Wine and Culture: Montecucco DOC

Montecucco Cinigiano

The Montecucco wine region is situated in Southern Tuscany between Montalcino the birthplace of the famous Brunello di Montalcino DOCG wine – and Scansano – the home of the gorgeous Morellino di Scansano DOCG.

The Montecucco DOC has the same microclimate as the famous big brother, the Brunello, as the Montecucco wine region is located on the southwest hillsides of the Amiata Mountain, the opposite of the Brunello slopes.

Even though the region has a long viticulture history, which goes back till the time of the Etruscans, the zone was awarded with DOC classification only in 1998.

The Montecucco Sangiovese in 2011 was established as a separate DOCG. From this date the Montecucco DOC classification has been extended also, so not only includes the Montecucco Rosso, Montecucco Bianco and Montecucco Vermentino, but also the Montecucco Rosato, Montecucco Vin Santo and the Montecucco Vin Santo Occhio di Pernice.

The principal red grape varieties of the wine region are the Sangiovese and Ciliegiolo, while the main white grape varieties are Grechetto, Malvasina, Trebbiano and Vermentino.

According to the DOC, styles and wine compositions are the followings:

– Montecucco Sangiovese comes from 90% Sangiovese grape and the aging period is 12 months in barrel and 4 month in bottle, while for for Riserva 24 month in barrel and 6 months in bottle.

– Montecucco Rosso has to comprise of 60% Sangiovese grape, the Rosso Riserva needs to be aged for 12 months in barell plus 6 months in bottle.

– Montecucco White is made by 40% of Vermentino and/or Trebbiano Toscano.

– Montecucco Vermentino comes from 85% of Vermention grapes.

– Montecucco Rosato comes from 70% Sangioves and/or Ciliegiolo grapes.

– Montcucco Vin Santo is made of 70% Trebbiano Toscano and/or Mavasina and/or Grecchetto grapes and aged for 18 month in barrel.

– Montecucco Vin Santo Occhio di Pernice comes from 70% of Sangiovese grapes and aged for 18 months in barrel.

 

Wine and Grape: The Sangiovese

Sangiovese

In the previous posts we discussed at length about Tuscany’s most significant wines – Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Chianti Rufina and the Super Tuscans; now, let’s see the most fundamental component of these superstars – this most excellent grape and Italy’s pride – Sangiovese.

The Sangiovese grape is one of the most famous and most popular grapes in Italy, and is, in fact, the most widely planted grape variety on the Peninsula. It is mainly cultivated from central Italy to Rome and Lazio, and it is the traditional grape variety in Tuscany.

The origin of Sangiovese is uncertain. It is likely that the Etruscans were already familiar with this grape variety and they spread it through their trading routes; later on, it became a cultivated grape for Roman winemaking.

The most popular theory suggests that the name Sangiovese refers to the Roman God Jupiter. According to legend, the name ‘sanguegiovese’ (Sangue di Giove) meaning ‘Blood of Jove’ was given by a Capuchin monk of Santarcangelo monastery in Emilia-Romagna.

However, the first official records dates back to the 16th century, when the Florentine agronomist, Giovanni Vettorio Soderini (1526-1596) identified the grape as ‘Sangiogheto’ in his ‘La coltivazione dell viti’.

The Sangiovese grape only began to gain widespread attention and recognition throughout Tuscany in the 18th century, when it along with other varieties such as Malvasina and Trebbiano became the most widely planted grapes in Tuscany.

In 1872, the late prime minister and wine maker, Bettino Ricasoli (1809-1880) created the first modern recipe of the Sangiovese-based Chianti wine, blending 70% Sangiovese with 20% Canaiolo and 10% Malvasia or Trebbiano.

Other excellent Sangiovese-based wines, such as Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, also began growing in popularity from the end of the 19th century.

The quality of Sangiovese wine was variable, but the quality has increased significantly since the 1980s thanks to improved winemaking techniques; also, the introduction of the DOC classification in 1963 made the regulations clear.

After an interesting historical past, by the 1980s more and more Tuscan winemaker began their own experiments on their Sangiovese wines outside of the DOC/DOCG regulations. We now call those wines Super Tuscans and we can consider them as the Sangiovese’s modern incarnations. Since 1992, the Super Tuscans have been labelled IGT wines, which gives a certain freedom to the winemakers.

The Sangiovese grape was also brought to California in the late 19th century, and it has also now become more and more popular there, partly due to the international success of the Super Tuscans.

Wine and Info: VdT, IGT, DOC and DOCG Italian wines

Valpolicella DOCG wine

If you pick up a bottle of Italian wine, you’ll likely find one of these designations somewhere on the label. But what do they mean?

Back in the 1960s, some Italian winemakers followed their French counterparts and took their first steps towards determining quality standards for Italian wines and classifying regional wines according to the local wine making traditions. Thanks to their efforts, a 4-class wine ranking system was introduced by the Italian Government.

The DOC category was introduced in 1963 – as was the DOCG though it only began to be used from 1982 – followed by the IGT category in 1992.

DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) means controlled and guaranteed designation of origin. DOCG represents the highest classification for Italian wines. It ensures controlled production methods, guaranteed wine quality and geographic authenticity.

There are severe rules to be adhered to in producing DOCG wines such as the grape variety, winemaking procedures and barrel/bottle maturation.

