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The birth of Super Tuscan wines

A rare occasion to enjoy these Tuscan wines together. John Stimpfig reports from the Tuscan masterclass at the Decanter Shanghai Fine Wine Encounter...

Super Tuscan wines

This masterclass tasting was nothing else than an embarrassment of riches. ‘It is very rare to see these Tuscan wines assembled together’ commented Ian D’Agata. ‘They are not just the best in Tuscany, these are among the most elite names in the whole of Italy.’

D’Agata began by scene setting the birth of the Super Tuscan movement, which began in the late 60s. ‘In those days, it was completely illegal to incorporate Bordeaux grape varieties into a Chianti Classico, even if it improved the blend. But that wasn’t the only restriction on producers. Equally, it was also illegal under the existing rules to produce a 100% Sangiovese,’ he added. Consequently producers who chose to produce these revolutionary styles of wine had to classify them as humble vino di tavola.


Happily, times have moved on and the legislation has now changed to bring these magnificent wines within the regulatory fold of Italy’s appellation system. Not least because there is no question that Tuscany is eminently capable of producing world-class Cabernet and Merlot, particularly on the Tuscan coast in places like Bolgheri where the warmer, drier climate favours these classic Bordeaux varieties over the native Sangiovese.

Similarly, it was an anachronistic nonsense that quality focussed producers had to blend other inferior grapes with Sangiovese (including white varieties) to wines within Tuscany’s most famous denominations. This was crazy, commented D’Agata because nowhere in the world makes better Sangiovese than Tuscany.

So if there was any residual doubt as to whether the struggle to update Tuscany’s appellation system was worth the effort, this dazzling tasting easily dispelled it.

‘Tuscany does both styles brilliantly – especially at this exalted level of quality,’ added D’Agata who had personally picked the wines and vintages to prove his point.

‘In my view, the likes of Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Gratamacco and Galtrona’s Petrolo and Redigaffi can comfortably compete with the best of Bordeaux. By the same token, his five chosen Sangioveses were just as outstanding – in a completely different style.

‘With the Bordeaux blends, you have more of a classical black fruit profile with cassis and dark cherry as well as supple cedar and tobacco to the fore. It’s also noticeable that these Cabernet and Merlot-based wines had more depth of colour and tannic structure. In marked contrast, the Sangiovese wines showed their own glorious typicity – marked by a distinct red berry profile – ‘you never find black fruits on pure Sangiovese,’ said D’Agata.

What you should find are red fruits – often sour cherries as well as liquorice, black tea and, depending on the age of the wine, a floral violet character.

In addition, he pointed to how much paler the five Sangiovese wines were in the glass. ‘This is another tell-tale sign of Sangiovese purely because its pigments break down very easily. So the skins just don’t give you the density of colour provided by the likes of Cabernet or Merlot.’

However, just because the wines look paler, doesn’t mean that they are necessarily lacking in tannin, structure or ageing potential. A point which was admirably proved by tasting the wines.

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