For decades, Tuscany has been synonymous with two big reds: Chianti and Brunello. What many don’t know is that Tuscany’s coast is bustling with top-notch viticulture from north to south. Without snubbing Sangiovese’s superiority, the rise of the region’s other native grape varietals and mixed blends has put these coastal Tuscan terroir securely on the map. If the summer draws you to Tuscany’s beaches, brush up on your knowledge of local varieties and try some of these innovative yet very affordable coastal wines during your next jaunt to the seaside.
On a summer’s day, when the wind is right, a breeze smelling of the sea can move the leaves of a vine on the hills of Lucca, 25 kilometres from the coast. It’s a phenomenon well-known to winegrowers up and down the coast of Tuscany, from the base of the jagged Apuan Alps down to the sandy beaches and rocky inlets of the southern Grosseto province, and as far as the eastern plains where hill-top towns like Montecarlo and Volterra vigil over the fertile valleys.
The vine was probably brought here by Tuscany’s first documented settlers, the Etruscans. This mysterious, civilised people not only gave the world such a marvellous invention as the arch but they were also expert viticulturalists.
Since then the vine has found one of its many natural homes on the steep terraces and rolling hills of this vast area, where sunlight bathes every nook and cranny in the warm months and the fierce cold of winter is mitigated by the sea.
The Tuscan coast is today home to some of Italy’s best wines and most innovative winemakers, who are making their own mark on a tradition stretching back thousands of years. The rustic winemaking that characterised this area until the middle of last century has been modernised by sophisticated cellar technology, state-of-the-art machinery, and top-notch oenologists and agronomists. Hard work and million-dollar investments have paid off and the results are blitzing the international stage. Two out of the four Italian wines to win medals in the 2011 Syrah du Monde (a competition to judge the best Syrahs in the world) came from the Tuscan coast, and around 50 percent of the area’s production is sold in exports, according to the winemakers association Grandi Cru della Costa Toscana.
This little revolution began as recently as 60 years ago, when a visionary producer called Mario Incisa della Rocchetta decided to plant Cabernet vines on his property near Bolgheri in southern Tuscany. His idea to produce a wine like those he adored from Bordeaux put Bolgheri on the map, thanks to a full-bodied, complex Cabernet called Sassicaia that gave birth to the term Super Tuscan when it was put on the market in the 1960s. It now boasts its very own DOC discipline, fetching anything from 50 euro for recent vintages to over 1,000 euro per bottle for collector’s vintages.
The success of Sassicaia paved the way for fellow producers from Bolgheri and the Maremma. Other coastal and adjoining regions such as Val di Cornia and Suvereto, the Colline Lucchesi, Montescudaio and Scansano to name just a few, have also seen tremendous gains in quality and recognition, both nationally and abroad.
While the term ‘terroir’ is bandied about a lot in wine-quaffing circles, these are regions where terroir is a deeply venerated concept. Winemakers here have been less concerned with producing homogenous variety-driven wines and more concerned with producing the best possible varieties for their particular microclimate. With a little research and an open mind, they are wines that can offer wonderful experiences to the keen eno-tourist.
With its jutting mountain ranges-‘like flesh with their crests portentous,’ as D.H. Lawrence put it-this is the northern-most region of the Tuscan coast. A must-try is the fresh, light Vermentino typical of the area, and a red version known locally as Vermentino Nero and often sold as a Rosso IGT. Watch out for a spate of fantastic rosè wines from the Tuscan coast; one example from this region is the fresh Rosato produced with Canaiolo by Podere Terenzuola.
This area includes the Montecarlo DOC zone, famous since antiquity for its excellent white wines and where unusual varieties such as Semillon, Pinot and Roussane are grown together with the more common Trebbiano, Vermentino and Chardonnay. Reds from the Lucca province are produced in general with a base of Sangiovese but Merlot and Syrah also do very well here and there are several interesting blends of Sangiovese with other varieties such as Tenuta di Valgiano’s Palistorti, Valle del Sole’s Ebrius or mono-varietals such as the pure Syrah Nero della Spinosa from Fattoria Colle Verde or Gana from Terre del Sillabo, a Sauvignon Cru.
The region east and south of Pisa has a decent percentage of its vineyards devoted to traditional varieties such as Sangiovese and Trebbiano as well as relative newcomers like Cabernet, Merlot, Petit Verdot and some Syrah. Look out for mono-varietals full of character such as the Syrah Suisassi produced by DueMani and a Merlot, Cabernet and Petit Verdot blend called Nambrot from the Tenuta di Ghizzano. Further south Montescudaio and Riparbella offer their own interesting local variations, such as the Fattoria Sorbaiano’s Rosso delle Miniere Montescudaio DOC, a Sangiovese and Cabernet blend.
Home to the famous and increasingly fashionable Bolgheri region, this is the place to drink some great Cabernet blends. Try Grattamacco’s full, fruity Bolgheri Rosso or Campo alla Sughera’s Arnione (or little brother Adeo) to name just two. The fine, fresh Vermentino produced in this region pairs particularly well with a range of seafood from antipasto to main courses. For something a little different try the white Viognier Giovin Re produced by Michele Satta. Also look out for the local Aleatico produced on the beautiful island of Elba, just a short ferry ride from the coast.
The Grosseto province is the southern-most part of the Tuscan coast. Here the prized Morellino from Scansano, a variety of small-grape Sangiovese, pairs wonderfully with local dishes. The DOC zone Monteregio di Massa Marittima sees Sangiovese at times blended with small quantities of international varieties for full-bodied, dry reds and at others produced in a light and fruity Novello version. The Morellino di Scansano from Col di Bacche or a blend of Sangiovese and Syrah in Fattoria le Pupille’s Pelofino are just two examples of the area’s great variety.
Each May, the winemakers association Grandi Cru della Costa Toscana organises a major tasting event, which more than 70 producers attend. See www.grandicru.it for more information.