Wine and Culture: Super Tuscans

 

Sassicaia

Tuscany is known throughout the world for its rich indigenous red wines, including Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino and Chianti Rufina. The regulation of these wines is very clear-cut, unambiguous and has his own history.

However, there is a category of Tuscan wines that is not recognised in the Italian DOC/G classification system. These wines are released as IGT (Indicazione geografica tipica) wines or even vino da tavola (table wine).

Even though unofficial, some wines of this category are superstars in their own right as much as the above mentioned ‘big fish’. These wines are collectively known as Super Tuscans.

The history of the Super Tuscans dates back to the 1940s when Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta settled with his family on a horse ranch in Bolgheri on the Tuscan coast. At that time, the Marchese della Rocchetta was not interested in producing wine for the market, but only for his own family consumption. He experimented with many French grape varieties and fell in love with Cabernet Sauvignon. Over the years, the Marchese Rocchetta produced better and better wine on his estate of Tenuta San Guido. The wines were mainly produced from Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a huge change to the Tuscan and Piedmont tradition of Sangiovese or Nebbiolo based wines.

The wine was called Sassicaia, the pioneer of the Super Tuscan movement.

Between 1948 and 1967 Sassicaia was only produced for family consumption at Tenuta San Guido.

In 1968, Sassicaia was commercially released thanks to the advice and support of a relative, Piero Antinori. It was an instant success. In 1978 Sassicaia won a tasting in London, thereby establishing its international fame.

In 1994, Sassicaia was even granted its own DOC (Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC) as the only single winery DOC in Italy.

The Marchese Piero Antinori inspired by his uncle’s Sassicaia, he started his own experiments on his Chiantis.

Marchese Antinori began to produce its Chianti using 100% Sangiovese, which was not permitted at that time.

In 1971, Antinori released his new wine called Tignanello, which was made using only the Sangiovese grape and aged in smaller French oak barriques; it is now generally considered as the first Super Tuscan wine.

Many other Tuscan producers saw the success of Tignanello and others still thought the legal rules of Chianti were too restrictive, so they began their own experimentation.

By the 1980s, the trend of making high quality non-DOC wines had spread in Tuscany. Most Super Tuscan wines contained Cabernet or Merlot, and many of them had Sangiovese, some Syrah or other varietals. However, one of the main common attributes is the high pricing.

By the late 1980s, the Super Tuscans had a great reputation, and producers started to create their non-DOC wines in other regions in Italy, such as in Piedmont or Veneto.

In Italy, a new classification – IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) status – was introduced partly in response to the phenomenon of the Super Tuscan non-DOC wines.

Also, due to the extension of the Chianti DOC regulation, many of what were Super Tuscans initially can be labelled as standard DOC or DOCG Chianti.

Today, Super Tuscan means a red wine out of DOC regulation that is made in a more international style, but is yet still deeply Italian within.

Sassicaia made with Cabernet Sauvignon and some Cabernet Franc remains one of the Super Tuscan superstars, along with Tignanello, which is a blend of 80% Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

 

Pictures:

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Wine and Culture: Vernaccia di San Gimignano

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Tuscany is one of the most exciting places in the world. You can fine gorgeous landscapes, breath-taking nature, marvellous cities, excellent food and, of course, superb red wines.

But there is an amazing white wine – the region’s only white wine with DOCG status – that is considered one of Italy’s best white wines, the Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

The Vernaccia-based wine from San Gimignano has a long history, and it is regarded as one of the most noble and oldest white wine of the Peninsula.

Several different grapes are called ‘Vernaccia’ – such as those in Marche used in the sparking red wine Vernaccia di Serrapetrona and the Sardinian grape used in Veranaccia di Oristano. However, the Vernaccia grown in San Gimignano is different from the other Italian Vernaccias and most probably isn’t even related.

The word ‘Vernaccia’ comes from the Latin word vernaculum, meaning ‘of the place’ or ‘native’, which would explain why many grapes in Italy go under the same name.

The Vernaccia grape of San Gimignano is considered the oldest, but its origin is not clear; there are various theories that it came from Eastern Europe, Greece or from the Italian Peninsula itself.

The earliest recorded mention of Vernaccia di San Gimignano dates back to 1276, which proves that the exporting of the wine was widespread by then.

By the end of the 13th century, Vernaccia di San Gimignano was a popular and much-loved wine among the nobles.

