The Ground-Breaking Tuscan Wines Every Cellar Needs

Marchesi Antinori Tignanello and Masseto/Photo by Tom Arena

Once commonly known as “Super Tuscans,” today’s popular bottlings from the Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) appellation of Toscana descend from a handful of rebel wines that heralded a new era of winemaking in Italy.

Because they didn’t adhere to the Italian winemaking laws of the time, these were originally labeled as modest Vino da Tavola, or table wine. But when pioneering names like Tignanello and Sassicaia—the latter now produced within its own Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC), Bolgheri Sassicaia—proved overnight successes, Tuscan producers felt encouraged to rethink things.

In the 1970s, they began to plant international varieties, employ new barriques and create fantasy-named bottlings.

For years, these expensive, world-class “table” wines were technically superior to many of Italy’s traditional offerings, which were stifled by archaic DOC and DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) regulations.

Eventually, many classic appellations would update their production codes to allow greater blending variation and winemaking experimentation, but the rebels held out, or rather on, to their non-DOC statuses.

To reign in what had become an embarrassing situation, the Italian government authorized the creation of the Toscana IGT appellation that was officially approved in 1995.

Made with native and/or international grapes and more flexible winemaking rules, the best emphasize style and their sunny Tuscan roots. Here are the Top 10 IGT Toscanas for every cellar.

Marchesi Antinori Tignanello

Marchesi Antinori’s trailblazing Tignanello was once a single-vineyard Chianti Classico Riserva. Under the stagnant production code of the 1960s, this meant that it had to be made with a certain percentage of white grapes.

But Piero Antinori had other ideas. Realizing he couldn’t make the great red wine he wanted using white grapes, he stopped adding them and pulled the bottling out of the Chianti Classico denomination in 1971. Tignanello is now a blend of Sangiovese and small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

It was one of the first wines from the Chianti Classico zone made without white grapes and among the first Tuscan reds made with international varieties, as well as the first Sangiovese aged in barriques. With its Tuscan pedigree and world-class flair, it remains one of the country’s most celebrated wines.

Classic super Tuscan wine also known as IGT Toscana wine
Clockwise from top left: Isole e Olena Cepparello, Castello dei Rampolla Sammarco, Castello Banfi Excelsus, La Macchiole Paleo Rosso/Photo by Tom Arena

Masseto

Merlot is a popular variety, but in warm, sun-soaked Tuscany, it can create uninspiring wines with subdued aromas. Masseto is an exception.

Made in the coastal village of Bolgheri, this cult 100% Merlot was once part of Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, founded by Lodovico Antinori in 1981 and now owned by the Frescobaldi family. Antinori hired famed consultant enologist André Tchelistcheff to choose the best sites for grape growing and was soon convinced by him that a certain hill composed primarily of compact clay would be perfect for Merlot.

Tchelistcheff was right: Clay in the central part of the slope gives Masseto its backbone, while rock and sand at the top lend elegance. The result is a rich, structured wine with finesse.

Isole e Olena Cepparello

Even though Toscana IGT is associated with international grapes, this red, first produced in 1980, is made exclusively from Sangiovese.

Paolo de Marchi wanted to see if the grape was capable of creating great wines in Chianti Classico, where regulations did not allow for 100% Sangiovese bottlings. That remained the case until 1996, when it split from the larger Chianti denomination.

“The first vintages were promising, but it was a hailstorm in late May 1982, just before flowering, that drastically reduced yields and revealed Sangiovese’s true potential to make wines with natural concentration and depth,” says de Marchi. Aged in barriques, it’s full-bodied, elegant and ageworthy.

Le Macchiole Paleo Rosso

Le Macchiole is one of Bolgheri’s most historic firms. An area pioneer for its focus on quality, personality-driven wines, it was founded in the early 1980s by husband-and-wife team, Eugenio Campolmi and Cinzia Merli. The estate is now run by Merli and her sons, Elia and Mattia.

While all the wines are impressive, the vibrant, intense and refined Paleo Rosso remains one of the best examples of Cabernet Franc in Italy.

First released in 1989 as a Bordeaux-style blend, it’s been 100% Cabernet Franc since 2001 thanks to the variety’s exceptional performance in the sunny, seaside habitat.

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Castello dei Rampolla Sammarco

Castello dei Rampolla makes earthy, delicious wines at its Santa Lucia in Faulle farm southwest of the town of Panzano, in the valley known as the Conca d’Oro, or golden shell.

