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Jan 18, 2007 03:46 PM

"Super-Tuscans"- Please help me understand

I just don't get the whole concept of "super-Tuscan" wines. Every wine shop describes them differently. As I understand these wines, they are generally non-traditional (for Italy) blends of cabernet sauvignon, merlot,etc. What I truly don't understand is why they comand such a steep price. Similar French blends sell for a fraction of the price. I have seen super tuscans such as Sassicaia, Tenuta Dell'Ornellaia sell for several hundred dollars. The Masseto, a full 100% Merlot sells for up to $300.00. Why such a premium? Are they they much better than their French and American counterparts? Please enlighten me on this category of wine since it truly intrigues me. Thank you.

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  1. The wines you mentioned are as good and sometimes better than their French counterparts. Masseto is one of the world's best wines. Earning a 100 point rating from the Wine Spectator.

    The reason these wines are so expensive is the way they are made. Quality is THE most important thing to these producers. In bad years, very little or no wine is produced. Each grape cluster is hand harvested, hand sorted, and stored in outrageously expensive oak barrels that are only used once. Only mature vines are used and often half of the grape crop is dropped so that the remaining clusters can thrive.

    If you think Ornellaia is too expensive, please try the Le Serre Nuove. This little gem is made from the vines that are not mature enough to go into Ornellaia. The retail on Le serre Nuove is about $40.00 depending on where you live. The wine is incredible for the price.

    25 Replies
    1. re: chickstein

      It is funny you mentioned Le Serre Nuove. I heard the name mentioned on chowhound and went to try to find it at several local wine shops. No one had it in stock but I can probably have someone special order it. I did purchase a Flaccianello from Fontodi but I have not tried it yet. I was actually that purchase which got me confused about the whole "super tuscan" category. On one hand I am being told that they are generally blends but the Flaccianello is 100% Sangiovese.

      1. re: bobby06877

        Was just about to point out that some Supertuscans are 100% Sangiovese, while others are mostly so with a dollop of other varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon. The term was originally used to describe a group of high-end wines made in an international style (for example, varietalish and barrel-aged in French oak), not just ones that used "foreign" grape varieties (quotation marks because Cabernet, for one, had been around in Tuscany for quite a while), and forced to wear the *vino di tavola* moniker.

        1. re: carswell

          Cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlot have been grown in northern Italy for a long time, which was reflected in the DOC system set up in 1963.

          However, I believe cabernet was first planted in Tuscany by Mario Incisa della Rocchetta in the 1940s. His first commercial release was the 1968 Sassicaia. I don't think any other Tuscan wineries planted cabernet until after that. Even as late as 1982 it was obscure enough that Victor Hazan mentioned only one other cabernet-dominated Tuscan wine in his "Italian Wine."

          Another school of sangiovese-based super-Tuscans was started by Antinori's Tignanello, first released in 1971.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Your information re Cabernet Sauvignon's arrival date in Tuscany may be correct though I, perhaps mistakenly, recall reading that it was grown experimentally before then. Will research when I have a moment and revert if I find anything of interest. Regardless, even 20 to 30 years -- a generation -- counts as quite a while in my books. And with all respect to Mr. Hazan, Cabernet Sauvignon was one of the main reasons the regulations were changed in 1984 to allow Chianti Classico to include up to 10% non-traditional grape varieties.

            1. re: carswell

              My point is that prior to the advent of the super-Tuscans, cabernet was known in the area only through imported wines. It was Incisa della Rocchetta's fondness for fine Bordeaux that inspired him to plant it, and his eventual success that inspired other growers to adopt it.

              20 years isn't very long by Tuscan standards! The Antinoris have been making wine for at least 600 years, and the Etruscans were exporting it over 2,500 years ago.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                >>20 years isn't very long by Tuscan standards!<<

                Depends on how you look at it. In the 30 years between 1968 and 1998, say, the Tuscan wine scene changed radically.

