The Fascinating History Of Italy’s Super Tuscan Wine
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Super Tuscan wines exemplify the rebellious spirit of Italian winemakers dating back to the 1970s. Super Tuscans have evolved as a distinct category, upending the traditions of most traditional Italian wine producers. The majority of these mysterious red wine mixes are made from French grapes cultivated in the distinct Italian terroir. But what makes Super Tuscan wines so special? Should you invest in them?

‘Super Tuscan’ refers to red Tuscan wines made from non-indigenous grapes - most notably Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. The development of Super Tuscan wines began in the late 1970s. Even if it was proved to improve the blend, including Bordeaux (white or red wine from the Bordeaux region of France) in a Chianti Classico was legally prohibited at the time. In fact, winemakers who wanted to create this unique sort of wine were forced to produce just the most basic wines.

Producers’ frustration quickly erupted into a widespread revolt, paving the path for the creation of super Tuscan wines against the lethargic bureaucracy that was opposed to amending Italy’s wine rules. As more winemakers began blending ‘illegal’ wine varietals to increase the overall quality of their blends, the legal system finally added IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica), a new category that allowed winemakers to be more creative.

Winemaking in Tuscany is an ancient tradition, but the Super Tuscan style is a relatively new addition. Super Tuscans were created in the early 1970s when winemakers began producing wines that did not adhere to the standards for the region’s appellation wines, such as Chianti DOC. Sassicaia from Tenuta San Guido in the town of Bolgheri was the first of these wines, a Bordeaux-style blend of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc launched in 1971.

The wine was downgraded to the least prestigious category of classification, Vino da Tavola, since it used French grapes (the so-called ‘international variety’) rather than the region’s native Italian grapes. Another wine, 1974’s Tignanello from Antinori in Florence, was named Vino da Tavola because it was created entirely of Sangiovese grapes, despite the fact that the Chianti appellation requirements required white grapes to be integrated into the wine. 

In order to persuade people to purchase Vino da Tavola wine, the producers adopted proprietary names so that buyers might remember the wine by brand rather than appellation. In their proprietary terms, several producers include the suffix ‘-aia’, which alludes to a vacant plot of land in Italian, to denote that the wine is a Super Tuscan.

Wine writer Burt Anderson may have been the first to refer to these wines as Super Tuscans, and the term stuck as the wines gained prominence in the 1980s. These wines were matured in expensive Bordeaux-style tiny oak barrels called barriques, which resulted in more prominent vanilla and spice characteristics, replicating the famous wines of France. English-speaking customers were relieved not to have to master intricate Italian appellation rules: simply ask for a Super Tuscan and receive a wine created in the popular international style.