What Makes me so ‘Super’?
Super Tuscan wines arrived several decades ago. It was a category born out of frustration with Italy’s traditional wine production rules. Ambitious producers sought to make modern styles and experiment outside the restrictions of the Italian appellation system, known as Denominazione d’Origine Controllata (DOC).
A movement started and ‘Super Tuscan’ became synonymous with wines of high quality from the [broader] IGT [Indicazione Geografica Tipica] appellation.
Brands like Sassicaia, Tignanello and Ornellaia became darlings of wine critics. Wine lovers during the 1980s pushed prices into the realm of collector status. Half-century later, how has the definition of a super Tuscan evolved, and is the category still relevant to contemporary consumers?
Let us start with a definition of the term. ‘Super Tuscan’ is used to describe red wines from Tuscany that may include non-indigenous grapes, particularly Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah (Bordeaux Grapes).
By the end of the ’60s, a handful of Pioneers balked at the regulations. They created new brands to blend Cabernet Sauvignon with Sangiovese, or make 100% Merlot. They also played with aging periods and vessels like cement and small oak barrique. Yet, such diversions weren’t tolerated under the DOC or DOCG label designations.
The creation of super Tuscan wines led to a slow bureaucracy in changing Italy’s wine law during the 1970s. Winemakers began mixing ‘unsanctioned’ wine varieties (like Merlot) into their blends to make high-quality wines. The legal system eventually succumbed in 1992 with the creation of IGT, a new designation that gave winemakers the ability to be more creative. What a concept!
There were consequences for those who forged ahead with their inspired innovation. Producers like Marchesi Antinori had to bottle their Bordeaux-style red blends and varietal wines under the generic category of Vino da Tavola (Table Wine), Italy’s lowest-quality tier. When the wines grew in prominence, authorities acknowledged the labeling system’s inadequacies.
In 1992, the Italian government introduced a new wine classification: Toscana IGT. This classification held little romance for critics and consumers, so the term super Tuscan took hold.The super Tuscan movement forged pivotal brands in the market. Three key names to know: Sassicaia, Tignanello and Ornellaia. The most famous super Tuscan wine was Tignanello and was created by Antinori in 1971. It was the first super Tuscan wine, and today Tignanello is a blend of 80% Sangiovese 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc.
Sassicaia, made at Tenuta San Guido in Bolgheri, translates from Italian to ‘stony place.’ It is a reference to the area’s gravelly soils that are considered evocative of Graves and Haut-Médoc in Bordeaux. The French wine-loving Incisa della Rocchetta family wanted to plant Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc instead of Sangiovese. The family released the first vintage of Sassicaia in 1968.
In 1978, Decanter Magazine organized a blind tasting, and it slipped Sassicaia in among top Bordeaux. The obscure wine beat out much of the competition, only to be revealed as Italian. Bolgheri Sassicaia earned an independent DOC in 2013.
Before the 1970s, the region of Bolgheri, nestled in the western region of Maremma, was a swampy blip far from the radar of fine wine. Sassicaia changed all that. If you say Bolgheri to many wine drinkers, they will most likely here Bulgaria. Most definitely not the same. Bolgheri’s wines are based on the Bordeaux varieties Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot in any proportion, with a maximum of 50% Sangiovese or Syrah allowed.
In keeping with the Super Tuscan reputation and quality, other amazing producers have emerged to share in the spotlight of their forefathers.
Please visit for yourself the stunning Super Tuscan wines from Tenuta Argentiera Bolgheri:
Tenuta Argentiera Bolgheri Superiore 2018
Tenuta Argentiera Bolgheri Superiore 2019
Tenuta Argentiera Villa Donoratico 2020 (1500 ml)