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Friday, March 28, 2014

The Super Super-Tuscans

Are you a rule breaker?  If so, you’ll love the story about the birth of Super Tuscan wines.  First released in the 1960’s, these renegade wines shocked the Italian wine industry by blatantly breaking the country’s highly regimented wine laws.  The story goes something like this…
In 1944 the owner of well-regarded winery in Tuscany visited his friend Baron Rothschild in Bordeaux.  He returned to Tuscany with cuttings of the Baron’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc and Merlot vines.  After > 20 years of experimenting with the French varietals, the wealthy Italian decided to sell this wine.  But, there was one huge problem.  The wine laws of Tuscany prohibited selling any wine that was not made from Sangiovese grapes.  The only way around the laws was something unthinkable at the time.

In the 1960’s only Tuscany’s lowest level wines were exempt from the “only Sangiovese” rule.  These poor quality wines were called “table wines.”   The only way to market another varietal was to declare the wine a “table wine.”   In 1968 the iconic winemaker released his French varietal wine for today’s equivalent of $100 per bottle.  The Italian wine industry went nuts.  A lowly table wine for 100 bucks? Few of even the highest rated wines in Italy at the time commanded such a price.

Shortly after the release of this rule-breaking wine, a wine journalist from England flew to Tuscany to cover the inconceivable story.  He dubbed the rebel wine “Super Tuscan” and the name stuck.  In the 1970’s three other of Tuscany’s top wine producers released their versions of Super Tuscans made from grapes other than Sangiovese. Today, there are too many Super Tuscans to count.

A lot has happened in the Italian wine world since the 1960’s.  Super Tuscans have won just about every award given internationally, including the Wine Spectator’s number one wine in the world.   The Italian government even amended its wine rules by creating a special category for the Super Tuscans called I.G.T. Super Tuscans have also given rise to renegade wines in other parts of Italy such as the Super Venetians. 

So other than a non-Sangiovese wine, what else is different about a Super Tuscan? Super Tuscans represent an international style of wine-making.  They are boutique blended wines made in small quantity, and are usually aged in new French oak barrels.  They are also expensive.  Some of my faves include Masseto, Saffredi and Ornellaia.  Should you be coming on the 2015 private villa tour to Tuscany you will have ample opportunity to taste several Super Tuscans.

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