Long before the 2003 movie Under the Tuscan Sun, Americans had a love affair with Tuscany, the Italian region that is home to Florence, Siena and a hundred charming less-famous hill towns.
As World War II ended, American GIs brought back memories of the light-bodied, fruity wine in the straw-covered bottle, the wine called Chianti, from the grape called sangovese. In later decades, however, overproduction and careless winemaking by some hurt Chianti’s reputation, and Tuscan wines were overtaken in America’s affections by wines from Spain, Argentina, Australia and elsewhere.
More recently, Tuscan winemakers have entered the 21st century with research, investments and care, and Tuscany’s wines today are better than ever — richer, fuller in body, more concentrated in flavor.
To accomplish that, Tuscan growers and winemakers have followed two parallel tracks.
Some concentrated on making better Chiantis with traditional Italian grape varieties including sangiovese and smaller amounts of canaiolo, ciliegiolo and colorino.
One example of better vineyard methods is at Da Vinci winery, where vines are painstakingly planted in rows running up and down the steep hills in order to face south to catch maximum sunlight to become riper, richer.
Other Tuscan wine estates started planting such international grape varieties as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and others, with or without the traditional sangiovese, to make more concentrated, richer wines. These quickly earned the name “Super Tuscans.”
And as always, Tuscany’s wines are a great accompaniment to Tuscan cuisine, always a favorite with visiting Americans and Americans back home.
Just picture Chianti with roast pig, the American version of Tuscany’s hearty wild boar; Chianti with pasta in a creamy sauce enriched with a few drops of truffle oil; Chianti with pizza. Chianti with big chunks of Parmesan cheese.
• 2007 Da Vinci “Cantine Leonardo” Brunello di Montalcino (“brunello” is a local name for the sangiovese grape), DOCG, Tuscany: deep, dark red color, aromas and flavors of black raspberries, cloves and minerals, dense, rich and smooth; $60.
• 2010 Aia Vecchia “Lagone” Toscana Rosso (Super Tuscan, with merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc), IGT, Tuscany: deep purple color, aromas and flavors of blackberries, Asian spices and minerals, full and rich and smooth; $15.
• 2008 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva (sangiovese, canaiolo, ciliegiolo and colorino), DOCG Tuscany: dark ruby hue, aromas and flavors of blackberries, cloves and vanilla, smooth and opulent, with big, ripe tannins; $35.
• 2011 Da Vinci Chianti (85 percent sangiovese, 15 percent merlot and other grapes) DOCG, Tuscany: bright ruby color, with aromas and flavors of black cherries and black pepper, crisp acids and soft tannins; $15.
• 2007 Da Vinci Chianti Riserva (85 percent sangiovese, 15 percent merlot and other grapes) DOCG, Tuscany: deep red color, aromas and flavors of black plums, vanilla and spice, with smooth, ripe tannins and a long finish; $25.
• 2008 Aia Vecchia “Sor Ugo” Bolgheri Rosso Superiore (Super Tuscan, with cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot), DOC: dark purple color, aromas and flavors of black plums, cloves and minerals, rich and concentrated, big, ripe tannins; $35.
• 2011 OGIO Tuscan Red (85 percent sangiovese, 10 percent cabernet sauvignon, 5 percent merlot), IGT Tuscany: floral aromas, medium body, aromas and flavors of tart cherries and spices, crisp, with soft tannins; $13.
• 2009 Badia Coltibuono Chianti Classico (sangiovese, canaiolo, ciliegiolo, colorino), DOCG Tuscany: deep ruby color, aromas and flavors of red raspberries, anise and vanilla, soft and smooth; $20.
• 2011 Coltibuono “Cetamura” Chianti (sangiovese), DOCG Tuscany: bright ruby color, aromas and flavors of tart cherries and cinnamon, light body, crisp and lively; $10.
• 2010 Coltibuono “Selezione RS” Chianti Classico (sangiovese), DOCG Tuscany: bright ruby color, aromas and flavors of black cherries and anise, crisp and lively; $15.