What is a “Super Tuscan” and where did the term come from? The answer might surprise you.

Above: vineyards in Maremma along the Tuscan coast where “Super Tuscans” are produced (image via the Wilson Daniels website).

The more closely you look at a word, wrote the early 20th-century aphorist and poet Karl Kraus, the more distantly it looks back at you.

This couldn’t be more true when it comes to the meaning and origin of the expression “Super Tuscan.”

Historically, the named was used unofficially to denote high-quality Tuscan wines that were classified as vino da tavola (table wine) because they didn’t qualify to be included among the “designations of controlled origin” (DOC). Ostensibly, the reason they didn’t qualify was because they used Bordeaux grape varieties that weren’t recognized by the Italian DOC (appellation) system at the time.

The earliest mention of a Super Tuscan (wine) I’ve been able to find in Google Books is in a 1987 tasting note in America Wine Society News. It references a Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon blend “that cannot be considered a true Chianti.” You can’t read the entire passage on Google but it’s likely that the writer was referring to Tignanello, the famous blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon that Antinori first produced as a “table wine” with the 1975 vintage.

There are, however, antecedents beyond the wine world.

In his 1972 monograph, The Fascist Experience Italian Society and Culture, 1922-1945, Edward R. Tannenbaum calls Italian writer Curzio Malaparte a “super Tuscan publicist.”

And in 1915, in Howard’s Blue Book: The Only Index-catalogue of the Paint, Oil, and Varnish Industry, there is mention of a “Super Tuscan Red” paint, possibly a reference to the distinctive light red color we call “Sienna Red” today.

Most Italian wine trade observers agree that Tignanello (produced in Chiantigiana) and Sassicaia (produced in Bolgheri on the Tuscan coast) are the earliest examples of wines that were commonly referred to as Super Tuscans. Sassicaia was available in the U.S. in the early 1970s. According to the winery that produces it, San Guido, the 1968 vintage of Sassicaia was the first to ship to the U.S. (thus predating the arrival and advent of Tignanello).

But no one knows for sure who first used or coined the term in the context of wine.

By the late 2000s, it had become fashionable in the alternative U.S. wine media to denigrate the Super Tuscans — the “aia wines,” as some of us called them — as bottlings created specially for the American market. The wines were excessively “oaked,” writers moaned, overly concentrated (“extracted”), and jammy like the “fruit bombs” that Napa-loving Americans preferred.

But cum granus salis, the claim wasn’t entirely true. In 1989 when I visited Montalcino for the first time, sommeliers there were eager to pour Sassicaia and Ornellaia side-by-side with Brunello (another wine that had yet to make its name on this side of the Atlantic). Looking back on it now, there’s no doubt in my mind that these wine professionals were extremely proud of the wines and considered them some of the best expressions of Italian viticulture at the time. And many of the wines, especially from the top tier, were and are still today elegant, restrained, and impeccably balanced. They may be “oaked” but they are not necessarily “oaky.”

Other Tuscan winemakers would try to reproduce the historic Super Tuscans model — some successfully and some not so much. But the legacy of the aforementioned wines was firmly and undeniably established by the late 1990s when Italian wine would begin trending upward in the U.S.

On Thursday night here in Houston, I’ll be co-hosting a guided wine tasting and dinner with a genuine Super Tuscan, Federica Mascheroni Stianti (below, left, with her mother Giovannella Stianti Mascheroni, another Super Tuscan woman) at Roma restaurant (my client). We’ll be tasting her family’s Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico together with one of their more recent entries, the Prelius Cabernet Sauvignon raised in Grosseto province in Maremma along the Tuscan coast.

Their Cabernet Sauvignon is aged in large cask — not the small French barriques commonly used for the historic Super Tuscan wines. Restrained and lithe on the palate, with classic varietal expression, it’s not “oaky” or “jammy” or “overly extracted.” Is it a Super Tuscan?

As another Super Tuscan, Dante, once wrote, nomina sunt consequentia rerum.

I hope you can join us this week to taste it and join in the conversation!

Here’s the menu and reservation details.

Wine for voter enfranchisement in Texas: Vines for Votes raises money for Texas ACLU.

Above: Texas congressional district 36. Source: House.gov.

That’s a map of Texas congressional district 36. It stretches from Orange, Texas on the Louisiana border where Tracie grew up all the way to Clear Lake, Texas, where the Johnson Space Center is located south of Houston, roughly 85 miles away as the crow flies from Tracie’s hometown.

The population of Orange is more than 30 percent black.

The population of Clear Lake is roughly 4 percent black.

And this is a classic example of Texas gerrymandering and voter disenfranchisement.

Thanks to its convoluted layout, Texas congressional district 36 has an overwhelming white ruby red Republican majority that essentially eclipses the black and democratic vote in places like Orange where most of its black residents live.

