Misfits of Tuscany
June 10, 2016 Leave a comment
Tuscany is red wine country. By last count, nearly 85% of her vineyards were dedicated to red grapes, led by Tuscan super-star Sangiovese. We all recognize the famous Sangiovese-based reds of Tuscany–the Chiantis, the Brunellos, and the Rossos. We also admire the deep red wines that invited international grapes to the party–Bolgheri Sassicaia and the rest of the Super Tuscans, Carmignano, and a host of lesser-known wines such as Cortona, Suvereto, and Val di Cornia.
That’s a lot of red wine. However, white wine has—both traditionally and in modern times—played a role in the wines and wine culture of Tuscany, but you may just have to hunt for it. Out of Tuscany’s 53 DOPs (at last count, 41 DOCs plus 12 DOCGs), only five of them are approved for white wines only. I like to call these 5 wines—four DOCs plus the rightfully famous DOCG of Vernaccia di San Gimignano— the “misfits of Tuscany” (misfit used in the kindest, gentlest of fashions, of course).
Read on to read about these brave outliers, the white-wine only DOCs—and lone DOCG—of Tuscany:
Ansonica Costa dell’Argentario: The Ansonica Costa dell’Argentario DOC is located in the far southwest corner of Tuscany, on (and named for) the Monte Argentario Peninsula. This fascinating place is a former island that is now connected to the Tuscan coast by three narrow strips of land. The DOC also includes the small island of Giglio, located 10 miles (16 km) from the mainland.
Ansonica Costa dell’Argentario is a white wine-only DOC approved for dry wines produced from the Ansonica grape variety (minimum 85%). Ansonica is believed to be native to Sicily and spread from there to Sardinia as well as Elba, Giglio, and other islands of the Tuscan archipelago. It is grown in small amounts on the Tuscan coast and inland, but mainly in the southern section of the region. The grape is a mainstay in the wines of Sicily, where it is known as Inzolia, and stars in many of the islands DOCs, including Marsala.
The Ansonica Costa dell’Argentario is the only Tuscan DOC to produce a wine required to be based on a majority of the Ansonica grape variety. Ansonica is considered to be a late-ripening grape. Oak aging and sur lie contact are sometimes used in its production. Excellent versions of Ansonica Costa dell’Argentario are described as medium-bodied with medium acidity as well as aromas and flavors of tropical fruit, ripe pear, green plum, hazelnuts, herbs, and minerals.
Bianco dell’Empolese: The Bianco dell’Empolese DOC is located in the western portion of the province of Firenze near the town of Empoli, for which it is named. The region rests in a rather cozy valley, surrounded on three sides by hills and mountains of the Montealbano range. The mountains block some of the colder winds and moisture coming down from the north and in from the west, and grapes here enjoy warm temperatures and sunshine.
The Bianco dell’Empolese DOC produces dry white wines and vin santo, both based on a minimum of 60% Trebbiano Toscano. The vin santo may be either secco or amabile and must be aged for three years in caratelli (small wood barrels of approximately 100 liters [26.4 gallons]). Bianco dell’Empolese DOC white wines are refreshingly acidic and light-bodied with aromas of pear, peach, apricot, citrus and flowers.
- A note on Trebbiano: The name Trebbiano is actually used for a variety of grape varieties, some related and some not. Trebbiano di Lugana and Trebbiano di Soave are actually not-exactly-Trebbiano and should otherwise be known as Verdicchio. Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is considered to be the highest-quality of the True Trebbianos, and is related to Trebbiano di Spoletino, a variety grown mostly in and around Umbria. Trebbiano Toscano is, alas, not related to any of the above but is the same grape known in many parts of the world as Ugni Blanc.
Bianco di Pitigliano DOC: Located in the far south of Tuscany, almost to the border with Lazio, the Bianco di Pitigliano DOC is named for the town of Pitigliano; itself located about 50 miles (80 km) southeast of Grosseto. This is a mountainous area, famous for its cliffs, caves, and picturesque cliff-side houses. The northwest portion of the region overlaps with the Morellino di Scansano DOCG, so red wines are produced in this area as well.
The Bianco di Pitigliano DOC produces dry white wines (normale and superiore), sparkling white wines, and vin santo, all based on a minimum of 40% Trebbiano Toscana (100% Trebbiano may also be used). A variety of grapes including Greco, Verdello, Grechetto, Ansonica, Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Bianco, and Riesling Italico–among others–are allowed for use as the remainder (some in varying amounts). Dry Bianco di Pitigliano DOC can be described as crisp, light- to medium-bodied with fruity, floral, and mineral notes with a touch of lemon-peel bitterness on the finish; Superiore versions have a bit more complexity and, perhaps, an added spicy or nutty flavor.
Moscadello di Montalcino DOC: Don’t be too surprised that a sweet, sometimes fizzy white wine is made in the shadows of big, bold Brunello (after all, it works pretty well for Moscato d’Asti)! The Moscadello di Montalcino DOC area overlaps in terms of geographic area with its big brothers Brunello and Rosso (di Montalcino), but produces sweet/semi-sweet white wines with a minimum of 3.5% residual sugar. Moscadello di Montalcino is produced in still (tranquillo),fizzy (frizzante), and late-harvest (vendemmia tardiva) versions, all based on a minimum of 85% Moscato Bianco (aka Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains).
Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG: Almost as famous as its red wine-producing brethren, Vernaccia di San Gimignano has been a white wine-only DOCG since 1993 (and was among the first of Italy’s DOCs, back in 1966). This wine, produced from a minimum of 85% Vernaccia grapes, is widely distributed throughout Europe and the US. Unless you live in or are a regular visitor to Tuscany, it might just be the only wine on this list of lovable misfits that you have actually had!
Produced in and around the lovely hilltop town of San Gimignano, expect Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG to be dry, crisp, light- to medium-bodied with aromas and flavors of lemon, green plum, peach, apricots, flowers, and (perhaps) a bit of almond, with a slight hint of green apple skin-like bitterness on the finish.
- Robinson, Jancis, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz: Wine Grapes. New York, 2012: Harper Collins Publishers
- Robinson, Jancis and Julia Harding: The Oxford Companion to Wine, 4rd Edition. Oxford, 2015: The Oxford University Press
The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… firstname.lastname@example.org