The words Super Tuscan evoke a certain reverence among wine lovers. I first heard the term as a young news writer in Montreal. Apparently the Hells Angels were big fans. They fought the spiraling unemployment rate by hiring people to wait in line outside the SAQ when Super Tuscans went on sale for astronomical prices. I knew nothing about these warriors of wine with names like Tignanello, Sassicaia and Ornellaia. I was a 24-year old beer drinker.
Turn the clock forward 15, ok, more like 25 years, and at this point I have been to Tuscany. I visited a small winery located on the property and run by a God-like handyman named Arc-Angelo ( not kidding) and a raven-haired beauty named Allesandra who gave us a barrel tasting and explained what a Super Tuscan is all about.These wines produced by some of the greatest winemakers in Italy actually carried the same designation as simple Table wine because they did not meet the specifications of Italy’s DOC and DOCG system. Enter Giovanni Goria, who in 1992 created a a new category – IGT or Indicazione Geografica Tipica, which denoted a designer wine of sorts – a winemaker’s creation that did not follow a set formula. It was more about a passion and drive for excellence and individuality.
And the thing about a passion – it opens up a world of experiences with other people who share it. Tina and I were taking a wine course a while back and one day I was studying out loud, reciting the multitude of wine producing regions of Spain. My dear Chilean friend Adriana, who happens to be an awesome massage therapist, helped me through my pronunciation. The next day she called me and said one of her friends/clients was opening a bottle of Vega-Sicilia and because we were taking this course, would we like to come sample? I said where and what time.
I will spare the details of an incredible house tour, including the “Hunter S. Thompson for Mayor ” poster in an upstairs bathroom and more books that I could ever read in a lifetime. But it was the first time I visited a wine cellar that made my heart flutter. What I saw first in that room of beauty were case upon case with the names of the Holy Trinity: Ornellaia, Sassicaia, Tignanello. And then there were the cases of California’s Opus One – the marriage of the Old and New World brilliance of Robert Mondavi and Baron de Rothschild. I thought this must be what heaven will look like if I am really really good.Witnessing our excitement (it may have been our wide eyes or the way we lovingly stroked the bottles ) our most gracious host asked if we would rather opt for an Italian than the Vega-Sicilia. I couldn’t help it. I was too close. And I was a Super Tuscan virgin.
The four of us started with a bottle of Tignanello and I have to say, it was everything I dreamed it would be. When we toured the house, I took my glass with me. It was like the Christmas when you got that present you wanted more than anything and refused to put it down for a second. But this time, the presents kept getting better. We tasted Sassicaia and Guado Al Tasso. We changed continents, moving to Chile’s finest Almaviva.
Then came Opus One.
The evening was a life-changing experience. No offence to anyone, but it was much more impressive than my other first time when I secretly wondered what all the fuss was about. As early as I was in my wine education, I understood clearly what all the fuss was about. I understood the meaning of perfect balance, perfect complexity and what separated great from spectacular. And I understood that all the days going forward on this wine journey would be defined by the days before The Super Tuscans and the days after.