Fancy Places, Part Five: And So There Shall Be…a “Super Tuscan!”

A mild mannered sommelier, bombarded by French Gamma Rays...

A mild mannered sommelier, bombarded by French Gamma Rays…

...turns into French Hulk...who is mime like, and makes no sound.

…turns into French Hulk…who is mime like, and makes no sound.

Today saw much more of French style wine making than I ever do…which is partially responsible for the art above. That, and quite soon I will be seeing the now retired owner of the legendary Comics Ink. When Marvel was doing multicolored Hulks a few years ago, as a legitimate plotline the gang within the comics ink Clubhouse walls expressed their opinion through mockery. One of the better creations of those loud, rowdy discussions was French Hulk.

French Hulk is powered by ennui. Where the regular Hulk becomes angry, French Hulk…is bored, jaded. The more jaded and unimpressed he becomes, the stronger he gets…although he probably won’t be fighting, because he is disinterested in the conflict. In a Bizarro like fashion, he surrenders constantly. Made of Blue Cheese, he carries a steel baguette, and wears a beret, often with a horizontally striped shirt. He makes no sound.

I was drawing the sommelier turning into French Hulk, as sort of a fond one off, when in the tasting room, someone mentioned that they were pouring a “Super Tuscan.” This immediately had my attention…since a Super Tuscan sounded like the kind of figure that would have to deal with all Wine Related Super Problems.

I was not given an adequate definition when I said, “Tell me more about this…Super Tuscan.”

As a result…I had to do research.

They are among the most enthralling and diversified wines in Italy, yet there is probably no term in Italian wine that is more slippery, vaporous and misunderstood than “super Tuscan.”

“When I first heard ‘super Tuscan,’ I thought we were talking about unleaded fuel, not wine,” says Roberto Guldener, who runs Terrabianca in Radda in Chianti and makes several super Tuscans.

Some people define super Tuscan as a Tuscan blend made with Cabernet Sauvignon or other international varieties. Others define it as a wine that breaks ranks with Italy’s strict Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) quality regime. Others define it as any expensive wine from Tuscany.

The truth is super Tuscan is all those things—and none of those things. A super Tuscan can be a 100 percent expression of Sangiovese with absolutely no international varieties. It can be a DOC wine, and in fact many are, and it can span any price point from $12 to $275.

And the definition is changing all the time.

There is probably no term in Italian wine that is more slippery, vaporous and misunderstood than “super Tuscan.” To get a better grip on what these wines are, were and will be it’s best to start at the beginning—back in the Italy of the 1970s, when there was an enormous need to augment the rules governing Italian wine in order to achieve better quality and to become more competitive in foreign markets, specifically the United States. Super Tuscans (it’s no coincidence the term is in English) proved to be the instrument with which both goals could be achieved.

Some people define super Tuscan as a Tuscan blend made with Cabernet Sauvignon or other international varieties. Others define it as a wine that breaks ranks with Italy’s strict Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) quality regime. Others define it as any expensive wine from Tuscany.

The truth is super Tuscan is all those things—and none of those things.

Forty years ago, Italy was making the awkward transition from producing low-end quantity wines to producing high-quality wines. However, the laws that governed winemaking were not moving at the same pace. Those laws were written in the 1960s, when the Italian government established the DOC to define the geographic origin of a wine and set quality standards. Unfortunately for Chianti Classico (one of Italy’s most important areas in terms of export volume) DOC regulations served only to immortalize what was, in effect, a mediocre wine.

Chianti’s traditional recipe called for a large proportion (between 10 percent and 30 percent) of white grapes to produce a diluted, fruity blend that could be consumed young and had virtually no shelf life. This is what Italy had to offer foreign markets at the same time that the rest of the world was enjoying its love affair with the sophisticated wines of Bordeaux. Those wily French, you see? It’s all coming together.

So…back on track with the history lesson. Piero Antinori was one of the first to create a “Chianti-style” wine that ignored the DOC regulations, releasing a 1971 Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon blend known as “Tignanello” in 1978. Other producers followed suit and soon the prices for these “Super Tuscans” were consistently beating the prices of some of most well known Chianti. Rather than rely on name recognition of the Chianti region, the “Super Tuscan” producers sought to create a wine brand that would be recognizable on its own merits by consumers.

What Antinori had accomplished was a Big Deal. The Tignanello wine’s success opened the floodgates to international grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Syrah and others that were not eligible for Tuscany’s various established appellations. As a result, the “Super Tuscans” are an unofficial category of Tuscan wines, not recognized within the Italian wine classification system.

Still…things change. As more “Super Tuscans” flood the market, the definition of the category is becoming more diluted, and to an extent, polluted. Producers are now faced with establishing new identities for their wines and their territories that go beyond the catch-all name of “Super Tuscan.” Antinori himself, the creator said, “Tuscany wouldn’t be what it is today without the super Tuscan.” However, he adds, “Like all things that start with big enthusiasm and hoopla, there are cycles and then they diminish with time. This is what happened to the Super Tuscan.” There is a growing feeling among them that Tuscany has moved beyond the need for a generic “wine 101” vehicle like the Super Tuscan, and some actually wince when you use the term to describe their wines.

So wait…that was a lot of information. What makes a wine a Super Tuscan then?

Good question. First…it needs to be made in the Tuscany region of Italy. Check the Map, True Believers!

Slightly more useful than the Battleworld Map from Marvel.

Slightly more useful than the Battleworld Map from Marvel.

Not a Map Person? Fine! It need to be from HERE:

Oh snap!  Tuscany!

Oh snap! Tuscany!

Next up…IGT rules say up to 15 percent of the grapes used for Super Tuscans can be from outside Tuscany, all of the important Super Tuscans are made by producers who want to highlight their LOCAL vineyards and territory (that’s why the map was important). Toscana IGT wines are made from either a single grape variety or a blend of grapes that usually includes two or more of the following: Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Syrah.

Ironically, they were invented to compete with the excellent wines of the time from the Bordeaux region of France…thus making French Hulk a logical Enemy of the Super Tuscan.

Now you know.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: