It’s a rarity among the red wines: The Super Tuscan. Originally, the Super Tuscan was a wine that was different from all other wines from Tuscany: Super Tuscans were created in protest against Italy’s wine regulations, which provide strict rules regarding the composition of a wine.
Originally, Super Tuscans were called vino da tavola (engl. table wine) because they could not be assigned to any protected designation of origin: the designation table wine fails to reflect the complex taste of a Super Tuscan.
British wine critic Nicolas Belfrage invented the term Super Tuscan in the 1980s: around that time, numerous new wines from Tuscany had just come onto the market, which Belfrage called Super Tuscans.
In the 1980s, Italian wines had nowhere near the reputation they have today: Chianti Classico was one of the few drawing cards the Italian wine industry had to offer at the time. At that time, few wine connoisseurs considered Italy a land of good red wines – French red wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy were on everyone’s lips.
That changed with the Super Tuscan.
Strict wine regulations
Wine regulations in Italy were still very strict at the time: in order to be allowed to sell a Chianti Classico as such, proportions of white wine grapes such as Trebbiano or Malvasia Bianca always had to be vinified for the wine.
In Tuscany, there was a growing number of winemakers who wanted to show the potential of pure red wines from Tuscany: This was not compatible with the regulations that did not provide for a wine made only from red grape varieties.
In 1968, the oenologist Enzo Morganti dared to take the decisive step: starting with the 1968 vintage, he produced a red wine made only from Sangiovese grapes and called it Vigorello.
Noble table wine
At first, the wine world took little notice of Morganti’s Vigorello. But that changed three years later, in 1971: one of Italy’s most traditional wineries, Marchesi Antinori, presented a wine called Tiganello that consisted only of Sangiovese grapes and avoided white grapes completely. In 1974 they added Cabernet Sauvignon to this composition.
Due to the non-compliance with wine regulations in Italy, the wine could only be sold under the label Vino da tavola (engl. table wine).
The first vintage of Tiganello, with over 130,000 bottles, sold rapidly – even though the price of a Tiganello was five times that of a Chianti Classico Riserva.
Tiganello and Sassicaia
Following the success of Tiganello, Antinori also took over the sale of Sassicaia, a wine composition of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, without Sangiovese. Both compositions, Tiganello and Sassicaia, are now among the basics of the Super Tuscan.
In the early 1980s, Super Tuscans became more widely known: By the end of the 1980s, every winery in Tuscany produced at least one Super Tuscan. If one follows the judgment of wine critics, these were the first red wines from Italy to rival other top-flight reds from around the world. In the 1980s, there were numerous variations of Super Tuscans, many of which have disappeared again today.
Seal of quality for the Super Tuscans
Until 1995, all Super Tuscans were sold as vino da tavola: in 1995, Italian wine regulations were adjusted so that Super Tuscans could henceforth bear the Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) seal of approval. This is why Super Tuscans are nowadays mostly labeled as Toscana IGT.
In the hierarchy, the IGT quality level is above the category of table wines and below the more strictly regulated category of DOC wines (wines with the Denominazione di origine controllata seal).
Revolution of the Italian red wine
In 1996 it became possible to produce Chianti Classico without adding white grapes: Thus, after almost thirty years, it was possible to market Super Tuscans as Chianti Classico. But the move came too late: the Super Tuscans had become a success story that helped many Italian wineries out of the crisis and revolutionized the segment of Italian red wines.
Italian winemakers continued as before and still sell their Super Tuscans with the IGT Toscana seal.
Simon von Ludwig
Cover picture: A glass of red wine, © Simon von Ludwig