Tuscany is located midway between Milan and Rome and is bordered on the west by the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Apennines mountain range on the east. It was first inhabited by the Etruscans, in the Middle Ages and continuing through the Renaissance, and eventually developed into a center of the Arts and Learning under the control of the Medici clan. No art was more developed here than that of winemaking. Even before the Estruscans moved to the area, wild vines grew in abundance around Tuscany's sun-drenched hills. Early settlers developed the early grapes into the world-famous Sangiovese and Lambrusco.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo combine with these and produce Montalcino, Scansano, Carmginano, along with the more well known Chianti. Adding even more variety are the Mammolo, Malvasia, Colorino, Raspirosso, Gamay, Moscatello and others. Whites of the area include Elba Island, Vermentino, Bolgheri and Val di Nievole.

Tuscany is home to four of Italy's nine top-rated DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) classified zones. At only one shop in this area the number of available labels has gone from 1,000 a few years ago to over 5,000 presently. It is no wonder that Italy now vies with France for the world leader in wine production.

These wines are produced by vineyards that range from the Castello di Fonterutoli owned by the same family since 1435 to those founded only a few years ago. Tuscan wines are experiencing an all time high in both quality and popularity.

At Rocca delle Maccie the importance of quality is evident. Some of the practices instituted by this estate are; organic fertilization, careful pruning, hand harvesting and the use of oak barriques for aging. As an active member of a consortium of Chianti Classico growers, this vineyard produces one of the best selling wines in Italy.

Another example, the Fassati Novile di Montepulciano, which is made from a mixture of Prugnolo Gentile (a clone of Sangiovese Grosso), Canaiolo Nero and Mammolo, was praised as long ago as the 18th century by Voltaire.

Wines produced in this area range from the simple Chiantis to the more complex super Tuscan reds, with fruity aromas. With the changes in vineyards and viticultural methods of the 1970s the 1996 label has entered world class.

The 'super Tuscans' became popular as more international style reds began to be produced from Bordeaux-style blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot along with the Sangiovese. These wines labeled 'table wine to circumvent counter-productive government regulations, are today anything but. Among the wonderful new reds are the Brusco dei Barbi, celebrated among connoisseurs.

Bolgheri Vermentino is among the delightful, fruity whites of area and pairs perfectly with shrimp. Once only the province of France, the Cabreo Chardonnay competes on equal footing.

Swirl the wine gently, sniff and taste.

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