Are Super Tuscans still relevant and worth my time and money?

Panoramic view of Caiarossa vineyard and winery in Tuscany Italy. Photo courtesy of Caiarossa (Maker of Super Tuscans)

Are Super Tuscans still relevant and worth my time and money?

When I discovered that the Italian Food Wine and Travel group (#ItalianFWT) was tackling Super Tuscans this month, I had a lot of questions, perhaps you do too.

What is a Super Tuscan?  Where did this name come from?  Are Super Tuscans worth my time & money?  How can you find a Super Tuscan?  Is the name Super Tuscan still relevant?  Are there affordable Super Tuscans out there?

(Scroll to the bottom to see how you can join in the conversation and read the pieces the rest of the writers wrote on Super Tuscans)

What is a Super Tuscan?

Quite honestly, until this piece I had never tasted a Super Tuscan from Tuscany.  I have had multiple “Super Tuscan” style wines from California.  So, what is the commonly held description of a Super Tuscan anyway?

A Super Tuscan is generally thought of as a blend of Sangiovese with other International red varieties, most commonly Bordeaux varieties, like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Of course, it is not that simple.  We will get into more of that soon.

Where did this name come from?

The term was first coined in the early 1980’s. Remember the ‘80’s: Madonna, Wall Street claiming that “Greed is good”, big hair, spandex, leg warmers…In the wine world, Wine Collections became a thing, as well as Robert Parker and The Wine Advocate.

A little history

In the 60’s when the Italian DOCs where being set, the Chianti DOC in Tuscany, set rules dictating the percentages of grapes that must and could be part of the wine.  Sangiovese was the base, but 10-30% needed to be white grapes at the time and International varieties were not allowed. (These rules have since been adjusted.)

Italian winemakers can be rebels and some winemakers did not want to stick to this formula.  Some wanted to make wine that was 100% Sangiovese, some wanted to blend in International varieties.  “Fine,” the DOC said,” just don’t put our DOC on it.  You can label it as vino de tavola or table wine”.  These guys were making high-quality wine and they did not want to just label it table wineTo set these wines apart, the wine media began referring to them as Super Tuscans.

Are Super Tuscans worth my time & money?

Hmm…this was a big question for me. Some of the original Super Tuscan brands like Sassicaia or Tignanello can run up to $250 per bottle.  These hit the status of cult wines.  Remember when I mentioned the 80’s, Wall Street, and wine collections?  Yep, this fit right in.  You could show off and brag about your fancy expensive wine portfolio aging away in your cellar.  Not my thing.

These wines, like those California Cult Cabs, could be big.  This of course was the theme du jour with Parker.  Again, not my thing.

But you can find some that are more reasonable, in price at least, and I did.  It just took a little research to find.

How can you find a Super Tuscan?

This is another difficulty and one that I ran into in finding a wine for this piece.  They have added a couple of additional DOCs like DOC Bolgheri, as well as DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia, which is just for the one winery.  In Chianti, the Chianti Classico DOCG now allows 100% Sangiovese wines.  There is also the Maremma Toscana DOC. Established in 2011, it allows a wide range of varieties.  Other than that, you will need to research and slog through many wines that are listed as IGT Toscana.

Is the name Super Tuscan still relevant?

This, I think, is the big question.  The wineries do not use the term, it’s mostly for consumers.  Is there still a market out there (maybe old rich white guys) that are looking for these wines as status symbols?  Do we need the term to find the style, when in the region the styles tend to vary?  I don’t have an answer here.  What do you think?

Are there affordable Super Tuscans out there?

I promised to get back to this.  And the answer is yes.  You can find wines in the $25 to $80 range.  Let me tell you about the one I found.

Caiarossa – A Super Tuscan I can get behind.

Truthfully, I don’t know if they would consider themselves a Super Tuscan. While they fit the description, it is not a term you will find on their website.  After a bit of searching, I found a local large wine store had several vintages of Caiarossa available.  As I am known to do, I researched the winery before heading out to purchase. What I found I liked.

Caiarossa is labeled as IGT Toscana Rosso.  The wine itself is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Sangiovese, Petit Verdot and Alicante all from their Serra all’Olio Vineyard.  But that is not what made me choose this wine.

The vineyard here is working biodynamically and I like biodynamic wines.  The people who pursue biodynamics, tend to be people I like. Those I have met, have a reverence for the earth, and a passion for making good wine.  Caiarossa has a section of their site devoted to explaining their use of the practice.

  • A Biodynamic preparation being sprayed by a vineyard working in the vineyard at Caiarossa in Tuscany Photo courtesy of Caiarossa
  • In the vineyard at Caiarossa Photo courtesy of Caiarossa (maker of Super Tuscans)
  • Soil and biodynamic preparation in hands at Caiarossa Photo courtesy of Caiarossa (maker of Super Tuscans)
  • Soil map for Caiarossa's Serra all'Olio vineyard, breaking down soils in each of the blocks, Photo courtesy of Caiarossa
  • The Barrique room at Caiarossa in Tuscany (Super Tuscans)Photo courtesy of Caiarossa
  • Varietal map of blocks at Caiarossa's Serra all'Olio Vineyard in Tuscany, courtesy Caiarossa
  • The team at Caiarossa. Photo Courtesy Caiarossa

The story of Caiarossa

Caiarossa began in 1998, and in 2004 was acquired by Eric Albada Jelgersma, a Dutch businessman.  They also own 2 Grand Crus Classes in Margaux, Chateau Giscours and Chateau du Tertre.

