Super Tuscans: Rebel Winemakers with a Cause

Welcome to 1960s Tuscany, home of Chianti. Winemakers here have been making marvelous wines out of indigenous varietals such as Sangiovese, Colorino, and Canailo for centuries. Unlike many other areas of Italy, Tuscany never developed a propensity for single varietal wines and so it often remained – and still to this day – a blend. Italy had just begun the DOC system (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) which designated varietals and winemaking standards for specific regions. This was in response to the overwhelming success the AOC system (Appellation d’Origine Controlee) in France had with standardizing and raising the quality of their wines. In 1967, legislation is put in place for Chianti to become its own DOC. Guidelines were put in place to standardize varietals, locations and winemaking. These guidelines were based on the hundred-year-old winemaking recipe of Baron Bettino Ricasoli.

Baron Bettino Ricasoli was an influential aristocrat in the 1850s who owned the Chianti Classico estate, Brolio.  Here he made a Chianti blend of Sangiovese and Canailo with the unique addition of up to 30% white wine varietals such as Trebbiano or Malvasia. The white varietals added fragrance and softened the bold dense red varietals. At the time, the lighter Chianti suited the population’s taste as it was often drank young. However, nearly 120 years later, when the newly developed DOC utilized the Baron’s blend for their legislation the white varietal requirement became an unforeseen issue. It was best described by wine author Matt Kramer when he said, “It was like designing a twentieth century roadway based on the width of a horse.” The new DOC laws would help the winemakers cut costs, but the quality of wine would suffer. By blending the less expensive white varietals, Chianti became less able to stand up to aging and cellaring as the white varietals were more prone to oxidation. In addition, the Baron’s recipe didn’t fit the needs of the people!

Through the early 1980s, the popularity of Chianti dropped and some winemakers were not happy with making what they felt was mediocre wine. They wanted to remove the white varietals and begin to blend with other nontraditional varietals such as Cabernet or Merlot… They wanted to experiment with French oak… They wanted to utilize vineyards outside of Chianti… They wanted to be free of restrictions! However, in order to make the wine they wished, they had to buck the restrictions of the DOC which came at a cost. If you weren’t following the DOC you were designated to the lowly Vino da Tavolo or table wine. Wines of the Vino da Tavolo category had little restriction on them and allowed winemakers the freedom to do as they wished, but many wines in this designation were not refined and were often made with “inferior” grapes. This was the lowest, least respected designation in the DOC system. Despite this, some winemakers felt it was worth the risk. They were going to make superior blends with quality varietals and in whatever fashion they pleased.

Once word of these rebel “table wines” got out, it intrigued the foreign press. Wine critics came to Tuscany in droves trying to get a sample of the big, bold blends that Tuscan winemakers were experimenting with. The press fell in love and dubbed these wines Super Tuscans. By the 1980s, Super Tuscans were at the top of everyone’s wine list and were a necessity in every collector’s wine cellar.

In 1984, Chianti acknowledged the success of the Super Tuscans. They found that the white varietals were only harming the reputation of their DOC. New legislation was put in place for DOC producers. It allowed wineries to not include white varietals if they wished. It also created a new premium designation of DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) which disallowed white varietals entirely and placed more stringent parameters on winemaking. The quality of wine increased and thus began the rebirth of Chianti. This was great for those that simply wanted to make better Chianti, but for those that wished to continue to experiment with new modern varietals, it was not enough.

It was not until 1992 that the Super Tuscans got the respect of the system they deserved. It was decided that Super Tuscans would be labeled IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica). This new designation was one that allowed for experimentation and was much less restrictive than that of Chianti. The irony of this was that these winemakers had been bucking the DOC for the last 15 years. They didn’t need the permission of the system to blaze their own trail. The IGT designation was really just a formality at that point and winemakers continued on like nothing happened.

Today, Super Tuscans continue to flourish. They showcase a wide variety of tasty experiments such as Felsina’s French oaked 100% Sangiovese Fontarollo or the Monteti Monteti which is a marvelous blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, and Petit Verdot. Whatever you choose, be prepared to sample some of the best Tuscany has to offer and embrace the experimentation and risk the original Super Tuscan winemakers did.

Felsina Fontalloro

One of the original Super Tuscans, Felsina Fontalloro’s first vintage was 1983. 100% Sangiovese and aged at least 18 months in French oak. Coming from vineyards in Chianti Classico and Colli Senesi, the Sangiovese utilized in this wine showcases both the quality and variety of the fruit Felsina has to offer. Fontalloro offers herbaceous aromatics with generous notes of tobacco, black currant, and licorice. Rich structure, weight, and moderate, smooth tannins bring you through to an elegant supple finish.

Tenuta Monteti Monteti

One of the original Super Tuscans, Felsina Fontalloro’s first vintage was 1983. 100% Sangiovese and aged at least 18 months in French oak. Coming from vineyards in Chianti Classico and Colli Senesi, the Sangiovese utilized in this wine showcases both the quality and variety of the fruit Felsina has to offer. Fontalloro offers herbaceous aromatics with generous notes of tobacco, black currant, and licorice. Rich structure, weight, and moderate, smooth tannins bring you through to an elegant supple finish.

Santini Poggio al Moro

Poggio al Moro is yet another beautiful wine showing what beautiful coastal climates can do for a variety of varietals. This Super Tuscan Blend is primarily Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot with a touch of Syrah. The Poggio al Moro only sees a short 3 months in small French oak barrels. Do not underestimate it though, it is still a powerful red, packed with black cherry, blackberry flavors, and a vibrant acidity. Firmly structured, with tannins that resonate on the finish, offset by sweet fruit and notes of underbrush.

By | 2018-01-16T20:40:00+00:00 January 16th, 2018|Region Profile|Comments Off on Super Tuscans: Rebel Winemakers with a Cause

About the Author:

Ed has been with A. Bommarito Wines since 2015. He currently manages content for our website, blog, and social media.