This blog was very kindly written for us by Chris from Sant Alberto. Check them out here
For me some of the most rewarding wines in Tuscany cost between €10 and €20 and have Sangiovese at their heart. However since our own oenological journey began in 2006 we have discovered Gamay, Syrah, Viognier, Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay are all weapons in the Tuscan armoury. Almost a new world flavour but with an old world rule book?!
However it appears that the Tuscans have always been struggling to retain their tipicita (typicality), Nicolas Belfrage MW writes that even in the 19th century the province of Florence had an estimated 150 varieties in the vineyards. We understand why they all felt the need to plant international varieties as the French marched on through the 1960s and 1970s. Meanwhile the Italians were still in the grips of the mezzadria (sharecropping) and the preferred sale into a cooperative.
Merlot is a grape with which we are particularly familiar and it is more widely used across Tuscany than anywhere else in Italy. As an illustrative example one of our favourite nearby estates in Tuscany makes a smooth, 100% Merlot IGT at €40 a bottle ex cellar. Whilst it is unquestionably quality fruit and very well made, my question would be does it warrant a place in your cellar? The same estate’s Chianti Classico Reserva is stunning and is half the price. We of course understand the role that Merlot can play in softening Sangiovese and can make it more approachable in its youth. We often blend a touch of Merlot in our fruity Sangiovese whilst others blend the native Canaiolo for the same desired effect.
Without question our Cabernet and Merlot are very content gorging on the Tuscan galestro soil and climate, and have clearly benefited from a more recent “site selection”, modern vineyard training methods and the judicious use of French barriques. The resulting IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) wines are a fruity, powerful blend and provide the perfect complement to barbeques, red meats and pecorino cheese.
I am certainly not attempting to make sense of the IGT vs. DOCG status as I will leave that to those more qualified than me. But even if consumers are aware of the IGT marque, what style of wine do they expect to receive in their bottle? Are they presuming it will be made with more care? A Bordeaux grape variety? Aged with new oak or just more expensive than the traditional wines? There is no consistency and one has to rely on firsthand knowledge of the vineyard and an understanding of which wine style you prefer as the sommelier hovers over you on that first date. The blended wines absolutely have their place and can bring a touch of Tuscany to a wider drinking audience but does it make understanding Tuscan wines easier?