuscany returned to the rule of the Habsburgs. It was at this point that the statesman Bettino Ricasoli inherited his family ancestral estate in Broglio located in the heart of the Chianti Classico zone. Determined the improve the estate, Ricasoli traveled throughout Germany and France, studying the grape varieties and viticultural practices. He imported several of the varieties back to Tuscany and experimented with different varieties in his vineyards. However in his experiments Ricasoli discovered that three local varieties— Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Malvasia— produced the best wine. In 1848, revolutions broke out in Italy and Ricasoli's beloved wife died, leaving him with little interest to devote to wine. In the 1850s odium and war devastated most of Tuscany's vineyards with many peasant farmers leaving for other parts of Italy or to emigrate to the Americas.

Climate and geography

The region of Tuscany includes seven coastal islands and is Italy's fifth largest region. It is bordered to the northwest by Liguria, the north by Emilia-Romagna, Umbria to the east and Lazio Roma to the south. To the west is the Tyrrhenian Sea which gives the area a warm mediterranean climate. The terrain is quite hilly (over 68% of the terrain), progressing inward to the Apennine Mountains along the border with Emilia-Romagna. The hills serve as a tempering affect on the summertime heat with many vineyards planted on the higher elevations of the hillsides.

The Sangiovese grape performs better when it can receive more direct sunlight, which is a benefit of the many hillside vineyards in Tuscany. The majority of the region's vineyards are found at altitudes of 500-1600 feet (150-500 meters). The higher elevations also increase the diurnal temperature variation, helping the grapes maintain their balance of sugars and acidity as well as their aromatic qualities.

After Piedmont and the Veneto, Tuscany produces the third highest volume of DOC/G quality wines. Tuscany is Italy's third most planted region (behind Sicily and Puglia) but it is eighth in production volume. This is partly because the soil of Tuscany is very poor, and producers emphasize low yields and higher quality levels in their wine. More than 80% of the regions' production is in red wine.

The Sangiovese grape is Tuscanys' most prominent grape, however, many different clonal varieties exist, as many towns have their own local version of Sangiovese. Cabernet Sauvignon has been planted in Tuscany for over 250 years, but has only recently become associated with the region due to the rise of the Super Tuscans. Other international varieties found in Tuscany include Cabernet franc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot noir, Sauvignon blanc and Syrah. Of the many local red grape varieties Canaiolo, Colorino, Malvasia Nera and Mammolo are the most widely planted. For Tuscan white wines, Trebbiano is the most widely planted variety followed by Malvasia, Vermentino and Vernaccia.

Super Tuscans are an unofficial category of Tuscan wines; not recognized within the Italian wine classification system. The origin of Super Tuscans is rooted in the restrictive DOC practices of the Chianti zone prior to the 1990s. During this time Chianti could be composed of no more than 70% Sangiovese and had to include at least 10% of one of the local white wine grapes. Producers who deviated from these regulations could not use the Chianti name on their wine labels and would be classified as vino da tavola- Italys' lowest wine designation. By the 1970s, the consumer market for Chianti wines was suffering and the wines were widely perceived to be lacking quality. Many Tuscan wine producers thought they could produce a better quality wine if they were not hindered by the DOC regulations.

The marchese Piero Antinori was one of the first to create a "Chianti-style" wine that ignored the DOC regulations, releasing a 1971 Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon blend known as Tignanello in 1978. Other producers followed suit and soon the prices for these Super Tuscans were consistently beating the prices of some of most well known Chianti. Rather than rely on name recognition of the Chianti region, the Super Tuscan producers sought to create a wine brand that would be recognizable on its own merits by consumers. By the late 1980s, the trend of creating high quality non-DOC wines had spread to other regions of Tuscany, as well as Piedmont and Veneto. Modification to the Chianti DOC regulation attempted to "correct" the issues of Super Tuscans, so that many of the original Super Tuscans would now qualify as standard DOC/G Chianti. While many producers have brought their Super Tuscans back under DOC regulations, many have not and instead continue to use the less restrictive IGT designation Toscana.

Vin Santo

While Tuscany is not the only Italian region to make the passito dessert wine Vin Santo (meaning "holy wine"), the Tuscan versions of the wine are well regarded and sought for by wine consumers. The best-known version is from the Chianti Classico and is produced with a blend of Trebbiano and Malvasia Bianca. Red and rosé styles are also produced mostly based on the Sangiovese grape. The wines are aged in barrels for a minimum of three years, four if it is meant to be a Riserva.

Other Tuscan wines

The Pomino region near Ruffina has been historically known for the prevalence of the French wine grape varieties, making wines from both Cabernets as well as Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot blanc, Pinot Grigio in addition to the local Italian varieties. The Frescobaldi family is one of the area's most prominent wine producers. The Bolgheri region of the Livorno province is home to one of the original Super Tuscan wines Sassicaia, first made in 1944 produced by the marchesi Incisa della Rochetta, cousin of the Antinori family. The Bolgheri region is also home to the Super Tuscan wine Ornellaia which was featured in the film Mondovino. The Carmignano region has another Tuscan DOCG and was one of the first Tuscan regions to be permitted to use Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, which the region had long historically grown, in their DOC wines.

In southern Tuscany, towards the region of Latium, is the area of Maremma which has its own IGT designation Maremma Toscana. Maremma is also home to Tuscany's newest DOCG, Morellino di Scansano, which makes a fragrant, dry Sangiovese based wine. The province of Grosseto is one of Tuscay's emerging wine regions with eight DOC designations, half of which were created in the late 1990s. It includes the Monteregio di Massa Marittima region which has been recently the recipient of foreign investment in the area's wine, especially by "flying winemakers". The Parrina region is known for it white wine blend of Trebbiano and Ansonica. The wine Bianco di Pitigliano is known for its eclectic mix of white wine grapes in the blend including Chardonnay, the Greco sub variety of Trebbiano, Grechetto, Malvasia, Pinot blanc, Verdello and Welschriesling.

The wines of Montecarlo region includes several varieties that are not commonly found in Tuscan wines including Sémillon and Roussanne. The minor Chianti grape Ciliegiolo is also popular here. The island of Elba has one of longest winemaking histories in Tuscany and is home to its own DOC. Some of the wines produced here include a sparkling Trebbiano wine, a sweet Ansonica passito, and a semi-sweet dessert wine from Aleatico.