The popularity of Italian wines has always been aided, at least in part, by the industry’s ability to constantly evolve with the passing of time and create various types of wines that can appeal to all tastes.
This is especially noticeable in wines that can trace their lineage back by centuries, as descriptions of those early versions of the wine will show that it will have tasted much different to the versions more modern drinkers are accustomed to, with changes in grape harvesting and manufacturing procedures playing a large part in these developments.
Perhaps at no point in more recent memory has that been as apparent as it was during the creation of the Super Tuscan wines back in the 1970s. For those who weren’t around during the period, the creation of the Super Tuscans marked something of a rebellion against the DOC regulations of the era and showcased an entirely new form of wine that followed the Chianti mould to a point before becoming its own entity. So what are the Super Tuscans and why are these wines so important when it comes to the recent history of Italian wines? With this article we aim to find out a little bit more.
Where did they originate?
As the name implies, the Super Tuscans comes from a region in Italy known as Tuscany. Tuscany is very famous for being one of the main areas where Chianti is produced and many of the greatest Italian wines come from the region.
Chianti at the time was probably most notorious amongst producers because of its extremely strict qualifiers to be considered an official DOC Chianti. Winemakers had to ensure that their wines were 70% Sangiovese, with at least a 10% blend of the local white wine grapes. While this did much to keep Chianti regulated, many producers began to grow frustrated with the rules and felt as though their creativity, and the potential of their versions of Chianti, were being held back. Unfortunately, should a producer decide to deviate from the rules set out by the DOC their wine would be marked with the vino da tavola label, which is the lowest possible designation for an Italian wine from the DOC.
With frustrations mounting the marchese Piero Antinori decided to take matters into his own hands and created a wine that followed the Chiantu style to an extent but utterly broke the DOC regulations in regards to the blends that needed to be used for the wine to receive classification. Instead his wine would be a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon that would come to be known as Tignanello. It was unleashed to the public in 1978.
Tignanello was an instant hit with consumers and quickly led to a massive expansion in production for the Antinori family. Furthermore, many of winemakers in the region quickly latched onto the new ideas and began creating their own blends that resembled Chianti but utilised their own ideas. These wines would collectively be labelled as the Super Tuscans and they sparked something of a revolution in the Italian wine industry, directly taking on the DOC regulations and eventually triumphing, at least to an extent.
The key to the success of the Super Tuscans was a focus on quality of the wine over adherence to the strict guidelines set out by the DOC. Because of this quality the word was soon spread about just how good these wines were and the Super Tuscans rapidly exploded in popularity. It got to the point where, despite the vino da tavola designation, the best Super Tuscans were rapidly increasing in price to the point where they even exceeded the DOC qualified Chiantis.
While some consternation was experienced with purists who believed that Chianti could only be created under the regulations laid out by the DOC, the popular opinion was overwhelming and the Super Tuscans began to experience a surge in popularity like few other wines of the era. Simply put, the DOC had to take notice.
The DOC relents
With the Super Tuscans experiencing such widespread popularity, the DOC was extremely keen to essentially “correct” the issue and alter their guidelines so that they could provide a classification to this new breed of wines.
Throughout the 1980s the practice of creating non-DOC wines had also begun to expand, with wines created in areas such as Veneto and Piedmont beginning to make the rounds. Again such wines were notable for their extremely high quality, regardless of the DOC classification they had.
The DOC altered their base Chianti regulations in an effort to draw many of the Super Tuscans under the banner. Because of this, these rebel wines now fell under the Chianti banner and could officially be recognised as such. It was a rather comprehensive victory for the Antinori family and the their producers who decided to go their own way when it came to production and heralded a new age of innovation in the Italian wine industry.
Further changes to guidelines for IGT Toscana and DOC Bolgheri has led to the majority of those producers who had rebelled and created their own wines to fall back under the DOC banner.
Today connoisseurs can experience the best of both worlds, all under the DOC banner. Traditionalists are still able to drink classic Chianti, whereas fans of the new wave of producers can also rest assured that the wines they are drinking are regulated.
There is still some debate over which variety of wine is truly the superior offering. While Chianti has hundreds of years of history on its side, the Super Tuscans certainly have the populist vote and the perceived benefit of modern innovations and ideas from some of the era’s greatest winemakers.
At the end of the day, there is no way to truly and objectively measure the quality of each against the other, as much of the decision will always come down to personal opinion. If nothing else the Super Tuscan provided the Italian public with more of a choice when it came to wines, which can never be a bad thing.