Super Tuscans

Courtesy of several tastings held by members of the London trade over the past fortnight, we’ve been very fortunate to try several different, as well as different vintages of, some of the best Super Tuscans: Sassicaia 2009, Ornellaia 2009, Tignanello 2001 to name but a few. Having been rather impressed by the quality of the wines we thought it’d be prudent to take a look at what makes a Super Tuscan worthy of inclusion in a cellar, and why you should not be without them. In short we’ll be looking at:

  • What is a Super Tuscan?
  • Why should you own a Super Tuscan?
  • Current Market analysis and pricing.

What is a Super Tuscan? – Is it a bird…

The name Super Tuscan started appearing in the English-speaking media back in the early 80s, but the history of them goes back another 40 years to 1944. The first vines for Sassicaia, the original Super Tuscan, were planted by Marchese Maraio Incisa della Rocchetta, from cuttings of Cabernet Sauvignon taken from Chateau Lafite Rothschild, at his estate San Guido in Bolgheri near the Tyrrhenian Coast. The difference with these plantings were not just the pedigree of the vines but also the type. Whilst Cabernet Sauvignon had been planted for centuries in Tuscany, the predominant grape varietal is Sangiovese, with Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano all using strains of it to make world-class wine. Predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon wines weren’t allowed under the Tuscan quality-wine appellation rules, the Denominazioni di Originie Controllata (DOC), and as such Sassicaia was just labelled as a Vino da Tavola, a table wine. Incisa’s nephew, Piero Antinori persuaded his Uncle to sell the 1968 Sassicaia vintage through their Marchese Antinori exporters and Sassicaia has grown in fame since. Other Super Tuscans soon starter appearing, such as Tignanello in the early 70s, created as a more Sangiovese dominated blend by Antinori’s oenologist Giacomo Tachis, who is also credited with Solaia and several other Super Tuscans.

 Why should you own a Super Tuscan?

Apart from the time-honoured phrase, involving eggs and baskets, you should include Super Tuscans in your collection for the following reasons:

  • Super Tuscans are made to age,
  • They’re made with  precision and quality in mind,
  • They’re made in limited quantities,
  • They’re consistently rated highly by the leading wine critics.

Furthermore, whilst Bordeaux has seen a drop in both interest and prices of late, the demand for and performance of the Super Tuscans has never been better.

Current Market Analysis and Pricing – which Super Tuscan is right for me?

Super Tuscans sit in a particular niche within the fine wine market:

  • Not quite as liquid as say, the First Growths,
  • More interesting than the similarly priced 2nd-5th Growths,
  • Not tied to the Bordeaux En Primeur campaign,
  • Not scored by Robert Parker himself,
  • Yet definitely wines that have performed well in the past and
  • That are improving in quality year on year.

Standing somewhere between Bordeaux in terms of taste and appeal, and the Northern Rhone in terms of craftsmanship and typicity, asking which Super Tuscan is right for you is down to price and taste. Currently with a perceived lull in the appeal of the left-bank Bordeaux staples and the more sought-after Burgundies now going for significantly higher prices for the latest vintage, wines like Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Masseto and Tignanello have never looked more underpriced or attractive. Consider, the latest release of Masseto from Ornellaia, the 2009, was around the £2750 mark, compared with the similar scoring Mouton Rothschild’s latest release, the 2011, at £3800, you can see why there’s very little available on the open market. Price-wise the Super Tuscans range from the lower end like Flaccianello at around £380 for the 2009 release, to the mid priced Tignanello at around £500 for the 2009, to the more expensive like Solaia 2009 at around £1450. As with all wines that have the potential for growth, a good score and a good price are key, so consideration must be taken.