Alongside the cultivation of the globetrotters Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon and Chardonnay, Tuscany has a rich patrimony of native grape varietals that are still very much in use today. Here’s a list of the most common and a description of their characteristics:
Grape variety already cited by Pier De’ Crescenzi in 1303. There has been some disagreement as concerns its origins: there are those who believe it originates from Greece, and those who consider it most likely a Tuscan variety, probably obtained through a dark-berried mutation of the black muscat.
Characteristics: Small, elongated loose cluster, with a single shoulder. Medium-sized, discoid berry, very irregular in shape, transparent, blue vermilion skin, with a heavy bloom.
Aleatico is generally cultivated on the Isle of Elba, and the result is a delicious dessert wine.
Productivity: Medium and constant. Maturation: from the 20th to the 30th of September
Ansonica is a native white grape varietal that loves the sea side. In fact, it has it’s own DOC in the Southern part of Tuscany and is a grape varietal that can grow even in extreme conditions of terraced and rocky coastal regions where it could rain very little and the wind could beat on the plants constantly. The varietal is also found further down the boot in Sicily where however it is named Inzoglia. The wines coming from Ansonica (sometimes called Ansonaca locally) are usually straw yellow, good in alcoholic structure and length giving sensation of warmth and fullness and the taste of flowers and fruitiness (in this area ranging from peaches to pineapples).
Of uncertain origins, although it has been known for centuries. The grape variety appears as Vitis Vinifera Etrusca and Canajuola in Pier de Crescenzi’s “Opus Commodorum Ruralium” (Treatise on the Rural Management).
Along with Sangiovese, it was, in the century between 1870 and 1970, a fundamental part of the blend of Chianti and of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
Characteristics: Medium-sized clusters, somewhat loosely put together, squat, and pyramid shaped, with one or two side bunches with a sparse distribution of grapes. Medium-sized, sub-round berries, regular in shape, fairly thick skin, blue or sometimes violet in color.
Less intense and structured than Sangiovese, it compensates with much aromatic elegance, a direct and expressive fruitiness, and a lovely softness of texture.
Productivity: medium to abundant, although inconstant. Maturation: fairly late, towards the end of September.
Origins: Of uncertain origin, even if it appears to have reached Tuscany from Spain in 1870. Other genetic studies claim it is the grandfather of Sangiovese. The first documented references to the variety are from the early 17th century when the Florentine writer Soderini described a “Ciregiuolo dolce” with a long bunch, a somewhat large berry, and a sweet – “dolce” – and fragrant flavor. This description of the physical characteristics of the variety corresponds to present-day Ciliegiolo, as does the observation that the grape does best in notably warm climates.
The variety has aroused new interest and attention since the early 1990’s as new wines, made with an altogether different approach, began to demonstrate that the grape could reach new, and unexpectedly high quality levels. The grape is used to blend with for example Sangiovese, but has also been used on its own giving startlingly different results: wines of important size and weight, warm, generous, long, and authoritative.
Characteristics: The cluster is large, fairly compact, long cylindrical, pyramid shaped, with side bunches. The berries are medium-large, round or slightly round, skin of average thickness, of a black to purple color, with a heavy bloom.
Productivity: Abundant and consistent. Maturation: Second half of August.
Of remote origin, probably derived from the selection of some wild grape vines. Widely grown in Tuscany, in the area of Valdarno, Val d’Elsa and in the Val di Pesa. Its name comes from the deep color of the skin.
Characteristics: The clusters are small to average sized, slightly loose, cone-shaped, with side bunches or one or two shoulders. The berries are small-to-medium sized. The skin is thick, of a blackish to deep purple color, rich with bloom.
Colorino is generally used to blend with other varieties. It gives, as the name suggests, a good color to the wine.
Productivity: about average but consistent. Maturation: last ten days of September.
A vine variety which has been cultivated for several centuries and is widely grown on the Chianti hills, from where it is held to originate.
Characteristics: It has large clusters, compact, elongated, pyramid shaped, normally with two side bunches. Medium to small sized berries, spherical, regular form; with a skin which is resistant to breaking, with a straw yellow color with greenish streaks or golden yellow, with a rich bloom.
