The Tuscan Name Game

February 1, 2010

Tony, Tony, Bo Bony
Bonana Fanna Fo Fony
Fee Fy Mo Mony (1965 The Name Game by Shirley Ellis)

I may be exaggerating a little, but it seems that consumers trying to decipher a Tuscan wine label today might need Shirley Ellis’s help.

Twenty-five years ago, we knew that Chianti Classico was a sub-region of Tuscany that produced a slightly acidic, dry, ruby-red wine. We also knew that the main grape was Sangiovese. A small percentage of other indigenous grapes such as Canaiolo or Colorino was also allowed.

Then the Super Tuscan movement came along. In general, the Super Tuscan label means that other international varieties of grapes could be added to wines. The addition of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and/or Syrah really caught on. Many wines that were Chianti Classico in another life were now called Super Tuscan.

Many consumers (including the author of this column) started getting confused. Producers that had made excellent Chianti Classico were now producing wines that tasted very similar to Chianti Classico, but nowhere on the label did it state that it was indeed from that sub-region of Italy.

In an effort to help all consumers, I am recommending that we study just a little more about where a wine is made.

If you like red Bordeaux wine from the Medoc, you know that all Bordeaux on the left bank of the Garonne River will be of a similar style. You know that Bordeaux wine from the right bank comes from the St. Emilion area; that wine has a whole different set of characteristics than the Medoc.

If we can apply the same type of thinking to Chianti Classico, I’m hoping that it would be much less confusing to the Tuscan wine drinkers. Remember that Chianti Classico is situated between the provinces of Florence and Siena. Each one of these provinces has comuni, or wine town/villages. For example, in the case of Siena, the main towns would be Gaiole, Castellina, Poggibonsi, or Castelnuovo Berardenga. Geography should not change. If you see the names of these towns somewhere on the label, the resulting wine should be made predominantly of Sangiovese. These Chianti Classico-type wines should have many of the same characteristics that you would expect, whether the winemaker added a small percentage of indigenous grapes (Canaiolo or Colorino) or Super Tuscan international varieties (Cabernet or Merlot).

If none of this helps you, then.

Marsha, Marsha, Bo Barsha!!!

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