What is a “super Tuscan” wine?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Wine Spectator's 2018 Wine of the Year, Sassicaia, is a "super Tuscan," right? What does that mean? Are all super Tuscans Cabernets? And if not, are there any white super Tuscans?

—Jeff, Dover, Del.

Dear Jeff,

You're right that Sassicaia is a super Tuscan! In fact, it's one of the wines that inspired the whole super Tuscan movement. For Sassicaia, it all started in the 1940s, when Marchesi Mario Incisa della Rocchetta moved to the Bolgheri region of Tuscany and decided that he wanted to make wines more in the style of Bordeaux rather than with Tuscany's reigning Sangiovese grape.

He planted Cabernet Franc, and didn't intend to sell the wines. Nevertheless, they caught the attention of Incisa della Rocchetta’s nephew Piero Antinori and his enologist, Giacomo Tachis, who helped refine the wine and advised the inclusion of Cabernet Sauvignon, another Bordeaux grape. At the same time, Antinori was developing his first vintage of Tignanello, and soon began blending the local Sangiovese with Cabernet. The rest is history. The success of Sassicaia and Tignanello inspired many more wines made from or including international grape varieties not native to Italy, including Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Tua Rita and Le Macchiole.

So no, not all super Tuscans are made from Cabernet—Ornellaia's Masseto, Tua Rita's Redigaffi and Le Macchiole's Messorio, for instance, are all 100 percent Merlot. Most of them are made with all or some non-indigenous grape varieties, but "super Tuscan" is not a legally defined classification as far as wine regulations go. The term was used for any wine that didn't meet DOC standards—in Chianti Classico, that meant those that didn't blend in white grapes, or that used 100 percent Sangiovese, or that followed different winemaking or aging standards. (Chianti's regulations were amended in the late-'90s and early 2000s to better suit these winemaking trends.) Because these wines did not initially qualify for existing appellation status under Tuscany's various Denominazione di Origine Controllata (D.O.C.) laws, they were labeled as simple vino da tavola, or “table wine,” typically reserved for the lowest quality wines in Italy, and that is why the producers started calling them "super Tuscans," to distinguish their wines from those inexpensive table wines. Today, most super Tuscans use the IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) designation or the Bolgheri DOC, which was established for red wines using international grape varieties in 1994. The wines tend to be modern, big and rich—and often carry a price tag of $100 or more a bottle.

And yes, there are white super Tuscans—they just haven't really caught on. Ornellaia recently debuted a Toscana Bianco made from Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier.

—Dr. Vinny

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