FINE FOOD, SPIRIT & WINE
UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN
- SUNEETA SODHI KANGA
Italy - this one small country in the middle of the Mediterranean contains a mind-boggling diversity of natural features - an immense coastline, three major mountain ranges, lots of foothills, and relatively little flat land. Tuscany is in the middle of Italy, which one of the oldest wine- producing regions in the world.
Tuscany's mild Mediterranean climate, hillside vineyards and poor soils distinguish the character of its wines. An astounding 92% of Tuscany's terrain is either hills or mountain, with the Appennini Mountains separating Tuscany from Emilia-Romagna to the north, while smaller ranges line Tuscany's western and southern reaches.
I had the pleasure of visiting this beautiful countryside a few years ago. I jumped into la vita Toscano and under the famed Tuscan sun enjoyed an exciting Super Tuscan experience. At most of the estates here, antiquity and modernity blend beautifully. 14th century villas with classic Tuscan terra cotta and ochre exteriors overlook scenic vineyards. The lovely gardens and courtyards complete the visitor experience.
All Italian wines are assigned to one of four government-regulated classifications. No rules or quality standards apply to the Vino da Tavola (table wine) category other than requiring that the grapes be grown in Italy.
The other three Italian Wine Classifications are - IGT, DOC and DOCG. These categories become increasingly strict in their regulation, with IGT being the most lenient to give winemakers flexibility and DOCG being the most controlled.
The IGT – Indicazione Geografica Tipica (Typical geographical place.) classification includes wines that are typical to a large geographic area (for example, Tuscany) by way of colour, and grape varieties and/or wine type. Growers must apply for IGT status and wine labels must declare a specific region. IGT wines are subject to some production limitations, but no taste or quality tests are required.
What is a Super Tuscan then? The term Super Tuscan applies to a group of Tuscan wines which are produced using grape varieties not unique or indigenous to Tuscany. Most of these enigmatic wines are a blend of Tuscan varietals like Sangiovese with French grape types such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah or Cabernet Franc.
Often, Super Tuscans use non-traditional winemaking techniques like aging the wine in small oak barrels. They embody the rebellious spirit of Italian winemakers from the 1970s and the 1980s. The first Super Tuscan Bolgheri Sassicaia was released in 1968 and it was a huge success. Next, the 1971 vintage of Tignanello (made by Antinori) came out, and it was a blend of the Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc grape varieties.
Most Super Tuscans are red, but there are some white Super Tuscans as well. Shattering the traditions of most classic Italian wine producers, Super Tuscans have emerged as a category of their own. Because these wines do not conform to Italy's traditional and rigid wine laws, they are not an officially recognized classification. So hence Super Tuscans are registered under the IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica.) status.
In 1992, the Italian government recognized the success of Super Tuscan wines and created a separate classification for the Super Tuscan wines called Toscana IGT. The category of Super Tuscans has now gained a stronghold in the wine world. They often exceeded the quality of the finest Italian DOCG wines and are often compared to their French counterparts at wine tasting events. English-speaking consumers are also happy to not have to worry about learning complicated Italian appellation rules too
So how do we identify a Super Tuscan wine from its label?
The easiest way to know if a wine is a Super Tuscan is to look for these two things -
Find the Toscana IGT classification on the wine label.
Many Super Tuscans end with the suffix “aia.” which means “a vacant plot of land” in Italian, in their proprietary names to indicate that the wine is a Super Tuscan. Like Sassicaia Ornellaia, Rondinaia, and Solaia.
Innovation also finds a place here. I was most impressed with the organic way they get rid of a certain grape chewing moth pest that lays its eggs on the grape leaf which can cause significant economic damages. So, what's the best way to counter this? The Pheromone sexual confusion method! Small brown, plastic pipes –which look like a medicine capsules blister packaging - are hung in the grapevines every few meters. The devices emit synthetically created female moth pheromones into the air, creating a cloud of fragrance over the vineyard. The sex pheromones are an important factor in mating in moths. Once the female releases chemicals, it triggers the mate search and the male moths begin their upwind motion toward their potential partner. But with the devices all emitting female pheromones, they trick the males into a fruitless search for sex that ultimately pushes them away. Apparently this totally natural and organic manner of pest control has a success rate of 99.9 percent.
The wine production areas are usually the next stop after the vineyard walk. Visitors are led through a room full of fermentation tanks where all the wine making happens. The very impressive cool underground barrique tunnels are next. The blissful silence in the cellars laden with oak barrels almost seemed to contribute to the sanctity of making perfect wines; a necessary ingredient to the art and science of making wine which is a religion and not just a ritual in Tuscany. In hushed tones we learnt about the all-important ageing process of red wines. The ancient cellars are 1500 years old, the walls are two feet thick and mysterious; protecting the precious wines in its womb like a mother.
After we had felt the terroir, visited the vineyards and walked through the ancient wine cellar tunnels we had built up quiet an appetite and now looked forward to tasting some of the famed wines and food of Tuscany. It's no secret Italians are lovers of delicious food and great wine. Along with their love of gastronomy comes an innate sense of conviviality - especially around the lunch table. Italians treat friends like family and entertain with natural hospitality. We were treated to generous helpings of scrumptious local appetizers accompanied by a lovely Rose sparkling and Pinot Grigio, a local white varietal.
We then tasted their most representative Super Tuscan wines over a local homemade Tuscan lunch of handmade Tagliolini pasta and delicious rustic Chicken Caccitore. The preparations were so good that I actually kissed the sweet Italian matriarch cook. All good things must come to an end as did our trip. I realized on my way back that I had been to paradise – I had experienced an amazing symphony being played to each of my senses. Splendid scenic surrounding, wealth of learning, fantastic wines, gourmet cuisine, perfect grace and warm hospitality – it is all these ingredients when packaged in an elegant bottle is what goes into making a Super Tuscan wine for you.
Best time to visit Tuscany -
For all those who are tempted to experience all of the above and more, I strongly recommend this trip to paradise. Tours of wineries are available throughout Tuscany, allowing wine lovers to learn how their favourite wines are made and aged by the passionate producers, not to mention taste the delicious wines and stock up on unique bottles to take home. The Tuscan wine people are very friendly and love sharing their knowledge of wines. They appreciate your time to visit Tuscany and are open to visits on appointment. Please note that appointments for winery visits need to be made in advance as most appointments are private one-on-one experiences.
The ideal months to visit are from April to September. Please keep in mind that there are no tours on Sundays and August is vacation time for the Italians and most wineries will be shut oh yes, please be very comfortable in your dress and shoes to enable you to enjoy the long walks and the hot Tuscan sun.
The Most 0utstanding Super Tuscan wines to buy are –
Marchesi Antinori Tenuta Guado al Tasso Matarocchio Bolgheri Superiore 2017
Tenuta San Guido
Sassicaia Bolgheri 1998
Le Macchiole Messorio Toscana IGT 1994
Lodovico Antinori Tenuta di Biserno 'Lodovico' Toscana IGT 2016
Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore 1985
Oreno Tenuta Sette
Montevertine Le Pergole
Torte Toscana IGT 1990
Bibi Graetz Colore
Toscana IGT 2006