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Italian rebels: the Super Tuscans

Wild thing: after wild boars crashed through fencing and feasted on their grapes, Neil and Maria Empson named their wine Cignale, after the Italian word for the beast

Wikipedia tells us that “an extraordinary number of wines claim to be the first Super Tuscan” and I tend to agree, based on the claims of a few folks that I know.

Whoever it was, the fact is that back in the 1970s, wines started to emerge that fit this new category. The laws of DOC are very strict about what type of grape can be used with historical wine names, for instance. In those times Chianti could contain no more than 70 per cent Sangiovese and at least 10 per cent of the rest had to be white wine grapes; certainly, all the grapes had to be indigenous Italian.

What would one do if they felt that they could make a different wine that would be better without these restrictions? The Californians figured it out when they wanted to blend in the way that Bordeaux does and possibly not have the required minimum of 75 per cent of one grape variety if they wanted to label the wine after the grape.

In other words, 74 per cent cabernet sauvignon and 26 per cent merlot meant that it could not carry the name cabernet sauvignon. So now we stock blends like Beaulieu (BV) Tapestry, Shafer TD-9, Beringer Quantum and Orin Swift Abstract, to name a few from Napa Valley.

Back to the Tuscans who even wanted — heaven forbid! — to use French varietals such as cabernet sauvignon and merlot. They certainly could not call them brunello if they were not 100 per cent brunello clone of Sangiovese.

Today, Chianti requires a minimum of 80 per cent Sangiovese or even 100 per cent is allowed if the producer wants this. Some even add the “new” grapes such as merlot.

Maybe you have heard that Super Tuscans are not in the Monday-to-Thursday night price category for most of us, but I will go to my oldest friends in the wine trade first and mention Neil and Maria Empson’s Monte Antico 2014 — that is yours for just $18.70. James Suckling rates it 91/100.

Its 85 per cent Sangiovese gives bright freshness, red fruits, violets and spice; 10 per cent merlot adds plush, velvety tannins and 5 per cent cabernet sauvignon gives backbone and structure.

For a special treat I will describe a wine that is named after the very first to enjoy the delicious grapes in a small Tuscan vineyard. The year was 1983 and the Empsons were waiting to pick their initial crop. Wild boars beat them to it; they crashed through the fencing and had a feast. Maria, an artist, created six labels that are now mixed in each case of Cignale — that is the Italian word for this grape-enjoying animal.

The Empsons produce only a few hundred cases each year from a small Tuscan vineyard and, as they have visited our island so many times, I do feel that we get more than our fair share. Here is what Robert Parker has to say about the 2012 Cignale that we offer at present: “Made with cabernet sauvignon and 10 per cent merlot, this is a tight and beautifully enriched Tuscan red. The 2012 Cignale sees fruit in a hot vintage harvested from a cool, high-altitude vineyard site. This combination of extremes makes for fantastic results and produces a fine sense of balance and elegance. The wine is aged in French oak for two years and only 10,000 bottles are made. The finish shows soft fruit with earthy tones of button mushroom and underbrush that remind you of the rustic Chianti classico countryside.” 94+/100. $59.65.

We have just brought in one of the newest Super Tuscans that produced its first vintage in 2010. From one of the highest estates in Montalcino and from one of the greatest producers of brunello, we have Poggio Antico Lemartine 2016. The brunello grape still plays the lead role, as it does in all Poggio Antico wines, but here it is blended with cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot (planted back in 1997 and 2003 respectively). These three varietals, rigorously and exclusively estate-grown at 420-metres altitude, refine separately in small French oak barrels of varied toasts. On the day they are blended together, they become Lamartine.

James Suckling puts it this way: “94/100. Focused and dynamic with aromas and flavours of blackberries, light chocolate, walnuts, meat and currants. Medium to full body, tight and silky tannins and a long, flavourful finish.” $45.95. Incidentally, their 2012 brunello has just arrived and Suckling gives this 95/100. $74.55.

Year in and year out, Campaccio, from the wonderful Terrabianca estate of Maia and Roberto Guldener, is our market leader in sales and this is what Parker has to write about our current stocks: “Terrabianca 2015 Campaccio is a blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. This vintage puts the identifying qualities of all varieties on immediate display. This is one of the nicest things to admire in this Tuscan red blend. You get the powerful aromas of black cherry and chocolate that are associated with cabernet sauvignon, with some notes that are green or medicinal. At the same time, you can taste that zesty and acidic freshness of the sangiovese; merlot adds rich softness. These grapes complement each other very well in the 2015 vintage that provided ample heat for easy and balanced ripeness.” 92/100. $32.95.

I will end with one of the very first that came on the scene in 1968 — San Felice Vigorello 2011 — although I could possibly be taken to task for my suggestion.

I like Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s evaluation of Vigorello that goes like this: “Opens with varietal aromas including fragrant blue flowers, perfumed berries, tilled soil, forest floor and a whiff of cake spice. The structured, elegant palate delivers mature black cherry, clove, tobacco and liquorice alongside a backbone of firm, fine-grained tannins. Give it time to fully develop. Drink 2017 to 2023.” $48.50.

We do have a few others from this very popular and modern class of Italian wine, but not enough room this time to include them.

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail mrobinson@bll.bm or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George (York Street, 297-0409). Visit wineonline.bm