There are findings which prove that wine has been made in the Tuscan territory since the Etruscans time – which means Pre-History. Obviously the techniques have changed a lot from them till now, but essentially the wine production in Tuscany still follows the ancient guidelines to produce some of the best wines in the world: Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Nobile di Montepulciano, Sassicaia and much more.
In Italy, like in many other countries, the government has created some rules that must be respected by the wine producers with the aim of preserving the traditional techniques for the production of wine. Besides, this rules aim to the best quality of the Italian wine, one of the country’s main exportation products.
The three categories of rules controlled by Italian government and official wine associations are called: D.O.C.G. (Guaranteed and Controlled Origin Denomination); D.O.C. (Controlled Origin Denomination) and I.G.T. (Typical Geographical Indication). All wines that don’t belong to one of these categories are considered “table wines” (which doesn’t mean they aren’t good quality wines).
The basic steps of the wine production don’t vary too much anyway. Basically, the harvest (called “vendemmia”, in Italian) in the whole Tuscany starts on the end of August and beginning of September (except for Vin Santo, which will be explained below). The grapes are all picked by hand and transported to the cellars with small trucks little by little. They cannot be stocked because otherwise they will start to ferment and this could damage the quality of the wine.
The production of wine must be continuous progressively to the wine harvest. So, the grapes are transported right away into the place where the steams will be removed – this can be made or by hand or with the use of modern stainless steel machines that work very smoothly to avoid damaging the grapes. The fermentation process is crucial for the quality of the wine.
Once upon a time, fermentation used to happen in those wooden vats and people used to step on the grapes to crush them - actually the reason for that was NOT to crush the grapes but to oxygenate the must with the aim to have a full fermentation and at the same time, avoid the skins floated on the liquid getting mixed to give colour to the wine (the colour is contained in the skins, not in the fruit). Obviously, we are talking about red wine, as long as white wine is made of white grapes and get their green/ yellow/ amber colour.
Nowadays, the machines are all modern made of stainless steel and the fermentation is chemically controlled by the wine maker. The process, by the way, follow the same principals: inside the modern stainless steel vats, there are pistons that come down and up very slowly, mixing the must all the time to oxygenate it and pull down the skins inside the liquid to guarantee its natural colouration. As you can see in the pictures, the San Giovese grape is very dark, this grape is the base of many important Tuscan wines, like Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino.
This step takes only 3 to 4 weeks, and each grape variety is fermented separately. The whole quantity of sugar that is naturally in the grape (pay attention: it is forbidden to add sugar or colorants!!!) will have been transformed into alcohol by the action of natural yeasts contained in the grape skins or added cultivated yeasts (they are allowed, because they are natural and can help to have a more constant fermentation).
The next – and longest – step is the aging in oak barrels. The typical Tuscan barrels are very large and tall, with capacity of thousands of litres each. They are called “botti” and can have different sizes, depending on the wine. This kind of barrels will give tannins and taste to the wine very slowly and softly, which means the wine will not come with too much taste of wood but will preserve more of the fruit taste. To become more full-bodied and tanned like Brunello di Montalcino, for example, it is necessary at least 5 years aging inside the “botti”.
This kind of barrels has a peculiarity, as long as they are too large, and the surface of contact of the wood with the wine is smaller, the wine can’t “breath”. The wine keeps fermenting inside the barrel and even inside the bottle till the end, so the gas must leave through somewhere. That is why the inventors of this barrel created an escape valve which is that kind of glass bottle on the top of the barrel, called “colmatore”.
The “colmatore” is a genial invention: it is divided in two pieces, the lower part is the bottle full of water with a whole in the middle through where the gas can escape; the top part is like a cover that is contact with the water and by pressure avoids the air enters in the barrel (more oxygen in contact with the wine could be a disaster, as long as by natural chemical reaction the alcohol could start to be transformed into vinegar.
About 20 years ago, wineries started to import also the French “barriques” (smaller French oak barrels) and started to create new wines, with new tastes according to the demand for more full-bodied and tanned wines, the I.G.T.s – which now are well-known as “Supertuscans”. The barriques are able to give much more tannin and taste to the wine very quickly – 6 months to 1 year. The barriques don’t need the “colmatore” because through the porosity of the wood the wine can “breath” as long as there is much more quantity of wine in contact with the wood (each barrique holds a little more than 300 litres only).
Each grape variety is aged separately and the blend is made in the end. After the ideal time of aging for each wine and correct blend, it is ready to be filtered and bottled. To receive the rose label D.O.C.G. or D.O.C., the wine must be totally produced in that specific area where the label belongs, from the cultivation of grapes to the bottling, respecting the rules about the quantities of each grape variety allowed, time of aging and other specific issues.
I.G.T.s do not receive the rose label, it is just written in the winery label the words “Indicazione Geografica Tipica” and the rules for that as less restrictive as it aims to recognize a specific production area more than traditional process to make that specific wine.
Vin Santo is a special Tuscan wine made with a really traditional and peculiar method. Vin Santo is a dessert wine, which grapes are not actually wilt but simply picked late, so they are very sweet, and let dry. The technique to let the grapes dry naturally without going bad is to fix them on chains that hang from the roof and keep all windows opened as there is much air change, which avoids the formation of mould. The harvest of the Vin Santo grapes, basically from the variety Malvasia and/or Trebbiano which are white grapes, happens on late October.
The grapes will remain hanged up for two or three months till they have lost their water and have a high concentration of sugar. After that they will not pass through the stainless steel tanks but will be crushed with steams and everything and put directly into small barrels – called “caratelli”. The “caratelli” are specific barrels of not more than 200 litres, made of hazel or some other kind of local wood. The fermentation happens inside the “caratello” which is going to be plugged up and will be opened only after at least 5 years, to see what happened. It is expected to have a very good quality Vin Santo in the end that will be filtered and bottled.
The most important wines in Tuscany and their production area:
Brunello di Montalcino D.O.C.G. – Montalcino;
Nobile di Montepulciano D.O.C.G. – Montepulciano;
Bolgheri D.O.C., Sassicaia I.G.T. and Ornellaia I.G.T. – Bolgheri;
Chianti Classico D.O.C.G. – Chianti area that includes only the territories of Castellina in Chianti, Radda in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti, Greve in Chianti, part of Castelnuovo Berardenga and San Casciano Val di Pesa;
Chianti Colli Senesi D.O.C.G. – Siena;
Chianti Colli Aretini D.O.C.G. – Arezzo;
Chianti Rufina D.O.C.G. – Rufina (Florence);
Chianti Colli Fiorentini D.O.C.G. – Florence and surroundings;
Chianti Colline Pisane D.O.C.G. – Pisa and surroundings;
Vernaccia di San Gimignano D.O.C.G. – San Gimignano (white wine);
Montescudaio D.O.C. – Montescudaio;
Morellino di Scansano D.O.C.G. – Grosseto.