If there’s one region of Italy that Americans feel comfortable with, it’s Tuscany. Given how many people have warmed themselves under the Tuscan sun, so to speak, it’s only natural that they gravitate to the Tuscan section of our 750-selection wine list. The producer names might not necessarily be familiar, but appellations such as Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino are always safe bets, particularly for those who’ve traversed their cypress-lined hills.
That said, I’d like to lead you Toscanophiles away from the Florence-Siena-Montalcino axis and toward Tuscany’s Mediterranean coast, headlined by the star-studded appellation of Bolgheri. The internationally-styled reds of the Sassicaia, Ornellaia, and Guado al Tasso estates have turned Bolgheri into perhaps the most important wine zone in Tuscany-at least in terms of wine critics and the geeks who heed them. The maritime climate and sandy soils of Bolgheri have proved hospitable to “international” varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and merlot, and these days the Tuscan coast is studded with lesser-known but up-and-coming DOCs such as Candia dei Colli Apuani (near the Apuan Alps that connect Tuscany and Liguria) and especially Val di Cornia (centered around the southern coast town of Suvereto), where a number of producers-including the critically acclaimed boutique winery called Tua Rita-are turning out reds to rival the big boys of Bolgheri.
The Tuscan coast is also home to one of Italy’s great indigenous white varieties: vermentino. With a garlicky, herb-tinged zuppa di pesce, there may be no better white, and the one below is a great introduction to the Mediterranean-flavored variety.
Bolgheri Vermentino, Tenuta Guado al Tasso 2001
From the Antinori family’s Guado al Tasso property in Bolgheri, this spicy, refreshing, herbaceous white is a great introduction to the vermentino grape, which also shines in neighboring Liguria and Sardinia. The Guado al Tasso version offers trademark aromas of sage, fennel, and mint and a brisk acidic finish. Mario has been offering a terrific dish of halibut poached in olive oil, dressed with chopped fennel, olives, and sungold tomatoes, and I can’t think of a better wine to go with it.
Montepeloso Val di Cornia Rosso 2000
Here’s a silky take on sangiovese from the fast-rising wine town of Suvereto, where a number of young wineries are using sangiovese, merlot, and cabernet to create a host of noteworthy wines. Like sangioveses from nearby Scansano, this one is softly contoured and berry-scented, a great choice for spicy pastas like our Bucatini all’Amatriciana.
For more on Tuscan wines, check out our new book, Vino Italiano, just published by Clarkson-Potter.