A few decades ago wine stores everywhere offered a few Tuscan wines, most ebbing Chianti, in bulky straw-covered bottles. They were weak in colour, offered little in flavour, and faded away in a year or two since both red and white grapes were used to make the wine. At the time, Italy had no wine laws, and every winemaker had his own ideas (Female winemakers came into the picture only recently).
In 1966 the Italian government promulgated the Denominazione di origine laws, DOC.
There were three levels of quality designations;
Denominazione simplice, (DS)
Denominiazione di origine controlata, (D O C)
Denominazione di origine controlata e guarantita (D O C G)
The law insisted on the use of Italian grape varieties exclusively.
In Tuscany the proportions of white grapes for Chianti was drastically reduced; since then several other codifications took place, including the blending of up to 15 per cent of cabernet sauvignon or merlot.
Today, Chianti must contain only red grape varieties, mainly sangiovese.
The D S category has been replaced by I G T (Indicazione geografico tipico, much to the relief of winemakers, but still a lot of consumers and producers think laws are not strict enough, and sadly, not vigorously enforced, as recent frauds revealed.
Chianti wine quality improved immeasurably with huge financial investments.
Castello Vicchimaggio, Petoio, Castello Monsanto, Isole e Olena, Castello di Dievole, Marchesi Antinori and Barone Ricasoli are at the forefront of quality wineries.
There are no longer straw-covered bulbous bottles, and every winery strives to produce better quality. The competition is fierce, but wine drinkers are willing to pay for quality.
Over the years the Italian highway and transportation system improved considerably, allowing the shipment of wines to the farthest corners of the country and to export harbours.
Brunello di Motnalcino, arguably the best red wine of Italy, is now shipped all over the world, and must consist only of sangiovese grosso (aka brunello), and barrel aged for a minimum of three years and two years in the bottle.
Tignanello, the first red wine to contain cabernet sauvignon had to be labelled as vino da tavola (table wine), the lowest quality designation, but connoisseurs lapped it up. The price was and continues to be much higher than that of Brunelo di Montalcino.
The Bolgheri region close to the Mediterranean coast of Tuscany now produce outstanding red wines, like Sassicaia, Ornelaia and others. These are called superTuscans and produced in relatively small quantities and at very high prices. Both also market second labels much like Bordeaux chateaux.
Tignanello, Sassicaia, and Ornelaia are made expertly using very ripe sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and other grape varieties.
Then there is Maremma, south west of Tuscany, around the town of Scansano. Here Biondi Santi, the great-great grad son of the inventor Jacopo of Brunello, Colombini, Polizana, Mazzei, Frescobaldi, and Antinori invested considerable capital and developed vineyards using the latest technology available and best clones of sangiovese.
The minimum content of sangiovese is 85 per cent, which may be blended with alicante-bouchet, or cabernet sauvignon, or merlot.
Parrina, further south and west, close to Argentario, is a new region producing white and red wines.
The white wines are made using ansonica (of Greek origin way back when Italy was called Enotira by Greek settlers).
The reds are more expressive and made with sangiovese.
Tuscany is the engine of change of Italian vitiviniculture.
Tuscans are energetic, entrepreneurial, savvy, make good wine and know how to promote their products.