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Super Tuscan Wine in a Nutshell

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

Those unfamiliar with wine trivia might think that Super Tuscans were mighty ancient Etruscans who settled in Tuscany about 1,000 BCE. Tuscan though they were, the term “Super Tuscan” was first coined in the early 1980s. Some credit it to the renowned Tuscan winemaker, Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, who in 1945 began experimenting with blending traditional Tuscan grapes, such as Sangiovese, with French grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon. His creation was a revolutionary, bold style of wine that was unlike anything else produced in Tuscany. Incisa della Rocchetta's Super Tuscan, which he called “Sassicaia”, was finally released in 1968. It was an immediate hit, and other winemakers in the region quickly followed suit.

At the same time, Piero Antinori, Incisa della Rocchetta’s cousin, was also experimenting with blending Cabernet Sauvignon with Sangiovese, and in 1971 introduced Tignanello to the world, followed by Solaia in 1978. Ornellaia came along in 1985 from Antinori’s younger brother Lodovico. Due to the strict DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) regulations that required all the grapes to be local, these wines were labelled with the lowly “Vino da Tavola” (table wine) designation, despite their quality.

Why all the fuss? After World War II there was a shift to mass production and consequent deterioration in quality. Chianti became cheap wine. This led to the creation of the Super Tuscan movement to restore and preserve high quality wines by introducing non-native grapes. However, Tuscany, the world’s oldest regulated wine region since 1716, was not about to change its DOC regulations to include non-native grapes. Eventually in 1992, a compromise was struck whereby Super Tuscans could be labelled with a new, less modest denomination: IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) – an entry level category. Eventually, in 2013, Sassicaia received its own DOC denomination from the Italian government.

There are Super Tuscans and there are SUPER Tuscans. Many wines fall within the definition, and come in all ranges of grape variety and prices. The more modestly priced benefit from the history and reputation of the Sassicaias and Tignanellos, just as the modest Bordeaux benefit from their famous neighbours. They are still Bordeaux, just as they are Super Tuscans (provided one modulates expectations according to quality and price).

A survey of a few current BC Liquor Store offerings shows the range of prices and grape blends:

  • Sassicaia: $265.99 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc)

  • Ornellaia: $259.99 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc)

  • Tignanello: $155.99 (Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc)

  • Summus: $66.99 (Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah)

  • Roccato: $49.99 (Cabernet Sauvignon only)

  • Il Fauno di Arcanum: $48.99 (Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot)

  • Il Bruchiato Bolgheri: $38.99 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah)

  • Le Volte dell’ Ornellaia: $34.99 (Merlot, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon)

  • Modus: $31.99(Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot)

SuperTuscan wines have intense aromas, strong tannins and deep colour. In contrast to traditional Tuscan wines, such as Chianti, they are typically more complex and flavourful. Chianti wines are made with the Sangiovese grape and can be light, bright and acidic. Super Tuscan wines, on the other hand, are more powerful, intense and full-bodied, with dark fruit and herbal notes. Super Tuscan wines are also often compared to Bordeaux blends. Bordeaux wines are usually made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and sometimes Petit Verdot grapes.

So, if someone stops you in the street and asks “What is a Super Tuscan wine?”, you can dazzle them with: “They are red wines from Tuscany, Italy, that contain grapes that did not originate there.” That should peak their curiosity.

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