– Travel Food & Wine
Super Tuscan refers to a style of red wine that originated in Tuscany, Italy, in the early 1970s. Many examples come from the region of Maremma, on the Tyrrhenian Sea coast in the southwest of Tuscany.
The earliest Super Tuscan wines were high quality red wines made by noble winemaking families that did not fit into the Italian Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) classification system because they used grapes not allowed by the rules of the DOCs in the region. Super Tuscans dominated the market in the 1980s and still remain a powerful force in the highest echelons of the wine world today.
Super Tuscan wines vary in style, but the influence of Bordeaux is apparent in their use of new oak barrels and French grapes like cabernet sauvignon and merlot in addition to sangiovese, the classic grape of Tuscany. The best Super Tuscans are rich and full-bodied, with well-integrated tannins and spice from oak, and can age for decades. Inexpensive examples can be found, but the most iconic Super Tuscans routinely appear on wine lists for hundreds of dollars a bottle.
Winemaking is Tuscany is an ancient practice, but the Super Tuscan style is a recent invention. “Super Tuscan” is used to describe red wines from Tuscany that may include the use of non-indigenous grapes. The term Super Tuscan was coined in the early 1980’s to describe a red blend from Tuscany.
Super Tuscans came about in the early 1970s when winemakers began making wines that did not conform to the rules for appellation wines of the region, such as Chianti DOC.
Sassicaia, from Tenuta San Guido in the village of Bolgheri, a Bordeaux-style blend of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc is considered the first Super Tuscan. Everything was born from this wine, an intuition of marquis Incisa Rocchetta, who, after noting the similarities between the soils of Bolgheri and Graves, had the brilliant idea to plant some vine cuttings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc, to create a Bordeaux style wine in Tuscany.
The first commercial release was the 1968 vintage, but due to Tuscany’s strict appellation laws the wine had to be labelled as Vina da Tavola or ‘table wine’.
These laws not only restricted the use of non-indigenous varieties, they even prescribed a Chianti Classico recipe that was detrimental to the wine’s quality: 100% Sangiovese Chianti was banned, and the blend had to include certain lower quality varieties, including at least 10% white varieties.
A movement therefore began with quality-minded Chianti producers. One of the first was Antinori, whose 1971 Tignanello was a Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon blend from the Classico zone, but declassified to Vino da Tavola.
As these wines from within and beyond Chianti punched well above their lowly Vino da Tavola status, they collectively became known as Super Tuscans. The term became synonymous with adventurous winemaking, with producers experimenting with French barriques and new viticultural methods.
How super Tuscans have evolved
Today, without strict regulations, Tuscan winemakers have the ability to alter these wines as they see fit. Winemaking has changed, with less muscle, more elegance, less concentration and more smoothness.
Nowadays, Super Tuscans can have IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica), DOC (Denominazioni di origine controllata) or DOCG (Denominazioni di Origine Controllata e Garantita) status. For instance, Sassicaia has its own sub-appellation, Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC, and the IGT classification was created in 1992 specifically to recognize the quality of these ‘outsider’ wines.
Chianti laws have since changed in an effort to attract the three Super Tuscans from the Classico zone – Tignanello, Cepparello and Flaccianello – back into the appellation, resulting in adjustments to the blend requirements and eventually banning white grapes completely in 2006.
Top Super Tuscan Wines
Italy’s most famous wine region, Tuscany, manages to make awe-inspiring wines just about every vintage. Here are some of the top wines famed for their Super Tuscan wine provenance.
Tenuta San Guido “Sassicaia”
The first Super Tuscan, this vintage is made from 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 15 percent Cabernet Franc – a blend they have maintained with each new vintage. Sassicaia is known for medium to full body with plenty of berry, chocolate and spice notes. It is a very Bordeaux-like, elegant and iconic wine.
The first modern Italian red wine to be blended with non-traditional grapes apart from Sassicaia, Tignanello is considered one of the first of the modern Super Tuscan wines. This wine is a blend of mostly Sangiovese, with some Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The wine is typically 80 percent Sangiovese, although percentages vary by vintage. Tignanello remains highly sought-after for its complex notes of cherry, rose and other florals, berries, minerals, herbs and warm spices.
Castello di Ama “L’Apparita”
Named after a small hamlet in the Tuscan hills, Castello di Ama sits in the Chianti Classico hills around Ama, where it has produced L’Apparita, Tuscany’s first wine made of pure rich 100 percent Merlot, since 1985. A deep, exotic and charming red, L’Apparita ages for 14 to 16 months and, once bottled, releases balanced tannins and acidity, plums, ripe berry, orange peel character and other fresh fruit, chocolate and subtle violets.
