Tuscany is renowned for great wines made from the Sangiovese grape, Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino for example. However, some areas in Tuscany are better suited to other red grapes. Super Tuscan wines, some of the world’s most sought-after and high-scoring reds, are made principally from Bordeaux-variety grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.
The laws governing top wine regions in Italy, designated as DOCs and DOCGs, are strict. They dictate what grapes can be used in the wine, how the wine must be made, how long it must be aged, etc. Centuries of tradition led most of Tuscany’s red wine appellations to require that Sangiovese make up the vast majority—or all—of their wines.
In 1944, the marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta decided to plant Cabernet Sauvignon in his Tenuta San Guido vineyard in Bolgheri, Tuscany. He thought the grape would do well there and it did. For 27 years, he kept all the wine—which he called Sassicaia—for himself. In 1971, it was sold commercially for the first time.
His nephew, marchese Piero Antinori who was in charge of selling Sassicaia, created his own non-standard Tuscan red in 1971 as well, Tignanello. Those two gave other producers the confidence to do likewise and several soon created similarly unsanctioned wines.
Because these wines violated the rules of Tuscan wine, they weren’t allowed to claim official status and were labeled simply as “table wine.” Since these wines were outside the Tuscan rules and many of them were superb, the phrase “Super Tuscan wine” was coined to describe them as a group.
Over time, as particular Super Tuscan wines gained substantial critical and commercial success, new legal designations were created to accommodate them. IGT Toscana, created in 1992, encompasses most Super Tuscan wines. A stricter, and theoretically more prestigious, DOC Bolgheri was established in 1994 to cover others. Some of the finest Super Tuscan wines have gotten their very own DOCs, such as Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC.
While the majority of Super Tuscan wines consist primarily of one or more Bordeaux-variety grapes, that is not always the case. Some, such as Tignanello, include substantial amounts of Sangiovese. Others feature Syrah.