Americans have a love affair with Tuscany, the beautiful Italian region of hearty wines and gourmet dining, of grass-covered meadows, castle-studded hilltops and cypress trees on the Mediterranean Sea.
Long rows of sangiovese grapevines snake around ancient wineries modernized to cutting-edge methods. White Tuscan Chianina cattle graze, awaiting their fate as bistecca fiorentina, quick-charred, drizzled with balsamic vinegar, in local ristorantes.
Historic, sophisticated cities such as Florence and Siena, with their ancient churches and museums and charming piazzas lined with sidewalk cafés, create vacations that are both culture-centered and hedonistic.
Our infatuation with Tuscany began with GIs returning from World War II with memories of good food, good wine and friendly people. It was rekindled by the idyllic 2003 film “Under the Tuscan Sun.”
So many Americans moved to Tuscany that a 20-something taxi driver in Florence once complained to me: “I wish so many wouldn’t come. They make home prices too expensive for Italian young people.”
Tuscany is home to a wide variety of red wines. Two types stand out — Chianti and Super Tuscan.
Tuscany is a region of 8,900 square miles. Within Tuscany, the Chianti wine region is a smaller area of almost 300 square miles between Florence and Siena. The Chianti Classico area is an even smaller area of about 100 square miles inside Chianti and Tuscany. Conditions there are said to be optimum for making Italy’s famous Chianti wine.
Chianti usually centers on the sangiovese grape, with lesser amounts of canaiolo, ciliegiolo, colorino and other reds.
Tuscany’s other important wine is the “Super Tuscan.” In the 1970s, iconoclastic growers decided to part ways with the traditional sangiovese grape and turn to French varietals such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, even syrah. The result was big, powerful wines that are some of Italy’s most expensive.
Here is some of Tuscany’s bounty:
1. 2010 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico DOCG, Monte in Chianti (sangiovese, canaiolo, ciliegiolo, colorino): saturated red color, floral aromas, flavors of black plums and espresso, medium body; $20.
2. 2012 Liberta “Super Tuscan” Red Blend, by Collazzi Vineyards, Tuscany IGT (merlot, syrah, sangiovese): light body, aromas and flavors of tart cherries and minerals, crisp, long finish; $24.
3. 2011 “Lagone” Toscana IGT Aia Vecchia “Super Tuscan” Red Blend (merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc): dark red, hint of oak, flavors of black cherries and cinnamon; $15.
4. 2012 Badia a Coltibuono “Cetamura” Chianti DOCG (sangiovese, canaiolo): light red color, aromas and flavors of tart cherries, cloves and anise, light body, ripe tannins; $10.
5. 2010 “Sor Ugo” Bolgheri Superiore DOCG Aia Vecchia “Super Tuscan” Red Blend (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot): dark red, aromas and flavors of black plums and bittersweet chocolate, full body, big, ripe tannins, long, smooth finish; $35.
6. 2011 Nipozzano Vecchie Viti (Old Vines) Chianti DOCG, by Marchese Frescobaldi (sangiovese, malvasia nera, colorino, canaiolo) dark red color, aromas and flavors of black raspberries, cloves and minerals, full-bodied and smooth; $30.
7. 2012 Capezzana “Barco Reale” di Carmignano, by Capezzana Conte Contini Bonacossi, Tuscany DOC (sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, canaiolo, cabernet franc): dark red color, hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black cherries, ripe tannins, medium body, smooth finish; $25.
8. 2011 Castello di Monsanto Monrosso Chianti DOCG (sangiovese, canaiolo, merlot): ruby red color, aromas and flavors of ripe cherries and raspberries, crisp, soft tannins; $14.
9. 2011 Avignonesi Rosso di Montepulciano, Tuscany DOC (sangiovese, other local red varietals): medium red color, aromas and flavors of tart cherries and herbs, crisp and smooth; $19.