You may have seen the term ‘Super Tuscan’ before, and that’s because it’s used to describe some of Tuscany’s top red wines, such as Tignanello, Sassicaia and Ornellaia.
They are high quality red and white wines, normally with a price to match, made from non-indigenous varieties or using blends not allowed under Tuscan appellation law.
Back in the 1960s, some Tuscan producers began experimenting with non-indigenous varieties from Bordeaux, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.
Sassicaia is considered the first Super Tuscan. Marchese Mario Incisa della Rochetta had been making the wine for private consumption since 1948 from Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc vines planted in Bolgheri on the Tuscan coast, not previously considered particularly worthwhile wine country but ideal for the French varieties.
The first commercial release was the 1968 vintage, but due to Tuscany’s strict appellation laws the wine had to be labelled as Vina da Tavola or ‘table wine’.
These laws not only restricted the use of non-indigenous varieties, they even prescribed a Chianti Classico recipe that was detrimental to the wine’s quality: 100% Sangiovese Chianti was banned, and the blend had to include certain lower quality varieties, including at least 10% white varieties.
A movement therefore began with quality-minded Chianti producers. One of the first was Antinori, whose 1971 Tignanello was a Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon blend from the Classico zone, but declassified to Vino da Tavola.
As these wines from within and beyond Chianti punched well above their lowly Vino da Tavola status, they collectively became known as Super Tuscans. The term became synonymous with adventurous winemaking, with producers experimenting with French barriques and new viticultural methods.
Nowadays, Super Tuscans can have IGT, DOC or DOCG status. For instance, Sassicaia has its own sub-appellation, Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC, and the IGT classification was created in 1992 specifically to recognise the quality of these ‘outsider’ wines.
Chianti laws have since changed in an effort to attract the three Super Tuscans from the Classico zone – Tignanello, Cepparello and Flaccianello – back into the appellation, resulting in adjustments to the blend requirements and eventually banning white grapes completely in 2006.
While these three wines can be labelled as Chianti Classico DOCG, they have so far remained under the IGT classification.