Tenuta dell’Ornellaia “Ornellaia”
From its location along the Tuscan Coast in the hamlet of Bolgheri, Tenuta dell’Ornellaia puts its focus on wines that bring out the best of this Mediterranean environment. In 1985, they released Ornellaia with a blend of 80 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 15 percent Merlot and 5 percent Cabernet Franc. This blend remained fairly constant until 2003, which introduced Petit Verdot and a more balanced blend – with Cabernet Sauvignon still in the lead. Ornellaia delights with its balance, silky texture and rich fruits.
Antinori, located inland in the Chianti Classico subregion of Chianti, first released its Solaia in 1978. The blend at the time was purely Bordeaux-style – 80 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and the remaining 20 percent Cabernet Franc. By 1980, the blend changed to include 20 percent Sangiovese, leaving 75 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 5 percent Cabernet Franc. Extremely impressive ripe dark fruits such as blueberries, plums and blackberries follow through to a full body, a round texture and bright acidity. These wine ages in French oak barrels, but it only appears in years with exceptional harvest.
White wine plays a minor role in Tuscany, with grapes such as the native Vermentino, along with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. There are white super Tuscans as well — they just haven’t really caught on. Ornellaia recently debuted a Toscana Bianco made from Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier.
Super Tuscan Wineries
Sloping vineyards, charming hill towns, and gorgeous wine estates all add up to Tuscany being one of the most scenic wine regions in the world. In a region known for its wines, here is a guide to the best Super Tuscan wineries.
The Antinori family has been producing wine since way back in 1385, and their cutting-edge winery built into the Tuscan hills opened its doors in 2013. Antinori produces one of the best-known Super Tuscans, called Tignorello, a blend of Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. They offer several winery tours tailored to your specifications to help you become better acquainted with Marchesi Antinori, their most iconic wines, and the beautiful landscapes and art of the Antinori Chianti Classico winery, always followed by a tasting. Visitors can lunch in their rooftop restaurant, Rinuccio 1180, or try wines by the glass in the sleek Wine Shop.
One of the most well-known wineries in the Montepulciano region, Avignonesi converted to organic and biodynamic farming in 2009. Today they produce a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano made from 100% Sangiovese grapes, as well as a renowned Vin Santo di Montepulciano (dessert wine where the grapes are traditionally dried on straw mats), along with many other varieties. The 16th-century manor house surrounded by vineyards makes a wonderful setting for tastings, and visitors can also see the Vin Santo aging cellar, the drying room, and the barrel tunnel while learning about the biodynamic winemaking process. Don’t miss the highly-rated lunch with wine pairings, served on a terrace with superlative views over the Tuscan hills, or take advantage of cooking classes and hot-air balloon rides.
Castello di Ama
Close to the town of Siena, in the Chianti Classico region, Castello di Ama blends tradition with modernity: their 12th-century castle is juxtaposed against contemporary art installations created by renowned artists including Anish Kapoor and Louise Bourgeois. Castello di Ama makes up 75 hectares under vine, around the village of Ama. The vineyards lie between 420 and 515 metres above sea level and extend across four valleys referred to by their traditional names of Bellavista, San Lorenzo, La Casuccia and Montebuoni. Ninety-minute visits include a tour of the cellars, the 18th-century villas and gardens on the property, and the artwork, and end with a tasting of Castello di Ama wines. There’s also an Enoteca where you can taste and purchase wines, and a restaurant (Il Ristoro di Ama) serving up simple Tuscan dishes and matching wines.
Castellare di Castellina
The gorgeous Castellare di Castellina vineyards, in the heart of the Chianti Classico region, are owned by Italian media executive Paolo Panerai. They are one of the highest vineyards in Chianti: they are situated in a natural amphitheater at a 1,200-feet elevation. The vines are aged between 7 and over 45 years, and yields per hectare are kept very low to obtain the maximum quality. Besides offering panoramic views, the winery is particularly known for its I Sodi di S. Niccolò Super Tuscan and Chianti Classico, along with Vin Santo dessert wine, all produced using sustainable agriculture. No synthetic chemicals are used in the Castellare vineyards, out of respect for nature and to enable the production of organic wines. Make an appointment for an hour-long tour of the cellars followed by a tasting.