This week we spent a few days in Tuscany. A highlight on the itinerary of any tourist to Italy, this beautiful area not only delivers on the beauty promised on many a postcard, but it really is the place to go if you enjoy the quality of honest food and wine.
Or course there will be the odd tourist trap, but be guided by the official Agriturismo Tuscany site for a quality farm holiday and warm hospitality. Our hosts even treated us to a braai (barbeque) paired with some Super Tuscans!
As we had the privilege to visit the home of one of the revolutionary wineries that started the rise of the Super Tuscans, Marchesi Antinori, and as I have always enjoyed the Sassicaia wines, I thought to share the story of these special wines.
What is a Super Tuscan?
Tuscany used to have some very strict laws governing wine production. As a quality assurance, wines produced in a certain area were allowed to either be labelled Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC or controlled designation of origin) or Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG or controlled designation of origin guaranteed). Wine that did not meet the criteria for these two denominations, were categorised as Vino da Tavola (VDT) or table wine – usually regarded as of a lesser quality.
During the 1970’s, some of the Tuscan winemakers realised that staying within the bounds of the denomination laws, would actually impact negatively on the quality of the wine they can produce and it was their vision of challenging these laws, that to large extend put Italy on the international wine map.
Leading this revolution was Marquis Mario Incisa della Rocchetta who broke every rule in the book planting vineyards in what was considered bad locations and aged the wines in French barriques instead of the traditional Slovenian oak casts. He created the famous Sassicaia, considered to be the first Super Tuscan. Hot on his heels was Piero Antinori’s Tignanello in 1971. Containing Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Frank, it was this wine that shook up the Italian wine industry, being ineligible for the Chianti Classico appellation.
Adding some Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon and leaving out the required percentage of white Trebbiano excluded these wines from qualifying for labels of DOC even though the wine was of exceptional quality and could be easily recognized as Tuscan. Forced to use the label VDT, winemakers made a point of introducing these wines as “top quality” and they soon become popular and was called the Super Tuscans.
The Chianti Classico DOCG rules have now been changed to accommodate these wines. IGT or Indicazione geografica tipica allows for broader variations of wines that come under the Tuscan regional label and the 1990-revisions allow many Super Tuscans to also be classified as Chianti Classico.
While more affordable versions of the Super Tuscans are available, the older well-known Sassicaia and Tiganello are quite expensive. If you can find the first Sassicaia vintage from 1968, expect to pay close to $10,000 a bottle, but more recent vintages of both should cost between $99 and $150 a bottle.