Tuscany, with its vineyard-clad hills and storybook landscapes, stands as one of the world’s foremost wine regions. And from this legendary region emerged a category of wines known as the Super Tuscans, embodying luxury, innovation, and unparalleled quality.
A glance at the Boundless Spirit of the Tuscan winemaking
The Super Tuscan saga dates back to the 1970s when Tuscan producers, led by the oenologist Giacomo Tachis, challenged the restrictions of Denomination of Controlled Origin (DOC) and Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin (DOCG) classifications. Italians had introduced the DOC wine appellation system in the 1960s, imposing strict rules for each region. Weary of the rigid limitations, some producers dared to experiment with new grape varieties and winemaking methods that were not allowed for that area under the DOC and DOCG system.
Instead, these producers chose to bottle their wine under a generic category that could have been considered lower quality. However, the absence of fixed rules for this category granted producers the freedom to experiment, resulting in the creation of unique wines that challenged conventions and expanded the horizons of Tuscan winemaking.
In the early 1990s, the IGT denomination was introduced to Italy with less stringent standards than the DOC or DOCG. Around the same time, the term “Super Tuscan” took hold as the quality of the wines started to be recognized, particularly in foreign markets like the U.S.
Super Tuscan wines are produced in various areas across Tuscany. Unlike traditional wine appellations like Chianti Classico or Brunello di Montalcino, there isn't a specific delimited geographical region for Super Tuscans.
Commonly, these wines originate from areas with a favorable climate and terroir for producing high-quality grapes. So, coastal areas like Bolgheri have gained prominence for the production of Super Tuscans, with wineries like Sassicaia, Ornellaia, and Tignanello leading the way.
Did you know…?
Sassicaia means “wine that comes from the stones”. The wine is named after the stony soil from which it comes. Sassicaia is not a wine variety but is the name of a specific wine produced by only one winery: Tenuta San Guido. Sassicaia has its own Controlled Designation of Origin: Sassicaia DOC, and Tenuta San Guido is the only winery with an owned DOC.
What lies behind the extraordinary
The grapes used in Super Tuscans vary widely but often include Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. This combination produces full-bodied, rich, and complex wines that uniquely reflect the Tuscan terroir. As mentioned, Super Tuscan vineyards are often situated in warmer climates compared to those designated for Chianti Classico, contributing to their robust structure.
Super Tuscans have a diverse spectrum of flavors, tannins, and body. In general, they have notes of both red and black fruit with classic Bordeaux flavors of red cherry, plum, cassis, and oaked notes of cedar, vanilla, and tobacco. High-quality ones are full-bodied, rich, and endowed with a spicy character, while others may reveal hints of tobacco, oak, cedar, or an array of spices.
Dance of Flavors: Sangiovese vs. Cabernet Sauvignon-based Super Tuscans
Since Super Tuscans have different percentages of different grapes, it is necessary to make a distinction before looking for food pairing. We should take into consideration the main difference between Sangiovese-prominent Super Tuscans and the Cabernet Sauvignon-based ones.
Sangiovese-centric gems like Tignanello are a symphony of herbs, spices, and tomatoes, making them ideal companions for robust meat dishes and rich lasagna. On the other hand, Cabernet Sauvignon-led marvels like Sassicaia remain a different gastronomic dance. Their boldness thrives alongside grilled or roasted meats—picture succulent filet mignon or lamb steak adorned with rosemary.
The value of challenging convention
The prestige associated with Super Tuscans, stemming from their history of innovation and exceptional quality, contributes to their high price. High-quality grapes, advanced winemaking techniques, and low yields per hectare are factors that elevate production costs. Moreover, the scarcity of some renowned Super Tuscans contributes to high demand, further impacting prices.
Super Tuscans represent pioneers of oenological innovation in Tuscany. These rebellious wines tell a story of challenging conventions, exploring new viticultural territories, and crafting extraordinary bottles that transcend predefined rules. Each sip is a journey through the history and evolution of Tuscan winemaking, confirming their unique and precious position in the world of wine.