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Supertuscan Is All About The Name, Not In The Wine

The Super Tuscan wines are a debated topic. One thing is for sure, they have indeed brought the attention of the world to an area that before was rather hidden, namely Bolgheri in Tuscany.

(This is the republishing of an older article from before my former website was hacked during the pandemic period.)

The question can be asked: why base the fame on the production of international grapes, just as Jeff Burrows says in his article when Italy is full of amazing indigenous varieties?

Well, I guess there are many parts to answer that question.

Often the discussion is about the wine. And, even though the nickname ‘Super Tuscan’ that this category of wine has gotten should be less important it has indeed a certain importance.

The correct term for this kind of wine is IGT Toscana as, in reality, the Super Tuscan only would refer to the ‘rebel’ wines. Now, it can be said that in the 1970s and 1980s, the denomination IGT Toscana did not exist yet, rather they went under the category of table wines.

So, yes, to some extent I can understand the need to give them a nickname that everybody could relate to. But then also no, I mean to understand the wines you need to dig deeper than that. And this category of wines is so much more than those produced in the Bolgheri area.

The history of the creation of the IGT Toscana denomination I believe lies in at least three different paths or developments, which I will go more into below, and I think it is important to understand that.

I am not much for calling them all Super Tuscans and saying ohh…the Bordeaux-style wines in Bolgheri are the only ones of success in Tuscany.

Rather, I see them as important wines, yes, but also as part of a process towards a new way of winemaking and thinking that, in reality, has less to do with liking Bordeaux-style wines or not and more to do with the change in rules for winemaking in Tuscany as a whole.

See previous articles of mine about the Bolgheri and Maremma area: Poggio Argentiera – A Winery in Maremma, Cru La Regola – Celebrating 20 Years of Wine Style Innovation, and Terre di Pisa – A Hidden Wine Wonderland in Tuscany.)

Let us continue this discussion below…but first…

July with #ItalianFWT

The theme this month, July 2020, is We Need To Talk About Super Tuscans in the Italian Food, Wine, and Travel (#ItalianFWT) group. As mentioned above, I will be talking a bit about the history of Super Tuscans and why I think the name ‘Super Tuscan’ is a bit misleading.

I will also briefly talk about a wine that is not a Super Tuscan but was made possible via the new denomination IGT Toscana that was created in 1995, namely Gabriccio IGT Toscana from Pakravan-Papi winery in Riparbella.

Photo courtesy of Bolgheri and Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC

The Background to Super Tuscan Wines

The word Super Tuscan is often believed to have been a concept coined by Robert Parker. And, yes, it was he who elevated this type of wine up to some kind of star status… powerful, musty, fruit-forward, barrique-pumped wines.

However, it seems to have been the British Master Of Wine Nicholas Belfrage who first talked about these wines as Super Tuscans.

Let us dive into the history of the Super Tuscans…

Sassicaia the Super Tuscan

The story is fairly well known by now about how it was Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, an aristocrat from Piemonte with a sweet spot for French and especially Bordeaux-style wines, who when he studied in Pisa tasted a wine that would change the history of Tuscan winemaking.

He was often a guest at a fellow aristocrat family – the Duchi Salviati in Migliarino – (I do not know if he went to the school Duchi Salviati there) where he got to taste a wine produced locally that to him resembled very much a Bordeaux wine.

Further on in the 1930s, when he married the Tuscan noblewoman Clarice della Gherardesca, Mario Incisa della Rocchetta moved to Tuscany to the San Guido estate that she brought with her to their union as a dowry.

The soil in that area of Tuscany with a lot of gravel and stones looked a lot like that in Graves in France to Mario and, therefore, he decided to plant French varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The terroir with its closeness to the Mediterranean Sea is also very particular.

He started experimenting and producing a wine – Sassicaia – only for private consumption and he aged it to observe its development. It was only in 1968 that his son convinced him to start putting this wine on the market. This decision was also very much intertwined with the work and collaborations of Piero Antinori and the oenologist Giacomo Tachis. (See the Tenuta San Guido website.)

Sassicaia of 1968 was a worldwide success and the rest is history so to say…

Experimental Tuscany

As I mentioned before, what is interesting is not so much the Bordeaux-style wines produced mainly in Bolgheri and along the coast in Tuscany, and their astronomical prices brought about by the combination of terroir and marketing efforts. I guess also in large part due to the world’s preference for or obsession with drinking wines in French style and especially with grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot.

What is interesting to me, is the change it brought about in Tuscany on a local level when it comes to innovation and change in denominations and winemaking.

In the article Supertuscan, Daniele Cernilli talks about how the origin of this category of wine is to be found in three different processes or developments.

The creation of the Sassicaia wine and the Bolgheri terroir is only one of them.

Photo courtesy of San Felice Winery

The second innovation path, he stresses was the creation of the monovarietal Sangiovese wine Vigorello in 1968 by Enzo Morganti at the San Felice estate. Before 1995, it was not allowed to make 100% Sangiovese wines, according to the Tuscan denominations. It was obligatory to blend with other local red or white grapes. A curiosity to mention is that Enzo Morganti had been a pupil of Tancredi Biondi Santi, an important figure in Tuscan winemaking history.

