The red wines that have brought Tuscany to the world. And with it all of Italy. The perfect combination of French style, Italian austerity and Mediterranean warmth
If there is a region in Italy that has been able to renew itself with its production of innovation over tradition, that region is Tuscany. Here the secular history of viticulture, embodied by his majesty the Sangiovese, adapted perfectly with very advanced pioneering experimentation, which led to the study of never-before-seen blends between indigenous and international, but also, everyone knows, to producing world-class excellence with only the latter grapes.
What is a Supertuscan?
Good question! In fact, this category does not meet any specifications, no specific geographical area, no specific production technique. It is a typology born and regulated by the experience of the best Tuscan winemakers and oenologists.
In general, however, there are constants. Supertuscan is a red wine that is aged for at least a year in small barrels, often partly new, according to Bordeaux usage. It is produced with native grapes (for example Sangiovese aged in barriques) or international grapes (especially Bordeaux), or from the blend of the two.
A young but successful story
Given that at the beginning these types of wine were not included in the specifications of the historical Tuscan denominations, still today these wines are often bottled without the DOC appellation, i.e. as table wines, or as regional, generic DOCs, even though they often represent the winery’s supreme quality, the highest expression of the cru or of the territory.
The Super Tuscan, in fact, which was born thanks to experiments such as Sassicaia in Bolgheri in 1968 (85% cabernet sauvignon and 15% franc) or Tignanello in Chianti Classico in 1971 (prevalence of sangiovese aged in barriques), is today for many wineries a wine-brand, whose name alone has such a strong international identity and influence that it does not need a denomination to identify it.
The Supertuscans areas
The very fact of not responding to a specification has always favoured the creative freedom of producers, who have gradually churned out wines of this type in every corner of Tuscany, from Maremma to Chianti, from the Florentine hills to the mining valleys of the south.
The relatively rapid success of these wines with their young history - the Parker 100/100 obtained by Sassicaia 1985 is the stuff of legends - has multiplied their followers. Some areas, such as Bolgheri and the surrounding areas of Bibbona and Suvereto, have become home to Bordeaux grapes, which here they express themselves with Mediterranean structure and complexity and with mineral nuances of great elegance. Wines that have become collectors' items.
In other areas, such as Chianti, the Supertuscans interpret the typical Sangiovese soils with extraordinary straightness, taking its place between alberese and galestro. Elsewhere, the Supertuscan has successfully experimented with the potential of French non-Bordeaux vines, such as Syrah in Cortona, near Montepulciano.
Legendary wines, which have been winning international prizes for decades now, competing with the older brothers on the other side of the Alps. But they are also wines for everyone, of increasingly remarkable value for money, which ably combine the austerity of the great vines, their strong tannins and their pungent vegetableness with a broad softness and mellowness, a wine you never tire of drinking
Bolgheri. Where it all began
Here, around the 1940s, the Marquis Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, a lover of French wines, imported some cabernet rooted cuttings, convinced that in these parts, in the upper Maremma of Livorno, once considered unsuitable for vines, great reds could be made based on the Bordeaux model. Today that bet, Sassicaia, is the only Italian DOC "monopole", and represented the model for an entire area, the Bolgheri area, which delights us with pearls like Paleo, Ornellaia, Grattamacco, Argentiera, Orma, Camarcanda and Guado al Tasso.
The investment of the greatest Italian wine families, from the Antinoris to the Frescobaldis, concentrated on Bordeaux cuts that combine the subtle vegetal texture of cabernet with the minerality of the soils and the particular Mediterranean structure given by the climate of the Tuscan coast. But there are also marvellous mono-varietals, above all from a Cabernet Franc which here is persuasive and opulent, and splendid blends of Cabernet and Sangiovese, which remind us that Bolgheri too abounds in history, terroir, character and acidity.
Around Bolgheri. Shades of excellence
The success of the Bolgheri experiment, validated by the highest international awards in just a few years - the Parker 100/100 score obtained by Sassicaia 1985 was sensational- led many winegrowers to follow in its footsteps in the immediate vicinity. Within a few kilometres, they have thus discovered true grand crus of international Tuscan wine, all with their own personality.
The hinterland of Rosignano, with Castello del Terriccio and Duemani, historical areas such as Montescudaio and the Bibbona from the Tenuta di Biserno have been rediscovered, and give Bordeaux cuts that are more full-bodied, austere and opulent than the Bolgheri ones which are clearer and more elegant. Further south, the metalliferous valleys around Suvereto and Val di Cornia, the epicentre of excellence such as Petra and Tua Rita and, even further afield, Frassinello, give the international grapes a particular mineral verve, which is sometimes ferrous: basically, a solid backbone despite their imposing structure. Such as to support the weight of an opulent merlot, like the legendary Redigaffi.
Modernity in Chianti. The Gallo Nero's international foray
Chianti Classico represents the epicentre of historic Tuscany. Here the wine is Sangiovese, as a single variety or with colorino and canaiolo additions. And yet, even among these world-famous hills, international wine has found its place. Here too, French grapes and aging in barriques. With epic results, because the cooler climate and the soils naturally suited to vertical and long-lived reds are the ideal ingredients for making Cabernet and Merlot wines destined for long ageing and capable of extraordinary preservability.
You will therefore find not only Sangiovese in barriques, sometimes with French grape additions, but also Cabernet, Merlot and sometimes even Syrah, Petit Verdot and Pinot Noir of exceptional carat. Real winemaking masterpieces in which an elegant vanilla and velvety texture communicates perfectly with a mineral, balsamic and highly acidic territoriality. And it is no coincidence that, even in the centre of ancient Tuscany, many wineries have reserved the best plots of land and even their highest-level labels for these grapes.
The whole of Tuscany, the region of infinite terroirs
In Bolgheri, it was said, there is no good wine. And yet a Sassicaia sprung up. Why not repeat the challenge in other corners of Tuscany? No sooner said than done: there are some memorable wines, sometimes collectible pearls, just outside Florence, in the Fiesole hills of Bibi Graetz and those of Podere Fortuna, towards Mugello, from the hills of Lucca to those of Arezzo, from the far north to the southern offshoots of the region. The edges of Chianti, towards the coast, but also the whole southern Maremma area, near Scansano, with the Pupille and the Sassoalloro, also produce excellent Super Tuscans.
And that’s not all: the practice of combining international and local grapes has also revived historical areas, where this custom had been in use for centuries, that is, since cabernet and merlot were imported into Tuscany by the Medici family, who were related to the French royalty. The Carmignano, the Pomino, the Val d'Arno di Petrolo with the great Galatrona. And we must not forget other classic areas which, while maintaining their radically traditional identity, grant a few hectares to international vines that give them further satisfaction: Montalcino, for example, but also Montepulciano and now Cortona, nearby, considered the home of Syrah in Italy.