The Super-Tuscan Snafu: Considering James Suckling’s list of Top 12 Tuscan wines from over 10 years ago.

When learning Italian, I have been told many times the most beautiful accent to learn is from Siena in Tuscany because Tuscans are the poets of Italy.

 

The language of wine in Tuscany is also very rich, with a long tradition of culture and history with interesting local idiosyncrasies, yet the recent past, dominated by James Suckling, Wine Spectator and their lists of Super-Tuscans, has left many in Tuscany not singing but mumbling.

 

Before I go any further, let’s get this out of the way. James Suckling was not the person to coin the word “Super-Tuscan”. It was used in a book co-authored by Nicholas Belfrage and Jancis Robinson called “Life beyond Lambrusco” (1985). It’s a common misconception in the wine trade, perhaps driven by James Suckling’s enthusiasm of Super-Tuscans during his time at Wine Spectator.

 

On his website, Suckling recently published his 12 Most Collectible Tuscan Wines from over ten years ago (Question: How many of these wines are NOT made from “international” varieties? Answer at the end of this post ):

Altesino Brunello di Montalcino Montosoli
Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Toscana Masseto
Antinori Toscana Solaia
Argiano Solengo
Castello dei Rampolla Toscana VIgna d’Alceo
Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia
Avignonesi Toscana Vin Santo
Tua Rita Toscana Redigaffi
Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Bolgheri Ornellaia
Castello dei Rampolla Toscana Sammarco

 

It is clear he is a man of his time: perhaps a time when it was okay for bankers to talk about their bonuses in public and people did not hesitate drinking £120 bottles of wine for the label. Super-Tuscans were the obvious wines to get caught up in the bling.

 

 

If anyone was to ask what the wine was of the past 10 years, I’d have to say: Sassicaia. A misunderstood wine, a Bordeaux blend, often drunk way too early, but with brand recognition from non-wine trade (ie Normal person) second only to Jacob’s Creek. The cool name, the star on the label, about £100 per bottle and it makes a perfect gift to take for a dinner to impress the boss.

 

This is not through any particular promotion by Sassicaia. Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia is a genuine innovator in Italy with a long history and excellent wines. Is it worth the money? The same could be said about a lot of wines from Bordeaux. Let’s face it, the name Sassicaia is cool, sassy. It has a nice feel about it that most people like actually saying and it has its own appellation Bolgheri Sassicaia (from my experience with customers, pronounced as Bulgari). It rode the wave of hype of the time.

 

However, some of the wines on the list are obviously overblown and probably best drunk with a cigar, but I am not going to knock them solely because they are expensive and “international varieties”. Each to their own taste. As much as I love ADORE Sangiovese, I think Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah grown in Tuscan soil are unmistakeably Italian and do speak of the warmth of the land. These grapes are immigrants to Tuscany, but that does not mean they are second-class citizens.

 

Also it is worthwhile reflecting on the definition of Super-Tuscan.

 

According to usage, a Super Tuscan is a Tuscan-made wine that 1) does not meet requirements set forth by local appellation laws (in many cases, this is due merely to the fact that a given wine uses grape varieties not allowed by the appellation); or 2) has been intentionally declassified by the producer. While barrique aging is often used for Super Tuscans, barrique is not a sine qua non. Dr Jeremy Parzen

 

Super-Tuscan has had a legitimate role over the past 30 years as a way of innovating outside the Appellation laws. Barrique is seen as an “international” way to make wine, although it is not necessary, but does give the wine a “Bordeaux” polish which is something I question, as much as I question too much reliance on oak in any wine to express a style. To confuse things further, one of my favourite wines of all time, Le Pergole Torte, is 100% Sangiovese but made outside of the Chianti system and it is one of the original Super-Tuscans.

 

So what’s the problem? The Super-Tuscan hangover has left some winemakers in Tuscany to suffer. Wine Spectator, partly responsible but also responding to its time, has created an image problem for Tuscany. When Tuscany is divided up between bulk supermarket Chianti and super-bling Super-Tuscans there is not a lot of places to go. The list of James Suckling is a time capsule; we are seeing the after-effects in a very different world.

 

My only hope is we are entering a post-credit crunch phase of authenticity for Tuscan wine, which is already happening with clonal selection and the emergence of quality from “new” regions such as Morellino di Scansano, and hopefully, the Tuscan spirit will do what it does best, which is only to sing deeper and keep moving forward.

 

Answer: Only 2 – Altesino Brunello and Avignonesi Vin Santo.

Posted in News, Super-Tuscan, Tuscany. RSS 2.0 feed.

19 Responses to The Super-Tuscan Snafu: Considering James Suckling’s list of Top 12 Tuscan wines from over 10 years ago.

  1. Ben & Dan says:

    Great post by @winewomansong on Sucklings 10yo Top 12 Super Tuscan list & its relevance http://bit.ly/ocaQTM

  2. Great post by @winewomansong on Sucklings 10yo Top 12 Super Tuscan list & its relevance http://bit.ly/ocaQTM

  3. New Post. The Super-Tuscan Snafu: Considering Suck.ling's list of Top 12 Tuscan wines – http://goo.gl/f8z9L @winewomansong

  4. Matt Paul says:

    Sassicaia and Jacobs Creek compared for brand recognition, I feel ill :) I hate these lists, who is to say that Pergole Torte is more deserving than Percarlo or vice versa? I do find it interesting that there is bugger all Sangiovese in his original list, certainly a reflection of the time and perhaps an updated version would be different. But I doubt it, it’s likely to include more Cab/Franc/Syrah/Merlot/Petit Verdot wines.

