Written by: Tim Edison

Updated: July 13, 2023

Super Tuscan Wine Explained [Ultimate Guide]

Welcome to the rebellious world of Super Tuscan wines!

In this guide, you'll learn about their rich history, unique qualities, and of course, their extraordinary taste.

Buckle up for an exciting exploration of Italy's wine revolutionaries.

What is Super Tuscan Wine?

When it comes to wine, Super Tuscan is a term as grand as it sounds.

A Super Tuscan wine is not bound by the traditional wine-making laws in Tuscany, which prescribe specific grape blends, aging regulations, and geographical boundaries.

Instead, it embraces the maverick spirit of innovation, often blending indigenous Sangiovese grapes with international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah.

The result is a unique and delectable tapestry of flavors and aromas that are as intriguing as they are enjoyable.

Super Tuscan wines have a spectrum of flavors, but you can generally expect a full-bodied wine with strong fruit-forward notes, coupled with an earthy richness that is distinctively Italian.

They are known for their depth and complexity, often displaying ripe, dark fruit, leather, and herbal notes, along with the sweet spice of French oak aging.

History of Super Tuscan Wine

Super Tuscan wines emerged as a rebellion against restrictive wine laws in Tuscany in the 1970s.

While the traditional regulations ensured a certain standard and protected regional heritage, they also limited the creativity and flexibility of winemakers. 

Winemakers were aware that the terroir of Tuscany was capable of producing wines that rivaled those from the best regions of France.

However, the Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) rules stipulated that certain grape varieties (mainly Sangiovese) must make up a high proportion of any given blend, and that wines must adhere to specific aging requirements.

Many felt that these rules were restrictive and prevented them from reaching the full potential of their vineyards.

Several winemakers, feeling stifled by these laws, started experimenting with grape varieties and techniques outside the established regulations.

They brought in French grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and focused on low-yield, high-quality harvests. These renegade wines could only be classified as vino da tavola (table wine), Italy's lowest wine designation, despite their premium quality.

The term "Super Tuscan" was coined by wine critics, celebrating these high-quality wines that dared to defy convention.

In 1992, the Italian government created a new designation, Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT), in recognition of the high quality of these 'table wines', and most Super Tuscans now carry this denomination.

The first and the most famous Super Tuscan wine is Antinori Tignanello. It's a blend of 80% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Franc. It was created way back in 1971 and commands a hefty price tag.

What Separates Super Tuscan Wine from Other Italian Wines?

Super Tuscan wines stand apart due to their blend of tradition and innovation. While they are grounded in the rich wine heritage of Tuscany, they aren't afraid to push boundaries.

Super Tuscans incorporate international grape varieties, particularly Bordeaux varieties, and are often aged in new French oak barrels, adding a level of complexity and richness to the wine.

Unlike other Italian wines that are classified based on strict geographical and production rules, Super Tuscans offer creative freedom to the winemakers.

This independence is reflected in the variety of styles seen within Super Tuscans, from Sangiovese-dominant blends reminiscent of traditional Chianti to bold, Bordeaux-style blends.

Who Are the Most Famous Super Tuscan Wine Producers?

The pioneers of Super Tuscan wines, who dared to challenge the status quo, are now some of the most renowned wine producers in Italy.

  • Sassicaia: Produced by Tenuta San Guido, Sassicaia was one of the first and remains one of the most famous Super Tuscans. It's a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
  • Tignanello: Produced by Marchesi Antinori, one of Italy's most ancient and prestigious wine families, Tignanello is widely recognized for propelling Super Tuscan wines onto the world stage.
  • Ornellaia: This winery in Bolgheri is known for its eponymous wine, Ornellaia, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot.
  • Solaia: Another gem from Marchesi Antinori, Solaia is primarily made with Cabernet Sauvignon, with Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc rounding out the blend.

How Do You Identify Super Tuscan Wine?

Identifying a Super Tuscan wine can be a bit of a challenge as the term "Super Tuscan" does not appear on wine labels, and the category includes a diverse range of styles from bolder Syrah blends to lighter Sangiovese based wines.

Actually, you'll see the term "Super Tuscan Style" on some wine labels and this is a surefire guarantee that the wine is not Super Tuscan. These wines are usually made in California and some are really excellent and typically much better value.

