The superpowers of the Super Tuscan – A rebel with a cause

Nikki Michaels
By Nikki Michaels
26 days ago
4 min read

If you’ve ever been grateful for pizza-and-pasta-perfect Italian wine, you have the Super Tuscan to thank (a big fat grazie from us here at the ’fo). A fairly broad category of red blends from, as you might’ve guessed, the Tuscany region of Italy, Super Tuscans are the wine equivalent of the leather jacket-wearing, motorcycle-riding rebel in every teen movie ever: born out of a desire to break the mould, but actually incredibly popular and – in the end – pretty mainstream. 

The history of the Super Tuscan is inseparable from the history of Chianti – arguably the most famous of Italy’s wines, as well as a legendary wine region in central Tuscany. Here’s the deal...

The rule-breaking origins of the Super Tuscan

In the mid-1900s, Italy created its DOC system, ostensibly in order to ensure consistent quality and to preserve winemaking traditions in each region. But in Chianti, the rules – which specified that Chianti DOC wines could contain only indigenous Italian varietals (such as sangiovese, the backbone of this famous vino) and could include up to 20% white grapes – seriously backfired.

That 20% white grapes rule quickly morphed out of control and into an easy way for winemakers to dilute their blends and increase their output, taking advantage of the worldwide popularity of Chianti wines while simultaneously causing the quality of those wines to plummet. Enter a decline of the once-pristine Chianti rep – and some very, very surly Tuscan winemakers.

Angered by the money-grubbing vintners tanking the image of Chianti across the globe and the stubborn refusal of the Italian government to amend the DOC rules, a group of winemakers went rogue... 

...and the Super Tuscan was born.

These rebellious wines said a hard ‘no’ to white grapes and included non-native varietals such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah. Because of the DOC restrictions, these iconoclasts weren’t allowed to label themselves as ‘Chianti’; instead, they had to deal with the ‘table wine’ sticker, historically a marker of low-quality vino.

Shortly thereafter, a handful of American press came to the rescue, tasting the new creations coming out of the stifled Chianti region and spreading the word far and wide about the power, intensity, and quality of the ‘Super Tuscans.’

In the early ’80s, Italy saw the light and amended its wine laws, eliminating the 20% white-varietal allowance — and in the ’90s, they created an entirely new designation: IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) to officially condone the production of the ‘experimental’ Super Tuscan.

Getting technical

IGT was created in 1992 to recognise the high quality Tuscan wines that didn't fit neatly into the DOC system. 

Meanwhile, Bolgheri DOC – which was actually created in 1983 but only included whites and rosé – allowed reds that would have otherwise fallen into IGT status from 1994.

And in only 2011, wines from Maremma were elevated from IGT to Maremma Toscana DOC status.

Mofo tip: If you're wondering how to spot a Super Tuscan on the shelf, keep an eye out for the terms ‘IGT Toscana’, ‘Bolgheri DOC’ and ‘Maremma DOC’. You still might not be able to tell exactly which grapes constitute the blend, but you can safely assume it’s a proportion of all or a few of these guys.

Confused? So were we. Then we got some in our glass and none of it actually mattered...

Fun fact: Between Bolgheri DOC and Maremma DOC, 10 million litres of delicious Super Tuscan wine hits the market each year. 

The Super Tuscan players

Sangiovese

Superpowers: Bright acidity, rustic flavours, and dangerous drinkability.

Cabernet sauvignon

Superpowers: Big ol’ tannins, powerful structure, and complex notes of dark fruit, smoke, and earth.

Merlot

Superpowers: Drinkability! Drinkability! Drinkability! But seriously: crowd-pleasing red fruit flavours and a softness that makes it so, so easy to quaff.

Syrah

Superpowers: Deep colour, bold dark fruit flavours, and pleasantly complex hints of baking spices and game.

Cabernet franc

Superpowers: Savoury characters, elevated aromatics, and higher acidity.

A little Tuscany is never enough

Need more convincing? By all means, delve deeper into Tuscany on a more technical level. But if you’re already a superfan of the Super Tuscan, head here to find some..