Winemaking in Southern Tuscany
Italy is home to some of the greatest wines and vineyards in the world. Interestingly, Italy’s wine-growing and winemaking are spread across the country, with no single region being credited for producing the country’s famous wines. Of course, each place has its own unique story and history of how they come to be known for their wine-growing and winemaking. In this article, we will focus on exploring the history of Winemaking in Southern Tuscany.
Tuscany’s wine history
Tuscany’s wine roots can be traced back to the ancient Etruscan civilization that settled, in the eighth century, in the region now known as Tuscany. The settlers, while relocating to Tuscany, had carried with them vines from vineyards in Asia, and, progressively, the Etruscans adopted viticulture as a major component of their farming activities.
It was, therefore, during this period that viticulture for the purposes of winemaking emerged as a significant economic endeavor. With their wine exploits growing generation after generation, the merchants began to increasingly sell their wines to their local communities.
The Roman Empire’s role in Tuscany wine history
Prior to the arrival of the Romans, the Greeks occupied Tuscany. Their arrival followed the time of the Etruscans; at this point, the region already abounded with grapevines. What is present-day Tuscany was called Enotris, “the wine land.” The Greeks succumbed to the Roman Empire during the first century, causing the region to adopt numerous mannerisms and customs of both the Romans and Greeks over a relatively short period of time.
The Middle Ages and Winemaking in Southern Tuscany
The Middle Ages played a key role in influencing the systematic planting of vineyards. Christianity is, for instance, considered vital in encouraging and emphasizing the relevance of wine to day-to-day life as well as its application and use as a sacred component of worship.
It is not surprising, therefore, that monks, church fathers, and priests took part in the systematic cultivation of vineyards at convents, churches, and monasteries. As a matter of fact, the act of grape cultivation was so proficiently done by Benedict monks that their manuals on grape cultivation are still considered widely applicable today!
The Renaissance period
The Renaissance period saw the production of wine continue to grow in Tuscany. In 1719 a bottle of local wine was, for the first time shipped across the borders of Tuscany. It was a move that was accompanied by great success and, within a short span of time thousands of liters of wine were being supplied to markets across the continent!
Montepulciano and the origin of prestigious wines in Southern Tuscany
Montepulciano is known for its amazing quality of wines and is commonly considered the place of origin of exceptionally prestigious wines. It must be noted that this quality is infused with deep historical roots and that the fame of Montepulciano’s vineyards and wine is inseparable from its history.
The area, though small, possesses stunning landscapes and is rich with an artistic heritage. Even so, the wine did not appear in their area by chance. Prestigious drinks such as “Vino Nobile di Montepulciano” have evolved as a result.
A legend from the ancient days claims that Montepulciano’s existence was initiated by Lars Porsenna, an Etruscan king. The king had migrated from Chiusi and his people followed him. From these ancient times, Montepulciano’s history has remained connected to wine.
A good illustration of this is a wine cup, that was found alongside numerous bronze artifacts in 1868. The cup was found inside an Etruscan tomb not far from Tuscany. An evaluation of the cup showed it depicts Flufuns, the Estrucan replica of the wine god of Bacchus engaging in a game in which wine had a central role.
The production of excellent wines from the region of Mons Pulitianus was first recognized toward the end of the Middles ages and into the mid-sixteenth century. Francesco Redi, a poet born in 1626, is remembered to have once declared boldly how Montepulciano was the king of all wines.
Redi was not the only one that showcased his love for Montepulciano’s great wines. A founding father of the United States, Thomas Jefferson showed his love for Montepulciano wines. “for the present I confine myself to the physical want of some good Montepulciano” was written by Jefferson to Thomas Appleton in 1816. There is no doubt that the region is indeed a haven for great wine. It has earned its place in Tuscany’s wine history.
Moreover, there are the historical aspects to Montepulciano’s winemaking techniques, including its tunnels and caves full of gigantic oak casks, that emphasize the great importance of the ancient winemakers from Montepulciano. Although most of the casks may presently be too old to be used, a few select ones are said to contain wine that may even find its way to one’s table.
The wine’s DOCG recognition is one of the aspects that speak to the quality of the wine. The July 1, 1980 recognition of DOCG (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin) status is one that gave the Vino Nobile a new life. This recognition followed the 1966 DCO (Denomination of Controlled Origin). Moreover, Rosso di Montepulciano was created as a means of defining the various aspects of the wine, including alcohol content, aging, and yield per hectare.
Maremma Toscana is Southern Tuscany’s third-largest appellation. It is located in the Grosseto province and is characterized by a wide array of rose, sparkling, and white wines. The region is referred to as the “wild west” of Tuscany due to its landscapes and techniques of winemaking. Notably, Maremma is considered to host some of the most spectacular vineyards in the whole of Tuscany.
Even so, the Maremma Toscana wine region has not always been a haven for viticulture. It first had to undergo a gradual yet phenomenal transformation. The region’s wine history is quite thrilling.
The region was at the core of the Etruscan Empire before it was overwhelmed by Romans. Later being reclaimed in the 1700s under the leadership of the Grand Duke of Lorraine. During this time, swamps that were heavily forested were drained to allow for viticulture and other farming activities.
There was a sudden yet enormous transformation in the 1990s. At this point, winemakers from other Tuscany regions could not resist investing in Maremma. Decades later, the Maremma region now boasts of a wide variety of its widely produced styles of red, white, and rose wines. Similarly, the region is known for the Super Tuscans such as the Marchesi Antinori Le Mortelle ‘Poggio alle Nane’. Although there are no DOC names on the wine bottle labels.
On this Day
On February 18, 1626: On this day, Francesco, a poet, and famed scientist was born. Francesco would declare decades later that Montepulciano was the king of all wines. It is a declaration that was equally backed by other renowned personalities such as Thomas Jefferson.
On July 12, 1966: On this day, Vino Nobile was given the DOC (Denomination of Controlled Origin) status.
On July 1, 1980: On this day, the Vino Nobile was granted the recognition of DOCG (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin) status. It is a status that gave more prominence and value to the Vino Nobile.
Want to read further about Italian wine and its history? Try these books!
- Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Paperback by Emanuele Pellucci. Amazon
- A Vineyard in Tuscany: A Wine Lover’s Dream Paperback – November 17, 2008. by Ferenc Máté.