Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Super Tuscan wine from French grapes?

Montepulciano, Toscana, Italia

We went to a vineyard and sampled wines in Montepulciano, something I have been dying to do in Tuscany since we got here. We all boarded a bus and drove to Montepulciano, a beautiful hill town south of Castiglion Fiorentino. The first place we stopped was the vineyard. We met up with the owner of the vineyard who told us all about his operations. He told us they run an organic vineyard but do not make organic wine per se, something that was confusing to hear but after he explained it made sense. Evidently making the wine organic, or “biologico” as the Italians call it, changes the process of winemaking so much that it’s no longer traditional. Because the vineyard owner wanted to preserve the traditional way of making wine, he decided to not make the actual wine organic, but he uses organic practices in the actual vineyard.

The two main grapes he produced were Sangiovese and Merlot. He highlighted the differences between the two: Sangiovese has lighter colored and smoother leaves while Merlot has darker and more jagged and bumpy leaves. Sangiovese grape bunches, called grappoli in Italian, are shaped like the Greek letter ‘tau’ and are more compact while the Merlot grappoli are more spread out. 
Sangiovese is the grape most widely produced in Tuscany. It goes in wines such as Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which we were going to try later in the day. It is native to Italy and thrives in the Tuscan climate.
Merlot, on the other hand, is not native to the region, so I was kinda confused what a French grape was doing in a vineyard in the south of Tuscany. I got back to the Santa Chiara center and looked up information on wines produced in Italy using Merlot grapes. Interestingly enough, there is an entire type of wine produced in Tuscany using nonnative grapes, such as Merlot, Cabernet, and Syrah. These wines are called Super Tuscans and sometimes come from a majority of Sangiovese or another local grape, but contain too much of a non indigenous grape to be called DOC or DOCG.
At the wine tasting, we tasted 5 different wines: Vino Rosso di Montepulciano from 2015, a Super Tuscan from 2013, two vintages of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano: one from 2013 and one from 2005, and a Vin Santo, I believe from 1995! The Vino Rosso had a wonderful balance of acidity and tannins and was my favorite between all of them. The Super Tuscan was very full bodied and full of tannins, a bit much for my taste. The Vino Nobile from 2013 had a taste between that of the Vino  Rosso and the Super Tuscan, with a fuller body than the Super Tuscan but not as much of an attack on the mouth, and the 2005 vintage was even smoother. The Vin Santo was very interesting. It had a very strong aroma, comparable to nail polish remover or turpentine. Once I grew brave enough to try some of it, I was shocked to find that the taste was sweet and fruity, reminiscent of honey. It was neat to be able to taste wine made from both kinds of grapes we just saw, as Sangiovese is the main grape of the Vino Rosso and the Vino Nobile, but Merlot was also used in the Super Tuscan we tried.
Although it might not have the same flare as a bottle of Chianti or Brunello, the climate in Italy is very suitable for these grapes, so a bottle of Super Tuscan wine can be just as delicious paired with a bistecca Fiorentina or some nice pecorino stagionato as a wine made exclusively from local grapes.

-Chris Anderson

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