          2. re: carswell

            In addition to the info provided, I am also under the impression that when winemakers started making what became the supertuscans, they felt constrained by the outdated DOC regulations in Tuscany at the time. For instance, Chianti had to contain a certain percentage of Sangiovese as well as minor grapes, and various winemaking processes were required. As is still the case, DOCG Chianti Classico wines may meet the regulations but vary tremendously in quality. The wines they wanted to make could not have DOC status, whether because they were from other grapes or they were sangiovese wines made in ways that would not conform to the regulations. Therefore they were labeled IGT or even table wine, but the quality was much much higher hence the unofficial "supertuscan" description.
            Since then the DOC regulations have been modified and updated--I believe Chianti now can even contain some cabernet sauvignon.

            1. re: kenito799

              That's true for Tignanello. One of Antinori's best Chiantis had that name. When they improved the quality by reducing and then eliminating from the blend the white grapes required by the DOC regulations, and by adding a small amount of Cabernet, they had to stop calling it Chianti, and instead labeled it "vino da tavola."

              Since so many Chianti makers followed suit, the DOC rules were changed, and Antinori could if they wanted to label it Chianti again, as some of their competitors' sangiovese-based super-Tuscans do.

              Sassicaia, the first super-Tuscan, was originally labeled "vino da tavola" since as a Bordeaux-style blend it had no relation whatsoever to any Tuscan DOC. It now has its own DOC, Bolgheri Sassicaia. There's also a Bolgheri Rosso DOC for similar Bordeaux blends from the same region.

              1. re: kenito799

                Chianti has been frequently blended with Cabernet or Merlot or Syrah in Tuscany for
                some years now.

            2. re: bobby06877

              Any store that carries Ornellaia should be able to get the Le Serre Nuove. The are generally distributed by the same people. Ask the wine buyer to special order a bottle for you. If he/she won't accomodate you, find another wine shop.

              A couple of years ago Delia Viadar purchased property in Bolgheri, right next to the Masseto vineyard. She was planning to make her amazing wine from grapes grown in this area. She had a really hard time with the purchase as she is from Argentina (Italians don't sell to outsiders) and a woman.

              1. re: chickstein

                Did she end up buying the property? If so, is she producing any wines from it? Sounds very interesting.

                1. re: bobby06877

                  She did buy the property, and I could be wrong, but I think she was forced to sell it when the building in Napa burned down the was warehousing her wines. Again, I could be wrong about that.

                  1. re: bobby06877

                    From my understanding, Delia was just one of three wine producers involved,
                    and the purchase was made several years ago. Also involved: Tim Mondavi and Stephane Gagliardo. Don't know about the wine production.

                  2. re: chickstein

                    I was able to find a local wine store that can get Le Serre Nuove and have a few bottles in stock. Would you recommend any particular year? They have some options. Also, how long should they sit before you would open them or are they generally able to drink right away? Thanks. By the way, they also have some Le Volte, any good?

                    1. re: bobby06877

                      I am not a fan of Le Volte. Le Serre Nuove is literally "baby " Ornellaia. Le Volte has Sangiovese as the predominant grape. The first vintage of Le Serre Nuove was 99. Let the wine breath about a half an hour and then go for it.

                      We had the 99 about 3 weeks ago and it was stellar. Opened up while we were drinking it and it was magnificent.

                      Please let me know if you like it or not. Since I have reccomended it so highly, I hope you will like it.

                      1. re: chickstein

                        I am only able to get a 2000 or 2002 Le Serre Nuove. It seems the only vintage available in my area. One wine store told said they could get me a non-vintage year (what the heck does that mean?) and called it "release IX". He was reading from a catalog. Not having an easy time with this one. 2000 or 2002 a better year? Thanks for all your help.

                        1. re: bobby06877

                          2000. 2002 was a TERRIBLE year in Tuscany!

                        2. re: chickstein

                          I disagree. I think that the Le Volte is a nice Super Tuscan for the price. I am by no means an expert but I enjoy Italian wines. I can never find it where I am but I have found that it is a crowd pleaser.

