The Dream and Reality of Tuscany

Tuscany is the region most Americans identify as being the essence of Italy. But it still holds surprises for the wine lover.

In the American melting pot, some flavors seem to stand out more than others. And none stand out more than Italy. Americans of all ethnic origins are infatuated with all things Italian—its past and present, its high and low cultures, its saints and sinners. Opera and slingback shoes aside, the areas that we are most concerned with at Wine Enthusiast are wine and food.

Italy is the leading exporter of wine (by volume) to the United States by far, and has been for a long time. According to the Italian Trade Commission, in just the first three months of 2002, $147.7 million was spent on Italian still and sparkling wines in this country. And $1.6 billion were devoted to Italian food products in each of the last two years.

Italy is a country of incredible diversity—the north is as different from the south as Nevada is from Maine. People who haven’t actually been to Italy are somewhat familiar with Rome and the Riviera, but mostly what they think of when they think “Italy” is Tuscany. Tuscany seems to represent the very distillation of our image of Italy: the countryside as an undulating carpet of vineyards and fortified hill towns; the cities as towering showcases of breathtaking architectural and sculptural splendor; the wines…well, Chianti.

But as Michael Schachner reveals in his story, “A New Take on Tuscany,” Tuscany is (forgive the clichĂ©; it probably sounds better in Italian) all that and more. Tuscany does have Florence and Pisa, and the countryside is certainly stunning. The cuisine, spectacular. The wines, exquisite. But when you look closer, the region reveals even more depth. Consider the Maremma, Tuscany’s coastal region. When Schachner visited wineries and talked to winemakers, he found a beehive of activity going on in a part of the world we usually think of as slow, steeped in tradition and conservative. The Italians haven’t learned to make great wine and build an industry around it by being complacent…and they’re not.

August’s issue also brings you our tasting feature on Sauvignon Blanc, a fun variety to showcase if only because it highlights two of the issues at the forefront of winemaking today—terroir and the use of oak. This variety is offered in such a range of names as well as styles around the world that it presented a unique challenge to our tasting panel. And because a staggering number of bottles of this zesty white are currently being produced worldwide, we had to narrow our focus or risk drowning in a FumĂ© sea. We restricted it to bottles that retail at $15 to $30, which is the upper end of median pricing. And at that upper level, which country takes the crown? If you’re a wine enthusiast worthy of the term, the answer probably won’t surprise you.

Also in this issue, you’ll find Stephen Beaumont and Janet Forman’s intimate tour of that age-old center of English cultural life, the Pub. The games, the food, the pints, the Biggest Liar contests—it’s all here. We wondered if the “gastropub” movement of more refined, internationalized and innovative cuisine had changed the essence of the pub. The answer, happily, is no. I suspect that if you visited a specific pub in England or Scotland five years ago and returned last week, you’d see the same folks at the same spots at the bar, wearing the same happy grins.

This issue also includes a profile of the Benziger family, the colorful winemakers who are making a concerted effort toward quality in Sonoma…and staying out of trouble at the same time. In our Pairings department, Michele Anna Jordan examines the fruit that, arguably, inspires more passion among food lovers and wine enthusiasts than any other: the olive. And in our Proof Positive department, F. Paul Pacult looks back at gin’s rather unsavory history in England as well as its current popularity as the white spirit of choice for summer cocktails.

Summer is all about relaxing with your favorite wine, ale or cocktail, sitting back and day-dreaming—of exotic travel, perhaps, of great food or an elusive bottle of wine, the one that achieved such perfection of flavor and balance that it can only be a memory. Wake up. You’re dreaming of Tuscany.


Published on August 1, 2002