Tuscany, the region in central Italy that spreads across 23,000 square kilometres, is one of Italy’s top tourist destinations. People come for the landscape — which includes fort-topped hills and beaches and more than 120 protected nature reserves — as well as for the history; Tuscany’s cities were the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. But as the name Tuscany is also synonymous with food and wine, who are the people who keep its all-important wine regions running?
Italy is a country where the local growers’ associations, known as consorzio and overseeing each appellation of origin, hold supreme political power. They are always in the forefront of wine news, often for the wrong reasons, such as the several adulteration scandals of the last decade. The consorzios’ power has significantly increased since 2012 when a new law, known as erga omnes, gave them power to levy fees even from non-members if the consorzio represents a minimum of 66 percent production and 40 percent of growers. The absenteeism of top producers from those trade bodies is a well-known Italian disease.
The first to benefit was Chianti Classico, under the then president Marco Pallanti of Castello di Ama, who in tandem with director Giuseppe Liberatore dynamically developed the appellation. The Gran Selezione top tier was introduced and, after a period of debate, widely embraced by producers. A cooperation deal with Champagne showed the ambition of Chianti Classico to be counted among the great wines of the world. Pallanti and Liberatore have since left but, under new president Sergio Zingarelli of Rocca delle Macìe, Consorzio del Chianti Classico remains the most powerful entity in Tuscan wine, with a turnover of more than €85m ($105m).
Recently, the consorzio of Chianti DOCG, a wine lower in prestige but much more significant in volume, has also grown to be an important player, reflecting its €89m turnover. The Brunello Consorzio (worth €73m) also weighs in, despite the appellation having been tarnished by the 2008 adulteration scandal and other controversies.
Another layer of political layer specific to Italy is the regional assessore (minister). These government-appointed officials implement policy on a local level, but their influence is vital when local initiatives are motioned to Rome and Brussels to amend laws. As the bottleneck of any such actions important to Tuscan producers, including appellations laws — for existing DOC and DOCG zones as well as the creation of new ones — environmental protection and taxes, current assessore Marco Remaschi exercises Tuscany’s political weight within Italy and Europe.
He has notably enforced a recent regulation requiring vineyard lessees to farm land for a minimum of seven years before being entitled to transfer the planting rights to another region. Tuscany was the first region to curb the extensive practice of swapping rights (compulsory under EU law) where demand is the greatest, such as Prosecco. Remaschi also oversees the spending of €8m on Tuscan wine promotion, according to Common Market Organisation terms.
The notion of “sommeliers” is somewhat different from other countries. It often denotes a wine expert not working on the restaurant floor but active in wine education and promotion. The Associazione Italiana Sommelier (AIS) runs the country’s most popular wine courses, as well as manning every wine tasting event for trade and public. Consequently, the head of the local AIS branch, Massimo Castellani, holds considerable power, now including overseeing the Tuscan selection of the organisation’s annual wine guide, Vitae.
Among restaurant wine lists, the highest accolades are usually reserved for Enoteca Pinchiorri’s Florence Michelin three-star institution whose wine cellar is sometimes considered the world’s best. There are more than 4,000 references in the “Bible” — as the printed list is nicknamed — painstakingly assembled by owner Giorgio Pinchiorri since the restaurant opened in 1972, and now managed by sommelier Alessandro Cini. It notably includes vertical selections of all major Tuscan as well as French wines, such as a complete vertical of Pétrus.
Some wine lovers argue that a more interesting list has now been built by Walter Meccia at Il Palagio, the Michelin one-star restaurant Four Seasons of Florence. This eclectic selection is, of course, strong on Tuscan wines, especially mature Chianti and Supertuscans. A Coravin list includes Soldera, Trinoro and Tua Rita, as well as Egon Müller and Mouton by the glass.
Other notable restaurant wine lists include Florence’s Borgo San Pietro and Enoteca Galanti, Viareggio’s Ristorante Romano and Caino Montemarano’s Caino. Florence’s La Volpi e l’Uva gets a honourable mention among wine bars.
Further up the supply chain, Italian wineries — and Tuscan ones in particular — often rely on consultant oenologists, who often have a decisive influence on a producer’s style. After the death of veteran winemaker Giulio Gambelli in 2012, the most senior exponents of this culture include Maurizio Castelli (who oversees Badia a Coltibuono, Mastrojanni and Monteraponi), Carlo Ferrini (Casanova di Neri and Fonterutoli), Franco Bernabei (of Fèlsina, Fontodi and Selvapiana fame), Vittorio Fiore, Attilio Pagli (San Giusto, Salvioni and Valdicava), Niccolò d’Afflitto, Luca d’Attoma, Roberto Cipresso, Lorenzo Landi, Luca Salvi, and Gambelli’s disciple Federico Staderini.
Riccardo Cotarella, arguably Italy’s most famous winemaker and president of the International Union of Oenologists, consults across the country but keeps a relatively low profile in Tuscany (his leading client here is Volpaia), while his elder brother Renzo has been the winemaker for Marchesi Antinori for 25 years.
