Like France, Italy is a nation of strictly- regulated wine laws, many inspired by centuries of tradition. Such is the DOC (English "Denomination of Controlled Origin"), established in 1963 to enforce nationwide standards of vineyard quality from vintage to vintage. In the Tuscan region of Chianti, however, these regulations mandated the addition of 10 to 30 percent local white grapes to the dominant Sangiovese, as well as aging in large wooden vats instead of small barrels. The result was a mediocre, fruity, rustic quaff with little maturing potential.
By the late 1960s, a group of rebellious Tuscan winemakers, frustrated by these antiquated restrictions, decided to break the DOC rules. They bought up vineyards where Sangiovese grew poorly and planted non-native grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Syrah with the goal of creating new wines based on refined French Bordeaux-style blends. In 1971, winemaker Piero Antinori blended Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, omitting all white grapes. This he aged in small casks of new French oak. The Italian government responded by labeling his heresy vino da tavola ("table wine"), a designation accorded only to the lowliest class of wines.
But the international press opened its arms with glowing reviews. Prominent wine critic Robert Parker heaped on praise, dubbing the trailblazing new blends "Super Tuscans." Prices soared. By the 1980s, wealthy Americans were caught up in a buying frenzy for these wines, some of which had already achieved cult status.
It wasn’t until 1992 that the Italian government finally recognized the status of the rogue Super Tuscans by classifying them under the IGT or regional wine designation, ruling that bottles so labeled must contain at least 85 percent of grapes grown in Tuscany. This allowed Super Tuscan producers the freedom to make wines according to their own styles and tastes. As a result, Super Tuscans can vary considerably in content.
Premium Super Tuscans are expensive and highly collectible, although less costly varieties are on the market.
Expert Wine Recommendations
• Joann Sladek
Cork Wine and Spirit
- 2012 Trabuch Langhe $39,
Intense ruby in the glass with a persistent bouquet of red and black fruit, blackberries, plums, spices and flowers. The palate is lush with the flavors of strawberries, raspberries and cherries backed by velvety tannins and good acidity.
- 2013 Light Horse Chardonnay $13,
redolent aromas of peach, pear, apricot, pineapple and citrus waft from this food-friendly Napa Chard.
• Ami Vanderhoof
Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurants
- NV Cooper’s Hawk Lux Pinot Noir $38,
Garnet-colored and medium-bodied, this award-winning Pinot marries savory aromas of cherries, earth, smoke, lavender and vanilla to a complex palate of cherries, raspberries,
blackberries, currants, coffee and cloves.
- NV Cooper’s Hawk Lux Chardonnay $30,
Smooth, buttery, and creamy with a delicate bouquet of butterscotch, apples, melon, citrus, vanilla and cinnamon. Dry, full-bodied, and round in the mouth with a long citrus-y finish with hints of spice and vanilla.