What are the Super Tuscans?

Answered by Randy McIntyre

Super Tuscans are a category of red wines that originated in Tuscany, Italy. The term “Super Tuscan” was coined in the 1970s and is used to describe wines that deviate from the traditional Tuscan winemaking regulations. These wines often incorporate non-indigenous grape varieties, such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah, alongside the native Sangiovese grape.

The creation of super Tuscan wines can be traced back to a time when winemakers in Tuscany became frustrated with the slow bureaucracy and restrictive regulations surrounding the production and labeling of wines. The traditional wine laws in Italy dictated that certain grape varieties had to be used in specific proportions, which limited the winemakers’ creativity and experimentation.

During this period, some winemakers began to experiment with blending international grape varieties, such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with Sangiovese, the primary grape of the region. These winemakers believed that by doing so, they could create wines of higher quality and complexity, which could compete on an international level.

The first notable super Tuscan wine was Sassicaia, created by the Incisa della Rocchetta family in the 1940s. This wine was made predominantly from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and gained recognition for its exceptional quality. However, it was not initially recognized as a DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) or DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) wine due to its use of non-indigenous grape varieties.

To navigate around the strict regulations, these innovative winemakers opted to label their wines as Vino da Tavola, the lowest category in the Italian wine classification system. This allowed them the freedom to use non-traditional grape varieties and experiment with winemaking techniques without adhering to the region’s strict regulations. While initially viewed as unconventional and even rebellious, these wines gained popularity and acclaim both within Italy and on the international stage.

The success of Sassicaia and other early super Tuscan wines paved the way for a new wave of winemaking in Tuscany. Wineries such as Tenuta San Guido, Antinori, and Tignanello began producing their own interpretations of super Tuscan wines, incorporating a blend of indigenous and non-indigenous grape varieties. These wines often showcased rich, ripe fruit flavors, robust tannins, and a full-bodied character, which set them apart from traditional Tuscan wines.

Over time, the Italian wine laws were revised to accommodate the changing landscape of winemaking. The creation of the IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) designation in 1992 allowed winemakers the flexibility to label their wines according to the region of origin while still incorporating non-indigenous grape varieties. This provided a middle ground between the strict regulations of the DOC and DOCG classifications and the freedom of labeling wines as Vino da Tavola.

Today, super Tuscan wines continue to be highly sought after by wine enthusiasts around the world. They represent the innovative spirit and the pursuit of excellence in winemaking. While the blend of grape varieties may vary from wine to wine, the common thread that unites super Tuscan wines is their commitment to quality and their ability to showcase the unique characteristics of the Tuscany terroir.

Super Tuscan wines are a category of red wines from Tuscany that deviate from traditional winemaking regulations and often include non-indigenous grape varieties. These wines emerged as a response to the restrictive regulations in the 1970s and have since gained recognition for their exceptional quality and international acclaim. The success of super Tuscan wines has paved the way for a new era of winemaking in Tuscany, showcasing the region’s ability to produce wines of great complexity, richness, and character.