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.