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Italy is famous for its wine, rivaling France in its production. And what wine is more quintessentially synonymous with Italy? With rolling hills, pasta, renaissance villas and providing a more recognizable alternative pairing for liver and fava beans to a mainstream audience?
Why Chianti of course.
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So we continue our series of most popular wines by looking at the top 10 most searched-for wines of Tuscany, the home of Chianti – only to find that there isn’t a single Chianti on the list; in fact, there isn’t any Chianti at all in the top 25. Instead, interest in Tuscan wines is dominated by the cult of Super Tuscans – a style of wine that has bucked tradition and often incorporates international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot into its blends.
We also find that the only DOCG wines, the highest government designation for an appellation, are from Brunello di Montalcino, and none of them are in the top five. Less surprising is that the list features no Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, the third Tuscan DOCG appellation to use the region’s mainstay grape – Sangiovese.
What do feature on the list are 10 incredibly sought after, critically regarded, and for the most part, very expensive, wines. Half of them have the phenomenal average critic score of 94, but only two cost less than $100. The list would also be almost identical if we included all the wines of Italy – it’s just missing a Barolo or Barbaresco or two. It makes sense that Sangiovese is the most represented variety, but Cabernet Sauvignon gives it a run for its money.
As for Chianti, the most popular is the Ruffino Riserva Ducale, which has 12,078 searches year to date. That’s half the number of our number 10 wine, and less than one-tenth of our number one.
Not content with being the most popular Tuscan wine, Sassicaia is consistently one of the most searched-for wines across all of Wine-Searcher – in the past five years it has never dropped from the top 20 most popular wines on the website. It’s hard to downplay Sassicaia’s fame; after all, it was one of the original «Super Tuscan» wines and is the only instance in Italy of a DOC status being awarded to a single estate: Bolgheri Sassicaia. The wine also enjoys a five-way tie for second highest average critic score on the list, with a 94. Sassicaia is made from a blend of Bordeaux varieties, chiefly Cabernet Sauvignon and a small amount of Cabernet Franc.
2. Marchesi Antinori Tignanello Toscana IGT
Continuing a trend of supplying globally popular wine, the second most searched-for Tuscan has also spent years hovering around 25th place for most searches of any wine on the website. Tignanello is the most famous wine of the major Tuscan wine company Marchesi Antinori, one of three producers to be featured twice on this list. Tignanello’s fame is similar to Sassicaia in that it is considered one of the early Super Tuscans. Unlike Sassicaia however, Tignanello is a Sangiovese-dominant wine, blended with the non-regionally traditional varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It’s named for the single vineyard it comes from.
3. Masseto Toscana IGT
This wine is a bit of an outlier on the list. It’s simultaneously the most expensive at $692 a bottle, has the highest average critic score with 95 points, and is the only Merlot-dominant wine in the top 10. In fact, it’s 100 percent Merlot.
Recently we wrote a list of the 10 most popular Merlot. The list didn’t include some Old World wines that excluded the grape from the label, but as we mentioned then, those wines are cropping up in our regional top 10 articles – this is one, the Masseto is actually one of the most popular Merlots on Wine-Searcher with more searches than the next 10 Merlot combined. Masseto is owned by famed winemaking family, Frescobaldi.
The Frescobaldi family also owns Ornellaia, making it the second producer of two wines to feature in our top 10. The Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore hails from the same coastal town of Tuscany as Sassicaia, and though it doesn’t have its own DOC, it is its neighbor. Like the Sassicaia though, Ornellaia is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon in a Bordeaux-style blend with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. While it’s solely owned by the Fresocabli family now, they had owned it in a partnership with Robert Mondavi during the early 2000s.
© Poggio Rubino | 5. Marchesi Antinori Solaia Toscana IGT
Back to Marchesi Antinori with a second wine from the famed Tignanello vineyard. Where Tignanello the wine is mostly Sangiovese, the Solaia is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, blended with Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc. While the wine isn’t as popular as the Tignanello, it has a higher average critic score, 94 compared to 93, and also commands twice the average price: $230. The fruit is harvested from the best plots in the vineyard, though in less-than-ideal vintages Sangiovese won’t make it into the blend at all. When this is the case, as with the 2002 Solaia, the wine will feature Annata Diversa on the label.
6. Biondi Santi Tenuta Greppo Annata, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG
Finally, we come to the first wine hailing from a DOCG appellation. It should come as no surprise that the Greppo Annata Brunello di Montalcino is also the most searched-for 100-percent Sangiovese wine. It’s fitting too that its producer, Biondi Santi, has a history closely related to the development of wine in the region and claims to be progenitor of the style – the Italian Ministry of Agriculture called Brunello «a recent creation of Dr Ferrucio Biondi Santi from Montalcino» in 1932. Biondi Santi’s Brunello Riserva also makes an appearance just a bit further down on the list.
7. Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve Colli dell Toscana Centrale IGT
The Flaccianello della Pieve from Chianti producer Fontodi marks the most popular Super Tuscan style that also happens to be made exclusively from Sangiovese. The fruit is harvest from a selection of the best vineyards farmed by the winery and spends 24 months in French oak barrels from the Troncais forest in Allier – a region highly prized for the quality of barrels produced, and which are used by other famous estates in the likes of Bordeaux and Cognac. The wine is produced in the Colli dell Toscana Centrale IGT; a region that overlaps with much of much of Chianti, but allows for more flexibility in its production techniques and varieties than the DOCG.
8. Biondi Santi Tenuta Greppo Riserva, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG
Biondi Santi holds both first and second spot for the top two Tuscan DOCG wines, appearing on this list again with its Greppo Riserva. The wine is made from the oldest vines in the is vineyard, especially 5 hectares (12 acres) of Sangiovese planted between 1930 and the early 1970s. The Riserva holds the slightly higher average critic score over the standard Brunello, 94 to 93, but averages four times the price to be the second most expensive wine on the list at $559 a bottle. In poor vintages, where no Brunello is released, Biondi Santi vinifies a specific Rosso di Montalcino from the older vines called Fascia Rossa.
9. Casanova di Neri Tenuta Nuova, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG
The second to last wine on the list is also the second cheapest; averaging $88 a bottle it is only one of two wines under the $100 mark. The Tenuta Nuova Brunello di Montalcino has seen the most change in its popularity over the past five years. While most of the wines have enjoyed a steady number of high searches, the Tenuta Nuova made a significant leap at the beginning of 2015. This is especially seen in the 2010 vintage, which was awarded a perfect 100 points by Wine Advocate. The wine isn’t new to critical praise, however, having more than one vintage appearing in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 lists, and even getting the first place spot in 2006.
10. Il Poggione, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG
Our last wine is also the most affordable – at $63 and with an average critic score of 92, it has the highest quality to price ratio of any wine one the list. Made by the significant Brunello producer Il Poggione, this is another wine to recently feature on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list, with the 2010 vintage being coming fourth on the 2015 list. As a result, it too has seen recent bumps in popularity, peaking in November 2015 when it was the 51st most searched-for wine across Wine-Searcher. It’s useful to note that Wine Spectator factors in price and availability into its annual list – this one of course is just a popularity contest.