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tuscany

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Credit to Tuscany-Wine.com for this article

A historian, Zeffiro Ciuffoletti, once wrote: "Tuscany, as regards wines, has no equal the world over, thanks to a most felicitous nature, and to a civilization of the grapevine and of wine that has been decanted and refined over the centuries."

Or listen to the words of Giacomo Tachis, the greatest Italian wine expert (inventor of the perfect wine Sassicaia): "Here there is light, the sun. Radiant sunlight and the right soil are the soul of wine. But the tradition of the countryside and the memory of men are the solid bases of the extraordinary Tuscan wine culture." In fact, wine-growing, grape vines and wine have been an integral part of Tuscan civilization for almost three millenniums, since the Etruscans first settled in the territory.

The Etruscans imported the grapevine from the Orient and made the cultivation of the vine an important part of agriculture. The grapevines of Etruria were strong and wild, they grew like trees producing so many grapes that Etruscans could sell them from the beginning on markets beyond the sea. The Etruscans planted the grapevines along the sea - so the lands of Maremma and the coastal regions south of Livorno were the first cradle of Tuscan wine. The Greeks called this region of central Italy Enotris, the "land of wine".

Shrewd merchants of the Sienese territory, in the deepest Middle Ages, systematically began to plant vineyards in the inland regions. Wine, after bread, was the food most in demand. Apart from water, there existed no other drinks. And Christianity, through the New Testament had made wine a pilaster of its most sacred rituals. Bishops, abbots, monks, priests from the country and city, began to plant vineyards around the walls of the churches, convents and monasteries. The Benedictines that were proven agriculturists wrote precious manuals on the cultivation of the grape. Wine consumption was impressive. In the 14th century the Sienese drank 419 liters a head (compared to today's barely 60 liters a head per year).

Between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance the vineyards of Tuscany produced white wines and a red "Vermiglio", a strong, highly esteemed wine. In 1280 the Vernaccia also made its appearance, brought from Greece, and vineyards started to encircle the towers of San Gimignano.

In 1348 a Franciscan friar attempted to sooth the agony of victims of the plague with sweet wine that quickly got the name of vin santo; holy wine. Wine was even accredited with special powers such as rejuvenating! In 1710 the first flask of Tuscan wine crossed the boundaries of the Grand Duchy. It was success. The Tuscan wine makers were able to meet the demand of a market that drank huge quantities of wine. Around this time the Sangiovese grapevine emerged amid the Sienese hills. These were the first steps that were lead to Chianti, although it was only 1969 that Bettino Ricasoli specified the historic area of the red wines of central Tuscany and who, for the first time, wrote down the "recipe" of the Chianti wine, indicating the essential importance for wine-growing and wine-making.

Chianti wine now became very important to the Florentine and Sienese regions that already in 1903 the producers formed an association to protect its quality. In 1931 the boundaries of the Chianti vineyards were established. Other wines began to protect their own names and origins, in the regions of the Vernaccia, Brunello, Vino Nobile and Carmignano.

Wine-makers in the 50's and 60's were still pretty ignorant to the deepest secrets of the grape structure, to extraction technique, to the exploitation of the value of the grape-skins and to microbiology. After the war, the landowners were in deep trouble as they were groaning under the weight of their depts. The share-cropping system was demolished and many farmers had left the countryside for the city where they could find a better life. The wine in these years reflected the situation and was produced in quantities without consideration of the quality. It was a light red wine, poor in body, drinkable, vivacious, with a fleeting aroma. They were wines appreciated by the people of Chianti, certainly pleasant and good, but no longer fit to compete on international markets.

The wine in Tuscany was saved in the late 60's when the law on protecting wines was passed and the Vernaccia and the Chianti were the first wines to be granted a Designation of Origin (DOC). These were not easy times, as the wine-making now was regulated by law and old "peasant" methods were no longer admitted. And a seemingly unbridgeable technology gap could not be closed in a brief span of time. Some tumultuous years passed, of study, experimentation, furious arguments and commercial battles. Wiser wineries dared to make courageous moves, experimenting with international grape varieties and the French barrel "barrique" that slowly replaced over (only partly) the traditional old wooden casks.

In only 20 years' time, the quantity of wine produced was halved and the wines started to get a better reputation, getting prizes world-wide and positive reviews from international wine magazines. The DOC and DOCG areas were widened and modified to give the wineries better conditions for making better wines and to give the wines better possibilities on the World market.

Wine cellar techniques evolved rapidly. Complementary varieties were planted such as Cabernets, Merlot, Syrah and Chardonnay and great Super Tuscans have shown that some of the best wines in the World can come out of Tuscany.

Tuscan wines have become very interesting; they are gentle, have intense colors, are more vinous, have spicier perfumes, and flavors that are dense, sapid and evolved.

All that is left to say that the Tuscan wine scene is still a world to discover. And there is no better way than to experience the wines where they are actually made, encountering the people that have dedicated their whole lives to this magnificent drink.

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Edited December 18, 2007 (diff)

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