What are Super Tuscan Wines?
What is a Super Tuscan, and what gives it this strange name? A Super Tuscan wine is an Italian wine made in the Tuscany wine region. The wine is made with grapes not traditionally used in Tuscan wines (such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot) and therefore does not meet the requirements of the region’s classification system.
Fully understanding Super Tuscan wines first requires knowledge of traditional Tuscan wines and the classification system for wines of this region.
Traditional Tuscan Wine Classification System
Traditional Tuscan wines must meet many standards, including the types of grapes that must be used, the minimum alcohol level that must be reached, and the months (or years) of aging the wine must undergo. If winemakers meet these requirements, then they may qualify for the region’s top designations.
The following classifications are listed from the strictest to least strict:
- Denominazioni di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG)
- Denominazioni di origine controllata (DOC)
- Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT)
- Vino da Tavola (VDT)
Why is there a need for Super Tuscan wines?
The call for non-traditional wine classifications stemmed from frustrations winemakers had with the rigid governing system for Tuscan wines. Until the 1990s, Chianti wines had strict regulations for achieving DOC or DOCG labels (including a requirement for the wine to be no more than 70% Sangiovese and at least 10% white wine). Winemakers were frustrated by these regulations, which they argued had created an undesirable wine with a worldwide reputation for lacking in quality. The winemakers believed in the potential of the land to produce top-quality wines, but felt hindered by regulations. Those who strayed from traditional winemaking produced outstanding wines . . . but since they strayed from traditional methods, these wines received lower designations.
Who made the first Super Tuscan wine?
Although the origins of the first Super Tuscan wine are not clear, many believe that Sassicaia was the first Super Tuscan. In 1944, Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta planted Cabernet Sauvignon at his estate, Tenuta San Guido, in Bolgheri. The wine was made for the Marchese’s personal consumption until the 1968 vintage, which was sold in 1971. That same year, Marchese Piero Antinori crafted a Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon blend called Tignanello, which was released in 1978.
By the 1980s, numerous winemakers in Tuscany were blending non-traditional grapes and producing high-quality wines without higher ranked classifications (such as DOC or DOCG). Around the same time, the term “Super Tuscan” emerged to describe these sensational wines. The origins of the term are unclear.
What grapes are in a Super Tuscan wine?
Since winemakers take liberties with Super Tuscan wines, it is impossible to classify the wine or provide a list of grapes that are used. Some Super Tuscan wines are predominantly Sangiovese, making them similar to traditional wines from the region, but with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Syrah. Other wines are 100% of other varietals, such as a 100% Merlot wine. Some are patterned after France’s Bordeaux wines and use grapes such as Petit Verdot, which is commonly blended into Bordeaux red wines.
Because of these liberties, it can be tricky to purchase a Super Tuscan without knowing a little about the winemaker and the wine’s grapes. Consult a wine merchant for this background information to ensure that you purchase a wine that aligns with your preferred wine style.