Over the years we have found ourselves increasingly drawn to Tuscan wines, principally because of their diversity. The fashion for non-indigenous grape varieties that emerged in the mid-20th century spawned the Super Tuscan and a culture of freedom in how wine was produced.
There are many different grape varieties grown in the region and all are put to different uses depending on the climate and style of the specific vineyard. Over the years this has seen producers creating wines born out of passion and experimentation rather than merely following rules that have been set.
The term Super Tuscan can be misleading as not all wines produced using non-indigenous grape varieties are super examples of what experimentation can produce, but some have stood the test of time and others are developing into classic wines themselves.
We have put together a selection of mixed cases from producers that have excelled in this field: some are well-known names, and others are relative newcomers working their way up the ranks, but all are high quality, interesting wines that offer an insight into the region.
We have chosen the 2015 vintage because it was a very good but not exceptional year for most producers. The weather was wet and cold in winter followed by a dry, hot summer that many struggled with. However, those that did produce high quality wines that year benefited from good depth and concentration as a result.
We also wanted to choose a vintage that was ready to drink now, but which would still leave time for the wines to develop further.
The three main contenders for the Super Tuscan crown – Sassicaia, Ornellaia and Tignanello – have reached such quality and reputation that they are fast becoming a little too exclusive.
Their popularity also means they are usually sold only by the case because those who know them well will happily invest. But we want to offer the opportunity to compare and contrast the three in a way that will offer a much clearer picture of the similarities and differences between them.
Although Tenuta San Guido do grow Sangiovese, the main Tuscan grape variety never appears in their flagship wine.
Sassicaia is distinctly a Bordeaux blend made predominantly from Cabernet Sauvignon with a small amount of Cabernet Franc. However, this is not Bordeaux – and Bolgheri Sassicaia (the wine now has its own monopoly appellation) has forged its own separate identity. It is known for its elegance and finesse, its many layers of flavour and its long finish.
The 2015 vintage has lots of ripe dark fruit thanks to the heat that year, but it has retained its freshness with a lovely savoury, earthy finish.
Ornellaia is the youngest of the trio and, like it’s close neighbour Sassicaia, contains no Sangiovese. Instead it is made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with a little Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The estate, founded by Ludovico Antinori, has had a wealth of wine making experience behind it since its inception in 1985 and the consistent quality has cemented its reputation as one of the greats in the area.
The 2015 vintage reveals the heat and intensity of that summer with concentration that brings a wealth of flavours to the glass. But the freshness and acidity have not been lost, ensuring that the necessary balance remains.
Tignanello sticks to its Tuscan roots far more firmly that our other two aristocrats with a Sangiovese heavy blend that incorporates small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Unlike Sassicaia and Ornellaia which are located in Bolgheri on the Tuscan coast, the Tignanello vineyard is situated miles away from the sea on a small hillside in the middle of the Chianti region, where the days are hot and the nights slightly cooler.
Big on fruit and tannins this is a wine that divides opinion but is always interesting.
The 2015 vintage saw plenty of sun and heat, and the flavours are full and concentrated but with great nuance. It has needed these last five years to settle into itself but has another decade of drinking left.
Wherever there are aristocrats, there are those who would like a share of the spoils and, whilst many of the contenders in our second case are not so young, they are pretenders to the crown of Tuscan wine.
Just as with the aristocrats, our pretenders are varied both in the grapes that they employ and in their wine-making styles.
2015 Guado al Tasso Bolgheri Superiore
Guado al Tasso Superiore is a classic Medoc grape blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and a little Petit Verdot) from the Antinori stable and is an excellently made wine. 100% new oak is used in every vintage.
The warm 2015 summer produced very ripe fruit, and this is perhaps the most opulent of the Bolgheri wines in this vintage, which drew a correspondingly high 97 points from Mr Parker.
We would expect this wine to improve over the next 10-20 years.
2015 Argentiera Bolgheri Superiore
Argentiera is another Bordeaux blend from Bolgheri, with 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc. 50% new oak is used.
This independent vineyard is still part owned by the wine-making family but has recently received significant investment from an Austrian industrialist.
The 2015 is another rich wine, in the mould of the Guado Al Tasso, but is a little more baked and has less finesse. It is still a good wine, or we wouldn’t be adding it to one of our mixed cases, but there was a little surprise at Nemo HQ that it received a near-perfect 99 point score from one well-known critic. But perhaps our palettes missed something that your palette won’t.
It is perhaps best drunk in the next 2-3 years.
2015 Grattamacco Bolgheri Superiore
Grattamacco blends traditional Sangiovese into the Bordeaux grape mix but still uses 50% new oak. It is part of ColleMassari Wine Estates, who also have estates in Brunello and Montalcino.
As with all the 2015 Bolgheris, there is very evident fruit but this time the fruit is slightly softer (everything is relative) than some of its neighbours.
We would expect this to be fine for another 5-8 years.
2015 Isole e Olena Cepparello Toscana IGT
We are now heading inland to the hills of central Tuscany, and abandoning Bordeaux grapes for a 100% traditional Tuscan Sangiovese.
Now you may well ask how does a Sangiovese wine get to be a Super Tuscan, and the answer is that it, like all the others, broke the appellation rules and so therefore could not be called Chianti. It broke the rules in entirely the opposite direction by using 100%, un-blended Sangiovese.
Isole e Olena do make traditional Chianti Classico and, in fact, Chianti might well have settled into wine tourism obscurity had it not been for their improvisation and focus on quality over the last 50 years.
2015 was perhaps an even better vintage in the hills than on the coast and this wine may well have a lot more to give and a lifespan of 15-20 years.
2015 Duemani Duemani Costa Toscana IGT
Sticking to single grape varieties now, this is 100% Cabernet Franc and therefore the Tuscan Coast approach to Saint Emilion wine.
Duemani are two hands, or two people: Elena Celli and Luca D’Attoma, and therefore the polar opposites of some of the bigger producers listed here.
The 2015 Duemani Cabernet Franc is perhaps the easiest wine to like from this case but, we believe, may well develop into the most refined over the next 10-15 years.
2015 Donna Olimpia Orizzonte Toscana
We’re continuing with single grape varieties but this time a more obscure one: a 100% Petit Verdot, and continuing in the Super Tuscan tradition of breaking rules, this one is breaking even the now broad rules of the Bolgheri DOC. So this could potentially be considered to be a Super Super Tuscan.
2015 was the first vintage of this immense wine, which is produced in extremely small quantities by the Donna Olimpia estate, which is surrounded by the Ornellaia, Sassicaia, and Guado al Tasso vineyards in the centre of the Bolgheri basin.
Petit Verdot is a difficult grape to make varietal wine from, and other examples we have tried from around the world have not been that successful, but this is a well-balanced wine for all its intensity and we look forward to learning more about what an exceptional wine we believe it will become over the next 10-20 years.