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Super Tuscan Wines: From Table Fare to International Fame

Posted by Megan DeAngelo on April 15 2016

It’s hard to believe that Super Tuscan wines were once considered low quality wines, unworthy of being labeled anything above a table wine.

Today these reds are some of the most well-known and prized Italian wines. They hold a special place among all wine connoisseurs for their high quality and full-bodied taste.

An Outlet for Winemaking Creativity

wine barrels

What happened to create this shakeup in the famous Tuscan winemaking region?

In the 1960s a group of Italian winemakers in Tuscany revolted against the country’s structured classification system, which started with table wines and went up to DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) and the highest, DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita). These rankings, inspired by France’s system, denote denote grape variety, quality and pricing.

However, these winemakers felt these regulations limited their creativity and ability to make high-quality wines exactly how they wanted. They wanted to make the quality pure and strictly use red wine varieties, unlike the standard DOC wines, which were permitted to contain up to 30 percent white wine grapes.

Tuscan winemakers began to mix their red wines with unsanctioned wine varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, and to mature the wines in small oak barrels.

Borrowing from the French

Chianti vineyard

Tuscany’s location on the northwest coast of the country gives it a warm Mediterranean climate ideal for growing red wine grape varieties, such as the famous Sangiovese. These tend to grow riper and fuller when they’re exposed to direct sunlight. Many vineyards in this region are planted on hillsides, which creates a specific kind of acidity unique to Tuscany.

The climate and growing conditions means that the French red wine varieties that are planted and grown in Tuscany, and added to the Super Tuscans, taste a little different from those grown in France. This gives Super Tuscans a distinct, rich taste compared to other Italian wines grown in the same region.

Initially controversial, the full-bodied Super Tuscans have great longevity and have enabled winemakers to produce vintage wines that were a huge success in the American market, with word being spread of this new wine by American business people traveling in Italy.

How to Recognize a Super Tuscan

wine cellar

Today, Super Tuscans are recognized internationally by the IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) classification. After being initially scorned, these wines are now more expensive than the DOC red wines from Tuscany.

They are generally considered to be fuller bodied richer in flavor as opposed to other Tuscan wines. This is attributed to using only red wine grapes, their maturing process and the climate the grapes are grown in. All beautifully combine to create one of the world’s unique red wines.

A Few Super Tuscans to Try

There are many wonderful Super Tuscans to choose from:

Sassicaia - One of the first Super Tuscans produced, first entering production in the 1960s. There are different vintages of Sassicaia. Their blend is typically a mix of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Expect to pay as little as $200 and as much as $10,000 for a bottle.

Tignanello - This wine is made from a mix of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. This is another quality vintage Super Tuscan, with this blend first being made in 1971. It was also the first Super Tuscan to be aged in small barrels.

Ornellaia - This is a pure Bordeaux style red wine made from vineyards located on the Tuscan Coast. These wines are a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot.

Interested in trying one? You can buy them in wine stores, but when you are in Italy, take a wine tasting tour in Tuscany and try these intriguing wines firsthand. For more on traveling in Italy and wine tastings in Tuscany, talk to a travel consultant at Bella Vista Tours at 877-723-0802.

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Topics: Italian Wine, italian culture, northern Italy, history, Tuscany

Megan DeAngelo

Written by Megan DeAngelo

Travel Consultant BellaVista Tours