The term ‘Super-Tuscan’ refers to a number of Italian winemaking estates in the traditional Chianti region of Tuscany which in the 1960s and 1970s began to rebel against the dogmatic regulations of Italian wine-making authorities, producing a number of innovative and highly prized wines which have gone on to become some of the most expensive and valuable investment wines in the country.
Traditionally, Italian regulatory authorities compelled producers to include a proportion of white grapes in the Sangiovese blends typical of the Chianti region and to use only native varieties.
The seeds of change were planted by the venerable Antinori family, who, having made wines in the region for more than seven centuries, begun to experiment with French grapes varieties from the 1920s. Cabernet Sauvignon was the first widely experimented with but Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot soon followed. Other innovative techniques borrowed from France included replacing crude wooden fermenting tubs with stainless steel vats, and ageing in small barriques. These firsts were all achieved by the Antinori family firm- also the first to abandon white grapes in their red wine blends.
However, the first commercially produced ‘Super-Tuscan’ was Sassicaia from Tenuta San Guido, launched in 1966. Others soon followed but the wines met resistance, and by Italian law were often forced to label themselves ‘vino de tavola’- mere table wines. But this classification could not hamper the momentum that had already begun. The distribution arm of the Antinori firm took their own Tignanello and Tenuta San Guido’s Sassicaia around Europe and to America and found success very quickly. A string of prestigious awards and recognition from wine critics and writers propelled the Super-Tuscans into the spotlight, with Robert Parker himself sealing their fate when he awarded Sassicaia 1985 his ‘perfect’ 100-point score- leading prices to climb quickly.
The Italian authorities swallowed their pride in 1994 and changed the law to recognize Super-Tuscans and their ‘subversive’ Bordeaux blends. To this day however, many of the top Super-Tuscans retain their VdT status as a badge of honour.
Many Italian producers have since adopted Bordeaux varieties and techniques in a quest to attain ‘Super-Tuscan’ status, though the most powerful and reliable investment wines remain Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Masseto, Tignanello and Solaia. All of these wines are derived from Bordeaux grape varieties, either blended with native Sangiovese or eschewing it completely- as with Masseto, a highly prized single-vineyard Merlot cuvee.
These five wines together make up the Liv-ex Super Tuscan 50, an index which since 2007 has consistently outperformed the Liv-ex 50 (the index measuring the strength of Bordeaux First-Growths) showing returns of 76% over a five year period.
As of July 2012, the volume of Italian wine trade on Liv-ex had more than quadrupled in a 12-month period, Today, these wines are gaining increasing momentum and leading recovery in the fine wine investment market thanks to a growth of interest in the Far East, where these wines have performed very well especially at auction and in limited-edition large formats. Italian wines are becoming particularly fashionable due to globalizing trends and the influence of the restaurant trade.
Thus, Super-Tuscans are becoming increasingly prized, not just in themselves thanks to a number of fantastic recent vintages, but as part of a diverse fine wine investment portfolio, buffering against any volatility of the Bordeaux or Burgundy fine wine markets.