In this current series on Italian wine regions, we are highlighting a single red and white wine that are most distinct to each wine region. In this sixth installment, we stop in Tuscany, or Toscana, one of Italy’s larger wine regions, and perhaps the most romantic area in all of Italy. Books and movies abound featuring Tuscan escapes, and the countryside is truly luscious. It is not surprising, therefore, to find a vast variety of wine varietals that grow and thrive in this verdant region. Bound on the west by the Tyrrhenian Sea and on the east by Emilia-Romagna, another huge wine region, Toscana is also home to Firenze (Florence), arguably the birthplace of the world’s leading art.
So, I invite you to sit back, imagine the tall towers of the local hilltop villages, and enjoy a virtual glass of Tuscan wine with me. First on the menu is Vernaccia, considered one of Italy’s finest white wines.
A Great Tuscan White: Vernaccia
Vernaccia is the name of the grape varietal and the wine (90% Vernaccia grape), which has been famous since the Renaissance. It holds the distinction of being the first Italian wine to be awarded the coveted DOC status (1966), and 27 years later the even more coveted DOCG status.
Vernaccia thrives best in vineyards based on soils of stone (flint, sandstone). If you detect the word “vernacular” in this grape’s name, you are right; that means ‘local,’ and Vernaccia is enjoyed most locally in its area of origin, San Gimigniano. It is a full-bodied white, with a full floral nose yet dry, crisp flavors tending to end on a characteristically bitter tone. To widen its appeal by increasing its complexity (and possibly toning down the bitter after-tone), it is also processed with oak barrel aging.
I got to try Vernaccia at a wonderful winery in San Gimigniano called Tenuta Torciano. If you have an opportunity to visit this winery, do so. You will love it.
A Great Tuscan Red: Abrusco
For our Tuscan red, I decided to choose an obscure, little produced, almost extinct grape called Abrusco. Abrusco has been claimed to be synonymous related to the grapes Colorino, Abrostine and Lambrusco. Abrusco historically was used primarily as a coloring agent in Chianti, with her flavor characteristics considered as an afterthought, or not at all.
That is, until recently, when a couple of Tuscan wineries took up the cause of this grape, producing wines made entirely from the Abrusco grape:
- Ferlaino describes their Abrusco, which they sell under their Tuscan Sun brand, like this: “To the nose it is refined and elegant with hints of humid bark, moss, berries and black pepper, spicy. The taste evolves around good acidity that is well balanced with the extract and the alcohol. Well-rounded tannins emerge from pleasing aromas of wild red fruits. Closes with lots of energy and a slight nervousness.”
- Le Tre Stelle’s Abrusco, named Agino, is included in the winery’s “Adopt a vine” program, which is “an awareness campaign aimed at restoring and saving an old Tuscan vine red berry” that was discovered on their old vineyard. Apparently, University of Pisa has taken a lot of interest in the finding and has helped them with their production.
If you’ve tried Vernaccia or Abrusco, please let us know.