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 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.

 

History of Wine: The Beginning

‘In vino veritas’ is a wise old saying used in many languages, meaning ‘in wine, truth’. Wine is a wonderful gift from nature, with human expertise. Consuming it moderately does make life richer.

Wine has been a part of our history for millennia, and organically part of our culture and cuisine.

Wine and altered consciousness have been considered mystical and religious since people began fermenting grapes. The Ancient Greeks worshipped Dionysos, the Romans had Bacchus and ritual wine consumption was part of the Jewish tradition, as in Jesus’ Last Supper, which is an integral part of the liturgy of the Christian Church.

Wine has had an important role throughout our history, but real wine production and consumption increased from the 15th century: let us now look back at its origins.

The earliest archaeological evidence of wine production is from Armenia (6,100 BC), Georgia (6,000 BC) and Iran (5,000 BC).

The word’s oldest known winery was discovered in the Areni-1 cave, Vayots Dror province, Armenia, and it dates to 4,100 BC. It contained a wine press, fermentation vats, jars and cups, and vitis vinifera seeds were also found.

In ancient times, the reputation of Armenian wine was very well known.

Domesticated grapes were prevalent in the Middle East – in Sumer and Egypt – from the beginning of the Bronze Age.

In antiquity, wine making and consumption began to have a greater role in major empires, like those of Ancient Egypt, Phoenicia, China, Greece and Rome.

 Ancient Egypt:

In Egypt, grape cultivation was introduced from the Levant (historical geographical term for the Eastern Mediterranean) around 3,000 BC. A royal wine making industry developed in the Nile Delta. The flourishing wine making industry is shown on scenes found on tombs walls, depicting grape cultivation, wine making and commerce.

Wine in Ancient Egypt was definitely red, but some clay amphorae with traces of white wine were found in the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun.

Phoenicia:

Ancient Phoenicia (modern-day Syria and Lebanon) had a significant impact on the history of wine. Thanks to its great geographical position, Phoenicians developed a maritime trading culture between 1,550 BC and 300 BC, expanding their influence from the Levant to North Africa, the Greek Isles, Sicily and the Iberian Peninsula.

Wine was considered a worthy offering to God or kings, which increased its trade value in the ancient world. By 1,000 BC, the Mediterranean wine trade significantly increased, and so did the Phoenicians’ extensive maritime trade network. They didn’t only trade with wine produced in Canaan, but also wine from their colonies – most significantly wine from Carthage (modern Tunisia) – and port cities around the Mediterranean Sea.

Through their trade and contacts they spread their knowledge of wine making, viticulture and several ancestral varieties of the Vitis vinifera species of wine grapes.

They contributed to the dissemination of wine knowledge to several regions that today have significant wine making industries, like Lebanon. Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Spain, France and Portugal.

The Phoenicians and Carthaginians had a direct influence on the wine-growing making nations, as did the ancient Greeks and Romans who later spread viticulture across Europe.

One of the most important ancient texts on the history of wine, wine making and viticulture is attributed to Mago the Carthaginian writer.

The Phoenicians could plan vineyards according to favourable climate and topography and produce different wine styles, and they encouraged the use of amphorae for transporting and storing wine.

Ancient Greece:

Pottery Wine Jug, Greek 4th century BC

In Ancient Greece domestic cultivation had begun by the early Bonze Age (around 3,000 BC), but viticulture had existed even earlier, in the late Neolithic period.

Ancient Greece had a significant influence on the ancient European wine making cultures of the Celts, Etruscans, Scythians and Romans.

Ancient Greeks developed new methods of viticulture and wine production that they shared through trade and colonisation with early wine making cultures – these have since become big wine producing nations such as France and Italy.

The Greek city-states founded colonies throughout the Mediterranean and brought the grapevine with them. The earliest colonies were formed in the southern parts of the Italian peninsula and in Sicily, which was already rich with grapevines. Those colonies were followed by Massalia in southern France and the coast of the Black Sea where wine making developed significantly, promoting the Greeks’ wine trade in the process.

