From that super-fizzy and super-fun Prosecco enjoyed over the weekend with friends to the super-rich and super-value Nero d’Avola from Sicily snapped up for less than a tenner last week, for many of us most Italian wines fall under the category of ‘super’.
After all, there are more varieties grown in Italy than anywhere else in the world, meaning a plethora of wonderful grape discoveries to be had - from the top to the toe of the country.
Yet, whilst we may have many occasions to casually talk about our super Italian wines, there actually does exist a real category of ‘super’ Italian wines: the Super Tuscan.
Have you heard of them?
If not, let us offer a bit of an introduction.
Mention Tuscany and the first word that comes to mind, wine wise, is Chianti. That sometimes cheap, always high-acid, medium bodied red wine, which just happens to be a fab companion to two of our favourite Italian products: pizza and pasta.
Today, Chianti, made from the grape Sangiovese, can range from the cheap and cheerful end of the spectrum to seriously impressive wines (especially if the words classico, riserva or superiore appear on the label). Around half a century ago, however, this wasn’t necessarily the case. The majority of production fell into the former category. At the time, DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata, the Italian equivalent of the French AOC) law stipulated that at least 30% of the blend in Chianti must be from white grape varieties, which saw winemakers forced to add a dash of Trebbiano (or another similarly bland local grape) into the mix to be able to call their wine Chianti, even if it meant that the end product was a rather uninspiring and thin wine.
You see, despite guaranteeing typicity, appellation rules (in any country) can be fairly restrictive, especially for the more innovative winemaker. And there was one particular character in Tuscany in the 1970’s, Piero Antinori, who envisaged a different style of Tuscan red wine, one coming from the unfashionable, coastal plains of Bolgheri.
His wine, Tignanello, was born and the first vintage released in 1971.
Other winemakers followed suit, blending in (gasp) international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc with Sangiovese (or often preferring to use them alone) and ageing in French barriques, not Slovenian oak casks as tradition dictated in Chianti.
And, of course, these forward-thinking wine makers soon stopped blending any white grapes into their red wine.
The result? A series of wines which were more fruit forward and powerful than their Chianti counterparts, boasting less of that characteristically searing acidity but with robust tannins and typical flavours of French oak.
Soon, these wines being made outside of DOC rules (and hence classified as simple vino de tavola or table wine) were attracting higher prices and critics scores than their more ‘prestigious’ DOC counterparts in Chianti. A new breed of Tuscan wine had been born; the Super Tuscan.
Today, names such as Ornellaia, Sassicaia and Masseto command as much reverence (and similar prices) to first growth Châteaux in Bordeaux. No longer classified as a vino di tavola, these wines boast IGT status (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) and some even fall under a relatively new DOC, Bolgheri.
Don’t think you have to fork out hundreds of dollars in order to sample a Super Tuscan, however. Wines such as Tenuta Luce della Vite ‘Lucente’ (IGT Tuscana) and Mazzei Tenuta Belguardo (IGT Toscana) are found in great wine shops around the world and won’t break the bank. Here's your chance to enjoy an authentic, and super, Tuscan wine experience.
If you’re planning to visit Tuscany soon, don’t forget we can ship our range of wine travel products to your hotel, meaning you can transport any grape purchases home with ease and security!
Image crédits _venerdi&
Chrissie McClatchie is an Australian freelance writer and wine specialist who has been living in France since 2008. You can follow her on Twitter @RivieraGrape as she explores the wines of the French Riviera and Italy's Liguria.