Why are Super Tuscans "Super?"
What is a Super Tuscan? Super Tuscans were an unofficial category of Tuscan wines, not recognized within the Italian wine classification system. This changed in the 1992 but first, what sets Super Tuscans apart from other Tuscan wines? Super Tuscans incorporate the use of wine grapes that are not indigenous to Italy.
At first, they were seen as rebellious wines. Winemakers were frustrated by the slow bureaucracy of Italian wine law in the 1970’s. So in response, they started blending non-indigenous grapes into their wines. They were particularly fond of French varietals like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. The governing wine body finally gave in and in 1992 created IGT (Indicazione geografica tipica). Therefore, IGT was created to recognize the unusually high quality of the class of wines known as Super Tuscans. IGT wines are labeled with the locality of their creation, but do not meet the requirements of the stricter DOC or DOCG designations, which are generally intended to protect traditional wine formulations such as Chianti or Barolo. It is considered broadly equivalent to the French vin de pays designation.
Piero Antinori’s “Tignanello” is generally regarded as the first Super Tuscan. However, he did find inspiration from Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta (say that 5 times fast..). Rocchetta imported Cabernet Sauvignon vines from Chateau Lafite in Bordeaux and planted a vineyard called Tenuta San Guido. From there, he made wines called Sassicaia. These wines started gaining reputation for their high quality. Rochetta’s relative, which happened to be Piero Antinori, tasted Sassicaia and quickly strove to make his own. Antinori didn’t care that his wines would be labeled as the lowest designation (IGT). He had quality wine, great marketing, and charged high prices for Tignanello which arguably became one of the first “cult wines” in Italy.