Oeno Files

Stupid Question: What's a Super Tuscan?

Begging the not-so age-old Italian question.

By Julie H. Case October 10, 2012

A bottle of red, a bottle of white, and the somm has disappeared for the night... And yet, there are so many wines to choose from on the super Tuscan list at the Italian restaurant.

So, what exactly is a super Tuscan, and will you like it?

For the record, even if you're scared of Italian wines, especially Chianti (and its little wicker basket), you'll probably like it. While super Tuscans are often a blend of sangiovese and other grapes, they can actually also be exceptionally well-made single-varietal wines. 

Historically, a super Tuscan is a wine made outside of the Italian wine laws, which are political and confusing, but meant to guarantee a quality level for wine. Back in the 1960s and '70s a group of growers decided they could make far better wines if they refused to follow the laws, which required wines classified in the country's highest-end tier be a blend of sangiovese and not-so-tasty white grapes. Some winemakers wanted to make 100 percent sangiovese. Others wanted to marry their sangiovese—which is an exceptional blending grape—with French varietals, such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cab Franc and syrah. These grapes round out the higher acids and tannins associated with sangiovese and result in a riper, fruiter wine. 

What emerged from all that experimenting and rule-bending were some of the premier wines of Italy. Many super Tuscans are prestigious wines, from prestigious estates, and carry the prestigious price tag to match. 

Luckily, today many of the more affordable—and enjoyable—Italian blends, which include sangiovese and other grapes, label themselves as "super Tuscans," or IGT Toscana. So, if you want to dally with an Italian but the thought of the stereotypical high-acid, high-tannin sangiovese puts you off, a super Tuscan could offer a delicious starting point.

Locally, Proletariat is pushing its American version of a super Tuscan (on tap). But for a taste of a true super Tuscan, a handful of local Italian restaurants, such as Assaggio, feature menus with dedicated super Tuscan bottle lists. Better yet, start small: Ballard's Volterra offers at least two of the 12 wines on its super Tuscans list by the glass. 

Have a stupid question for a winemaker or sommelier that you're too timid to ask? Send it to [email protected].

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