Every DOCG wine is tested officially and the bottles have a numbered government seal across the neck.

There are fewer than 80 DOCG Italian wines; among them we can find some of Italy’s top wines, such as Barolo, Brunello or Chianti Classico.

DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) means controlled designation of origin. Wines marked with DOC are analysed and produced in a specific region in Italy according to the local winemaking rules and traditions.

In Italy, there are around 330 individual DOC titles. Those that are of a consistently high quality become eligible for promotion to DOCG status.

IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) means typical regional wine. The IGT classification focuses more on the wine’s region of origin than the grape varieties or wine style. The IGT designation was created to give a certain freedom to Italian winemakers who couldn’t meet all the DOC or DOCG regulations but were still producing excellent wines. The Super Tuscans are characteristic of IGT wines.

VdT (Vino da Tavola) means Table Wine and represents the lowest and most basic level of Italian wine.

This category had a certain prestige in the 1970s and 1980s, thanks to the experimental and professional winemakers who produced top quality red wine outside of the official classification system, under the VdT title. After the introduction of the IGT category, the VdT returned to its original status in signifying the lowest level of Italian wines.

Wine and Culture: Chianti Region

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As we discussed in our previous posts, Italy is one of the most significant and ancient wine producing nations worldwide. But, besides the wine, Italy is also one of the most significant countries in terms of culture.

Italy is divided into 20 regions and each has his own culture, dialect and cuisine. One of the most ancient and culturally most thrilling of them all, and the one that gave the language to the Peninsula, is Tuscany.

Tuscany is home to some of the world’s most significant wines, such as Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino or Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

The Chianti region is located in the centre of Tuscany between Florence and Siena, and has 8 sub-zones (Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Chianti Rufina, Chianti Classico, Chianti Colli Aretini, Chianti Colli Senesi, Chianti Colline Pisane, Chianti Montespertoli, Chianti Montalbano). The Chianti winemaking zones include the provinces of Prato, Florence, Arezzo, Pistoia, Pisa and Siena.

The area was inhabited from the 2nd millennium BC, but the Etruscans created the first major civilisation there from 800 BC. They created outstanding art, established the transport infrastructure and introduced developments in agriculture, including viticulture.

Later, Etruria was conquered by Rome around the 3rd century BC.

After absorbing Etruria, Rome established the cities of Pisa, Siena and Florence. The Romans conquered the territories of the Etruscans and introduced new techniques and skills. The Roman Empire flourished and so did viticulture.

From the collapse of the Roman Empire and throughout the Middle Ages, the monasteries were the only wine makers in the region.

When the merchant and aristocratic classes strengthened, winemaking and trading began to develop. The first mention of Florentine wine retailers dates back to 1079, and the first wine guild was established around 1280.

The earliest references to Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Chianti wines were in the late 14th century.

In the following centuries, a new cultural and philosophical movement that became known as the Renaissance spread across the known world, with the Chianti region and Florence at its centre.

During the Renaissance, wine reassumed its rightful place in life and also became prominent in art. Renaissance art represented the contemporary wine culture, using themes from everyday life, the Bible and classical mythology.

In 1716, Cosimo III de’ Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, legislated the first official boundaries of the Chianti region, which existed until 1932 when the Italian government extended the Chianti zone. The following expansions in 1967 brought the Chianti zone to the size that it is today.

By the 18th century, Chianti wine was red wine, but the composition of the grape varieties was unknown. The first recipe of the ‘modern’ Sangiovese-based Chianti was developed by Baron Bettino Ricasoli in the 19th century, which consisted of 70% Sangiovese, 20% Canaiolo, 10% Malvasia or Trebbiano.

From the late 19th century, the Chianti regions also suffered from many difficulties. First the oidium, then the Phylloxera epidemic ruined the vineyards of Chianti. Furthermore, following the Risorgimento – the movement for the unification of the states in the Italian peninsula under the Kingdom of Italy – many Italian vineyard workers and winemakers immigrated to escape poverty.

After World War II, in line with the general worldwide trend, the focus of Chianti was more on quantity than quality.

In 1967, the DOC (Denominazione di Origine- Designation of Origin) regulation was introduced, which established the ‘Ricasoli formula’ of a minimum 70% of Sangiovese composition with 10-30% Malvasia and Trebbiano grape varieties. And in 1984, it was promoted to the highest level of Italian wine classification, DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita – Controlled and Guaranteed designation of origin), which requires wines to have a minimum of 80% of Sangiovese.

Italian Legislation also regulates the use of the qualifying term for Chianti Classico wine solely for the wines produced in the oldest and most genuine area of the Chianti region, and they must have a minimum alcohol level of 12% and have been aged in oak barrels for a minimum of 7 months. Chianti Classico is easily recognisable by its pink label with the Black Rooster seal. The qualifying term of Chianti Classico Riserva may only be used for wines that have been aged for at least 24 months, and the minimum alcohol level must be 12.5%.

In the late 20th century, some ambitious producer started to produce wine outside the regulation of DOC in an attempt to create an even higher quality style of Chianti. Those wines became known as ‘Super Tuscans’.

For so many years, Chianti wine was associated with the basic Chianti sold in round straw-wrapped bottles, in fiaschi, which become iconic of the Italian wine industry. Today, however, it is more common to find Chianti bottled in standard shaped tall Bordeaux-style bottles.