Tuscany on $20 a day

Tuscan repast

Ah, Tuscany, beautiful mountains, sun-drenched coast, spectacular villas and villages full of amazing works of art. Some of its greatest treasures are of the vino variety and you can enjoy those from home or at your favorite ristorante. While you could go all rap-star-extravagant on Brunellos and Super Tuscans that out price classified-growth Bordeaux, I’m here to tell you that you can drink like a count or contessa for a song.

First, let’s give a little vino primer. The vast majority of Tuscan wine is red and in almost all the inland and mountain regions that means King Sangiovese. There are other grapes used in Chiantis, but very little. In Brunellos from Montalcino, it’s all Sangiovese. The best of these are labeled with the tags DOC or DOCG, which are a government designation of quality. These wines have wonderful essence of dried cherries and other red fruits and complex earth, leather and smoke riding on strong tannic structure.

The vast majority of Tuscan wine is red and in almost all the inland and mountain regions that means King Sangiovese.

On the coast we find Super Tuscans where Bordeaux red grapes dominate, although sometimes blended with Sangiovese, as well. Cabernet- and Merlot-based wines, such as Sassicaia and Masseto caught the world by storm in the 1970s fueled by a tailwind from stratospheric critics’ scores. This got the attention of the rest of Tuscan winemakers and the government and soon they were given their own stamp of approval called IGT. They are more to the new-world palate with riper dark fruits to balance the earth flavors and significant acid and tannins. Look on the label for the commune names Bolgheri or Maremma, the Super Tuscan moniker, or a listing of the Bordeaux varietals to identify Super Ts.


On a side note, recent vintages have been good to excellent in Tuscany, but 2014 was quite cool and I find the wines to be a bit less charming, so look for other vintages.

The wine crew sat down to a Tuscan feast to taste several value bottlings and here’s what we loved. Starting with Chiantis, the standouts were the Cetamura that rocks a $10 price tag and the Rufina at $15. Both were all you could ask for bringing dark cherries and plums, balanced with forest floor and spice notes.

Super-T blends Lagone Toscana IGT at $15 and Castello Trebbio Rosso Toscano at a tick more than $20 brought the berries and vanilla you would expect from Cali-Cab with a typically Italian dose of smoke and leather.

These wines shine with Tuscan staples of grilled meats and vegetables, red sauces and dressings from the exceptional vinegars, olive oils and herbs this Italian paradise is famous for. So the next time you are dining Italian or with any assertive cuisine, do yourself a favor and look to Tuscany for your wine pairing.


Lou Phillips
Lou is a Level 3 Sommelier based on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe, who loves traveling the wine world doing research for his writing. He also consults for collectors and businesses buying and selling fine wine and creating special events.