Tuscany

Explore the home of Montepulciano and Montalcino, and discover the winemakers and Tuscan wines in our Wine Club


Introduction & History of Tuscany

Etruscans & Women

The origins of Tuscany's wine scene date to around 3,000 years ago, with the arrival of the Etruscans to the peninsula.

Etruscans were a unique civilization with their own language and traditions, which stretched from Campania, through Rome, and up to Emilia-Romagna. Much of what the Romans taught to other counties was actually learned by the Etruscans, who farmed much more wildly but understood the importance of ‘marrying’ vines to fig and olive trees.

In fact, the Etruscans were some of the last people to value women on a much more equal level than we can see from the Greek, Roman and more modern civilizations. 

For example, women were treated as equals during funerary ceremonies and equally present in banqueting events, whereas by the Greek symposium days, it was mainly a male-only tradition.

A Greek historian by the name of Theopompus of Chios, living in the 4th century BCE, wrote extensively about the apparently appalling behavior of women around wine. He begins by mentioning that Etruscan women “were expert drinkers and very good looking” yet also complains that Etruscan women “dine not with their own husbands, but with any men who happen to be present” and “toast to whomever they choose”. This tradition was not accepted in Greek tradition. Women also appeared to have a much more public presence during the Etruscan time, whereby the Roman Empire, they were mainly resigned to more private spheres of the home.


Moving forward in time

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, monasteries controlled and carried out the tradition of winemaking through the Middle Ages. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano sees its first mention in the 14th century and following the Napoleonic Wars, Tuscany returned to the Hapsburgs. At this time another important figure for the region would emerge, Bettino Ricasole, who inherited his family estate in Broglio. With much determination to improve the wine, he traveled to Germany and France, and ultimately discovered that three local varieties— Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Malvasia — produced the best wine which became the ‘recipe’ for Chianti.

Sadly with the arrival of oidium in the 1850’s which devastated most of the vineyards, many farmers disappeared in search of work elsewhere. Wine had reached an all-time low after the period of WW2, which forced the government to step in in attempt to revive the quality and hence the invention of the Chianti DOC in 1967. Shortly after Super Tuscans would enter the stage and around a decade later Montalcino will see its boom, much thanks to Banfi and the Mariani family who heavily exported this wine to the US, driving up recognition and demand, and paradoxically gave rise to many small artisans who recognize this strange relationship with big industry.

What is a Super-Tuscan?  

The short answer is a wine coming from Tuscany which is not primarily based on the indigenous grapes of Italy required for the denominations of the zone, but rather what are now considered the international grapes - like Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet France and a few others, and not necessarily excluding varying percentages of Sangiovese.  But this is a wine with few 'rules' so interpretations vary extensively.

More importantly to note is that Super Tuscan doesn't sound very Italian.  And despite the fact that many love these wines, and they often sell for exorbitantly high prices, they often are seen in a negative light among other 'traditionalists' in the area.  You surely can imagine the dismay of some winemakers who had preserved traditions based on native grapes for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, only to see French grapes surface in their zone which naturally appealed to the cognitive bias of familiarity which the masses seek.

How did Super Tuscans originate?

In growing dissatisfaction with the rules of Chianti and Chianti Classico, some other took it upon themselves to experiment with other grapes which were becoming superstars on the global market, like Cabernet Franc, Merlot and others. One of the first to plant these grapes was Marchesi Mario Incisa della Rocchetta of Tenuta San Guido, who began his experiments with these Bordeaux grapes in the maritime climate of Bolgheri in the Maremma.  From 1948 to 1967, these wines would only be served at the family table, never reaching the market.

Giacamo Tachis, oenologist of Antinori, who had worked under Emile Peynaud in Bordeaux, along with Piero Antinori were the two other very important and decisive figures for the development and marketing of Supertuscans.  The first commercial release under Piero was the 1968 vintage of Sassicaia, which would be followed later in 1985 by Ornellaia, later Masseto and many others to follow.  Watch the story of Le Macchiole here.  1985 became one of the most sought after vintages, and if one can connect the dots with the influences of Robert Parker during this era, it's easy to understand why these full-bodied, opulent and familiar wines saw the success they did.


