Sunday, July 6, 2014

Revolution in Tuscany, Part 1

In the past three weeks we have featured five Super Tuscan reds at our weekly tastings.  The wines ranged in price from $20 to $45 and all have been fine examples of what we have become accustomed to in Tuscan centerpiece wine.  If I was to say we have become spoiled by such production, I would have to blush because that's still understating the case for Tuscan greatness.  In short, nowhere will you find wine of that character and quality at those prices.

Here's some history for you: In 1963 Italy codified its wine appellation system thereby inscribing in stone what kinds of wine may be produced in Tuscany and elsewhere.  Chianti, of course, is the most famous wine of the region (and the country!) but sales had been flagging for some time because of the historic restrictions on the grape composition as codified in 1963.  We have written about this situation previously here at the blogspot, but in short, Chianti could be no more than 70% Sangiovese with Canaiolo, Malvasia, Trebbiano, and other local varieties in supporting roles.  White wine was to make up 10% to 30% of the total blend.  Moreover, since the wine was intended to be consumed young, no small oak barrel (barrique) aging was allowed.  The result was a Chianti that had a short shelf life sometimes spoiling on store shelves and diminishing sales worldwide.

A mention probably should be made here about Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, two Sangiovese-based Tuscan reds that have historically always been superior to Chianti. Within Tuscany today there are thirty-five DOC (denominazione di origine controllata) level wines and nine DOCGs (denominazione di origine controllata e garantita), the very highest quality level by Italian wine law.  So there has never been any shortage of fine wine being produced in Tuscany.  It's just that Chianti producers were restricted.

In 1974 Chianti producer Antinori released its revolutionary 1971 vintage "Tignanello" to a thoroughly unprepared public.  The DOC laws in place at the time had immortalized the mediocre Chianti on store shelves, forcing Tignanello into the Vino da Tavola category, the lowest quality level by Italian law.  And it sold for $50 or so per bottle at the time!  Another giant in the new super premium category, Sassacaia, made by Tenuta San Guido, had its first release in 1968 but was never marketed beyond the boundaries of its own property before the success of Tignanello.  Other Super Tuscans were soon to follow from several producers furthering the humiliation of the governing authorities.  Eventually in order to save face, the government created the IGT (indicazione geographica tipica) category in 1992 for Super Tuscans, which was still lower than DOC but qualitatively separate from Vino da Tavola.  The term, "Super Tuscan", by the way, was coined in the early eighties.

This Thursday, July 10th at 7pm, we will begin a series of classes to examine wines by their grape type.  Our first class is Sauvignon Blanc.  Then on Friday the 11th between 5 and 8pm, Allen Rogers of Atlanta Beverage joins us for a presentation of Spanish wines from Rioja Alta along with a tasting of the current vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon from the historic Veedercrest Napa Estate.  On Friday the 18th Dmitry Paladino of Ultimate Wines joins us with a lineup yet to be determined.

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