                          1. re: gooseterp

                            As reflected in its price, Le Volte's grapes come from wherever and there's no new oak. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's not likely to please someone who's expecting a typical rich, heavily-oaked super-Tuscan.

                            1. re: gooseterp

                              I don't hate Le Volte, but for that price point, there are other wines I prefer. Lucente for example.

                            2. re: chickstein

                              I finally got a bottle of Le Serre Nuove, it was almsot impossible to find in Connecticut but I found a few bottles in New York. The only problem was the only year left was 2002 so I picked it up anyway along with their newly released 2004. (by the way, the 2004 is 40% merlot, up from 25% in the prior years). You were right, 2002 was a terrible year in Tuscany and now I know why this was the only year left at the stores. It had a very strong, almost medicine smell, it actually smelled a little like Robitussen. We decanted it for 30 minutes, tried a little, and then decided to let it rest some more. It got better but clearly it needed more time. It was a little harsh going down with a not too pleasant after taste. I am new at this so I am not sure how to properly describe the taste and aroma. I think either 2002 was a really bad year or it needs a lot of decanting time. I am looking forward, though, to the 2004 when the time is right. You had requested that I get back to you after trying it. Thanks

                              1. re: bobby06877

                                I am sorry you had such a bad experience. Let me know when you try the 04.

                          2. re: chickstein

                            Interestingly enough, there's a "box set" that contains a 2001 Ornellaia and a 2001 Le Serre Nuove, a mahogany-coloured wooden case with clear sliding lid. I just bought one in Firenze for 195 euros ($252). Expensive? Don't know. But I just couldn't resist.

                          3. re: bobby06877

                            Fontodi's Flaccinello is stunning. I have it several times and it's always amazing.

                            1. re: maria lorraine

                              We had our first Flaccianello, a 1995, a couple weeks ago. It was a great wine with a very unique, and welcome, taste. It was our first "super Tuscan" and it will not be our last.

                        3. Super-Tuscans are actually cheaper than top Bordeaux wines, and cost roughly the same as top California wines.

                          As chickstein notes, these wines are expensive to produce, but rigorously selecting grapes and spending a lot of money on new oak doesn't automatically make delicious wine.

                          Tignanello and Sassicaia are extraordinary. There are other exceptions, but I've found most of the other super-Tuscans I've tasted unbalanced and undrinkable, like their California counterparts.

                          Why would anyone pay $100 or more for an overripe, overly extracted, grossly alcoholic, overpoweringly oaky wine? I guess Robert Parker's not the only person who thinks they taste good.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Come on, Robert, get with the game! Subtlety is so 1980s. Bigger is always better. All good wines are oaked, so really good wines should be really oaked. Bludgeon those taste buds into submission!

                          2. supply and demand.

                            these wines are produced in very small amounts. wine writers fall all over themselves proclaiming how delicious they are. alot of these bottles get ordered in restaurants as a show of extravagance.

                            not my cup of tea, frankly.

                            1. IMO, Super Tuscans are a wine category "in evolution".

                              In the meantime there are so many other more well-established and reliable great Italian reds at much more reasonable prices why waste time with these ST's...

                              Let the category evolve for another generation... and the prices come back to reality.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Chicago Mike

                                people said the same thing about premium napa cabs. when was the last time you saw harlan, screaming eagle or araujo lower their prices?

                                1. re: hotoynoodle

                                  In fact, there are more everyday wanting to join their ranks.

                              2. I have seen California wines referred to as Super-Tuscans. I was under the impression that it meant Sangiovese dosed with Cab or Merlot. Is this incorrect?
                                Justin winery had a great one called Cal-Ital, since discontinued. I also like Pazzo by Baccio Divino. Anyone else have a good Cali version?

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: AlabasterDisaster

                                  I think "Cal-Italian" is a less confusing term for California wines made with Italian varietals.

                                  I tried a bunch at a wine tasting sponsored by I thought the most successful were sangiovese with <5% syrah. My favorite was the Atlas Peak, which is no longer made.