Tuscany Triumphant

A trio of challenging years culminates in the superb 2015 vintage, but finds successes throughout

Excerpted from the Oct. 31, 2016, issue

A succession of difficult vintages has kept Tuscan vintners on their toes in recent years, and though there are excellent wines among the current releases, lovers of the region’s styles must choose carefully to find bottlings with balance, ripe fruit and the ability to age.

All three growing seasons from 2012 through 2014 presented challenges in this central Italian region. In 2012, heat and lack of water were the culprits, while both 2013 and 2014 were cooler years with later harvests. The 2014 campaign in particular experienced a cold, wet summer, making it essential to manage the vineyards correctly and practice strict selection at harvest and in the cellar.

“Due to such a difficult growing season and maturation, 2014 was a really tough year,” reports Giovanni Folonari of Tenute Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari, which produces wines in Chianti Classico, Montalcino, Montepulciano and Maremma. “Fortunately, unlike other parts of Italy, we did not have any devastating weather conditions. Therefore, with the correct vineyard management, we were able to obtain a healthy crop. Again, due to the weather this year, only super high quality labor in the vineyards could lead to a good harvest.”

But there is a silver lining to these gray clouds. In 2015, Tuscany experienced glorious weather, with ample water supplies, sunshine and warmth, resulting in a crop of ripe, balanced grapes. The 2015 whites and a handful of early reds indicate this will be an excellent vintage.

Following are some of the highlights from the more than 725 Tuscan wines I have blind-tasted in our New York office since my previous report (“A Tale of Two Tuscanys,” Oct. 31, 2015). As always, Tuscan wines available on retail shelves in the United States span a number of vintages, in this case from 2015 back to 2006. The size of the region is reflected in the different levels of quality. In general, vintage is crucial but can vary from the Tuscan coast to the hills of Chianti Classico.

2013: Fresh and Refined

In 2013, the vast size of Tuscany prevented a uniform growing season. The coastal areas of Bolgheri and Maremma had success, as did Chianti Classico. In these regions, the top wines show refinement and vibrant structures. The cooler weather and rainfall that spread throughout the spring, summer and fall resulted in a later harvest. The yields were normal for some, and up to 30 percent lower than average for others.

“2013 was fresher, with better distributed rains than 2012,” says Antinori CEO Renzo Cotarella. “The wines are vibrant, slightly acidic and fresh, with pleasant tannins. They’re very savory, more refined, but less muscular.”

Bolgheri fielded top wines such as Tenuta San Guido’s Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia (95, $235), a racy, tightly wound style, showing intensity and finesse, and Antinori’s Bolgheri Superiore Guado al Tasso (94, $125), also supple in texture and refined.

Farther inland, Antinori led the way in the Chianti Classico zone with two cuvées from its Tignanello vineyard: Toscana Tignanello (94, $105) and Chianti Classico Marchese Antinori Riserva (93, $35). Barone Ricasoli’s Toscana Casalferro, from 100 percent Merlot, shows silk and polish, with a backbone of vibrant acidity and iron. The Podere Poggio Scalette Alta Valle della Greve Il Carbonaione also displays a silky texture matched to density and pure blackberry, blueberry and black pepper flavors. And from Panzano’s famed Conca d’Oro come the Fontodi Colli Toscana Centrale Flaccianello and Castello dei Rampolla Chianti Classico. Both the Chianti Classicos in this group offer terrific value.

Other wines to seek out from 2013 include Tenuta Sette Cieli Bolgheri NOI4, a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, and the distinctly Mediterranean Ampeleia Costa Toscana Kepos. made from Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Alicante Bouschet and Marselan, from the Tuscan coast. A trio from the heartland bears out Chianti Classico’s reputation for producing some of the best values in Tuscany: Brancaia Chianti Classico Riserva, Fattoria di Felsina Chianti Classico Berardenga and Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico. And from the historic Montepulciano zone, look for Bindella’s Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Tenuta Vallocaia.

From a value perspective, the following reds from around the region deliver excellent quality for the dollar: the Villa Pillo Toscana Borgoforte 2013 (90, $12), a blend of 50 percent Sangiovese, 40 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 10 percent Merlot, and the Fattoria di Felsina Chianti Colli Senesi Castello di Farnetella 2013 (91, $15).

Vintages play a significant role in Tuscany, and quality in any given year can vary from zone to zone. The 2012s, from a growing season dominated by heat and drought, are the ticket if you prefer more robust and muscular reds, with rustic tannins, while those who lean toward elegance and finesse should choose from among the best 2013s. And for wines that will be approachable soon, the top 2014s, almost entirely non-traditional blends from both coastal and inland areas, are also fresh and elegant but typically don’t have the concentration for aging.

The 2015s show the most promise. Look for the early releases now, which display the ripe fruit of the vintage, while waiting for the more serious, cellar-worthy labels to reveal the deeper character of their terroir over the coming years.

Senior editor Bruce Sanderson is Wine Spectator’s lead taster on the wines of Tuscany.

For the complete Tuscany tasting report (Brunello di Montalcino appears in a separate report)—including more details on the 2012, 2014 and 2015 vintages, plus additional top wines and values with scores and prices, read the full article, “Tuscany Triumphant,” in our online magazine archives.