The Vernaccia was mentioned in many literary works, such as the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), where in Purgatory among the gluttonous Dante meets Pope Martin IV, who was overcome by the temptation of Vernaccia.

Vernaccia is also mentioned in The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) and Bacco in Toscana by Francesco Redi (1626-1697).

This gorgeous white was valued and much-loved for a long time, but unfortunately it fell out of favour in the early 20th century.

After World War II, it began to regain its prestige, and was the first Italian wine to gain DOC status; in 1993 it achieved a DOCG promotion.

According to DOCG rules, a Vernaccia di San Gimignano must comprise of at least 85-90% of Vernaccia di San Gimignano grapes and be completed with a maximum of 15% of approved white varieties.

For Vernaccia di San Gimignano riserva, the aging period is a minimum of 11 months, with a further 3 months in the bottle before release.

This excellent white is best consumed when it is young or slightly aged, and is definitely a good ‘companion’ to fish or white meat dishes.

Wine and culture: Chianti Rufina

 

Chianti Rufina

Chianti Rufina is a Sangiovese-based red wine produced in one of the 8 subzones of Tuscany’s Chianti area, and is probably the most well known after the famous Chianti Classico.

However, this zone’s wines can confuse most wine drinkers, as Rufina wine has nothing to do with Ruffino, the wine producer.

The Chianti Rufina zone is situated to the east of Florence and includes the area of Dicomano, Londa, Rufina, Pelago and Pontassieve. The Rufina area is more mountainous and less ‘hilly’ then the Chianti Classico zone and the climate is more continental.

The Rufina zone together with Montespertoli zone is the smallest in Chianti. But despite the small area, Rufina ranks 3rd – after the Classico and Colli Senes zones – in terms of quantity because more than 7% of its territory is cultivated with vines.

The first evidence of Rufina wine dates back to the 15th century. In 1716, it was officially recognised by Cosimo III, the Grand Duke of Tuscany.

In 1967, Chianti Rufina was awarded DOC status, followed by DOCG status in 1984.

According to the DOCG rules, a Chianti Rufina has to comprise of at least 70% Sangiovese, complemented by other varieties produced in Tuscany.

Generally, Chianti Rufina used to be a mostly light-bodied and not very aged wine, but since the 1980s producers have been creating more serious, rich and age-worthy wines. Today, some Rufina wines are among the best Chiantis.

Wine and Culture: Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

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Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is one of Italy’s classic Sangiovese-based red wines and is produced on the hills surrounding the town of Montepulciano.

Montepulciano is located 40 km southeast of Siena, in the Colli Senesi zone of the Chianti wine region, Tuscany.

The viticulture of the region dates back to Etruscan times, which has been proven through excavation work carried out on an Etruscan tomb discovered in 1868.

The first historical document to mention Montepulciano wines was in clerical correspondence from 789 A.D.

By the 15th century Montepulciano wine was loved by the Sienese and Florentine aristocracy, and even Pope Paul III commented on its magnificence in the 16th century.

The Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was also mentioned in literary works, including the 1685 poem ‘Bacco in Toscana’ by Francesco Redi (1626-1687), the famous scientist, physician, academician and poet. The poem of Redi was widely read, and it reached many courts throughout Europe including the court of William III of England. Perhaps the then well-known poem of Francesco Redi sufficiently attracted the attention of King William III to Montepulciano wine, as it became one of his favourites.

Vino Nobile was also cited later in Candide by Voltaire in 1759 and also in Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo in 1844.

In the 19th century, the Vino Nobile went through a period of decline, and was often labelled as Chianti. However, in 1966 with the arrival of DOC, and in 1981 with the DOCG regulation, it reaffirmed its rightful place as its name suggests, an excellent and noble wine, and the pride of Tuscany.

According to DOCG rules, a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano must come from grapes grown on the hills surrounded Montepulciano. It must comprise at least 70% Sangiovese grape, and be complemented by other local varieties to a maximum of 30%.

The Vino Nobile needs to be aged for at least 24 months of which at least 12 months must spent in oak barrels. For Vino Nobile Riserva, the ageing period is 26 months.

Montepulciano also produces a sweet white wine, Vin Santo di Montepulciano, and a dry red, Rosso di Montepulciano.

 

Pictures:

Montepulciano, Italy