What to Expect from Tuscan Wines

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Tuscan Wines are For Food.

Making your first purchase or going on your first Tuscan wine tour? Here’s an article on what to expect, and how best Tuscan wines can be enjoyed. The first thing to know is they’re not easy and neither are they meant to be. Lovers of bold California styles may not want to buy a second bottle, but read on and let’s see if I can change your mind. Tuscan wines like Brunello and especially Chianti are lighter than most new world expressions. They also have noticeably higher acidity. In Italy we refer to their sensation on the palate as being “elegant.” To understand our point of view, think of elegance in terms of dress sense. So for us, many new world wines are over dressed. Of course it’s a matter of opinion…it’s just that we’re right. So let’s find out why.

Many Italian wines are made, and have always been made to be paired with food. The most well known wines from Tuscany, Chianti and Brunello are classic examples. Tuscan food is rather savory, and California style wines will generally lack flavor and freshness with such food. Chianti on the other hand will be perfectly balanced and fresh. This doesn’t mean that one is better than the other, it just means different wines for different situations. Chianti is great with food, but it doesn’t drink well on its own, for which a California style would be much better. So let’s see what’s happening.

Map of the Chianti Tuscan wine region

Map of the Chianti wine district south of Florence

American Tastes

I’ve not been to the States and it’s not easy to find American wines in Italy. In fact it’s not easy to find wines from other countries in general. Italy has great food and wine, but we’re also very narrow minded on the subject. Excellent products exist elsewhere, and I think it would do us good to try them more often.

However I’ve been a wine tour guide with American clients for 15 years, and in a recent past I would have said that Americans have a preference for wines with high levels of alcohol and residual sugar. A high alcohol level and bold flavor, seem like you’re getting more for your money.

But in the past few years I’ve noticed that my guest’s tastes are changing. Delicate, acidic (elegant) wines are being increasingly understood and appreciated. I’m sure there’s a definite trend, and I admit it makes me happy. Maybe it’s a backlash against the big, syrupy fruit bombs that have been a part of American tastes for so long.

Salt Reduces Your Perception of Acidity

So what is about high acid wines that makes them so good when paired with savory food? Well, it’s because salt reduces your perception of acidity. Actually so do other elements of a meal, but salt is the main player, so that’s what this paragraph is about.

If you’ve ever tasted a bold wine with a salty meal, you’ve probably tasted a “flabby” wine. This lack luster sensation is due to the lack of acidity. If you can’t recall this happening, try a little experiment the next time your pour your favorite California bold. Take a sip and pay particular attention to the sensations your perceiving. Now eat something like salted peanuts and try the wine again. I’m pretty sure you won’t find the wine as good as before. I’m not saying bad, just not as good.

So why are Tuscan wines better with food?

Well all wines have a certain amount of acidity. Acidity brings a sensation of freshness, and is a necessary ingredient of the flavor profile. Even desert wines may have a touch of acidity. However the bolder and softer the wine, the lower the initial acidity. The introduction of food and salt on your palate will reduce your perception of acidity even further. So obviously if you don’t have much to start out with, the wine will lose freshness and flavor. When this happens we refer to the wine as being unbalanced.

On the other hand Tuscan wines like Chianti and Brunello will taste fresh and leave your mouth watering. This is because they have a higher acidity to start out with, so there will be more left over after the introduction of food. In other words the wine retains a better balance.

As I mentioned earlier it’s just about different wines for different situations. If you’re having a barbecue with a sausage or two, then Chianti or Brunello are the way to go. On the other hand, if you’re drinking wine socially, then a big California wine would certainly be more enjoyable.


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