What If All Tuscans Became Super Tuscans?

Does the world really need another Super Tuscan? This question plagued me as I tasted through the wines on display at the Gambero Rosso “Top Italian Wine Roadshow” at the San Diego Wine and Culinary Center in downtown San Diego where I was asked by many presenters to taste this or that “new” Super Tuscan.

Some believe that the term Super Tuscan was coined by Nicolas Belfrage and was first used in print in Life Beyond Lambrusco (1985), co-authored by Nicolas and Jancis Robinson. The early Super Tuscans were generally made with international grape varieties and the wines generally saw some time in new wood. Because the wines — most famously, Sassicaia and Tignanello — did not meet standards for any existing appellations at the time they were first released, they were officially classified as vini da tavola or table wines, even though they were marketed as high-end wines.

According to usage, a Super Tuscan is a Tuscan-made wine that 1) does not meet requirements set forth by local appellation laws (in many cases, this is due merely to the fact that a given wine uses grape varieties not allowed by the appellation); or 2) has been intentionally declassified by the producer. While barrique aging is often used for Super Tuscans, barrique is not a sine qua non.

One of the reasons why the term Super Tuscan helps winemakers to sell wines in the United States is the moniker itself: it just sounds good and it implies that the wines are somehow better, that they surpass the rest of the field.

But because the term Super Tuscan is now applied to wines made in Bolgheri (on the Tuscan coast), Chianti Classico, Chianti Rufina, Chianti Colli Fiorentini (and other subzones), Montalcino, Montecucco, Montepulciano… and the list goes on… it has became a de facto über-classification that eclipses the personality of those places and the character of the persons who make those wines.

Tuscans are a highly diverse group of people and their language, their food, their traditions, and their wines change from city to city, town to town, from village to village (and from principality to principality, we would have said in another age). Just ask a Florentine what s/he thinks of the Pisans and you’ll see what I mean (and I won’t repeat the colloquial adage nor the often quoted line from Dante here). I’ve traveled extensively in Tuscany and have spent many hours in its libraries, its trattorie, and wineries. I would certainly be disappointed if the Tuscans, like their wines, all became Super Tuscans.

— Jeremy Parzen

Click here to see VinoWire’s Jeremy Parzen video tour of the Gambero Rosso Roadshow tasting in San Diego (including interviews with Darrell Corti, Daniele Cernilli, and Marco Sabellico).

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4 thoughts on “What If All Tuscans Became Super Tuscans?

  1. The future of italian wines is certainly the link between them and their terroirs, which is the opposite of the idea of Super Tuscans.
    Or, is it? If we look carefully at this word we can certainly see that it contains a terroir’s name. In fact, one of the most recognizable terroirs in the world: Tuscany.
    The success of this Super appellation (in the latin meaning of the word: over, above or, as already said über the other Tuscan appellation) in USA can be explained by the fact that for most of the customers it is very difficult, or even impossible, to cope with the Italian appellation system, mad e of over 300-400 different DOCG, DOC, IGT. Who can blame them if even people from the trade don’t actually know more than 50 of them and in many instances it is possibile to find DOC that are used by only a few wineries, or even only one (it’s the case of La Parrina DOC in Tuscany’s Maremma)?
    I think that the idea of appellation and terroir is an extraordinary powerful one, but it has to be filled with real and meaningful facts. Once accomplished, it is important to comunicate, to promote that appellation and that terroir to the world and not to expect that the public be aware of it simply because it exists. And this, let’s be honest, is something that italian are often poor at: keep it simple, meaningful and talk clear and with one strong voice. Or am I wrong?

  2. Gianpaolo, thanks for your insightful comment. Elsewhere, I’ve written about my belief that Super Tuscans have helped to pave the way for more and higher-quality wines to reach the U.S. market. The very sound of the expression (and its assonance), easy for most Americans to pronounce, has played an important role in making Italian wine more accessible to Americans.

    Jeremy

  3. one could argue that the word does not need every small tuscan winery to launch its own new Supertuscan. That may be true.

    On the other hand one should keep in mind that some of the best tuscan wines are so calles ST’s. I doubt that wines like Percarlo, Flaccianello, (older vintages of) Pergole Torte and others could disapear without leaving a huge whole in the italian wine scene.

  4. Pingback: The Super-Tuscan Snafu: Considering James Suckling's list of Top 12 Tuscan wines from over 10 years ago | vinissima

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