In June, Tracie and I met with Democratic candidate Rashad Lewis who’s running against the Republican incumbent for the 36th district Brian Babin.

As you might imagine, Lewis advocates for repurposing the district’s neo-Confederate memorials. Babin opposes their repurposing.

A few days ago, a group of wine professionals in New York, including two prominent Texans, launched a campaign to raise money for the Texas ACLU fight for voter enfranchisement in Texas.

It’s called Vines for Votes and if you are reading this, you probably know at least a couple of its members.

Using its website, you can donate directly to Vines for Votes and you can offer wines for auction (proceeds will go to Texas ACLU). And of course, you can also give directly to the ACLU or Texas ACLU.

Wasn’t it Baldo Cappellano who quixotically said “there are some battles in life that you know you will lose and these are sometimes the ones most worth fighting”?

Words to live by in our book of life. Thanks for reading.

Texas wine, food, media professionals: please join me for virtual tastings with Italian producers September 21-22.

Some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done has been for the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce South Central. Previously covering just Texas but now also Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma (hence “south central”), the Houston-headquartered IACC is ranked number one among chambers in North America and number eight throughout the world.

Sorry, New York!

The IACC has achieved that status in part by mounting truly compelling events with top wine and food producers from Italy, leading wine and food professionals here in Texas, and high-profile journalists and tastemakers from across the U.S.

In March, the IACC would have presented the sixth annual Taste of Italy trade fair, the largest wine and food gathering in the U.S. devoted exclusively to Italian products and producers. I’m a consultant and emcee for the event. Last year, we hosted more than 100 producers and 500+ attendees.

This year, we’ve moved the event online: on Monday and Tuesday, September 21-22 wine and food professionals across the state of Texas will have the opportunity to attend one-on-one virtual tastings with producers in Italy via Google Meet.

And here’s the even cooler part: once you schedule your tasting appointments, the wines and food products will be delivered to your home or office. It’s that simple.

The other cool thing is that the IACC has partnered with a super groovy new platform called GrapeIn to coordinate the tastings (more on GrapeIn forthcoming).

If you are a wine and food professional or a culinary-focused social media user active in Texas, click here to see a list of participating wine and food producers. Click on the producers you’d like to taste with, indicate the time slot, and the IACC will take care of the rest.

This 100 percent virtual event represents an extraordinary opportunity to connect in real-time with Italian producers as you taste their products.

Please join me in just a few weeks as we explore some great Italian wines and foods. Ping me if you need more info or guidance. But it’s all pretty straightforward.

Austin, San Antonio, Dallas: I’m talking to you, too!

Oh and that photo at the top of this post? I took that in our kitchen. It gives you an idea of what these tastings will look and feel like.

I hope you can join me! Thanks for supporting Italian wine and food and the people who make them (in the comfort of your own home)!

Cloudbursts, wind, extreme weather cause massive vineyard damage in Italy.

Above: weather-damaged Pinot Blanc grapes in Franciacorta at the Arcari + Danesi winery. “We’ve lost 30 percent of our harvest due to extreme weather,” said grower Giovanni Arcari in text message this morning.

Cloudbursts, high winds, and other extreme weather events caused widespread vineyard and property damage and even loss of life across Italy over the weekend.

In one tragic case, two children were killed when a tree, toppled by wind gusts, fell on their campsite along the Tuscan coast on Saturday.

Last weekend’s weather events came on the heels of a series of severe storms that have vexed Italian winemakers and farmers throughout the month of August.

According to mainstream media reports, an intense storm that struck Valpolicella (Verona province, Veneto) on Sunday, August 23 caused an estimated €6 million in vineyard damage.

Over the weekend, Verona province experienced more extreme weather. The video below, posted on the Veneto-based journal Il Dolomiti YouTube, is dated Saturday, August 28, 2020:

In a blog post published yesterday on its website, Coldiretti (Italy’s national agricultural confederation) wrote that:

    A crazy August has been marked by nearly 10 storms each day throughout the [Italian] peninsula, including torrential rain, tornados, cloudbursts, and hailstorms of anomalous proportions…
    In just a few seconds, many farms have lost an entire year of production. But there is also structural damage to fields that won’t be able to produce crops for a long time…
    We are faced with the obvious consequences of climate change. In Italy, the exception has become the rule as weather events are undergoing a tropicalization. This can be seen in the high frequency of violent storms, seasonal shifts, brief but intense rainstorms, rapid changes in weather from sunny skies to inclement weather, [and] remarkable temperature shifts that compromise crops in the field.

Over the last decade, extreme weather events have more than €14 billion in agricultural damage in Italy according to authors of the post.