Bags full of Super Tuscan

Super-Tuscan is the nickname given to a wave of wines spearheaded by the Antinori family’s Tignanello in the early 1970s. (Photo: Antinori)

The call went out from the Brown Paper Bag Club: BYO super-Tuscans to the suburban pizzeria, Napoli In Bocca, and we’ll have some fun.

Super Tuscan is the nickname given to a wave of wines spearheaded by the Antinori family’s Tignanello in the early 1970s when they dared ignore the rules of the famous Chianti region where they were located. The laws prevented using non-Italian varieties such as cabernet or merlot, outlawed small oak, and required a certain mix of grape varieties. Chianti couldn’t even be made from pure sangiovese, the region’s signature grape, which seems counter-intuitive to say the least.

The famous wines fully justified their exalted status. Arguments about price can be deferred to another day.

In so doing the authorities had legislated a hand-cuffing of experimentation and, therefore, progress. So the likes of Piero Antinori (creator of Tignanello) and Mario Incisa (creator of Sassicaia in Bolgheri) bypassed the local DOC (appellation) and labelled their wines as lowly vini da tavola (bog-standard table wines). This was ironic, as they were anything but ordinary. Indeed, some said they were the best wines coming out of Tuscany at the time. Soon, the law was forced to play catch-up. It wasn’t long before there was a raft of super-Tuscan red wines, all bearing lovely evocative names (see below).

So, we had a full table of Brown Paper Baggers munching on antipasto, pasta and pizza between flights of beautiful red wines.

Initially, there were some doubting Thomases who thought they would be over-built and over-oaked ‘pedestal wines’, but their fears were unfounded. It was one of the most outstanding tastings of aged wine in my recent experience.

Not all were Tuscans: the Zerbina Marzieno was with them in spirit, being a sangiovese cabernet blend from Emilia Romagna, and the final wine, while Tuscan, was a sweetie. ‘The Yquem of Vin Santo’, Avignonesi, was a very great wine and arguably the wine of the night.

This was my order of scoring, and the top few were almost unanimous around the table. Several rated the ’80 Sassicaia higher, while some thought it was fading just a little. And the ’98 Solaia could have been a lesser bottle, perhaps suffering marginal cork issues.

1. Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Bolgheri 2001 (cabernet-led Bordeaux blend) – 98 points

2. Montevertine Le Pergole Torte 2010 (pure sangiovese) – 97 points

3. Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Bolgheri 1997 (cabernet-led Bordeaux blend) – 97 points

4. Antinori Solaia 1997 (cabernet, sangiovese, merlot blend) – 97 points

5. Isole e Olena Cepparello 2007 (sangiovese) – 96 points

6. Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Bolgheri 1999 (cabernet-led Bordeaux blend) – 96 points

7. Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1980 (cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc) – 95 points

8. Antinori Tignanello 2004 (sangiovese, cabernet, cabernet franc) – 95 points

9. La Mozza Aragone Maremma 2007 (sangiovese, alicante, shiraz, carignan) – 94 points

10. Antinori Tignanello 2006 (sangiovese, cabernet, cabernet franc) – 93 points

11. Castello di San Paolo 1997 (sangiovese) – 93 points

12. Riecine La Gioia 1997 (sangiovese) – 91 points

13. Tenuta dell’Ornellaia La Serre Nuove Bolgheri 2012 (merlot-led Bordeaux blend) – 91 points

14. Fattoria Zerbina Marzieno 1997 (sangiovese, cabernet) – 90 points

15. Antinori Solaia 1998 (cabernet, sangiovese, merlot blend) – 88 points

And finally, in a class of its own: Avignonesi Vin Santo 1984 (grechetto, malvasia, trebbiano) – 99 points

In conclusion, the famous wines fully justified their exalted status. Arguments about price can be deferred to another day.

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