Italy’s somewhat rigid meritocracy never makes it easy for young mavericks to break through, but younger-generation consultants have made a name for themselves, including Marco Chellini, Valentino Ciarla, Emiliano Falsini and Barbara Tamburini. Among them is Alberto Antonini, an international consultant who ferociously advocates the return to fresher, more drinkable, terroir-driven typical wines, a departure from the somewhat uniform approach of consultants in the past two decades. Indeed, notes vintner Sebastiano Capponi of Villa Calcinaia, “winemakers are now to a lesser extent prima donnas and have become more respectful of terroir”.
It is a mysterious paradox that Italy lacks a printed wine magazine of note, but has currently no fewer than 10 annual wine guides. These book-like publications have been a key building block of the national panorama since the 1990s but have proliferated in the last few years, with fragmentation rather than consolidation after Daniele Cernilli left Gambero Rosso to found his own publication and the Rome branch of Associazione Italiana Sommelier split from the main organisation and went on to publish Bibenda.
Gambero Rosso retains the highest cachet, not least through its internationally followed award, Tre Bicchieri, awarded to about 500 top wines across the country. As most guides, it maintains two local critics, Leonardo Romanelli and Antonio Boco, who are responsible for each year updating the selection of Tuscan wines. Gambero Rosso has gone through a series of controversies and accusations that it’s become exceedingly commercial, but has recently returned to form, with more balanced, comprehensive coverage.
Many vintners, however, hold another guide, Slow Food’s Slow Wine, in higher esteem. Unlike Gambero Rosso, which tastes at its offices, local Slow Wine curators Stefano Ferrari, Fausto Ferroni, Vito Lacerenza and Fabio Pracchia make a case of visiting estates for review each year. The third important guide is I Vini dell’Espresso, published by the eponymous, and esteemed, weekly magazine; its Tuscan curator is Florentine Aldo Fiordelli, who is also on course to become Italy’s first Master of Wine.
Former Gambero Rosso editor Daniele Cernilli runs the successful website DoctorWine, now with its own annual guide under the same name; Tuscan contributors include Andrea Gori, Stefania Vinciguerra and Riccardo Viscardi. The influence of other guides, such as Bibenda, Luca Maroni, I Vini di Veronelli, Vignaioli e Vini d’Italia, Vini Buoni d’Italia, AIS’s Vitae, is arguably marginal, unlike the writing of Filippo Bartolotta, who is the resident Tuscan expert for Decanter.
The tremendous competition among Italian wine writers pressures those wishing to excel to find ever newer avenues of communicating with the public. The time is over for traditional journalists, with leverage shifting to influencers who use multiple platforms such as blogs, websites, social media and consumer events to convey their message to both trade and consumers. Bernardo Conticelli writes for Italy’s top daily newspaper La Repubblica but also reviews Tuscan wines for France’s Bettane & Desseauve, contributing to the fascinating bilateral exchange of influences between the two countries; Italians are major lovers of Champagne and Burgundy wines. Alessandro Regoli has founded Winenews.it, a dynamic website that is largely followed by the trade. Decanter’s Filippo Bartolotta scored a major scoop when he organised a wine dinner for Michelle and Barack Obama in 2017, attracting the attention of Italian and international press.
Another local activist is Davide Bonucci, founder of Siena’s EnoClub, a wine association that organised a large number of events. Bonucci’s brainchild is Sangiovese Purosangue, a major tasting event in Siena and Rome attended by all leading producers — even those, ironically, who give the cold shoulder to the official Anteprime previews, organised by the consorzios.
Tuscany’s top multi-tasking influencer is arguably Andrea Gori. With his chef brother Paolo, he runs Trattoria Da Burde, a 1901 institution renowned for its Fiorentina steaks and other classics of Tuscan cuisines. As a writer, he has founded Intravino, Italy’s leading wine website for information, opinion and gossip, with a phenomenal following among the public and trade. Gori is also the Italian ambassador for Champagne, no mean feat for the sparkling wine’s fifth global market.
Brunello di Montalcino exports 70 percent of its production and Chianti Classico 77 percent. The US alone represents 16 percent of overall Tuscan wine sales. No wonder therefore that foreign critics have always been vital to the region’s success — especially American ones. Kerin O’Keefe, the Italian reviewer for Wine Enthusiast, resides in Montalcino to stay on top of local developments, while James Suckling maintains close relationships, having lived in the region for many years.
Their influence fades, however, against that of Bruce Sanderson, who covers Tuscany (and Italy) for Wine Spectator, and Ian d’Agata, a close collaborator of the Vinitaly wine fair and now a contributor to Antonio Galloni’s Vinous. Although living in Rome, The Wine Advocate’s Monica Larner continues to be the most influential international voice on Tuscan wines. Her recent 100-point scores for two Brunellos from the 2010 vintage have helped reinstate confidence in the appellation.