The third path that Daniele Cernilli argues is that of the Antinori family and their creation of blends with Sangiovese and international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon. This then turned into the iconic wine Tignanello in 1975.

The Tignanello wine had been produced earlier as a Chianti Classico Riserva wine of the Tignanello estate but was then a blend of Sangiovese and other local grapes. It was only in 1975 that they decided to start blending with Cabernet Sauvignon.

The common denominator here was the oenologist Giacomo Tachis who was originally from Piedmont and had studied in Bordeaux. He was the winemaker of Antinori up until 1993 and, together with Piero Antinori, he was involved in the creation of the Sassicaia and the Bolgheri boom in Bordeaux style as well as the Tignanello.

It can thus be said that it was a mix of Tuscan and Piemontese winemaking minds that brought about a change that would modernize the mindset of Tuscan winemaking, while at the same time, making it possible to stay true to the traditions.

Here, I am talking more specifically about the possibility to make monovarietal Sangiovese wines also within the Tuscan DOC and DOCG denominations nowadays.

Now you might say, yes, but the famous wines here are still wines such as Sassicaia and Masseto (a wine that came a bit later) who cares about the Tuscan traditional denominations?

Yes, the Incisa della Rocchetta family, Bolgheri, and the Antinori family have had enormous importance in the development of Tuscan winemaking in the last 50 years. They have paved the way for new ways of thinking and making wine.

But, one could also argue why we would give so much value to French grapes being produced in the microclimate along the Tuscan coast. Why do you need to choose the way of producing French-inspired wine in Tuscany?

Wouldn’t the real challenge for these winemakers have been to experiment with native grapes and use the local unique terroir to make something extraordinary Tuscan for the world?

Now, it is true that in those years the taste went towards Bordeaux-style, barrique overload, the belief that the grass is greener on the other side, i.e. in France. The difficulty in believing in your own unique grapes and viticultural heritage.

Today, we are going back to appreciating the local heritage and traditions. The native grapes are the focus more than ever perhaps. Especially, in this era of uncertainties, I believe that valorization of local tradition and, in this case, viticulture will be crucial.

Vineyard at Pakravan Papi Winery

A Sangiovese from the Riparbella area…

…that’s the wine I wanted to mention here as a conclusion to this article. And, also as a way of highlighting one of the things I think has been an important outcome of the experimenting era.

Pakravan-Papi is a small winery in Riparbella, in the province of Pisa, owned by Amineh Pakravan and Enzo Papi. They decided in early 2000 to focus on Sangiovese and international, i.e. French, varieties.

They are, or were, part of the more experimental movement making IGT wines. They are not in the Bolgheri area but further north along the coast, but it is an area just as interesting and with a unique microclimate. This is today an area with wineries such as Caiarossa, Prima Pietra, Colline Albelle, and La Regola.

Pakravan-Papi produces the monovarietal Sangiovese wine Gabriccio IGT Toscana. It is a wine aged in barrique but done so in a way that you do not notice much of the presence of the small barrel oak.

It is a lovely and smooth wine with all the typical traits of a Sangiovese combined with notes of the Mediterranean flora and the influence of the sea.

Here are the other wine writers’ articles:

Super Tuscans, Take-Out Pizza, and a Spicy Summer Salad | This post comes to you from the kitchen magician behind Culinary Adventures with Camilla.

Super Tuscans: What’s It All About? | This question will be answered by the founder of #ItalianFWT, VinoTravels.

A Stop at Brancaia and a Pizza Night | A perfect combo from California’s own Somm’s Table.

Super rating, super price – Is this Super Tuscan super? | The question will be answered in full by My Full Wine Glass.

Have You Tried These Super Tuscans? | Get the opportunity to explore with The Wining Hour.

There’s no need to Fear, Super Tuscans are here! | Hear the heroic call from Our Good Life.

Are Super Tuscans still relevant and worth my time and money?| Find out all there is to know with Crushed Grape Chronicles.

Cooper’s Hawk: A Great Concept and a Super Super Tuscan | Get the inside scoop on this treat from A Day In the Life on the Farm.

I Colazzi and a Big Ol’ Steak | Don’t miss this outstanding combo from Joy of Wine.

No Super Tuscans for Me! | The point of view from FoodWineClick is super clear.

Super Tuscans: Keep Your Sassicaia, I’ll take the Sangiovese | A message from WinePredator to all readers.

Supertuscan Is All About The Name, Not In The Wine | According to an Italian wine expert, GrapeVine Adventures.

Looking Beyond the Name Super-Tuscans | Insight from Avvinare that goes deeper than the title.

Super Tuscan Wine Pairing: I Sodi di San Niccolò and Scallop Shrimp Pasta with Tomatoes and Mushrooms | A tempting pairing is coming your way from The Wine Chef.

Naming Rights + Super Tuscans | From our host at L’Occasion!

Katarina Andersson

Seen often at wine events streaming live, Katarina is a wine writer, wine educator, social media strategist, and translator. She is the founder of WinesOfItaly LiveStream. She has been a guest at The Cellar, hosted by Richard Glover, at Wine Two Five, a podcast hosted by Stephanie Davis and Valerie Caruso, and at the Twitter chat #WiningHourChat founded by Li Valentine.

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