Tuscan wine guide

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Cultural connections in tuscan winemaking

Tempranillo: from Spain to San Miniato along the Francigena

San Miniato is a medium size town in the province of Pisa which lies in Tuscany region.

San Miniato al Tedesco

The town is a remarkable example of cultural stratification: evidences say that it was inhabited by the Etruscans first, then by the Romans and after the fall of the Roman Empire, San Miniato felt under the control of the Lombards and from then on it became so associated to the German rulers that people started to call it San Miniato al Tedesco ("to the German" ) although this sobriquet helped and helps still today to distinguish it from the convent of San Miniato al Monte in Florence, which is about 40 kilometres northeast.

From the Middle Ages till the creation of the Gran Duchy of Tuscany, San Miniato played an active role specially when it was under the control of Florence and it was used as a strategical town to look at the historical florentine enemy: Pisa!

But the extra value of this town was linked also to the fact that San Miniato was on the via Francigena, which was the main connecting route between northern Europe and Rome. It also sat at the intersection of the Florence-Pisa and the Lucca-Siena roads. 

Over the centuries San Miniato was therefore exposed to a constant flow of friendly and hostile armies, traders in all manner of goods and services, and other travelers from near and far.

And maybe this is the main reason why a few plants of Tempranillo grapes have been found around the area and today they are used by a single family producer (Leonardo Beconcini and wife Eva Bellagamba) to make an extraordinary and unique red wine.

Tempranillo grapes

Tempranillo is the grape variety that forms the backbone of some of the finest red wines from Spain and Portugal. Almost every red wine from Ribera del Duero has Tempranillo at its core, and in Portugal the variety is widely used in the Douro Valley both for table wines and fortified wines (Port). 

A thick-skinned variety that makes deep-colored wines with moderate tannins, Tempranillo is well suited to the demands of the modern wine consumer. While it lacks a deep-intense flavor profile, the wide range of aromas detectable in Tempranillo-based wines gives it a charm in and of itself, with tasting notes ranging from strawberries, cherries to prunes, chocolate and tobacco. The former three notes typically come from younger vines growing in cool climates, while the latter three develop with older vines and more heat.

Origins of Tempranillo are murky. It could be indigenous to the Spanish countryside or it could have been brought there by the Moors from somewhere else unknown.  

Some old theories associate Tempranillo to Pinot Noir with which it shares some characteristics although ampelographic studies have shown no genetic connection between the cultivars. 

A relation with Pinot Noir would anyway implicate some truth in the legend that Cistercian monks left Pinot Noir cuttings at monasteries along their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

Archeological site in San Miniato

So taking in consideration that one part of the Francigena route was connecting Santiago de Compostela to St. Peter in Rome passing through Tuscany, as soon as I met the Tempranillo producers in San Miniato with a cute estate lying near the San Genesio chapel and a recently discovered archeological site, the connection between the pilgrims road and the spanish grape variety, came back to my mind.

San Genesio along the Francigena

It is fascinating and intriguing thinking about the relations, the exchanges and connections among populations thanks to a road which became a thread of memories and knowledge passed through generations and thank to the Beconcini family and their effort to keep alive and spread the story behind a grape!

Tempranillo- Beconcini wine estate 

If you wish to learn more about tuscan wines, their characteristics and history, book your educational wine tour with Anna, your tuscan wine guide....

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