Between Florence and Siena in the Chianti Classico denomination, this amphitheater-shaped area is celebrated for its intense sunlight. The Rampolla family has owned land here since the 1700s. They began to make Chianti Classico in 1975 and, not long after, planted Cabernet Sauvignon with the help of celebrated enologist Giacomo Tachis.

This ultimately led to the creation of Sammarco, with its 1980 vintage, released in 1982, becoming an instant success. A blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 5% Sangiovese, it’s smooth, velvety, savory and loaded with soul.

Bottles of Monteraponi Baron’Ugo, Tenuta di Biserno Biserno, Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve, Michele Satta Cavaliere
Clockwise from top left: Monteraponi Baron’Ugo, Tenuta di Biserno Biserno, Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve, Michele Satta Cavaliere/Photo by Tom Arena

Castello Banfi Excelsus

Founded in Montalcino in 1978 by Italian-American brothers John and Harry Mariani, Banfi is best known for bringing the once-rare Brunello di Montalcino to tables across the U.S. and around the world. Headquartered in the Sant’Angelo Scalo hamlet southwest of Montalcino, the firm also makes a number of wines with international grapes, like Excelsus.

First produced in 1993, this Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend is fermented in temperature-controlled hybrid vats made of French oak and steel, then aged 18 months in 350-liter barriques.

The result is an intense, elegantly structured, ageworthy wine that boasts pronounced fruit and spice sensations. Showing its Tuscan roots, it cries out for food.

Michele Satta Cavaliere

Michele Satta fell in love with the Bolgheri area and its burgeoning wine scene while on vacation with his family during the early 1970s. He studied agriculture in college and began to intern at one of the local wineries in 1974. In 1983, he leased old vineyards and a cellar, purchasing his own land four years later.

Then, in 1991, he was finally able to plant his own vines in Castagneto Carducci. By then, the Bolgheri denomination was considered Italy’s spiritual home for Cabernet Sauvignon, and Satta’s choice to plant Sangiovese in that first site went against the grain.

Fermented with wild yeasts and aged in seasoned barriques, Satta’s Cavaliere boasts finesse, rich juicy fruit and great drinkability.

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Monteraponi Baron’Ugo

Now an IGT, this single-vineyard bottling proves the rebellious spirit behind Toscana is alive and well. The wine was a Chianti Classico Riserva through the 2011 vintage. However, according to estate owner Michele Braganti, the 2012 vintage was denied passage to the Gran Selezione category.

“The minimum alcohol for Gran Selezione is 13%, and the 2012 Baron’Ugo had 12.5%,” he says. “The limit is useless, in my opinion. There are great wines with 12.5%. Look at Burgundy.” In protest, Braganti pulled Baron’Ugo out of the Chianti Classico denomination.

Today, the wine is a blend of 90% Sangiovese, 7% Canaiolo and 3% Colorino grown in high-altitude vineyards and aged in large casks. It’s vibrant, fragrant and boasts finesse and serious longevity.

Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve

Owned by the Manetti family since 1968, Fontodi is located in the heart of Chianti Classico, part of the famed Conca d’Oro valley southwest of Panzano. There, high altitudes, flaky schist soils, known locally as galestro, radiant sunlight and marked day-night temperature variations create near-perfect ripening for fickle Sangiovese.

A Colli Toscana Centrale IGT, Fontodi’s Flaccianello della Pieve is another seminal bottling from the region. First released in 1981 and made entirely with Sangiovese, it undergoes spontaneous fermentation with indigenous yeasts and is aged in Troncais and Allier barriques.

Firmly structured, it is a remarkably ageworthy wine, with intense aromas and succulent fruit.

Tenuta di Biserno Biserno

In 1995, Lodovico Antinori was hunting for suitable areas to extend his Ornellaia estate when he came upon this Alta Maremma property. Impressed by the land, which was hillier and stonier than Ornellaia, he knew that it would be better to establish it as a separate estate.

After he moved on from Ornellaia, he and his brother, Piero Antinori, and landowner Umberto Mannoni created Tenuta di Biserno.

First produced in 2006 and made with Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, the firm’s namesake wine aptly expresses its unique micro-climate. It features depth, finesse and complexity.

Published on April 23, 2020
Topics: Wine and Ratings