The Italian quality revolution of the past decade or so has transformed Tuscany, producing wines that are rounder, less tannic and easier to drink when young. Alas, they're more expensive, too, though bargains can still be had.
Salute To Sangiovese Tuscany is the kingdom of the Sangiovese grape, responsible for so many winesfrom simple reds to noble, complex bottles capable of aging for decades.
Chianti And Beyond The biggest name of all, of course, is Chianti, Italy's most famous wine, which accounts for a staggering eight million cases a year. Sangiovese is not only the major grape of Chianti but also the grape of Brunello di Montalcinoa deep red, often cellar-worthy, mostly luxury-priced wineand the wines of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Montalcino's value-priced neighbor and would-be rival.
Super-Tuscan Surprise Invented by two aristocratic relatives with the wines Sassicaia and Tignanello, Super-Tuscan is a mixed-bag category that includes wines made from nontraditional blends (Sangiovese with added Cabernet or Merlot). The Super-Tuscan name is completely unofficial.
Vintages to Know Tuscan-wine lovers may argue over whether 1997 or 1999 was the greatest vintage since '85, but the fact is that Tuscany has enjoyedan unprecedented run of good winemaking weather, with excellent vintages also in 1995 and 2000 and a solid vintage in 1998 that's particularly good for bargain hunters.
10 Top Bottles
2000 Erta e China Rosso Di Toscana ($12) An affordable version of a Super-Tuscan from Chianti Rufina's Renzo Masi, this half-Sangiovesehalf- Cabernet is full of plum and black currant fruit.
2000 Fattoria Le Sorgenti Chianti Colli Fiorentini ($13) This winery set in the hills (colli) above Florence has produced a knockout bargainjuicy but possessed of a refinement usually found in much more expensive bottles.
2001 Antinori Vermentino ($15) Tuscan white wine? There are a handful of good ones, including this melony, unoaked wine, made from a coastal vineyard by one of Italy's most famous vintners.
1999 Angelini Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ($18) Sleepy Montepulciano is now a source of exciting wines such as this rich, smooth-drinking red from the firm that also owns star Val di Suga.
2000 Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino ($26) From a top Brunello producer, this is a very special wine. If the Rosso is this deeply concentrated and colored, the Brunello must be near monumental.
1995 Capezzana Vin Santo di Carmignano Riserva ($29) Vin Santo, made from grapes that have been air-dried to concentrate their sweetness, is a Tuscan specialty. Its flavors of apricot, caramel and custard will convert the non-dessert wine drinker.
1998 Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva ($40) Made by one of the benchmark properties of Chianti Classico that still matures its wines in large oak casks, this Chianti is about fruit, not oak.
1998 Fattoria Valtellina Chianti Classico Riserva ($40) This powerful, supersmooth red is made in a ready-to-drink "international" style. It's jam-packed with ripe, dense blackberry and cherry fruit.
1997 Villa Poggio Salvi Brunello di Montalcino ($60) This wine is in a class by itself. From the superb '97 vintage, it's complex and luscious but will likely improve for a few decadesif you can wait.
1998 Sassicaia ($160) The first of the Super-Tuscans, this is still the trendsetter for Tuscan Bordeaux-style wines. The Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab Franc blend is still tight but deep and dense.