Affordable Super Tuscans

I don’t run with the crowd that can afford the great, iconoclastic wines of Bolgheri: Sassicaia, Ornellaia, and the like. Not with their $200-250 price tag.

But that doesn’t mean I should deprive myself of coastal Super Tuscans, the Mediterranean’s answer to Bordeaux. I, too, want to enjoy their elegance and power, the result of French grapes under a Tuscan sun.

So I set out to find some affordable Super Tuscans. As part of my research, I gathered my wine club for a sampling of 8 wines. You can try this, too!

The idea was twofold: 1) To focus on Bolgheri, the region along Tuscany’s coast where Super Tuscans were born. 2) To focus on the two families, related by marriage, who initiated the Super Tuscan juggernaut: Mario Incisa della Rocchetta and the Antinori clan: padre Nicolo and sons Piero and Ludovico.

The wines were divided into 4 flights. Each flight was tasted blind, in the sense that we didn’t know which wine was in which glass. As we tasted, I asked the group to guess the dominant grapes in each blend, to pick their favorite, and to guess which was which.

Flight #1 was a warm-up, with two great values from wineries that fall slightly outside the Bolgheri zone, but are still coastal blends from the upper Maremma.

Flights #2 and #4 were the second wines of the historic estates of Tenuta San Guido (maker of Sassacaia) and Tenuta dell’ Ornellaia.

Flight #3 were the oldest and newest Antinori estates on the Tuscan coast: Gualdo al Tasso and Tenuta di Biserno, respectively.

#1 - UNDER $20
Monte Antico Rosso (Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot) $9-10
Lagone, from Aia Vecchia (Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc) $14-19

#2 - TENUTA SAN GUIDO (Sassicaia)
Le Difese (Cabernet Sauvignon/Sangiovese) $24-25
Guidalberto (Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Sangiovese) $40-45

Il Bruciato, from Gualdo al Tasso (Cab. Sauvignon/Merlot/Syrah) $22-30
Insoglio di Cinghiale, from Tenuta di Biserno (Syrah/Cabernet Franc/Merlot/Petit Verdot) $20-24

Le Volte (Sangiovese/Merlot/Cab. Sauvignon) $20-23
Le Serre Nuove dell’ Ornellaia (Merlot/Cab. Sauvignon/Cab. Franc/Petit Verdot) $45-58

It’s no spoiler to reveal our favorites, since every group will have different tastes. Guidalberto and Le Serre Nuove tied as leaders of the pack and had everyone moaning with orgiastic pleasure. That’s no surprise, since these are the mid-level wines of Sassicaia and Ornellaia. The estates’ entry-level contenders, Le Difese and Le Volte, elicited big yawns. The two wines with a dose of Syrah added to the classic Cabernet/Merlot blend of Bolgheri fared much better, with Il Bruciato placing third and Insoglia di Cinghiale (35% Syrah) being one of my personal favorites. Happily, both Under $20 wines also showed quite well. Aia Vecchia offered a Mediterranean richness at a great price point, while the big surprise was Monte Antico. This ubiquitous wine, a propriety label for importer Neil Empson made in the province of Pisa, sells for only $9-10. But we were utterly charmed by its red berry, spice, and rose-petal character.

The entire line-up, in fact, got two enthusiastic thumbs up. That’s welcome news for mere mortals who want a taste of Super Tuscans with that Bolgheri magic.

(Those who want to taste in situ can join us on our Xtreme Tuscany tour.)