Tuscan Cuisine
 

Please, let's not get stuck on the infamous unsalted bread, a tradition dating to the 16th century where salt was taxed and forced bakeries to rethink how bread was made, which remains even today.  The Tuscan cuisine is rusticity at its finest, boasts some of the greatest meats in Italy, and has mastered re-using leftovers in deliciously inventive ways.

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Like in much of Italy, the cucina povera prevails for a couple famous and delicious dishes derived from leftover bread - ribollita, panzanella, and pappa al pomodoro. Ribollita, the rustic soup which takes 3 days to properly make, likely has its origins in the Medieval times and utilized leftover bread mixed with cabbage, vegetables and beans.  It's possible servants were using what remained to make their own meals.  Pappa al pomodoro is also made with leftover baked bread, EVOO, tomatoes, garlic, and basil, in a different yet similar flavor profile to panzanella.

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In Florence you'll find the Fiorentina steak from the famous Chianina beef, the ideal pairing for your Brunello di Montalcino. Don't miss master butcher Dario Cecchini in Panzano as well for some of the best meat in the region.  And for the slightly more adventurous with food, you'll commonly find trippa or lampredotto, made from the cow's stomach. This famous lampredotto panino is best experienced at the Mercato Centrale at Nerbone. Even having been vegan and vegetarian, I secretly have to admit that the flavors of this sandwich are delectably off the charts. Let's also not mention the lardo di Colonnata which melts like butter on your palate. 

And for dessert you'll find the well known cantucci and vin santo - crunchy biscotti served beside a sweet dessert wine made from dried grapes. At Pacina, a natural winemaker with a beautiful picnic area, I'll also never forget the pairing of a vanilla gelato drizzled with a bit of vin santo over it - every bowl scarpetta'd down to the last molecule, waiting for another round.  

Start exploring the beauty of this region:


Note that Tuscany is huge so our top tip is to rent a car (or hire a driver)  if you want to explore, as many vineyards require 30 - 60 mins of driving between the major cities/villages etc. 

Florence & Surrounding Area

It will require you to have a car, but driving south from Florence you can reach Chianti and Chianti Classico if you are interested in doing some winery visits.  Alternatively you can always keep yourself busy with museums like the Accademia and Uffizi, the Brunelleschi Dome, never-ending Renaissance art, and the typical shopping and dining which come with any big city.  For panoramas and a moment to reflect, a visit to Piazzale Michelangelo where the replica of David is situated, and perhaps an aperitivo at La Loggia is worth it. But if I must say, do not miss Fiesole!

View of central Florence and the Arno River

Restaurants and To Visit in Florence

  • Mercato Centrale will give you many options for drinking and dining, and where you'll find Nardone for the famous lampredotto sandwich - pictured below.
  • Pitti Gola for a great wine bar - run by a local Tuscan guy who knows Tuscany really well and can give suggestions for local wineries to visit.
  • Le Volpi e l'Uva - another classic wine bar enjoyed by locals
  • Enoteca Bruni - nice wine list
  • Galanti - for an excellent champagne selection and wine list (ambiance is not so great)
  • Del Fagioli - where you must try the ribollita
View of central Florence and the Arno River

As an alternative to staying in Florence, stay in Fiesole (15 mins up the hill) which sits perched above in a more bucolic setting with panoramas of Florence and the dome below.  At a very minimum, go to escape the crowds of Florence and to learn about another gem of Italy that nearly no one knows about...shhh.

I was so grateful to be introduced to the young and talented Laura Maggi, owner of Pensione Bencistà.  Bencistà has become a place I escape to for a 'home' like simplicity but with all the natural beauty, sunsets, Slow Food inspired menu and artisan wines you need. 

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For a fancy aperitivo or dinner in Fiesole, you can't go wrong with going up another few hundred meters to San Michele - a Belmond hotel (below).

