Now that I’ve touched upon my favorite wine regions in France (Burgundy), it’s time to move on to Italy — and specifically Tuscany — probably the country’s foremost producer.
Located north of Rome proper along the Tyrrhenian Sea, this region of Italy (which I’ve visited on a couple occasions) is marked by its idyllic rolling hills of verdant greens abutting centuries-old towns of well-preserved brickwork, clay and religious artistry. Indeed, this is the home to three very popular tourist cities — Florence, Pisa and Siena.
It goes without saying that Tuscany (and all of the Mediterranean nations) has a longstanding viticultural footprint, dating back to even before the Roman conquest of the Italian peninsula. During the Dark Ages, it was the pious monks who took the reins amidst the economic collapse of Western Europe. The current iterations by which we classify this nation’s pedigrees today emerged during the early Renaissance when Northern Italian city-states awoke as European centers of commerce, bringing with them lots of fresh capital and a renewed demand for wine.
Nowadays, much like in France, Italy adheres to a scrupulous set of quality assurance protocols for its appellations. Look for the DOC or, even better, the DOCG label to ensure that you’re getting a true Tuscan product. Indeed, the emphasis here is that of quality over quantity, which means that, when combined with the semi-arid climate and the thin layer of topsoil, Tuscany has a very low yield relative to other Italian regions. Not surprisingly, four-fifths of what’s made are red varietals.
My experiences with Tuscan wines pertain mostly to that of Brunello, Chianti and Montepulciano. All three of which are made almost entirely from the Sangiovese grape, bestowing them with an opaque dark red-violet color and a fruity, full-bodied taste. This consistency in flavor means Tuscan reds are great for pairings — a rich, tannin-heavy acidic drop matches perfectly with any red meat, saucy pasta or other savory dish.
Aside from my own personal preferences and all other varietals, which are beyond the scope of a light blog post, I have only two quick suggestions. Firstly, for the oenophilic neophyte, Italian grape, vineyard and appellation names can be quite intimidating, especially because of the language barrier. Look for ways to simplify or explain your Tuscan wine selection on the menu so as to reduce confusion and help with a sale. Better yet, lend a bit of knowledge to your servers so they can extend their interactions with your patrons and heighten the rapport.
Next and last, Tuscan wines are amongst the most popular and sought after in the world. Ergo, getting your hands on quality product is easier said than done, or at the very least, will require a healthy investment upfront. Once you throw in the appropriate markups, you’ll be asking your customers for quite a lot of dough for each bottle, a number that might frighten more than a few people.
As such, consider how your Tuscan wines fit into the bigger picture of your wine list. Do they connote the top end of your selection, reserved for a select few? Or, if your restaurant caters to a more casual crowd, perhaps you could source from some of the more inexpensive labels that fit the quintessential Tuscan red taste profile but are not as well renowned for one reason or another. If you’re lucky, you can even connect with a budding producer of “Super Tuscan” wines, which breach the DOC rules because they blend international grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in with the Sangiovese for some truly enchanting results.
(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky in HOTELSmag on May 15, 2013)