The Mountain Times

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Super Tuscans

There is a relatively simple definition for Super Tuscans being wines of a certain quality from Tuscany. But this leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Asking different people shows a variety of different definitions, or expectations, making it a confusing issue. Price range seems to be one factor, which grapes are used - or not - is the other.

To begin with, Super Tuscans are technically 'IGT' wines from Tuscany. That means 'Indicazione Geografica Tipical' or 'typical regional wines' this in turn means they are not 'DOC' - Denominazione di Origine Controllata (controlled designation of origin) or 'DOCG' - Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (controlled designation of origin guaranteed) as they do not adhere to the strict regulations those designation require. IGT wines can range incredibly in price and guarantee that a minimum of 85% of the grapes used in the wine are grown in the region.

To be a DOC or DOCG Chianti for example, the wine maker would need to use a certain percentage of grapes grown in particular areas with a regulated yield per acre. Typically this is then a blend of at least 80% Sangiovese, with the rest Canaiolo, and/or Colorino. But this being Italy, it's not that easy as the definition varies for different sub-regions, such as Greve, Rufina, Colli Senesi or 'Classico.'

Up until the '70's even white grapes such as Malvasia Bianca or Trebbiano were allowed in Chianti. Various new regulations came about over time with everything centering on Sangiovese, which as of 2005 can also be the only varietal used in Chianti.

The term 'Super-Tuscan' is said to be coined by Robert Parker in the '70's and covers wines made with different grapes or combinations thereof. Wine makers simply wanted to have the freedom to use different grapes and many started using French grapes such as Cabernet, Merlot, or Syrah - grown in Tuscany! A Super Tuscan is often the signature wine of the producer; a precious wine that sometimes is difficult to find outside the latest vintage - or even to get a taste of (just like Brunellos and Barolos.)

Marquis Mario Incisa della Rocchetta owner of the estate Tenuta San Guido in Bolgheri, an area on the coast of Tuscany, produced an artisan wine in the late '40's that broke every rule, called Sassicaia. It was made of Cabernet Sauvignon vines imported directly from Bordeaux and aged in French oak. Initially the wines were peculiar, even coarse, but techniques were considerably improved by the 60's and the wine turned out to be awesome. It wasn't yet very well known, since the quantities produced were minimal, until the owner of a very old winery in the Chianti Classico region, Piero Antinori (related to the Incisa della Rocchetta), started using the same techniques making his signature wine from 100% Sangiovese called Tignanello, the first of its kind in 1971.

Super Tuscans, today, are wines with an international flair, generally flamboyant, dense and powerful, usually with heavy tannic structures and flavors of new oak. The most expensive and best known follow in chronological order, listing the first year of production. To be complete it should include another 50 or so wines, this is only to show the wide variety of grapes used: Sassicaia by Tenuta San Guido (1968 - cab. sauv. & cab. franc); Vigorello by San Felice (1968 - sangiovese, cab. sauv. & merlot); Tignanello by Antinori (1971 - sangiovese & cab. sauv); Le Pergole Torte by Montevertine (1977 - sangiovese); Solaia by Antinori (1978 - cab. sauv, cab. franc & sangiovese); Cepparello by Isole e Olena (1980 - sangiovese); Maestro Raro by Felsina (1987 - cabernet sauvignon); Saffredi by Le Pupille (1987 - cab. sauv, merlot & alicante); Romitorio by Ruffino (1990 - colorino & merlot); Testamatta by Bibi Graetz (2000 - sangiovese, colorino, canaiolo, moscato nero & malvasia nera).

If you can get your hands on any of these wines, enjoy! There is no better time than during the holidays!