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Anyone interested in yoga and/or wine experiences should consider reaching out to Californian expat Shirley from Azienda Agricola Monte Ceceri, a beautiful estate with a small vineyard, hiking path where Leonardo Da Vinci took his first flights and picnic area. 

Shirley, yoga instructor, became the winemaker there during Covid, and hosts a variety of experiences on the property.

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Looking for vineyards and wineries in Tuscany? Meet all of our Tuscan wine makers here:


Ampeleia, Maremma

Erica and Peter Max Suter, bought the abandoned farm in the 60s and turned it into a rural estate with woods and pastures, which previously was...


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Chianti & Surrounding Area

Postcards don't lie - this region is everything and more you've dreamed it to look like.  Chianti and Chianti Classico are two of the largest regions and exported wines of Italy, so you'll often find yourself sifting through a lot of cheap, horrible wine to find the real quality ones.  We carry very few of them at Rimessa Roscioli, but there are a few which are absolutely beautiful (listed below). 

That said, you'd be crazy not to experience the overly photogenic region, stopping into each of the quaint villages of Chianti. If dining in Panzano, be sure you visit the absolute master butcher Dario Cecchini.  I must say, having been vegan and vegetarian, I forced myself to try everything, including the lardo which I'm almost ashamed to say how absolutely delectable it was, along with every cut of prosciutto, salami etc.   Every restaurant typically boasts breathtaking views, where even if you don't eat and drink as you might in Barolo, you won't leave disappointed.


Wineries to Visit in Chianti

  • Pacina - for Italian hospitality and a possible lunch in their garden - for natural wine lovers
  • Il Pallazzino - for great biodynamic wines
  • Castello dei Rampolla - for great biodynamic wines and some of our favorite Super Tuscans.
  • San Donatino - organic family run winery
  • Selvapiana - for some of the most age worthy wines of the region
  • Il Casale
  • Castello di Brolio - a castle belonging to the Ricasoli family with incredible views. Many love their wines, even if we sometimes have mixed feelings.


Love Tuscan wines? We almost always include a couple in our Wine Club collections. Explore our Tuscan wine profiles from past and current Wine Club selections:



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Siena & Surrounding Area

In terms of accessible wine regions from Siena, you have two nearby villages.  Montepulciano boasts over a millennium of quality winemaking, whereas Montalcino is a much more recent phenomenon which had a massive explosion in growth after Banfi settled into the area and began heavy exportation to the US.


Places to Visit



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Montepulciano


  • Contucci - 1000+ year old winery where you can visit their cellar which is built into the original wall which line the village dating to the 10th and 11th century.  I pray you can meet Adamo (featured below), as he is possibly the most passionate cellar man, in the world.  Just whatever you do, don't mention it if you like Montacino or Super Tuscans.  
  • Podere Sanguineto - 2 incredible women winemakers, one of which is Dora.  Despite her petite stature, do not judge a book by its cover here - she has a Hulk inside her and is one of the most passionate women I've met in my life (and she's president of a local hunting association).
  • Tenuta dl Trinoro - winery of Andrea Franchetti, for beautiful Super-Tuscans  (30 mins south)

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Montalcino


  • Le Ragnaie - some of the most beautiful Montalcino wines (his wife is American)
  • Pietroso - beautiful tasting room views (below image)
  • Altesino - consistently top rated wines
  • Fonterenza - Francesca, strong and intuitive, works biodynamically to make as natural of wines as possible in the area.

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We recently also had the opportunity to meet a fellow American expat who bought Il Palazzone. We'll be excited to see her progress with the wines, and hear her version of Under the Tuscan Sun. 

Another must on your drive up or down if coming from Rome, are the thermal baths of San Filippo. Entrance is free there...just bring a bathing suit and be sure to relax here, or alternatively at Saturnia (more touristy and crowded but also beautiful). Most importantly, just don't forget to take off your jewelry!

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Want to drink some of the most curated artisan wines of Italy which often you can only find here, and get loads of information about the wine's story and how best to enjoy it?  Join our wine club for this and more.

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The winemaker is the protagonist, and our mission is to help them share their story. 

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