The Tuscan Trifecta – Chianti, Super Tuscans

Tusany’s wine making dates back 3,000 years. The name “Chianti” appears in written records from the year 700 A.D. Chianti is a Tuscan wine region and it’s also the most recognized wine it produces. 

So what’s with all these names. Chianti sounds old. Chianti Classic sounds like the Coke Classic of Chianti. Super Tuscan sounds like a Marvel character.  

What’s all this about?

A Bit of History (Only a Little Bit)

Back in the 1950s after the Second World War, Italy was in bad shape.  Recovering from a war is not an easy thing. At the time, Chianti wine quality was bad.  Italian farmers were better off converting grape growing land to grassland for grazing cattle.  There were a few very well known or renowned winemakers. Most winemakers were selling their wine in bulk.

In the 60’s, things started changing.  Farmers started walking away from their land looking for jobs in towns and cities.  As new residents moved into the area, they started buying them up. Chianti wine produced by these new winemakers were sold in fat, short bottles wrapped in straw. Old timers like me remember those bottles well.  Italian restaurants would have them. My abuela would decorate her home with them.  You could recognize a Chianti anywhere.

In order to keep Chianti wine consistent, the Italian government created Chianti Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC).  This was in 1967 and it defined the requirements for Chianti (we’ll talk more about this in a moment).

In the 70’s the demand for Chianti went up.  A good thing, right? Well, production using the DOC requirements had problems.  The DOC requirements could force production of lower quality wines. There was overproduction of inferior grapes.  A lot of things happened and it hurt both prices and the region’s reputation.  

This is the time when a group of renegade winemakers worked to buck the system.  The DOC wasn’t serving them. It wasn’t making their wine better, so they started making what they thought was best to produced.  They snubbed the DOC and dared to use grapes from outside of those grapes approved by the DOC. These winemakers were after quality and it got recognized.  There’s no official Super Tuscan government designation, but the press took notice and the name stuck. More on this in a moment.

In 1984, the Chianti DOC earned the government Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG).  This means the DOC got upgraded to Italy’s highest level of wine classification.  In 1996 (the year my business partner was born), the Chianti Classico was pulled out from the Chianti DOCG and was given its own Chianti Classico DOCG.

Enough History.  Let’s Get to the Wine

The Chianti or Tuscan grape is the Sangiovese.  It’s the star of the show. Sangiovese has good acidity.  It produces transparent ruby red colored wine with black and red cherry flavor. It carries accents of violets, herbs, spices and earth.  Italian winemakers like to say it is a grape that pulls out what the soil, climate and conditions can produce. The grapes, unlike others, is good at pulling what it can from its environment so the same vine planted in different places produces unique wines depending upon where it is grown..

The Chianti DOCG is the broadest or least strict of the two designation.  It requires 75% Sangiovese. Wine makers are allowed to use other grapes native to Italy like Canaiolo Nero and Colorino.  They can use international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah too. Chianti is a practical wine meant to be consumed young.  It’s not a wine you buy to hold, age and drink later.  

The Chianti Classico DOCG is considered to be the highest-quality offering for Chianti.  These wines must be produced in a specific region of Chianti. You can’t just produce Chianti Classico anywhere in the Chianti region.

The emblem for the Chianti Classico is the black rooster.  There is a great story about why the rooster is black like the Florence rooster versus white like Siena’s rooster.  I’ll share that story in the blog some time. You’ll see the black rooster seal on every Chianti Classico bottle.  

Chianti Classico must have at least 80% Sangiovese. They can add native and/or international grape varieties for the remainder or make it 100% Sangiovese.   The DOCG requires that these wines be aged for 12 months before release. There is the Chianti Classico Riserva. That must be aged 27 months. There is the Chianti Classico Gran Selezione that requiring at least 30 months aging. 

As mentioned above, Super Tuscan is not a government specification for wines.  Since the 70’s, it’s been upgraded from table wine and given the Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) which is a step up.  These winemakers move to establish themselves independent of the government rules.  They’ve taken an approach that is similar to how the US has done it where there is no government designation.

I was recently looking up some wines online and saw some Super Tuscan’s price well over $100.  These are serious wines that have reached great potential.

Let me know what you think about these. 

  • Do you have a Tuscan favorite?
  • Do you have anything to add?   
  • Is there something you’d like to learn about these that we haven’t already covered?

Let me know. We want to make sure and get our members what it is they are wanting.