They are located in Maremma, near the Tuscan Coast in the Val di Cecina. The hills around them offer protection from the cold north winds, while the Tyrrhenian Sea to their west provides cool breezes to keep the vineyard from being to warm. The Vineyard is near the small town of Riparbella which sits between the ancient city of Volterra and Pisa.  Soils here on the Serra all’Olio Vineyard include clay, silt, sand, limestone and gravel. The planting density is 9,0,00 plants per hectare.

The logo of the winery is an ancient clay sculpture of the head of the Greek God Dionysus.  Dionysus was the ancient god of wine and theatre (both things I am quite fond of). The sculpture dates from the 4th Century BC and was discovered near the city of Volterra.

So, biodynamics, the beauty of the spot, the reverence for history, art, and earth.  Yep, if I was going to pick up a Super Tuscan, this sounded like the right choice for me.  But I still didn’t know if I was going to like what was in the glass.

2013 Caiarossa

Bottle shot of Caiarossa 2013 from IGT Toscana in Tuscany on a Table with decor
Caiarossa 2013 from IGT Toscana

I opened this with preconceptions.  I knew it was likely to be big. The label told me the alcohol was sitting at 14.5%.  So, when I put the glass to my nose, I was surprised.  The wine was balanced, no heat hitting my nose.  And the nose!  This was complex (well, I mean with that many grapes), and intriguing.  I spent quite a bit of time going back to the glass. 

  • Appearance: Deep Ruby
  • Nose: Pronounced intensity, with notes of terracotta, black fruit, prune, damp hay, eucalyptus, sweet tobacco, leather, fig, black currant, and Chinese 5 spice.
  • Palate: Dry with suede-like tannins.  It numbed my gums, and coated my mouth, but smoothed away quickly.  The body was medium, and it had high acidity, so I knew this was going to be brilliant with food.  I got black plum, red fruit, cranberry, and notes of spice and violet.
  • Finish: The finish was medium.

All in all, Michael and I really enjoyed this wine.  I wasn’t expecting that.  It was lively in the glass and I kept returning to the nose on it.

Will I buy a Super Tuscan again?

That is another good question.  I think there is so much variety out there, and so many other wines, I’m not sure how much I will explore the genre of Super Tuscans.  I will however purchase a Caiarossa again.  This was a great experience and for $59.99, I am willing to test the waters further with their wines for special occasions.

The Italian Food Wine Travel Group (#ItalianFWT)

On Saturday June 27, the Italian Food Wine Travel Group will gather on Twitter following hashtag #ItalianFWT to discuss Super Tuscans.  Feel free to hop on and join the conversation.  It begins at 8am PST or a more reasonable 11am EST. Jill of L’Occasion at the lead. You can read her invitation here.

This group of writers, all spent time formulating their thoughts on Super Tuscans to share with you in the pieces below.  Give them a read!

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Robin Renken CSW (photo credit RuBen Permel)

Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.

When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.

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Robin Renken
[email protected]
  • joyofwine
    Posted at 17:36h, 27 June Reply

    Ah yes, this was the big question this morning in the chat…relevance. I think we pay attention when we hear the word Super Tuscan…even though I personally don’t typically drink them or buy them, I still need to sell them because that’s what the consumer wants. That being said, if I was served a glass of Tignanello, Sassicaia or any of the others, I’d never refuse it. And, I’m always in the queue to get a case of all of these to sell on the shelves in the store I’m at.

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 17:48h, 27 June

      Do you find that you have a consistent audience for these wines? Are you starting to see an interest in more unknown indigenous wines? I’m always curious about the market from a consumer standpoint. Being a wine, geek I sometimes am out of touch with what the average consumer is drinking.

  • Nicole Ruiz Hudson
    Posted at 18:18h, 27 June Reply

    Really great overview of the category. I totally can relate to your wrestling with your preconceived notions of the category. I feel like I often have to challenge my own within certain classes of wines — many of them involving Cab in particular!

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 18:59h, 27 June

      Cabernet Sauvignon…I have a tendency to think of it as the snotty girl in high school. So Napa Cab, Bordeaux, and Super Tuscans always seemed too snooty to me. They can, however, be delicious. I must remember that.

  • joyofwine
    Posted at 19:09h, 27 June Reply

    Robin, I don’t necessarily. When I hand sell wine, I’m trying to help people appreciate the native grapes from the region. I don’t “sell” Super Tuscans, they sell themselves..unless I have to sell the virtues of a “baby”! People need to understand that it doesn’t have to be a big price tag to be considered a Super Tuscan…clearly it was the marinade that hit it out of the park and some eau jus on the asparagus might’ve just been the trick!

  • advinetures
    Posted at 23:33h, 27 June Reply

    Great article Robin and it certainly is a good question…not just for Super Tuscans but even Bordeaux where collector wines are outrageously priced due to demand. While we certainly enjoy STs, they aren’t something we search out for or drink a lot of these days.

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 14:44h, 29 June

      Agreed. There are just so many wonderful wines to taste! I tend to want to root for the underdog anyway.

  • foodwineclick
    Posted at 17:39h, 28 June Reply

    Grapes aside, I am totally onboard with their viticulture. Thanks for finding them!

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 14:42h, 29 June

      The viticulture is what drew me in!

  • wendyklik
    Posted at 13:30h, 29 June Reply

    It still amazes me that these wines have been around for 40 yrs and I am just now learning about them. Great article.

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