The Super Tuscans: 10 years on


Last week, our Pickering Cellar was the setting for a masterclass on Super Tuscan wines. Covering a range of styles, from 100% Sangiovese wines to those using solely international grapes, and across a broad span of sub-regions and vintages, it beautifully illustrated the diversity of this category. Here, Barbara Drew MW picks out a trio of wines from the 2013 vintage and discusses how they were showing on the night.  

The Super Tuscans are a category of rule-breaking Italian wines that came to prominence in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

There’s no legal definition of these wines, and the term in fact hides a multitude of complexities. Super Tuscans are made using an array of different grapes, winemaking techniques, and also hail from a range of sub-climates. This tasting was an opportunity to explore all of these styles and discover which were most favoured.

Attendees ranged from those with cellars full of Italian wines, to collectors looking to broaden their horizons beyond Bordeaux, so there was a good range of opinions in the room. Whilst the 2007 Masseto and 2018 Grattamacco were some of the favourites on the night – for their silkiness and depth of floral complexity, and their elegance and incredible value, respectively – it was a trio of 2013s that best illustrated the variety and ageing potential of these great wines.  

The 2013 vintage

Within the line-up we showed three wines from the 2013 vintage. Whilst often derided as an annus horribilis within Europe, this vintage is a great example of how sweeping assessments are often unreliable. Even within Bordeaux, where the weather truly was less than ideal, different communes experienced differing levels of luck with their wines.

Over in Tuscany, many hundreds of miles away from the key regions of France, the weather was quite different. This vintage is remembered as beautiful and classic, neither too hot, nor too cool, producing wines of freshness and elegance and with serious ageing potential too.   

The line-up of 2013s contained a Tignanello, Sassicaia and Ornellaia, which represent the broad spectrum of Super Tuscan wines. Whilst Super Tuscans are often grouped together, in fact there is much variation between them, not least in the hillside wines from the Chianti region and those from Bolgheri.  

Hill versus coast

The wines from the Chianti zone of production, such as Tignanello, could often in fact be classified as Chianti Classico now the local regulations have softened somewhat. Nevertheless, most producers of these styles still prefer to market them as IGT Toscana, a regulation with broader rules on permitted grape varieties, winemaking styles and labelling. To those in the know, this indicates their differing style from more traditional Chianti wines.  

The hillside Super Tuscans are generally marked by notable, bracing acidity, and often sour cherry and herbal flavours. Nevertheless, they may show more glossy fruit character and sweet spice from new oak barrels than their cousins which are labelled as Chianti Classico.

The wines from Bolgheri, by contrast, tend to be richer and fuller-bodied, with riper fruit and often slightly more integrated acidity. These, by law, are dominated by international grapes, and so there are generally clear cassis and blackcurrant characters evident in the Bolgheri wines, as well as softer tannins.  

The 2013 Tignanello is predominantly Sangiovese, though it has around 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and a touch of Cabernet Franc. We found that this was the wine which felt the most Italian – with sour cherry, dried herbs and bright, racy acidity. Some savoury, spicy characters were just starting to emerge, but this will still hold nicely for another 15 years at least.  

Heading to the coast, the 2013 Sassicaia is a different creature. Grown in Bolgheri, the land here is much flatter, affected by cooling coastal breezes and gravel soils rather than altitude and chalky galestro. The blend is also entirely international grapes, being 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. Not dissimilar to a Left Bank Bordeaux, the wine nonetheless was showing a beautiful richness due to the warming Mediterranean sunshine.

Considerably smoother and more rounded than the Tignanello – thanks to the Cabernet – this was the wine of the night for many. Starting to take on layers of tobacco and hints of earth, there is nonetheless a beautiful depth of ripe blackcurrant and cassis character here, that will support another 20 years’ ageing at least.  

By contrast, the 2013 Ornellaia was more akin to a Right Bank Bordeaux, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in almost equal measure, the balance being made up of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. There is always a richness and plushness to Ornellaia and that was absolutely in evidence here, with the wine tasting far younger than its 10 years would suggest. Underneath the richness, and sweet oak character there is serious structure, with bold but ripe tannins and gentle acidity which will support the ageing beautifully.  

The verdict

Although the joy of wine, and a tasting such as this, is the opportunity to taste different styles and pick your own favourite, nevertheless there were some common themes that emerged.

The Tignanello was admired by those who had cellars of Italian wines, with many agreeing it has more than earnt its place alongside Brunellos and Barolos. Like those other fabled regions, it does ideally need food to tame it though, with cured meats, some local Pecorino or even some fresh olives helping to complement its structure.

The Sassicaia meanwhile, with its rich blackcurrant notes, had a beautiful elegance to it, whilst the tannins were not as overt as in the Tignanello. Particularly for those less familiar with Italian wines, this wine was a favourite.

Not to be left out, the Ornellaia garnered fans for its rich and forward style. Nevertheless, much of the joy in Ornellaia is the fruit, something that will, eventually, start to fade with age. It was deemed that of all the wines, the Ornellaia was one to start drinking now or in the next five years, to make the most of its hedonistic charms. Clearly a rematch in five years’ time is required! 

To learn more about our educational masterclasses, and see what we have coming up here.