My travels through Italy took me to the small Tuscan town of San Gimignano, an undeniable tourist trap, but beautiful and worth it all the same. The Main Street, which traces its origins to the days of the Roman Empire and runs north to south along the length of the village, consisted of 3 types of shop; leather, cheese and wine. Fortunately for me the latter offered tastings at either a low or no cost, and were more than happy to indulge my curiosity about the minutiae of wine produced in the region.
Regional pride was a common theme throughout discussions with the sommeliers I met, who insisted that Tuscan wine, olive oil and really all produce was by far superior to that found elsewhere. The ceramic, clay-like quality of the soil, allows for water retention producing crops saturated with flavour. I was repeatedly told that Tuscan wine has much more body than its French counterparts, with more tannins and acidity, though wines produced on the coast did bear some greater similarity to the French style. One sommelier informed me that the most similar wines to those I tried in San Gimignano were produced in Ukraine before the war due to similarities in soil quality.
My inquiries also led to some insight on food in the region. My favourite dish throughout my time in Italy was the Pappardelle Cinghiale (wild boar) that I ate in San Gimignano, which was reminiscent of a bolognese but lighter, fresher and with melt-in-the-mouth meat. Considered a pest, wild boar are subject to hunting between November and January each year to prevent them from consuming the grapes essential to Tuscany’s famous wines, a point of great pride to locals. I was told in no uncertain terms that supermarket wine was good for cooking, especially for cooking meat, but for drinking it was better to spend the money on a locally sourced bottle not available on supermarket shelves.
Wine was so prevalent throughout my Tuscan culinary experience, it replaced whole courses when dining out. By far my favourite dessert was amaretti biscuits dipped in sweet wine, a reliable classic I found myself returning to time and time again in Tuscany. San Gimignano was no different, though their reverence for wine assured its quality even when only a minor component of the meal. Wine was integral to Tuscan culture, as both a part of their regional identity and an intimate element of social life, held in reverence completely alien to British drinking culture. Commonplace though it is in their cuisine and lifestyle, the consideration for quality and the production process even for casual use in cooking or day to day drinking could only inspire admiration for the care taken in choosing the relatively mundane.
Below I have detailed a few of the wines I sampled throughout my trip, which I felt not only made for an enjoyable drinking experience but were also worth the price – a considerable jump from most supermarket products.
Falchini Paretaio, 2017
95% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot
This wine was the first I tried, and the only one I ended up purchasing to bring home. It suited my personal tastes being fruity with a good body, and without the bitterness or tart quality sometimes found in heavier wines.
Draco Chianti dei Colli Senesi Riserva, 2019
Much drier than the first wine I sampled this chianti was sharper, and more acid, though retained a berry like taste which made it pleasant to drink and would pair beautifully with a strong cheese.
Mediterra Toscana, 2021
40% Syrah, 30% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon
Made in bolgheri, different area to the first two wines and from a completely different mix of grapes, this wine was somewhat drier than the first with a bitter aftertaste which was not unpleasant.
Titolato Colombaia, 2020
Sangiovese with small percentages of other red grapes
This red was a simpler drink, not as flavoursome as the others, though very dry. Aged for one year in a barrel of oak, this light wine was dry enough to make my eyes sting slightly, and personally would not be my first choice unless paired with an equally pungent snack.
Hydra Il Palagione
A typical, organic San Gimignano white wine. Fairly dry with little flavour.
Il Colombaio di Santachiara, 2021
90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot
A red, not made in the Chianti area and fruitier than a regular chianti.
Il Colombaio di Santachiara Cremisi, 2022
This wine was the rose counterpart to the last Colombaio. Light and almost juicy in flavour this wine was light and would pair well with fresh greens
76% Sangiovese, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot
A full bodied wine, made with a blend of red grapes this was a much more intense wine than those I had sampled so far. The sommelier explained this was a much heavier wine to be drunk in half glasses and certainly not in large quantities.
Il Luoghi Rosso, 2022
Made on the coast of Tuscany, with a fruity but intense raisin smell this wine was incredibly flavourful. Aged for a year it had mellowed giving it a mature taste.