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Great Super Tuscans Aren’t All Red, Explore the Region’s Best Whites

Great Super Tuscans Aren’t All Red, Explore the Region’s Best Whites

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Those of us who drink Italian wine often gravitate towards the three B’s: Barolo, Brunello, and Bolgheri, the last of which you may recall is the original home of Super Tuscans. This impressive sounding but unofficial moniker was originally lavished on a group of wines made with grapes that are not native to Tuscany such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. One of the first wines to be given the sobriquet was Sassicaia, whose 1968 inaugural vintage was released in 1972 and was classified as a vino de tavola, or table wine, because it fell outside of the regional DOC guidelines. Fans of this plus wines like Masseto, Guado al Tasso, and Tignanello may be surprised to learn that the regulations drawn up for Bolgheri DOC in 1983 only included white wine and rosé; reds were not added until the rules were updated in 1994. Even more surprising is that exciting white wines from varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Viognier are made in Bolgheri and throughout Tuscany.

Two of the best and most well-known white Super Tuscans, Ornellaia Bianco and Querciabella Bàtar, are vastly different wines; in fact, they don’t even fall into the same denomination. Made with 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc, Ornellaia Bianco 2021 hails from Bolgheri DOC, while Querciabella Bàtar 2020, a 50-50 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco, is a Toscana IGT wine. Shorthand for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, or controlled designation of origin, Bolgheri DOC has a set of production requirements for all wines made there. A bottle from Bolgheri labeled Bianco may have any amounts of Sauvignon Blanc, Vermentino, or Viognier; if the label on a wine from there reads Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier, it must have at least 85 percent of the variety. Since its debut in 2013, Ornellaia Bianco had been made with mostly Sauvignon Blanc blended with Viognier, but the two most recent vintages, 2020 and 2021, have been 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc.

In both seasons, the final decision to use only Sauvignon Blanc was made after a blending session. Ornellaia estate director Marco Balsimelli—who moved into the role at the beginning of this year after working in Bordeaux since 2010—believes that Sauvignon Blanc in Bolgheri has a “more mature” expression than in cooler regions, “yet, it succeeds in retaining acidity and complexity,” he tells Robb Report. That said, he credits Ornellaia’s vineyard site for the quality of the Sauvignon Blanc it produces, pointing to its altitude, proximity to the Magona Forest, and rocky clay and limestone soils as major contributors. “All these conditions allow for a cooler, windier, and slightly more humid climate compared to other areas of Bolgheri, ideal characteristics to produce a great white wine,” he says.

Ornellai’s Sauvignon Blanc is a must try, too.

Ornellaia

Querciabella Bàtar is an IGT wine; the abbreviation stands for Indicazione Geografica Tipica (typical geographic indication) and was created for wines that don’t fall into DOC or DOCG categories but are of a higher level than vino de tavola. This allows winemakers to craft quality wines using what are generally considered “international” rather than with local varieties such as Vermentino or Trebbiano. The Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco for Bàtar are from several vineyards throughout the Tuscan region of Chianti, which is better known for its Sangiovese-based reds. Querciabella winemaker Manfred Ing tells Robb Report that throughout Chianti there is “ample sunshine with beautiful, cool evenings, which allow for perfect ripeness and fruit concentration while maintaining freshness and finesse.” He acknowledges that a diverse array of vineyards sites brings different qualities to Bàtar such as concentrated fruit, intense floral aromatics, minerality, freshness, richness, and citrus notes. Ing, a native South African uses less than 15 percent new oak and minimal lees stirring to coax out greater fruit expression in this outstanding wine.

Other bottles to look for include Cabreo La Pietra Chardonnay Toscana IGT from the Folonari family; Ca’ Marcanda Vistamare Toscana IGP, a blend of Vermentino, Viognier, and Fiano from the Gaja family’s estate in Bolgheri; and Isole e Olena Collezione Privata Chardonnay Toscana IGT, which is from an estate in Chianti owned by the Descours family. Emanuele Reolon, the winemaker and estate director at Isole e Olena maintains that several attributes make Tuscany perfect for the cultivation of Chardonnay, and that Isole e Olena’s vineyards are particularly suitable thanks to its schist and limestone soils, a microclimate that offers cooling sea breezes, altitude and north-facing exposure, site-specific planting of Chardonnay within the estate, and the vineyard team’s focus on sustainable practices.

See Also

As many of us head to Tuscany this summer, we will be coasting along twisting roads lined with vineyards to visit historic medieval towns like Montalcino, Montepulciano, Bolgheri, Siena, and San Gimignano, filled with ancient stone buildings, incredible restaurants, and tiny, family-run wine shops. We should remember that in addition to the Brunellos, Vino Nobiles, Chianti Classico Gran Seleziones, and Cabernet- and Merlot-based wines we’ll be stocking up on, we should explore the region’s broad array of white wines. After all, man cannot live on red alone.


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