Tuscany is a region in central Italy which is known for many things. The mediterranean climate with beautiful temperate summers, mild winters and long sunny growing seasons make it a perfect region for farming and for vacationing. Tourism is a staple of the region’s economy. The scenery is breathtaking with lush, green rolling hills, tree-lined mountains and natural marble stone make it an addition to anyone’s bucket list. The people and food are as warm and as welcoming as the climate. But one of the most important products of the region is wine. For this, Tuscany is set apart from the rest of Italy if not the world for producing fine wines at all price levels. Truly, any wine label which shows the words “Montepulciano d’Abruzzo” is your assurance of an excellent product.
During the 1970’s though, a new designation was born: that of the “Super Tuscan.”However, what is it that brought this designation about. Surely in a region known for quality, was the word “Super” even necessary? And what exactly makes a Super Tuscan different or superior.
Going back to the late 1970’s any wine produced in this region was made, by Italian law only from indigenous grapes. That is, grapes grown in that region. Thus a chianti or a sangiovese was made from only one specie of grape grown in Tuscany. Bureaucracy being what it is, was so slow-moving that local winemakers began using “unsanctioned” grapes to produce a varied product. These grapes, usually merlot, cabernet and syrah were blended with the indigenous grape to make high quality wines with a different character, a slightly different bouquet and flavor. It was in 1992 that the designation of “IGA” (Indicazione Geografica Tipica or Typical Geographical Indication) was created to give winemakers a little more leeway to vary their processes. The result was a major shift in the market to blended wines, and newer more contemporary products. In the hierarchy of fine wines, this designation would be the third tier.
The first and most famous of these new Super Tuscans was offered by the Antinori family, a well established vintner. His wine, “Tignanello” is a blend of 85% sangiovese and 15% merlot, giving it an excellent character. This sells usually in the $80 per bottle range. Super Tuscans as a whole can be higher priced, but are not a usual, everyday table wine. Rather they are reserved for the most special occasion. Today, more reasonably priced versions, Famiglia Castellani, a 100% sangiovese for example, are popular and are available locally or on-line.
The easiest way to identify a Super Tuscan is to notice the construction of the label. Look for the word TOSCANA, usually in bold print. The IGA designation should be right below, and often, these wines are named instead of bearing only the dominant type of grape. Also, the name of the winery is displayed proudly above all.
These are good, solid drinking wines. Meant to be shared while relaxing or with a hearty meal of meats or game. For a real taste of Italy they come highly recommended.