March 30, 2020 – Published in Design & Decor Spring 2015 issue
Super-Tuscans – what’s so super?
Words: Albert Cilia-Vincenti
“Super-Tuscans” are Tuscan red wines which might be made from 100% Sangiovese grapes, or any blend of two or more of Sangiovese, Bordeaux type red grapes and Syrah. Basically any grape could be used on its own or in a blend as they do not conform to the Chianti, Montalcino or Montepulciano appellations.
The story of Super-Tuscans began in 1948 when the then relatively new famous Sassicaia wine was produced for the first time by Incisa della Rochetta using Cabernet Sauvignon vines reputedly from Château Lafite-Rothschild. It became so famous that in the wake of the 1971 vintage, a new red, called Tignanello, was introduced by Pietro Antinori with an 80% Sangiovese and a 20% Cabernet Sauvignon blend. Although Cabernet Sauvignon had been grown in the Carmignano area of Tuscany since the 18th century, nobody had truly appreciated the harmony that could be achieved between the two grapes until Tignanello arrived. The blend was akin to the natural balance of the Cabernet and Merlot blends of Bordeaux.
Tignanello thus sparked off a new wave of Super-Tuscan vini da tavola. However, as numbers grew, they became an embarrassment, because observers realised that very few of the region’s greatest wines actually qualified for DOC status. But, at the same time, many of the winemakers responsible for these French-influenced Super-Tuscans were also working to improve the Sangiovese so it could stand alone. After extensive clonal and site selection, reduced yields, improved viticultural and vinification techniques, a new breed of Super-Tuscan emerged, first as Sangiovese-dominated (like Tignanello), then as pure Sangiovese wines (for example Fontodi’s Flaccianello della Pieve and Isole e Olena’s Cepparello). This re-modelling of Sangiovese has helped the quality of the great old names of the Tuscan past (Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano) by making wines that are complete without the help of foreign varieties.
Our “Il-Qatra” wine club recently tasted four Super-Tuscans. The tastings are blind, the scoring anonymous, and always accompany a dinner.
Carpineta Fontalpino’s Do ut des 2010, Castelamare Berardenga (14%; €34) was the overall membership’s favourite, but my 2nd preference. I noted a refined nose and palate with gentle tannins and acidity and average length. This is a blend of a third each of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The average international wine critics’ score for this wine is around 90/100 points.
Carpineta Fontalpino’s Dofana 2007, Cresti (14%; €60) was the overall 2nd preference but I scored it into 3rd place. To me it had a too much modern New World concentrated style with almost burnt rubber on the nose at times, reasonable palate and average length. This is a Sangiovese (50%) and Petit Verdot (50%) blend, and average international critics’ rating is around 93 points.
Barone Ricasoli’s Casalferro 2006 (14.5%; €35) was the membership’s 3rd preference but my top scorer. Its nose was refined with complex intensity, an intense palate with lovely smooth tannins, good acidity and good length. It is a Sangiovese / Merlot blend – later vintages are 100% Merlot. International critics’ scoring is around 92 points.
Castello di Ama’s Haiku 2009, Gaiole in Chianti (13%; €32) was placed last by the membership and also by myself. I noted so refined a nose and palate that unfortunately bordered on the bland and seemed to have no length. However, for what it’s worth, international critics’ scoring for this wine is around 91 points. It is a blend of Sangiovese (45-50%), Merlot (25-30%) and Cabernet Franc.