The Master & The Apprentice
While Bordeaux first perfected the techniques of blending that are so prevalent in the vineyards of the world today, Super Tuscans, beginning with the sub region of Bolgheri, are the wines that most resembled the high quality and depth of flavours that made Bordeaux so popular. This is no accident, as the Super Tuscan revolution is inspired by the blends of the great French wine region.
Imitation, a Sincere Form of Flattery
Comparing wines, while understandable, is not always the best way to truly appreciate the nuances and character of the grapes and wine regions of the world. This is particularly the case for fine wines and the enormous depth of quality they produce. It is typically far more accurate to say that one wine has been heavily influenced by another, and that is certainly the case for Super Tuscans and Bordeaux.
The similarities were born out of a frustration with the Italy wine bureaucracies, whereby experimentation was frowned upon. In this climate, some producers in Tuscany decided they would go it alone, disregarding the DOC – Denominazione d’Origine Controllata – and blending the region’s indigenous red wine grapes, like Sangiovese, with others from abroad or – in other cases – using the latter kind only.
If you are going to blend grapes, then you could do a lot worse than following the practices of the Bordeaux region, something that was not lost on those intrepid experimenters in Tuscany, and so they began using Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
Alongside the use of French winemaking techniques – such as small oak barrels – the results were spectacular, to the shock of supporters of Bordeaux wines and producers alike. A new upstart was therefore unleashed on the viticulture world, but not immediately.
The New Kid on the Block
Due to the lack of controls put upon the Super Tuscan wines, the outcomes were hardly consistent, so it would be wrong to assume that all Super Tuscan wines of this era mirrored the best that Bordeaux had to offer. Over time, however, the wines were perfected, swapping concentration for smoothness and elegance, thus producing wines that were highly evocative of the very best that Bordeaux had to offer.
When the blending process started in Tuscany in 1945, the first wine that could truly be said to rival those of Bordeaux was Sassicaia “Area of Many Stones”, which was – and still is – produced on the Tenuta San Guido estate. There seemed little potential in this curious case viticulture anarchy that had broken out in the beautiful region, but by the late 1970’s Sassicaia was chosen as best Claret for its 1972 vintage, the first of many international awards.
Similarities and Differences, an Accident of Geography
While the wine from these regions use many of the same grapes and small oak barrels, they are also highly comparable regarding territory, soil and climate. Enjoying a Mediterranean climate, which includes very mild winters, Tuscan wines are full of aroma and character. Bordeaux, on the other hand, has a climate that is more influenced by the Atlantic, but this too results in mild winters, thus enhancing the similarities between the produce. The one major difference in climate that is present relates to Tuscan vineyards being more prone to drought, while mould and mildew is more the concern in Bordeaux.
Another similarity, which is by no means a coincidence, is in the soil. It was realisation that Bolgheri has a similar soil to the world famous Chateau Lafite that first inspired the import of grapes from the Bordeaux area, leading to the magnificent Super Tuscans we enjoy today.
International Reputation vs Style
Despite the glaring similarities, Super Tuscans and Bordeaux do largely maintain their own style, which is even more prevalent for each region’s finest produce. Bordeaux wines are full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon’s and Merlot’s, powerful and robust. Super Tuscans share many of these characteristics, but can be more accurately described as “International”,something some Bordeaux supporters may claim as evidence of a great pretender.
Where the wines are generally highly analogous, however, is in their oaky charm and thick tannins, which make them perfect for ageing, creating some of the most depth-filled red wines on the planet.
This Town Is Big Enough for the Both of Us
It is hard to estimate how prolific Super Tuscan wine production is, bearing in mind that the label is somewhat subjective. It can certainly be said that Sassicaia does not compare with Bordeaux in regards to production, with 7,000 chateaux and 900m bottles produced annually. For many, however, it is entirely comparable in terms of quality. The first realisation on a small plot of land in Bolgheri, in 1945, that the soil resembled that of Bordeaux, and the compulsion to do something different with Tuscan wine has led to the perfection that is the Super Tuscan, something that wine enthusiasts the world over are grateful for.