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Wines of Tuscany: Super Tuscans

Super Tuscans

Super Tuscan… what is that supposed to mean? A new super hero, a WWF wrestler or a very hot Italian super model? Well, in the world of wine, Super Tuscan could mean all of the above. Simply put, Super Tuscan is a purely concocted term referring to red wine made in Tuscany that does not conform to the wine classification system imposed by the Italian government. In 1963, a group of Italian winemakers got together to find a way to raise the quality standards for Italian wines and classify regional wines according to local wine-making traditions. Their goal was to provide a way to gauge the quality of a wine and its production area and to determine if it was made in a consistent style and quality. The Italian wine experts defined three wine rankings: DOC, DOCG, and VdT. For more on this classification system see my article: The Wines of Tuscany.

This may have been a good idea, at least on paper, but in Tuscany the new classification system overlooked many wine producers. In fact, the Chianti DOClimited vintners to making some mediocre to poor red wine. Even worse, the “rules” for the Chianti Classico region stipulated that vintners were to use 10%-30% of white wine to mix with their red and to limit the time the blend stayed in the barrel to mature. In the end, this wine was young and fruity, but certainly nothing to submit for competition on the international market.

By the late 1960s, many Tuscan winemakers were fed up with these silly rules imposed by the Italian government. So, a small group of vintners, led by Marchese Piero Antinori, decided to strike out on their own and produce their wine outside the DOC/DOCG classification system. In other words, it would be classified as vino da tavola, or table wine. These guys abandoned the rules and created a Sangiovese-based wine mixed with international varietal grapes such as: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. Additionally, they played around with various types of barrel-aging with casks made from French and other international oaks. After years of experimentation and aging, these wines began to get the attention of some wine critics. Great wines were “born” with names such as Tignanello and Sassicaia. But, they could only be called table wine, even though they tasted great and cost a small fortune.

Many think the actual term “Super Tuscan” can be attributed to Robert M. Parker Jr., the noted wine advocate who began rating wine on a 100-point scale. Through his writing, critiques and high point-ratings, he boosted the appeal of these no-named wines produced in Tuscany, drove up their cost and called international attention to a new ‘breed’ of wine.

With no rules to follow, the vintners put their newly created Super Tuscan wines in a totally new category outside any specified DOC. The only thing everyone could agree on was there were some amazing wines being created in Tuscany’s Chianti region.

In 1992, the Italian government “wine regulators” finally saw the light and introduced a new official wine classification, ITG (Indicazione Geografica Tipica). It includes the Super Tuscans and many other wines previously not defined in the DOC classification system. Additionally, new DOCs were added, such as DOC Bolgheri, that allowed for non-native grape varieties.

Let’s take a look at a few of the best (and priciest) wines and a few affordable bottles.

Super Tuscan bottles

Here are some of the top Super Tuscans:

  • Sassicaia - This is the wine that started it all. Recent vintages sell for $150. !985 vintage goes for $4000+.
  • Tignanello - This was the first Super-Star Tuscan and is named for the vineyard where the grapes are grown. Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are blended for this wine. $60-$250 depending on the vintage. (Antinori)
  • Solaia – All grapes grown in a single vineyard containing Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Recent vintages run $120-$300. 1998 vintage goes for up to $650.
  • Ornellaia - Made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Sells for $125-$500 depending on the vintage and designer label.
  • Masseto - Made only from Merlot grapes grown in a single vineyard. Depending on vintage it sells for $350-$800 a bottle.
  • Redigaffi – 100% Merlot grapes. Robert Parker gave the 2000 vintage a score of 100 points. Plan to pay $650 to $800 depending on the vintage. There is a younger “rosso” version selling for $120-$300.

Don’t worry, there are some affordable Super Tuscans out there as well. Next time you are at your wine shop, pick up one of these bottles:

  • Castello Banfi Centine Toscana – This Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend is good and approachable. $10-$15 depending on the vintage.
  • Podere Brancaia Tre Rosso Toscana - The three reds, Sangiovese, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Tre Rosso is made from grapes grown on three (tre) estates, in Castellina, Radda, and Morellino di Scansano. Sells for $20-$25.
  • Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo Toscana - Named for the "seven bridges" that cross the Arno River on the road from Arezzo to Florence. Sangiovese and Merlot make up this blend. Plan to pay about $35.
  • Tenuta dell'Ornellaia Le Serre Nuove Bolgheri - This is the “little sister” to the famous Ornellaia mention above. Made from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. About $60.

All of the Super Tuscan wines are RED and meant to be consumed with fatty food such as salami, cold cuts, prosciutto, steaks and meaty pasta dishes. Give one a try the next time you are looking for a good bottle of red wine.

Outro

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Do you want to learn more about traveling to Europe? There is a wealth of information and special discount pricing on my tours at https://davidmcguffin.com/.

David McGuffin is Founder and CEO of David McGuffin’s Exploring Europe, Inc., based in Middleburg, Florida. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube. David spends his time in Europe organizing and leading small group and independent tours to European destinations. In business since 2001, David has provided exceptional travel opportunities to several thousand satisfied customers. You can find out more about David and his European tours at his website, https://davidmcguffin.com.

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Interested in sampling a local Super Tuscan? Join us on one of our upcoming tours.

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