Beginning with the Etruscans, who first planted vines here 3,000 years ago, winemaking has been an essential part of Tuscan culture. The region’s viticulture was continued and expanded upon, first by then ancient Romans, and then Benedictine monks—all of whom took advantage of the ideal soil and growing climate in the Tuscan hills. Wine in those times was not a luxury, but a necessity for survival; healthy drinking water was either rare or, at best, seasonal. Wine therefore became the ideal drink: storable, transportable, and ever so good for body and soul.
In the past several decades, Tuscan wines have become some of the world’s most sought after. The growing regions of of Bolgheri and Montalcino, especially, enchant wine aficionados with the robust character and flavor of their wines. Though they can be pretty pricey, these local varietals are almost always worth the pain in the wallet.
When I first tasted Brunello di Montalcino, this region’s famous varietal, 30 years ago, I thought, “Oh, sweet mystery of life, at last I’ve found you!” The enchanting red, made only in Montalcino and only with 100 percent Sangiovese grapes, was also once described by wine guru James Suckling as “wonderfully perfumed and majestically refined.”
This beautiful, coastal region south of Pisa is best known for the stellar success (and astronomical prices) of its Ornellaia and Sassicaia varietals. Barely 30 years old, these “Super Tuscans” are modeled on Bordeaux blends; most are made with Merlot, Cabernet and, Syrah grapes, and are known for their marvelous perfume as well as flavors. They’re über trendy—and justifiably so.
The oldest and most respected part of the much larger Chianti region, this series of hills lies between Florence and Siena. The wines produced here are made mostly of Sangiovese grapes, and are known for being approachable and pairing easily with food. The wine estates include some of the most beautiful and imposing villas in Tuscany.
Grown mostly in clay, the Sangiovese grapes of this medieval hill town yield a robust, signature wine—Vino Nobile di Montepulciano—that’s perfect with roast meats and venison. The winemaking tradition here goes back 1,000 years; the town itself is fabled, and the views from it are mesmerizing. Could there be any better reasons to visit?
Isola del Giglio
One of Tuscany’s true hidden treasures, this stupendous granite island off the Tuscan coast is home to just a handful of wine growers. They produce literally only a few barrels each year of amazingly flavored, amber-white wine made of Ansonica grapes. Few bottles ever leave the island, so to taste it, you’ll have to visit and try it with the superb local seafood. Tell no one.