Tuscan Wines: A quick buyer’s guide
By Laura Mongillo in Florence—
Tuscany is world famous for its wine, so it make sense that every restaurant, bar, cafe, bottega, supermarket and even hotel in Florence is trying to sell you a couple of bottles. But how do you know the good stuff from the vinegar?
Here are a few tips for navigating the dangerous (and delicious) waters of buying Tuscan wine.
First of all, how do you know if a wine is from Tuscany? In most cases it will be written on the bottle, often in the Italian form “Toscana.”
If not, there are many wines from specific areas of Tuscany that are well known and proudly display the name of their provenance. So, while scanning the hundreds of bottles in front of you, keep an eye out for these names:
Brunello di Montalcino: One of the most famous and prized Tuscan wines, Brunello di Montalcino takes five years to produce, from the picking of the grape to the sale of the bottle. This dry and robust red wine is produced in Montalcino in the southeast area of Tuscany.
Carmignano: This red wine comes from a picturesque hill town about 30 minutes outside of Florence and was a favorite of the Medici family, as two of their villas were located in the area.
Chianti: The most famous of Italian red wines, Chianti is an area not far from Florence. Due to its fame you will find a seemingly infinite number of “Chianti” wines, so keep an eye out for the “Chianti Classico,” which has its own DOCG. Also check out the Chiantis produced in other nearby areas such as Colli Senesi and Montalbano.
Morellino di Scansano: A strong, dry red wine from the Grosseto area, in the south of Tuscany.
Vernaccia di San Gimignano: One of the area’s few white wines, Vernaccia is typically from the medieval hill town of San Gimignano.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano: Another famous historic red wine with a dry taste and floral scent from the southeast of Tuscany.
Vin Santo: This is a typical Tuscan dessert wine, made from dried grapes and generally golden in color. There is no specific town or area that produces Vin Santo, but I recommend the slightly expensive version from Carmignano. It is traditionally enjoyed with cantuccini, an almond cookie from Prato, that are similar to what we would call “biscotti.”
Clues to picking a good wine
A good starting point is to look for the acronyms, “DOC” (“Denominazione di origine controllata”) and “DOCG” (“Denominazione d’origine controllata e garantita”). These two classifiers are given to wine that comes from a protected area, and have a reputation for high quality and other particular characteristics.
“DOCG” is given to wines of even greater importance and quality. You’ll usually find “DOCG” written on the front of a bottle directly under the name, as it is almost as important as the name itself.
For a more in-depth explanation of these classifications, check out our previous article on Roman wine. Otherwise, just trust me and look out for affordable DOCG wines so you can spend less time reading labels and more time drinking!
How much should you spend?
Wine is like water here in Tuscany and seems to be produced everywhere you look. Rightfully then, it’s much cheaper to buy than in other parts of the world.
Even in the shops of the main tourist areas (for example in the center of Florence), you should only have to spend €5-10 for a good bottle. Wine can easily cost less than €5 (Tavernello, a watery boxed table wine may actually cost less than milk!), but the quality generally increases along with the price.
Obviously, it’s impossible to try every type of Tuscan wine and nearly as impossible to find a favorite. But you can try! Go ahead and start testing…
Your favorite Tuscan wine?
Do you have a favorite Tuscan wine? Share your wine recommendations with us in the comments section.