The use of Malvasia Bianca is today limited to very few wines (since white grapes are no longer allowed in the Chianti Classico DOCG), but it is elementary to the traditional Tuscan dessert wine, Vin Santo, which is made also with Trebbiano Toscano.
Productivity: Abundant and consistent. Maturation: First ten days of September.
PRUGNOLO GENTILE (SANGIOVESE GROSSO)
Its origins can be traced back to the Sangioveto variety, which it differs from in some aspects. It is held to be indigenous to the commune of Montepulciano, in the province of Siena and was already described in the 18th Century as “Pigniuolo Rosso”.
Characteristics: The clusters are compact and have side bunches. The berries are medium-large, and ovoid. The skin of the berries is thin but resistant to breaking, of a blue-purplish color, covered with a rich bloom.
The Prugnolo Gentile/Sangiovese Grosso or “Brunello” grape is fundamental to the areas of Montalcino and Montepulciano and is now also being cultivated in several other areas of Tuscany. Comparted to the Sangiovese Piccolo, the Sangiovese Grosso has larger, more loosely bunched grapes, and thicker grape skins. Maturation: End of September, beginning of October.
SANGIOVESE (SANGIOVESE PICCOLO)
The Sangiovese is one of the most ancient Italian grape varieties, and is certainly one of the most widely grown as well as the grape which quality-wise offers the best wines in Italy. The grape originated in Tuscany.
This other Sangiovese family has small berries, and is also called forte (strong) or montanino (Tuscan for “from the mountain” meaning rough) and among the various synonyms, Cordisco, Morellino, Uva Tosca, Primutico, San Vicetro, Sangiovese dal Cannello Corto di Predappio. This Sangiovese is the variety that is mainly used for the Chianti wines.
Characteristics: The cluster is of medium-large sized, but also can also be small according to the variety, compact, taking a cylindrical-pyramid form, winged with one or two side bunches. Medium-sized berries, flattened, almost ellipsoid, with a substantial skin, of a blackish-purple color with a heavy bloom.
Productivity: Considerable. Maturation: First half of October.
The grape variety is of Etruscan origin. Trebbiano Toscano, perhaps the most important of the many “Trebbiani”, already cited Pliny the Elder, as “Trebulanum”, perhaps owes its name to the site of the same name of ancient Etruria, near Luni, at the border between Liguria and Tuscany or the Trebbia River of the Piacentini Hills. This is among the most widely grown grape varieties at national level even if it finds chiefly grown in Tuscany, Lazio and Umbria
Characteristics: Large clusters, (7-10 inches) (18-25 cm.) long, semi-compact, with side bunches. Medium-sized berries, discoid, of a rather regular shape; of average resistance to breakage, of a greenish yellow or pinkish yellow in color, according to the clones, with a more or less heavy bloom.
Trebbiano used to be one of the varieties that were blended into the Chianti Classico wines, but is now it goes into the simpler Chiantis, to make light white wines, and a fundamental variety in the Tuscan Vin Santo.
Productivity: very prolific and consistent. Maturation: first three weeks of October.
Even if the first documentation we have goes back to the year 1276, it is certain that it was previously imported either from the Cinque Terre region (Liguria), or from Spain or Greece. The Vernaccia di San Gimignano wine was praised by Sante Lancerio, cellar man of the Pope Paolo III and celebrated in the verses by Francesco Redi. It has become popular again only in the past few decades. Recent studies tend to show a clear distinction between this variety and Vernaccia varieties. The name Vernaccia derives from the Latin word “vernaculus” which means “of the place”, or “site”.
Characteristics: It has a large cluster, with a semi-compact elongated, aspect with pyramid like form, sometimes with side bunches. The medium-sized berries are almost discoid, round, with a skin of average thickness, and normally of a yellowish-green color.
The Vernaccia grape is exclusively grown in the San Gimignano region, hence the name of the grape and the wine match.
Productivity: Abundant and constant. Maturation: September.