I met Davis Anderson while screaming at a television set a few years back during football season. The Giants were playing on the TV in my usually very subdued neighborhood wine bar, Il Posto Accanto and Davis was tending to our every need without complaint for our demonstrative outbursts. We so enjoyed his company and his extensive knowledge of Italian wine that we continued to frequent IPA every Sunday. We have since become friends and I his student when it comes to my lessons in Italian wines.
I will be leaving for Tuscany tomorrow and thought it would be wholly appropriate to have Davis share with all of us some of the wonders of Tuscan wines. I will be carrying a copy of this article in my pocket for the next 10 days and drinking my way through Italy. You all can hate me…I make no apologies.
Davis Anderson is one of the founders of the wine focused underground supper club, First Sinners Club and is the Wine Director of a new restaurant opening next month in the West Village on Carmine St. near Bedford.
Davis studied theater at Florida State University and wanted to become a writer before he finally decided to become a Sommelier. Davis is credited as a Certified Sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers and is working toward earning his Advanced Diploma early next year.
Tuscan Wines by Davis Anderson III
Ah, Tuscany. Some of the first wines I ever truly fell in love with came from this region. When I first started getting serious about wine, I was working for an Italian restaurant in the Meatpacking District and my roommate was working at Mario Batali’s Otto. I was constantly being exposed to great Italian wines at work and at home, I was opening new bottles, trying to learn while relaxing at the end of my long days. I tasted wines from all over Italy but it was very clear that in the beginning my heart belonged to Tuscany.
I feel that this happens to many people when starting to learn about Italian wine. Italian wine can be daunting. There over 1200 indigenous varietals but there is one wine almost all of us have heard of and always seems very accessible, Chianti. Chianti has come a long way in recent years. It went from being the laughing stock of the wine world, dressed in its straw basket to a legitimate player. French wine enthusiasts still look down their noses at it but look at most of Italy that way, anyway. Just jealous I suspect.
Once you break into your first great bottle of Chianti, you’ll most likely be seduced by it’s supple smell and beautiful garnet color. You’ll smell black cherry (something I always find in Sangiovese based wines) light red fruits, maybe even a touch of barnyard (like wet hay). When you finally bring the wine to your lips, you’ll notice the fruit may turn sour on palate with tinges of cranberry but will still maintain its softness. “This wine needs food” is usually my first thought after that initial sip. A hearty meat sauce with some house made pasta is usually my first choice. Perhaps a Wild Boar Ragu with some homemade fettucini, like my former boss used to make at Il Posto Accanto.
My true love hails from from further south in Tuscany: Brunello di Montalcino. Unlike Chianti which is a Sangiovese based blend, Brunello is made from 100% Sangiovese Grosso. This wine is a powerhouse and it demands repsect and often carries a price tag that will get your attention as well. It may not be cheap in Italy, but it’s much less expensive than it is here in US and Italian vintners always save the best parcels for themselves so the wines there are usually of a superior nature.
My first experience with Brunello was a little house called Il Colle. My boss was starting to move some higher end bottles and wanted us to have a good understanding of what we were selling. One afternoon she opened a bottle to help us understand more about Brunello. The perfume alone captivated my attention. Deep, rich, earthy aromas of wet hay and forest floor were coated in notes of deep black cherry, plum and cassis. It was potent and heady. I just wanted to sit there all day smelling it, but I knew eventually I’d have to give in and take a sip. I never wanted to swallow, I just wanted to let it sit there on my tongue. The wine was everything the nose had promised and more. Brunello is also excellent with food; rich, fatty, decadent food. Meats, perhaps a steak or duck breast in a cherry reduction would work nicely. I recently opened a 1985 Il Colle Brunello for a recent special occasion and was so happy to see how well the wine had aged.
Sangiovese is definitely the star in Tuscany, but Chianti and Brunello are not it’s only children. It has also given us Morellino di Scansano and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and I could go on about these as well but lets turn our attention to some of the other wonders that Tuscany has to offer.
For many of you the term “Super Tuscan” may seem familiar. The first thing you need to know about this classification is that it is generic terminology for any kind of blend. Occasionally, it also refers to a non-traditional, single varietal but is rarely a Sangiovese. No two Super Tuscans are ever the same. So, saying you like Super Tuscans is like saying you like colors. There are so many and they come in so many different shades that it’s often hard to find a base similarity. Some can be great and some not so much.
The reason the term was first invented was because the Italians love breaking the rules as much as they like making them when it comes to wine. A couple of guys who weren’t content to just grow Sangiovese and other “permitted” varietals decided to break away from the law and plant what they thought made sense given the soil and sun exposure that they had. The first wines to be noticed in this category were Sassacaia, Tignanello, and Ornellaia. When tasting them at a competition, someone noted that they were designated as “Vino di Tavola” or table wine, which is the lowest form of classification in Italian wine law. Someone else suggested that there need be another way to classify these “Super Tuscans” because they were blowing some of the traditionalist wines out of the water. I agree that some are terrific (but only some) and now the wine laws in Italy are changing to correct that table wine classification.
Andrew has asked me to recommend a few wines that you should try to start your fascination with this wonderful wine region, so I humbly present you with this list:
Castel in Villa. A truly old school producer of Chianti and maker of a great super Tuscannamed Santa Croce
Cacchiano. Beautiful bold Chiantis.
Querciabella. Makers of both great Chiantis and Super Tuscans.
Felsina. Again another great producer of both Chianti and Super Tuscans.
Montevertine. My favorite Super Tuscan producer. All of his wines are good and are made with the deftest touch.
Collemattoni. For both their Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino. A softer side of these wines.
Il Colle. An underappreciated small Brunello producer who makes some of my favorite wines.
Talenti. A great producer of both Brunello and a Super Tuscan, simply called “Rosso” not to be confused with their Rosso di Montalcino. One of the best values on the Tuscan market in my humble opinion.
Mastrojanni. A great Rosso and Brunello producer who makes a fun Super Tuscan.
There are probably some wonderful places I’m forgetting so I’d love to hear what you all love and what some of your favorite wine experiences have been.
Here is a quick vintage chart for Tuscany for some of the best vintages of the past couple decades: 85, 90, 95, 97, 98, 99, 00, 01, and 04.
This obviously doesn’t speak for all wines and of course there are good wines made in other years, but this is a good little guide for a place to start.
My best wishes for a good glass and a good bite to you all.