I have recently had a number of exceptional Super Tuscan wines, which pair beautifully with summertime grilled meats.
What are Super Tuscan wines you might ask?
The term was first coined in the 1980s to originally describe a red blend from Tuscany, which is not recognized within the strict Italian wine classification system. The wines tend to be modern, big, and rich, and many carry a rather hefty price tag of $75 and up per bottle.
What makes “Super Tuscan” wine different from other high end Tuscan wines (like Chianti Classico) is the use of wine grapes that are not indigenous to Italy, like cabernet sauvignon, merlot, or syrah. Some Super Tuscans do contain local sangiovese—even up to 100 percent—but most others are made from international grape blends, such as those from the famous Tenuta dell’ Ornellaia.
Located in Tuscany’s tiny coastal region of Bolgheri is a unique area, in the Livorno Province, where the classic Bordeaux varieties thrive. Tenuta dell’ Ornellaia, one of the first wineries to plant vines in the area, produces three highly acclaimed wines: Ornellaia, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc; Le Serre Nuove, the second wine of Ornellaia; and Le Volte, a blend of sangiovese, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon.
Ornellaia’s clones of diverse origins yield a rich palette of bouquet and taste. The grapes are de-stemmed, gently pressed, and fermented in either wooden or stainless steel vats. Maceration takes place over a period of 25–32 days at a temperature not exceeding 30 degrees Celsius (86 F). The fermenting juice remains unblended until the wines have spent approximately one year in small French barriques (oak wine barrel).
The final cuvée is assembled to evoke the ripe, aromatic notes of cabernet and merlot in an elegant style that balances fruit and acidity with a medium tannic backbone.
This spring, Ornellaia’s winemaker Giovanni Geddes da Filicaja and estate director Axel Heinz were in New York City to launch their new 2012 “L’Incanto” vintage and they were kind enough to invite me and a few other prominent wine writers to join them for a vertical tasting of their flagship wine.
The tasting involved a preview of the 2012 alongside the archival vintages 2007, 2004, and 2002, which have each been rated as one of the best wines to come out of Italy in the last 20 years by numerous wine critics from around the world.
These were superb wines, including even the 2002, which was one of the worse vintages for other wineries in Tuscany. The very young 2012 “L’ Incanto” tasted expansive, remarkably appealing, and seductive.
Another Super Tuscan I recently enjoyed very much with a thick Angus T-bone was Banfi’s 2004 SummuS Sant’Antimo.
SummuS, produced in Tuscany’s Montalcino area, is an extraordinary blend of 40 percent sangiovese grosso, which contributes body; 40 percent cabernet sauvignon for fruit and structure; and 20 percent syrah, which contributes an elegant, slightly spicy and fruity bouquet.
SummuS is produced only in exceptional vintages. The three varieties are vinified separately, with maceration from 10 to 18 days, depending on the variety. After alcoholic fermentation, the individual wines are transferred to barriques where they age separate for 12 months before they’re blended. The wood aging then continues for an additional 8–10 months, followed by bottle aging for 6 months.
Alongside my charcoal-grilled steak, the tannins in the SummuS melted away and the fruit became abundantly apparent.
The third Super Tuscan I loved was Tenuta Luce Della Vite, in numerous vintages. The Montalcino winery was founded in 1995 as a joint project of the Frascobaldi and Mondavi families.
I had a chance to taste numerous samples from double magnum bottles during a Christie’s auction of 20 lots to benefit the Baryshnikov Arts Center that was held at its Rockefeller Center offices. The lots were offered by Luce from its winery’s library and started with cases of six 750 ml bottles (vintages 1993, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2005, and 2012) and finished with lot 20, a rare 18-liter (4.76 gallons) Melchior of Luce 2012.
From the samples I tasted, I loved the 1998, 2006, 2008, and 2010. They were all exceptional blends of sangiovese and merlot.
By comparison, the 1995 vintage was good, but it will probably only have another couple years of excellence before starting to fade. The 2002 was an interesting bottle, due to the fact that 2002 was a very poor year in Tuscany because of inclement weather.
The sample I had started as an aromatic, full bodied expression, but after a considerable amount of swirling and aerating—the kind of torture a critic will give a wine to see how it holds up—the wine in the glass started falling apart.
Other wine writers that were attending the event also mentioned the 2002 as a vintage to beware of. As one of them said, “This was like the picture in second grade that asks children to find out which item does not fit among the items depicted!”
The 2011 and 2012 were just too young and—especially large bottles that age considerably more slowly—still need cellaring.
The evening before the auction, I had opened a 750 ml bottle of the 2011 La Vite Lucente, the second wine of the Tenuta Della Vite, which is a big and bold blend of sangiovese, merlot and a small amount of cabernet sauvignon. Smooth, ripe accents of dried plum, bing cherries, and blackberries are easily discerned, along with pungent roasted espresso and a hint of green pepper. It is an excellent wine, and well priced for the quality represented, even though it felt considerably young and in need of a couple more years in cellar to mellow.
There are numerous Super Tuscans on the U.S. market. They are worth exploring, especially while the summer meat-grilling period is on.
To your health!
Manos Angelakis is a well-known wine and food critic based in the New York City area. He is a certified Tuscan wine master and an expert on Greek, Chilean, and Catalan wines. He judges numerous wine competitions each year and is the senior food and wine writer for LuxuryWeb Magazine, LuxuryWeb.com.