Understanding “Super Tuscan” Wines: What Does Super Tuscan Really Mean?
Last Updated on June 5, 2022.
Super Tuscan Wine – A Wine for the Rebel
I’m a big fan of wines that challenge the status quo – Super Tuscan wine makers did exactly that during the 1970s. There are a growing number of vintners around the world today that dare to break traditional winemaking standards. Especially when they’re breaking off from regulations as stringent as some of the ones administered by the Denominazione di Origine Controllata in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy.
Defining “Super Tuscan”
So what is the definition of “Super Tuscan” wine? For starters, the term evolved (and continues to evolve) because of wine makers who recognized a critical need to break the mold and essentially become rebels with a cause. A Super Tuscan wine — traditionally at this point — can be defined as a wine produced in Tuscany that utilizes nontraditional Tuscan grape varieties and/or doesn’t abide by traditional Tuscan wine making practices. As a result, this style of wine is ineligible for classification as a DOCG recognized product. However, they do fall under the IGT classification (Indicazione Geografica Tipica).
Commonly, you’ll find that Super Tuscan’s use varying concentrations of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Petit Verdot. Not unlike many traditional Bordeaux-style red blends. Super Tuscan’s can also consist exclusively of Sangiovese, so, in short – the definition is and will continue to evolve. They are the “unofficial,” ambitious, off-kilter yet delicious wines of Tuscany.
How Did “Super Tuscan” Come About?
There’s a relatively long story behind this, but for the sake of keeping this article short and to the point, it all began with Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta.
During the 1940’s, most Italian Chianti wines were being produced for local distribution in large quantities. The quality of these wines was largely poor. They required that Tuscan wine makers adhere to strict regulations during production.
Rocchetta — disappointed with the quality of wines as well as frustrated by the approved wine making practices — felt a need to break the mold. He ended up importing Bordeaux grapes from the now famed Chateau Lafite, and planted his new vines along the Tuscan coast – away from many of the Tuscan vineyards at that time. His wines, which were also aged in French oak, came to be known as Sassicaia in the gorgeous and tasty Tuscan sub-region of Bolgheri. A region that Winetraveler was recently privileged to visit at Giovanni Chiappini Winery. A winery that follows in similar footsteps to Super Tuscan production.
While it took some time for Rocchetta to produce good quality Sassicaia, in time he was able to figure out the right strategy. Having figured out how to produce good quality, they slowly began to gain some traction.
In 1968, Piero Antinori — who was related to Rocchetta — approached him and asked if he could let some of his distributors sell his new product. The Antinori family was well known not just in Tuscany, but Italy as a whole. The famed winemaking family offered Rocchetta an opportunity for his new style of wine to gain some real exposure. Sure enough, Sassicaia gained almost instant notoriety.
Antinori took Sassicaia a step further and began to experiment along Tuscany’s Bolgheri Coast with varying concentrations of grapes. Despite his efforts, wines produced with non-Tuscan grapes had to be classified as “vDT,” which consumers in Italy considered to be the some of the poorest quality wines.
Thanks to Antinori’s ability to prove the quality of his product through clever marketing, he was able to charge high prices for his new styles. In fact, the IGT classification was created by Italy in 1992, largely in part to Antinori’s influence and successful efforts in creating great “Super” Tuscan wines.
What Do Super Tuscan Wines Taste Like?
Given that there are so many different winemaking practices and grape concentrations employed for the production of Super Tuscan’s, there’s no set taste profile. In general, the best Super Tuscan’s are reminiscent of many fine big-bodied and fruit forward Cabernet’s and red blends from Central and Northern California. Black and red fruit is commonly present, with refreshing acid and a meaty body. Others are more refined and somewhat earthy, not unlike Bordeaux style blends produced on the Left Bank.
How to Find Super Tuscan’s
When you’re browsing the liquor store for a nice Super Tuscan, it’s not going to tell you right on the bottle. Keep an eye out for Tuscan wines carrying the IGT classification. This is commonly represented right on the front of the bottle. Many “IGT Toscana” wines will usually have at least 85% Sangiovese, with the remainder being filled out by varying concentrations of Bordeaux style grape varieties. Keep in mind though that bearing the IGT classification means that there are no real stringent rules for the winemaker to abide by, so grape concentrations can and will vary. One of our current favorite producers of both IGT and DOCG wines is Tenuta di Capezzana, located in Carmignano.
How Much do Super Tuscan’s Cost?
In keeping with the tradition that Piero Antinori set into place whilst producing wines under the vDT Classification, many Super Tuscan Wines still cost a lot. It’s not uncommon for many to cost in excess of $100. However, while these high priced wines certainly are of substantial quality, you can now find great Super Tuscan wine under $30. You just have to explore, investigate and try wines from Tuscany with a little bit more focus. Which, as Winetraveler’s is one of the best methods to opening your mind to new wines and wine regions.