The Best Tuscan Wines You Might Not Have Heard Of
Everyone thinks Chianti when they think of drinking wine in Tuscany, right? You might imagine Italians enjoying the dolce vita as they sit on café terraces sipping from a lightly colored glass at around 1:00 pm (when are they ever working??) as an aperitivo before their pranzo. The wine most people think of in Tuscany is Chianti – at least, that is usually the vino della casa. That or just a simple table wine made from Sangiovese – the “blood of Judas” grape typical to the region.
However, what you might now know about are some of the more prestigious wines produced in the region, such as Bolgheri, Bolgheri DOC, or some of the Super Tuscans, better known by their brand names than the term Super Tuscan or Supertuscan IGT. These wines are relatively new to the Italian wine scene, just gaining popularity in the 1970s when winemakers wanted the freedom to experiment with their grapes and produce blends of wine that did not fall under any of Italy’s highly regulated classification systems.
Bolgheri in particular became famous in 1974 when a 1968 Sassicaia won an event hosted by Decanter Magazine, beating out an assortment of wines from Bordeaux that were traditional winners. Produced by Tenuta San Guido, located in what is now the Bolgheri Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) area, Sassicaia is considered the quintessential of the Super Tuscan wines. The wine itself is produced using a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and 15% Cabermet Franc. There are only around 180,000 bottles produced annually, making this wine particularly pricey, especially during a good year. A bottle can go for around EUR 400 in a restaurant.
To be classified as a Bolgheri DOC, the rules for which were set in 1994, the wine must contain Cabernet Sauvignon from 10 to 80%, Merlot, up to 80% and other local red varieties, up to 30%. Rosso must be aged for 24 months. Only up to 70% of a vintner’s production may hold the DOC appellation. The rest of production may hold the label IGT – Indicazione Geografica Tipica – a typification that was created particularly for the Super Tuscan wines that were being produced. Although they are traditionally of a very high quality, they still do not necessarily meet the union’s stricter DOC or DOCG designations.
Bolgheri isn’t the only part of Tuscany that produces well known Super Tuscan or Super Tuscan IGT wines. Super Tuscans are any red wines from Tuscany that include the use of non-indigenous grapes in production. Some common grapes that are included are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon (as we saw with Sassicaia) and Syrah. The flavor profile of Super Tucan and Super Tuscan IGT wines can vary immensely because of the large geographical area that the label covers. Super Tuscans can be fruity and light, when made with a significant amount of SanGiovese, or they can be hearty and full like a Syrah.
When looking for Super Tuscan wines, the label is the key. Super Tuscan wine labels will generally have the name of the wine itself, such as Sassicaia or Tignanello as opposed to the winery name and the name of the grape or the region. This allows the vintner to set the Super Tuscan apart, and let it be known for what it is: a completely different kind of Tuscan wine!
As we know, Super Tuscans became popular in the 1970s. This was a time when cheap Chianti was being mass produced and shipped worldwide. The wine itself was being boosted with the addition of white grapes such as Trebbiano (since outlawed in 2006). As a response, innovative winemakers wanted to set themselves apart and maintain the integrity of Tuscany as an impeccable and important wine producing region of Italy, and the world. Tenuta San Guido in Bolgheri impressed winemakers and led the revolution with Sassicaia. Thank goodness, they did! Now when visiting Tuscany not only do we get to enjoy the typical Chianti and Chianti Classico that we know and love at excellent prices, but we can look for more unique wines that serve as great gifts, or wines to bring home. Super Tuscans tend to be the pride of their producer, and will generally age well over the years. So be sure to grab a few bottles of Sassicaia to bring home and impress your friends with!
Again, Super Tuscans, Super Tuscan IGT, Bolgheri and Bolgheri DOC can vary greatly in taste, so experiment when pairing. That is the fun of learning about new wines. While wines from Bolgheri are generally on the lighter side when compared with some of the other Super Tuscans, they can still pair well with a hearty tomato and meat pasta dish. All of the wines in Tuscany are great with a meat or cheese plate as the tannins help cut through the fat. Local olive oil served on toasted bruschetta is also a simple accompaniment to these wines. Come up with some of your own pairings after you’ve done some tasting. What do you think? What is your favorite Super Tuscan? We hope you enjoy them all!