    However, WS is not wholly to blame. There were a lot of greedy entrepreneurs (not growers) that followed the market, chasing/copying the original Super Tuscans for a $. There is nothing wrong with Super Tuscans, but at least now it is no longer a marketing phrase on which to launch a wine (successfully). The good news is that the real Tuscany IS making a comeback. I heart Sangiovese.

  5. Juel Mahoney says:

    Very true – it would be hard to launch a wine on the “Super-Tuscan” label alone today, which is not bad, as it is making more room for Sangiovese to have a voice.

    I <3 Sangiovese!

  6. Juel Mahoney says:

    thx ;-) RT @DanSims: Great post by @winewomansong on Sucklings 10yo Top 12 Super Tuscan list & its relevance http://bit.ly/ocaQTM

  7. mike bennie says:

    Yes very good post RT @DanSims: Great post by @winewomansong on Sucklings 10yo Top 12 Super Tuscan list & its relevance http://bit.ly/ocaQTM

  8. Tom Hux says:

    After those wine bores the other day, some really good wine writing by @winewomansong on Super Tuscans http://t.co/PDswogc

  9. cascinagilli says:

    from bling-bling to "a post-credit crunch phase of authenticity for Tuscan wine" @winewomansong new post http://goo.gl/f8z9L brava Juel!

  10. Vitabella says:

    from bling-bling to "a post-credit crunch phase of authenticity for Tuscan wine" @winewomansong new post http://goo.gl/f8z9L brava Juel!

  11. Juel Mahoney says:

    from bling-bling to "a post-credit crunch phase of authenticity for Tuscan wine" @winewomansong new post http://goo.gl/f8z9L brava Juel!

  12. Colin says:

    Interesting little facts I just picked up about the use of Cabernet in Tuscany: in his book Foreign Grape Varieties Cultivated in Italy (1903) Salvatore Mondini writes

    ‘it has been observed that even the best Tuscan wines improve notably if Cabernet is added in small quantities…Especially worthy of note are the results obtained by blending Cabernet with Sangiovese.’

    Sassicaia was apparently created by the Marquis Mario Incisa della Rocchetta who was intrigued by a pure Cabernet Sauvignon made before World War II by relatives of his who were also based on the Tyrennian coast.

    Do I win some Sangiovese for that?

    • Juel Mahoney says:

      I think you deserve a prize just for owning that book!

      Agree there is a place for Cabernet Sauvignon in Tuscany in certain places. Although I would be interested to know what clones of Sangiovese they were blending (which of course would be impossible to know in 1903) I.e. Will the work on identifying clonal varieties help the local Sangiovese shine through without the need for blending?

  13. Guy Kedian says:

    An excellent piece juel @winewomansong: http://goo.gl/f8z9L your passion, love & in-depth knowledge is apparent in every word you write!

  14. Uwe says:

    If I remember correctly from the movie “Mondovino”, Mr. Suckling himself claims to be the one who devised the term “Super Tuscan”. It must have been just shortly after Mr. Suckling invented wine.

    I am shocked to hear, though, that Jancis Robinson is actually the culprit behind the silliest of all wine terms.

    • “If I remember correctly from the movie “Mondovino”, Mr. Suckling himself claims to be the one who devised the term “Super Tuscan”. It must have been just shortly after Mr. Suckling invented wine.”

      ahahah! Great

  15. Juel Mahoney says:

    Agree. It has become very silly, a shiny signifier of status, rather than about the signified, ie the actual wine.

  16. James Swann says:

    Really interesting article and replies.

    There are many things at play today.

    It is widely commentated that the super Tuscan style is no longer in favour, that the wines do not hold their own as they used to, in the way traditional fine wine styles, by contrast, continue to do, such as, of course, Bordeaux or indeed the wines of Piedmont.

    Nevertheless, they are a continued feature on the secondary market and a certain, albeit unpredictable, demand can be seen from China. Currently, however, it would not appear that this necessarily be accompanied by the kind of speculative price hikes we have seen in Bordeaux.

    Overall though, it is the style; modern, international, that is no longer the point of inflection as to where quality wines are and are going today (baring in mind high quality Cabernet-based wines outside Bordeaux that expressed place were, at the time, tremendously groundbreaking).

    Not withstanding, arguably the super Tuscans played their part in flying the flag for Italy during the past generation. Much in the way, for better or worse – but in terms of helping put a country on the map probably for better – the big, international styles that Spain wholeheartedly embraced, provided a society emerging from closed economy survival a more easily marketable style backed by a simple points system. In that sense, independent of anything else, the style has been positive for Italy, which is perhaps overall a good thing.

    Today, at the quality wine end, as is increasingly commented on, we are seeing a reversal of this in favour of wine styles that have something to say about the place in which they are grown, founded on elegance, freshness and native grapes.

    To this end, the super Tuscans will perhaps have to take their place in the queue for preference among the public more than they once did, but their names will continue to be associated with an age of innovation in Italy, a time of the first major vineyard improvements, with progressive and iconic winegrowers, and, collectible wines.

    Just quick comment on pure Sangiovese wines. ‘Though I do not purport to be an authority, nonetheless, I would like to add something. Again we can look to Spain for a helpful comparison; there have been many varietal Tempranillos of late, certainly some worthy ones that it is interesting to maintain, as with Sangiovese. However, as with the former, I would conjecture that, ultimately, Sangiovese is perhaps at its best when blended with a little of something else, something fuller and more ageworthy.

  17. I do believe all the ideas you have introduced for your post. They are really convincing and will definitely work. Still, the posts are very quick for starters. Could you please lengthen them a bit from subsequent time? Thanks for the post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>