The Etruscans, Tuscany’s original inhabitants before those tacky Romans took over, were making delicious wines back around the time when my Scottish ancestors had discovered the Spoon. The following recommendations, therefore, come not from a native Italian but from someone in love with Tuscan wines who has been collecting them for two decades. It’s a jump ball though, because there’s no general consensus amongst Italians anyway, whenever you see them arguing animatedly with their hands flying, they’re debating when to open a Brunello. Yes, every single time.
As always, these are personal preferences that are incredibly prone to exceptions: if you can think of a contradictory example, you get zero points Gryffindor because there are lots. These guidelines have served me well, hopefully you find the same. All wines listed are red.
Chianti: if you see a red wine labeled “Chianti” with no further words, order a pizza and pop the cork. Drink it confidently and maybe even let the pizza have some.
Chianti Classico: Tuscany’s OG wine region can tend to produce more structured Sangiovese, but unless you see more words like “Riserva” or “Gran Selezione”, it’s probably good to go, although some of the better producers’ offerings can age nicely for 8 years or so.
Chianti Classico Riserva: Entirely producer-dependant. The stricter regs for a Riserva do, in theory, lead to a more structured, ageable wine, but I’ve found that a majority of Riservas are ready to drink upon release, even if they can age further. Certain very traditional producers will make Riservas that need a few years, but these are pretty rare and usually pricey. In fact the “Riserva” designation for Chianti became so nebulous and unhelpful that they invented a new designation:
Chianti Classico Gran Selezione: Here are the Time Capsules. With rare exceptions, every Gran Selezione I’ve tried has been coiled like a scary snake upon release, and needs at least 5 years further to reach any balance. I don’t want to scare you away, though, Gran Selezione is some of Tuscany’s best cellaring value on our market.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano: And here’s the other amazing cellaring value for Tuscan reds. Using a local clone of Sangiovese called Prugnolo Gentile, Vino Nobile tends to be fairly tannic in its youth, needing at least 5-8 years to soften. Once it does, though, you’ll experience high levels of Deliciosity.
Brunello di Montalcino: Like Barolo, the simple/safe rule with Brunello is to look at the vintage and add ten years, because the ones that needed time should be opening (with some exceptions of course), and the wines that were ready to drink will still be delicious. In truth, however, there are other metrics at work. It’s producer-dependant, for sure, but even more influence is imposed on a Brunello by geography. Find a Brunello wine map on Google images, one that shows where the wineries are. The appellation of Montalcino is kinda circle/square shaped, centred around the town of Montepulciano in the middle. Try to imagine that you’re looking down on a pyramid, with the town at the top, it’ll give you a sense of the altitude differences between different houses. Now divide that map into 3 horizontal bands: North, Middle and South:
The South band has lower altitudes, retains heat and tends to make riper, earlier drinking Brunello.
The Middle band has the highest altitudes and the most dramatic temperature shifts. These wines should likely be cellared at least 10 years.
The North band is a salad. Many of these Brunellos need time in bottle, but some don’t, it depends on who made it. This 3-band method isn’t perfect, but it has largely held true over the years.
Bolgheri: These coastal red wines made with Bordeaux grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc are, without exception, capable of aging beautifully, and many of them need to. If you’re not sure, practice the 10-year-rule to be safe.
Maremma: The south coast of Tuscany makes too many kinds of wines to warrant any consistent guide, except maybe this: if your Maremma costs more than $80, I’d consider giving it a nap, at least 2 years. Under $80? Go for it. Save me some.
Toscana I.G.T.: These non-traditional Tuscan wines – known in our part of the world as “Super Tuscans” – are almost impossible to categorize because the Toscana IGT designation is a catch-all term for Tuscan wines that don’t qualify for traditional titles like Chianti, Brunello, etc. They are defined not by what they are, but what they are not. So they could be anything, any grape, any style, and can be sold at any price – there are a few very expensive examples – making it impossible to judge the right opening time. I’d say above $100 and you’ll probably want to wait, but it’s entirely producer dependant.