Did you join us on our tour of Northern Italy? If not, take a look because today we’re moving south to the central wine regions of the country…
[Information based on WSET Level 3 material]
Remember how the northern wine region was defined by the Alps spanning the entirety of the northern-most border? Well we have a similar geological-defining feature here: the Apennine Mountains run the length of Peninsula. Grapes planted along its hills and valleys experience the moderating affects of altitude, helping alleviate the overall hot climate of the region. Again, similar to the northern region, some vineyards in Central Italy are planted along the coastline—these will, of course, benefit from cooling sea breezes.
Let’s talk Tuscany. The name of the grape growing game here is Sangiovese: a late-ripening grape that require a warm climate to produce wines with high acidity and tannins, with aromas of red cherries, plums, and dried herbs. The red wine is typically oak-aged, adding spicy notes, and the best of this variety can develop further in bottle.
Tuscany, as a region, is quite large. Therefore, it’s easier to think of it in its components.
Chianti is based in the foothills of the Apennines and is, itself, a large region that is divided into seven sub-zones. As you may have suspected, Sangiovese is the dominant grape, but here it is often blended with other varieties—both international (namely, French) and Italian. Chianti is a DOCG and wines produced from grapes sourced throughout the region will be labelled as Chianti DOCG. NOTE: Higher-quality Chianti DOCG wines exist—made from wines of a particular sub-zone (which will be indicated on the label, as in Chianti Rufina DOCG or Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG)
Just as we studied in the Northern Italy unit, wines from the foothills of the Apennines (i.e., planted at higher altitude) will be labeled Chianti Classico DOCG, and are typically of better quality, as the cooler atmosphere at altitude allows the Sangiovese to develop slowly, resulting in wines with higher acidity and greater herbal aromas.
RULES OF THE GAME: Want to make a Chianti Classico DOCG? Your wine must age for 12 months before release. Want to be even fancier? Then make a Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG—but your wine must age for 24 months prior to release with at least three months of that aging in bottle. Not fancy enough? Ok, pal, then you’re making the class a Gran Selezione—the highest designation for a Chianti Classico. Your grapes must be sourced from a single estate and the wine must age for 30 months prior to release. Good news, though, there’s no set rule regarding oak or barrel aging, so that bit is up to creative interpretation. (But FYI, most of the cool kids are using oak barrels…)
Here we have lower altitudes than Chianti, and a warmer climate. The good news, though, is that this part of Tuscany receives a cooling influence from the ocean, moderating the temperature. WINE REGIONS TO KNOW: Brunello di Montalcino DOCG and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG. Again, the name of the grape game is Sangiovese. But here, due to the climate and altitude, the wines are more fierce and full-bodied.
RULES OF THE GAME: If you’re hanging out in Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, your wine must be 100% Sangiovese and must age for 5 years total, with at least 2 of those years in oak. Have east-side pride? Then you’re in Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG, which can be a blend of Sangiovese with other “permitted varieties,” but must age for at least 3 years prior to release. Want to cheat the system? Both regions allow growers to declassify their wines to DOC status when necessary (i.e. bad vintage or recently replanted vines). You just have to rename your vines either Rosso di Montalcino DOC or Rosso di Montepulciano DOC. Damn the man…
Flat land cooled by ocean air—black Bordeaux varieties enjoy the surf and turf scene here. And if you’ve been waiting for an explanation about Super-Tuscans, it would be the beach bums who bent the rules so hard they had to come up with a name like that. Originally, Super-Tuscans were made primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines were of high quality with high-quality prices to match—they just didn’t qualify for any kind of existing PDO status. Today, these are typically blends of international varieties and labelled simply as Toscana IGT. FUN FACT: There are new appellations that honor the Super-Tuscan as a real thing: Bolgheri DOC and Maremma Toscana DOC. Blend what you want, dude.
Does anyone else just like saying that name?
Umbria’s climate is similar to Tuscany, but scroll up to the top to see where it’s situated in the country—inland. So, the climate here is actually more continental: there are no moderating influences from the Mediterranean. Oddly enough, the region’s claim to grape fame is white wine. Orvieto DOC is the DOC to know—a blend of Grechetto and Trebbiano and “a few other grapes.” (I think, like Vermentino, but please don’t quote me on that…) These wines are light with high acid and flavors of grapefruit and peaches. Supposedly the best of the best are those that contain a higher amount of Grechetto (which makes you wonder why they don’t bottle this as a single varietal…or do they…).
Red wine? Yeah they do that too. It’s something called Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG, made from—surprise—the Sagrantino grape.
The wine region to know here is Frascati DOC. Again, this place is all about its white wines, but this time it makes sense. The vineyards are located on hillsides, just south of Rome, so the vines are cooled by both altitude and nearby lakes. The white wine produced is a blend of Trebbiano and Malvasia. It’s fresh, unoaked, with a medium body and level of acidity. Flavors are described as citrus fruits and floral, orange blossom aromas—the latter brought to you by the Malvasia grape.
Hitting the east coast and starting at the top we find Marche. Here we find more white wines, this time made from Verdicchio. The grape is known for its high acidity and resulting wines typically have flavors of green apples, lemons, fennel and almonds. While most are simple and fruity, there are a few expressions with greater concentration that can, in fact, age in the bottle, developing notes of honey and almonds. REGION TO KNOW: Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC.
Red wine? It’s Italy! Of course they do that too. In Marche red wines are typically a blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese. The best known, supposedly, come from Conero DOCG.
Just south of Marche we find Abruzzo known for its Montepulciano and why the name Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOCG probably sounds so familiar. (DO NOT get this confused with the town of the same name in Tuscany…just…heads up.) Montepulciano has a deep color, high tannins, medium acidity, and flavors of black plums and cherries. It is produced in both a simple, fruity, unoaked expression as well as an oak-aged, more concentrated expression.
Did you survive? How’d I do? Did I miss anything? In case you can’t tell from my writing, I’m not too experienced with a lot of these wines, so welcome any feedback, comments, or suggestions. (Even though I did travel around Italy on my honeymoon a few years back, it was when wine was more of a hobby than a profession/hobby/constant study. And let’s face it…I was on my honeymoon.)
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