Federico Fellini’s 1960 film “La Dolce Vita” was set in Rome. But if you visit Italy, you’ll find the real sweet life farther north — in Tuscany.
There’s a special golden quality to the sun around Florence, which seem to vibrate the air and turn the landscape a shimmering lime-green. Rolling hills stretch to the horizon, and each hilltop has its own centuries-old castle that was built for war, but now more likely houses a five-star hotel.
Restaurants serve two-pound Florentine steaks, marinated in balsamic vinegar and rosemary. They serve pasta as extra-wide pappardelle with wild boar ragu, or with creamy alfredo sauce laced with truffle oil.
In a proper universe, such cuisine would be accompanied by great wines. Luckily, this is the case. Rich, hearty red wines redolent of black plums, blueberries and mocha, without hard tannic edges or searing acids. Wines with soaring names such as “Vino Nobile di Montepulciano,” or “Noble Wine of Montepulciano” expressing the Italians’ gift for hyperbole (but still not undeserved, since the French writer Voltaire praised it in his Candide).
Some of the Tuscan red wines are made solely from the region’s most famous grape, sangiovese. Others blend sangiovese with international grapes including cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc to make fuller-bodied wines that many call “Super Tuscan” wines.
We Americans can also drink these wines, of course, with big, red steaks, duck and goose, pork stews and our own pasta dishes and such, thus reaching out ourselves for the sweet life.
—2009 Tenuta Frescobaldi di Castiglioni, Toscana IGT (50 percent cabernet sauvignon, 30 percent merlot, 10 percent cabernet franc, 10 percent sangiovese): ultra dark hue, aromas and flavors of black plums, tobacco and cocoa, powerful and smooth; $22.
—2009 Brancaia Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG (80 percent sangiovese, 20 percent merlot): dark, rich and smooth, with aromas and flavors of black cherries, black plums and espresso; $40.
—2009 Brancaia “Ilatraia” Rosso Maremma Toscana IGT (40 percent cabernet sauvignon, 40 percent petit verdot, 20 percent cabernet franc): hint of oak, flavors of black cherries and black pepper, rich and smooth; $60