Here are a few tips to help you spot them:

  1. 1
    Classification: The Toscana Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) classification is the first thing to look for. This means the wine has been made in Tuscany, which is a great start! Also look out for specific classifications within Tuscany. DOC Bolgheri is an example. Nowadays, Super Tuscan wines can be DOC or DOCG classified.
  2. 2
    Grape Varieties: Look for wines that feature non-traditional grape varieties for Tuscany, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Syrah, often blended with the traditional Sangiovese. However, bear in mind that some Super Tuscans are made entirely from Sangiovese or from international varieties, so the presence of non-traditional grapes is not a strict requirement. Many are actually made in the style of a Bordeaux blend and feature Cabernet Sauvignon as the dominant grape.
  3. 3
    Region: Most Super Tuscans are produced in coastal Tuscany, especially in Bolgheri and Maremma. However, they can technically come from anywhere in Tuscany.
  4. 4
    Producers: Certain producers are famous for their Super Tuscan wines, including Tenuta San Guido (Sassicaia), Marchesi Antinori (Tignanello), and Tenuta dell'Ornellaia (Ornellaia). If you see these names, it's likely you're looking at a Super Tuscan.
  5. 5
    Price: Super Tuscan wines are generally not cheap. These are premium wines that command high prices due to their quality and reputation. If you see a pricey Tuscan wine made from international grape varieties or blends, it may well be a Super Tuscan.

When in doubt, ask a knowledgeable wine retailer for guidance, as the world of Super Tuscan wines can be as diverse and complex as the wines themselves.

Making Super Tuscan Wine

Types of Grapes

Super Tuscan wines are distinctive for their use of both indigenous and international grape varietals.

The indigenous grape that is most commonly used is Sangiovese, which is known for its bright acidity and cherry fruit flavors. It is the grape traditionally used in Chianti and is deeply tied to the identity of Tuscan wines.

However, the hallmark of Super Tuscan wines is the inclusion of international grape varietals, most notably those used in Bordeaux blends.

These include Cabernet Sauvignon, known for its deep color and full body; Merlot, valued for its softness and lush fruit flavors; Cabernet Franc, which adds complexity and an aromatic quality; and Petit Verdot, used sparingly for color and tannic structure.

Some Super Tuscans also use Syrah, a grape of French origin, which lends spicy, dark fruit flavors.

Blending Techniques Used in Super Tuscan Wines

In Super Tuscan wines, the blending process is where the magic truly happens. Winemakers skillfully mix different proportions of various grape varietals to create a wine that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The aim is to harmonize the distinct characteristics of each grape - the acidity of Sangiovese, the structure of Cabernet Sauvignon, the fruitiness of Merlot - into a balanced, complex whole.

It's not uncommon for Super Tuscan wines to be single-varietal wines as well, often showcasing Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah.

The decision of whether to create a blend or a single-varietal wine is entirely up to the winemaker's discretion and vision.

Viticulture Practices and Winemaking Processes

Super Tuscan wines are known for their adherence to quality in both the vineyard and the winery.

Low-yield, high-quality grape production is a common practice, ensuring the best possible raw material for these wines.

Winemaking processes are similarly dedicated to quality. Aging in French oak barrels is common, adding layers of flavor and aiding in the wine's development.

The period of aging varies depending on the specific wine and vintage, with some Super Tuscans spending several years in the barrel before release.

5 Amazing Super Tuscan Wines to Try

Unsure where to begin with Super Tuscan wine? These are some of the best Super Tuscan wines to try. But be warned, be prepared to pay a small fortune!

Antinori Tignanello

The original and still one of the best!

This iconic wine is predominantly Sangiovese, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. 

It consistently receives high scores for its expressive fruit, refined structure, and impressive aging potential.

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia

One of the original Super Tuscans, Sassicaia is a captivating blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It is revered for its elegance and complexity. 

Tenuta dell'Ornellaia

A well-structured blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, Ornellaia is a wine of depth and richness that has received numerous accolades.

It's a wine that's always excellent but unfortunately always very expensive. It makes Tignanello seem cheap!

Montevertine Le Pergole Torte

This 100% Sangiovese Super Tuscan is often overlooked in favour of the more international blends, but its intense cherry flavors, floral notes, and silky tannins make it a must-try.

Tua Rita Redigaffi

A unique Super Tuscan as it's a 100% Merlot, Redigaffi has received multiple perfect scores from critics. It's a lush, opulent wine.

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About the Author Tim Edison

Tim started Wine Turtle way back in 2015.
These days he contributes to Wine Turtle (and other renowned wine publications) while continuing his wine education.
Tim's wine of the month is the Coates & Seely Reserve Brut NV (from Hampshire, England).

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