Tuscany:
Art, History & Wine

History and Tradition

Tuscany was first inhabited by the Etruscans. Most of our knowledge of their civilization is derived from archeological findings in Tuscany and across the Apennines in neighboring Emilia-Romagna. The Romans conquered the region in the mid-4th century B.C., and after the decline and fall of Rome, the area became a Lombard duchy with Lucca as its capital, and still later a powerful fief under the Franks. Eventually, Tuscany became part of the papacy lands, causing a long-lasting strife between popes and emperors, and their backers — the Guelph (pro-papal) and Ghibelline (pro-imperial).

In the late Middle Ages and throughout the Renaissance, Tuscany was a center for the arts and of learning. The Tuscan spoken language became the literary language of Italy after Dante Alighieri, Petrarch, and Boccaccio used it instead of the traditional Latin to create profound works that are still read today. Notable schools of architecture, sculpture and painting developed from the 11th century in many cities (particularly Florence, Pisa, Siena, and Arezzo).

Under the Medici, the ruling family of Florence, Tuscany became a grand duchy in 1569, and so a powerful political and economic force in addition to being one of the main intellectual and artistic centers in Europe at the time. A visitor needs only to stroll the streets of Florence today from ancient palace to cathedral, wander across the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) that straddles the Arno River, or visit any of the ancient towns such as San Gimignano to be overwhelmed by the region's glorious past.

The historic and artistic legacy of such a past is embedded in both the folkloristic festivals that take place throughout the year and the rich artisan traditions that still survive today. With the industrial revolution, the craftsmen skills of the Tuscan people gradually took two complementing directions. At one end, capable professionals dedicated themselves to maintain and restore the existing historic artistic and architectural treasures. At the other end, the working artistic crafts community invested technical and manual skills in creating more accessible local industries such as jewelry making around Arezzo, fabrics and shoes in Prato, furniture in Poggibonsi and of course, precious marble works from Carrara.

The Wines

Tuscany's winemaking industry counts on one of the most noble and ancient traditions that predates the universally known Chianti wine that often springs to mind when this region is discussed.

Long before the first Etruscans made their appearance, wild vines grew in abundance all over the sunny rolling hills of Tuscany. The Etruscans are believed to have domesticated and bred the forbearers of such grapes as the Sangiovese and the Lambrusco from those early feral grapes. No matter where or how the first vines originated, grapes and the much sought after wines they were made into have been celebrated in local literature throughout all historic times of the region, and even farther back to the paintings and pottery decorations of those original ancient Etruscans.

The hilly soil and the weather conditions of Tuscany are ideal for grape growing and, with the passing centuries, the numerous types of grapes grown gave rise to some rare and much loved varieties. Nowadays, the most grown variety is the noble Sangiovese, which is often combined with small amounts of locally grown Cabernet Sauvignon, Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo and other grapes into wonderful blends such as the Brunello di Montalcino, Morellino di Scansano, Carmignano and, of course, the signature Tuscan wines, the Chianti and Chianti Classico, which probably are the best known Italian wines in the world. Other grapes grown here are the Mammolo, Malvasia, Colorino, Raspirosso, Gamay, Grand Noir, Barbera, Moscatello, Aleatico and Vernaccia, among others.

Tuscany accounts for over thirty DOC and half a dozen of DOCG wines. In addition to the great, well-known and appreciated reds, the local production includes a few distinguishable whites, the most notable among them being, without doubt, the Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Other delicious whites include the Bianco d'Elba, from the Elba Island, Bianco di Bolgheri, Vermentino, Bianco di Pitigliano and Bianco di Val di Nievole. (Bianco in Italian means, "white").

Last but not least, we can't forget the famous Vin Santo, or “Holy Wine”, a dessert delicacy usually made from Trebbiano grapes that have been left to dry in an airy place until the start of Holy Week before being made into wine.


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