Written by: David Rogers
Ginsberg+Chan present an evening tasting seven “Super Tuscan” wines, with vintages from 1990 to 2009. Under the guidance of host Roberto Gallotto, the selection navigated through different styles of this famous rule-breaker of a wine to deliver a fascinating insight into why they have developed the reputation they have.
But what exactly is a Super Tuscan? In the late 1960s and early 70s, the Chianti region of Tuscany — where DOC rules dictated Sangiovese be the dominant grape, and produced within a specific area — began to experience waning sales so a group of progressive winemakers, who had been growing international varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon for some time, started releasing them commercially. In a number of cases, these grapes were blended with Sangiovese in non-traditional growing areas, and in doing so, the wines were not regulated.
As quality and reputation grew, they quickly developed a garagiste reputation, along with price point. Sassicaia, a Cabernet-led blend, is widely acknowledged to have been the first Super Tuscan, while Pierro Antinori was among the first to create a Chianti-style of wine — Tignanello — in 1978. Today there are dozens of different producers, styles and blends.
Our tasting takes the form of three tranches: “Primo”, “Secondo” and “Terzo”.
An inviting ruby colour, the nose of this Sangiovese-led (80%) wine is concentrated — and the fruit seems extremely fresh still. Cabernets Sauvignon (15%) and Franc (5%) make up the rest of the blend, and the latter, despite being only a bit-part player, really adds finesse in the form of herbal pepperiness as well as a marked violet note. Red fruit, especially plum and dried cranberries, drives though. A similar story on the palate, with good complexity although the finish isn’t overly impressive (no real richness there from the oak). Probably at its peak for the next 5 years.
Initially, this wine seemed less expressive and fruit-forward than the Tignanello — the nose was a touch understated. The palate was much more appealing though, with greater concentration and a much better finish, rich and dark fruit led and a really interesting menthol character. Structurally much different, with Cabernet Sauvignon making up 3/4 of the blend, and somewhat of an austere feel, perhaps suggesting it’ll be a slow-burner and less of a drink-younger prospect than the above. Very enjoyable now but will certainly improve from here.
2005 Tua Rita Redigaffi
This is Merlot, but doesn’t share a huge amount in common with anything you might have tried from Bordeaux’s Right Bank. Strangely, the grape’s trademark red fruit was not particularly prominent upon first sniff and taste although in its place, rich oak (leading to a milk chocolate aroma), leather and a dried fruit (raisins) note delivered a very interesting first impression. Tannins were beautifully soft and inviting as you’d expect from Merlot, although its medium body could only deliver a fairly narrow and short finish. Good at first, but when later tasted in direct comparison to the below two wines, it lost a lot of its initial appeal.
2005 might have been a knockout vintage in Bordeaux, but it was very challenging in Tuscany, with ongoing rain during harvest season. In spite of this, Tenuta dell’Ornellaia produced a terrific wine. A beautiful dark purple hue, the nose is pure and clean: plum, dark cherry and soft liquorice. Bags of instant appeal. 27% of the blend is Merlot and it delivers a velvety fruit-led palate of blackcurrant and plum. The new French oak treatment is spot on too (70% for 18 months), so the finish is seriously rich and concentrated. A fantastic wine and will appeal to lovers of Pauillac or Margaux. This wine is only just starting to unfurl; if you own some, avoid the temptation to open it for now!
From the house that started it all, the group was split between this and the Ornellaia in terms of overall quality. They were certainly very different. With a very un-Cabernet nose, leather and liquorice were very prominent straight out the glass, but the more you took it in, a terrific ashy, wood smoke note came through. Just like a Winter fire — so inviting. Also, a bacon/farmyard/meaty character, very reminiscent of aged Pinot Noir, idiosyncratically showed up. With terrific acidity, lovely grainy tannins (it’ll last..) and a soily minerality, the palate was structurally very strong, although surprisingly it stumbled somewhat at the last hurdle by having a shortish finish. A beautiful wine nonetheless.
As the crowd debated which out of the Ornellaia and Sassicaia would surely take top prize for the evening, along came this stunning effort from Masseto. From a very strong vintage, this wine exhibited a power like nothing else we had tasted, especially on the palate. Fruit was not overly expressive on the nose, instead showing an appealing rusticity, but to taste it had amazing finesse and balance delivered by quite remarkable acidity. Wow. Delivering flavour with the laser-guided precision of a cool-climate white wine, red fruit and delicate sweet spice made for a highly polished and rounded wine. I kept going back for more. “Sexy”, someone remarks. The only thing missing? A strong red meat dish to eat with it; Osso Bucco alla Milanese would have really capped things off.
1990 Castello di Ama L’Apparita
A touch cloudy reflecting its maturity, although certainly not faulty (something that was first feared when open and decanted earlier in the day). Pleasant soft nose; a wheat-like character starts things off but follows with appealing and elegant mature fruit. Oak well integrated in the background. Thinning out but still relatively vibrant, this is a Super Tuscan close to the end of its peak drinking window. Heavily in the shadow of the Masseto but structurally sound, it was an excellent example of mature Merlot though, with lovely soft tannins delivering a rustic and red fruit-led finish.
An excellent tasting, enjoyed by all!
Guest blogger David Rogers is a Hong Kong-based wine writer. As well as working in collaboration with merchants and distributors in the city, he hosts his own blog, The 23rd Parallel, and writes for US-based online wine magazines Palate Press and Grape Collective. You can follow him on Facebook here, or go straight to his blog here. He holds a WSET Advanced Level certificate.
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