Under the Super Tuscan Sun

This unofficial category of Italian wine is produced from a blend of both indigenous and non-native grapes.

Tuscany is one of the most beautiful places in the world. wherever you look, there is charm, beauty and elegance. The rolling hills are picture-perfect at almost any time of the day, and Florence is arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the world—home to countless treasures of art and history. The piazzas and hills seem as if they would remain the same forever; time seems to move more slowly here. For decades, even centuries, Tuscan red wine was dominated by Sangiovese-based wines: Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino and the world was happy. But the late 1960s and early 1970s saw the birth of a new style of wine made from grapes that were up to this point unknown in the region. They were called “super Tuscans.”

So what do you call a wine that has no official classification in the region where the grapes are grown yet surpasses all others in quality, like none have ever tasted before? That is what was asked when the likes of Marchese Mario Incisa della Rochetta introduced the first Super Tuscan to the world in 1968. Prior to developing his unique wine, della Rochetta traveled to France and visited the First Growths of Bordeaux. The inspiration was permanent, and so it became the inception of the idea that great Cabernet Sauvignon—in the same quality level as those of the First Growths—could be achieved. And with the 1968 vintage came a wine that would change the landscape of not only the Italian wine world, but also the wine world itself. His creation is known as Sassicaia, and it was grown in the Bolgheri region of Italy, just a few kilometers from the Ligurian Sea. Not only was it a bold step to grow grapes in an unknown region, but it was also a pioneering blend of 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 15 percent Cabernet Franc, which heretofore had been virtually unknown in Italy. And it became a sensation to all who tasted it.


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Macchiole's superstars: Messorio 2010, Scrio 2010, Paleo 2010 and 2012, Bolgheri Rosso 2012

At the same time, Marchese Piero Antinori was creating a blend of Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, another previously unknown blend in Tuscany. And on top of that, this was in one of the most classicist regions in all of Italy-Chianti Classico. Sangiovese has always been Tuscany’s claim to fame and the grape on which Tuscany hung its hat. Sangiovese in Chianti has long been blended with other grapes—Canaiolo, even white grapes-Malvasia and Trebbiano. However blending “foreign soil” grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc was dedicated to the pride and tradition that Tuscans hold dear. And yet, the Antinori family was able to look outside the box in order to create something new and wonderful; something that opened up a whole category of wines to the world. This wine is Tignanello, the name of one of Antinori’s estates within the Chianti Classico zone.

These two wines ushered into the world a whole new category of wine. The quality of these wines was undeniable, and yet within the Italian wine construct, there was no classification for wines that used these grapes and/or blends.

So they were originally relegated to the vino da tavola classification of wines, a.k.a. simple “table wine.” But these wines were so important that the government had to tweak the wine laws in order to include these wines in the upper echelon of the Italian wine world. And thus, dozens if not hundreds of producers have followed in their footsteps, blending international varieties with indigenous ones, as well as featuring the likes of Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah instead of Sangiovese.

The examples today are legion. Some of the best to follow in Sassicaia’s footsteps featuring Bordeaux grapes would be Tenuta dell Ornellaia Ornellaia, which in the best vintages can be stunningly smooth and elegant. They also produce a wine from Merlot named Masseto, which may be Italy’s answer to Petrus. In fact, the best Merlot-based super Tuscans rival the best from anywhere in the world. This includes Le Macchiole’s Messorio and Tua Rita’s Redigaffi. Another world-class Antinori product is their Guado Al Tasso, based on Cabernet Sauvignon. Speaking of which, Montepeloso’s Gabbro—which comes solely from this noble variety—can be simply stunning. Moreover, these wines age as marvelously as their Bordeaux counterparts.

Today it is hard to imagine Tuscany’s wine landscape without these treasures. They have indelibly changed how the world sees Tuscan wines. With all that is beautiful, classic and timeless about Tuscany, there is no question that these wines too would shine brightly on the world stage.

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