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The unconventional and outstanding from the Tuscan Masters

Having tasted all the entries in this year’s Tuscan Masters, I’ve picked out some of the more unconventional wines that surprised and impressed me, in the hope that they will have the same effect on you.

The Valadorna vineyard in Chianti Classico, where Merlot is planted to produce the top expression from IGT Toscana brand Arcanum

The Tuscan Masters included all styles and regions from this famous wine-producing part of Italy, including reds from Montepulciano, Montalcino, Bolgheri and Chianti Classico, along with whites and rosatos, and a range of samples classed as IGT Toscana, primarily due to their use of international grapes – as opposed to the native varieties of this area, above all Sangiovese.

And while many of the classic Sangiovese-based wines from Tuscany took home the top scores, there was also a slew of samples taking a more atypical approach that wowed, often employing French grapes to create something a little bit different, while remaining distinctive and delicious.

Indeed, it is the combination of Tuscany’s ability to yield both classically-style wines and more modern examples that makes the area exciting, especially when the results are great, whatever the approach.

Hence, one can expect reds and whites with a typically Italian food-friendly finesse – that characteristic medium-weight feel, and bitter-sweet appeal – along with wines that show more weight, extract, and power, but not, I should stress, so much richness that they become tiring to drink.

For now, I have made a selection of those wines that could be classed as more contemporary in style, either because they are fresh styles of white or rosé, or due to their use of fashionable grapes, such as Chardonnay or Cabernet.

The choices below will be followed by a complementary list, featuring the established regions and classic wines from the Tuscan Masters 2019.

The wines were judged over the course of one day at Les 110 de Taillevent in London on 11 July by myself, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Jonathan Pedley MW and Matthieu Longuère MS.

The whites

Starting with whites, it is clear that Vermentino is well suited to the Tuscan terroir, particularly the coastal part of the region, Maremma, and can be crafted to produce a range of styles, from the fresh, citrusy, light type of white, to more full-bodied, peachy style.

The latter richer version can also be suitable for barrel-fermentation and maturation, benefitting from the added nutty complexity of such vessels, just as riper styles of Sauvignon Blanc complement a touch of oak influence.

Among the great examples tasted in this year’s Tuscan Masters were a lovely, peachy, bright Vermentino from Cecchi, called Litorale, hailing from the Val delle Rose in the Maremma DOC.

Also delicious, and made in a similar mould – so bright, fresh, unoaked, but with masses of yellow fruit – was Banfi’s La Pettegola Vermentino, which also comes from the coastal part of Tuscany, using grapes grown in both the Maremma and Bolgheri, which is better known for its great reds from Bordeaux grapes.

However, when it came to a more powerful, barrel-influenced white wine, it was a Chardonnay that impressed, with Banfi’s Fontanelle earning praise from the judges for its combination of creamy toasty characters, and intense lemon fruit.

The picks

  • Litorale Vermentino, Val delle Rose, Maremma DOC, Toscana, 2018 (Cecchi)
  • La Pettegola Vermentino, Toscana IGT, 2018 (Banfi)
  • Fontanelle Chardonnay, Toscana IGT, 2017 (Banfi)

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The rosatos

So what about rosé, or rather, rosato? After all, this is the wine world’s most fashionable category, attracting celebrities, not just as consumers, but as investors – even if such stakes are being taken in France, specifically Provence.

Well, we know from other tastings, notably our Rosé Masters, that Tuscany is the source of some great pink wines, with Frescobaldi’s Syrah and Vermentino Tuscan blend called Alie a gold medallist this year.

Banfi too has proved adept with rosato, particularly its Cost’é Rosé, IGT Toscana, which sees Vermentino prove an excellent component for a Sangiovese-based rosé, with the white grape playing a similar supporting role to the Grenache-based rosés from Provence, where Vermentino is commonly used, but labelled under its French synonym, Rolle.

However, in the Tuscan Masters, it was the brand Ventisei (meaning 26), from Avignonesi that took the top marks for its Rosato, using pure, organically-grown Sangiovese to produce a pink wine that was both refreshing and bursting with ripe red fruit.

The picks

Ventisei Rosato, IGT Toscana, 2018 (Avignonesi)

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The reds

Among the reds, it is worth noting that Tuscany offers an enormous amount for the fine wine lover, with greatness found in the famous names of the area: Chianti Classico, Montepulciano, and Montalcino, as well as wonderful offerings beyond the established – the IGT classified wines can really deliver.

And, as we are focused on the latter, one name that attracted plenty of praise, picking up three golds, was Arcanum, for its wonderful, structured reds employing Bordeaux grapes.

Using fruit from the southeast corner of Chianti Classico, this brand – which is owned by Jackson Family Wines – specialises in Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, not Sangiovese, hence its wines are classified as IGT Toscana.

All the labels from this name were delicious, but the most impressive was the Merlot-dominated Arcanum ‘Valadorna’ from the 2013 vintage, with layers of fleshy ripe Morello cherry, sweet balsamic, vanilla and plenty of firm tannins to clean the palate. Delicious now, but with great potential to age and develop greater complexity over time.

The picks

  • Arcanum, Arcanum, IGT Toscana, 2013
  • Arcanum, Il Fauno, IGT Toscana, 2015
  • Arcanum, Valadorna, IGT Toscana, 2013

The reds (continued)

Beyond Arcanum, two greats classified under the Toscana IGT tag hailed from Banfi, a name more closely associated with top Brunello, but adept at much more.

In particular, all the judges in this year’s Tuscan Masters were highly impressed by Banfi’s Summus brand, which sees Sangiovese from Montalcino blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

More concentrated than a classic red from this part of Tuscany, this wine is dense and complex, with layers of red and dark berry fruit, along with a stereotypically Italian finish, which sees the palate refreshed by a combination of firm tannin and a gently sour cherry stone lift.

Even more wonderful, however, was the Excelsus from Banfi, which, as previously reported, was awarded with the ultimate accolade of the tasting – the title of Master.

Employing only Bordeaux grapes Cabernet and Merlot grown on the slopes of Montalcino, Excelsus shows some of Cabernet’s typical cassis character, some of Merlot’s blueberry sweetness, and some of Montalcino’s finesse.

The picks

  • Banfi, Summus, IGT Toscana, 2015
  • Banfi, Excelsus, IGT Toscana, 2015

About the competition

While the Global Wine Masters runs a series of blind-tasting competitions throughout the year focused on varieties – from Chardonnay to Cabernet – and wine styles, from rosé to sparkling, the programme of events also includes judging sessions on key regions to shine a spotlight on wine quality and style in a particular place.

Over the years, such tastings have taken in Rioja, Champagne, and Prosecco, and this year we decided to add to that list with a competition for the range of wines produced across Tuscany, believing this part of the wine world to be underrated for value and quality.

The wines in the Tuscan Masters were judged over the course of one day at Les 110 de Taillevent in London on 11 July by myself, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Jonathan Pedley MW and Matthieu Longuère MS.

Please visit the Global Masters website for more information, or, to enter future competitions – giving you the opportunity to feature online and in print – please call +44 (0)20 7803 2420 or email Sophie Raichura at:

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