Some wine historians believe that the Greeks introduced viticulture to Spain and Portugal, but other theories suggest that the Phoenicians reached those parts earlier.

In Greece, wine had a huge importance from a trade point of view and for religious, social and medical purposes.

The cult of Dionysos was very active, and many festivals were held through the year in honour of the god of wine.

The medical use of wine was well developed in Ancient Greece. Hippocrates himself conducted research on the topic, and he used wine for treating various symptoms and conditions. Wine was prescribed by Greek doctors, and Greeks were also aware of its negative health effects, especially from over consumption.

Greeks were pioneers in wine production in many ways. They introduced larger wine production sites where they were able to produce more styles of wine at a time. Greeks used large clay jars to grow and produce wine, which made it less space consuming.

The wine was transported in amphorae stamped with the name of the producer, year and wine style. Greeks innovation also consisted of the usage of cork from the 5th century BC.

Wine trading developed significantly thanks to Greek traders.

Roman Empire:

Wine Amphorae Herculaneum

The Roman Empire had a huge impact on viticulture and oenology, and it had a fundamental influence on the European wine making.

Since prehistoric times, wild grapevines have grown on the Italian peninsula. Ancient Greeks had influence through their settlements in southern Italy, but the earliest recorded evidence of the Greek influence is from 800 BC. The Etruscans also had a big impact on the peninsula’s wine making. Incidentally Etruria was situated around one of the most famous and most wonderful modern wine making regions, Tuscany.

Rome expanded from a settlement into a kingdom and subsequently into a republic and absorbed the knowledge, culture and techniques of wine making from the regions that it conquered and integrated into the Roman Empire. The Greek settlement of southern Italy was under Roman control by 270 BC, and Etruria was conquered by the 1st century BC; also the Punic Wars and the culture of Carthage had also a huge affect on Roman viticulture.

The rise of the Roman Empire promoted technological progress and developed the awareness of wine making, which spread throughout the empire. For this reason, the Roman Empire had a unique impact on the history of wine making, and on the major present-day wine making regions of France, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Germany.

Wine was part of the Roman culture in every sense. We have many records, such as frescos about wine making, wine consumption or worshipping Bacchus. Many Roman writers, such as Cato, Columella, Horace, Martial, Varro and Virgil gave us the first real studies about wine culture and wine making.

Wine had social, religious and medical use in Roman times.

In the golden age of Rome, wine was more a part of everyday life than a luxury enjoyed only by the elite, as in Greek culture.

‘Industrial’ wine production began with the Romans, as they developed huge vineyards in the south part of the peninsula and in North Africa, Spain and France. This facilitated expansive wine production and sales to supply a large population, both rich or poor.

Romans used wine widely for medical purposes, but they believed that wine also had the power to heal and harm. Cato wrote profoundly about the medical use of wine, so we can have a greater picture about the contemporary thinking and practice.

The usage of wine for religious purposes had an extreme significance in Roman times. The cult of Bacchus was present in central and southern Italy, as was the cult of Dionysos in Greece. In 186 BC, however, it was banned by the Roman Senate.

From the 1st century AD, a Christian sect emerged, where wine had a special role as ritual wine consumption due to its role in the Eucharist, which commemorates Jesus’ Last Supper. The Christian Church emerged and had a bigger, dominant and importance influence in Rome, and also on the word of wine.

After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD, the old world fell into crisis, as did wine production and consumption, and this will be the topic of our next post…

 

 

Sources:

ETC.Ancient.eu

Maria Eugenia Aubet, The Phoenicians and the West

Hugh Johnson, Vintage: The Story of wine

Rod Phillips, A short history of wine

 

Pictures:

Black Glazed Pottery Wine Jug, Greek, 4th Century BC, Flickr

Ancient Roman Amphorea, Herculaneum, Flickr, Photo: Jerzy Kociatkievicz