Super Tuscan Wines and Labels

By / Magazine / November 23rd, 2009 / Like

What makes Italian Super Tuscan wines so super?

Well, it isn’t because of their ability to leap tall wine racks in a single bound. It’s more a nod to their muscular physique and the strength behind their flavour punch. Not to mention the fact that they fought the law and won.

Like many of their European neighbours, the Italians laid down a lot of red tape governing the creation of wine. You may be able to drink a beer on the street in Rome, but don’t you dare think about making vino with grapes not indigenous to your region, if you want to keep your precious quality designation.

Innovative winemakers in Tuscany who wanted to dabble with grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot — or age their juice in barrels made with foreign wood — were out of luck according to their official D.O.C. regs.

Not playing by the rules (which were actually designed to ensure a certain level of consistency and quality) earned these rogue wineries the right to only identify their mixed output as vini da tavola or simple table wine.

So here’s where the super stuff comes in. These original unions of foreign and local grape (like the iconic Sassicaia, Tignanello and Solaia) were literally beating Chianti (Tuscany’s top drawer drop) to death with all that power I mentioned earlier. Along the way they were also becoming some of the most sought-after (and expensive) wines in the world.

Trouble is, like real superheroes, you get some pretenders. (Remember Ant-Man and She Hulk?) That meant a lot of not-so-super wines started riding on the cape tails of the really big guns just because they used out of province fruit in their blends.

Since they first came on the scene in the late 1970s much has changed in Tuscany, including the introduction of the IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) classification to the area. It’s a quality thumbs-up to wines using non-traditional grapes. Now that’s what I call super.

I’ve noticed that there are a lot fewer wines with animals on labels at my local liquor store. Are they extinct?

While I’m no Dr. Dolittle, it doesn’t take more than a passing glance down the booze aisles to notice that this decade’s trend towards critter labels is giving up the ghost.

Are they extinct? Well, not exactly. A few still prowl the shelves. (Think Yellow Tail’s wallaby, Fat Bastard’s hippopotamus and that swinging chimp on the Monkey Bay varietals.) But for the most part all those cute and cuddlies that once peered back at us from the front panels of wine bottles are going, going, gone.

Why? I’m of the opinion that we all simply grew up. I mean, you’re not still wearing jammies with teddy bears on them are you? Call me a snob, but why any mature wine enthusiast would feel comfortable pouring a glass of something that identifies itself with a four-legged cartoon is beyond me.

To be fair (and that’s so like me), the menagerie did perform a service for the wine industry. The proliferation of fauna imagery was fun and friendly while it lasted and that attracted newbie tipplers who (though they couldn’t tell a château from a shingle) liked the open arms approach of a label with a dog, cat or rooster on it.

Just ask Australia. Famous for its bizarre collection of indigenous creatures, it put them on all work promoting Down Under’s liquid personality. Unfortunately, it got to the point where you couldn’t tell where the marketing ended and the wine began.

The backlash has been the simplification of label designs with South America — the current poster continent for minimalistic illustrations. You’d be hard pressed to find a vine on a bottle of Argentinean or Chilean wine, with most going for tiny iconic images and big bold supplier names.

Who knows what the look of the next decade will be. My money is on a return to the bombastic displays of the original Old World titans. You know, fancy buildings, expansive tracks of land and, of course, lots and lots of scripted text. Are you listening Germany?


Fresh, funny and down-to-earth, Peter Rockwell is the everyman's wine writer. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia he's worked in the liquor industry for over 30 years and has written about wine, spirits & beer since graduating from the School of Journalism at the University of King's College in 1986. His reviews and feature articles have been published in Tidings, Vines, Occasions, Where and on to name a few; he has been a weekly on-air wine feature columnist for both CBC-TV and Global Television and his wine column 'Liquid Assets' appeared weekly in two of Nova Scotia's daily newspapers, 'The Halifax Daily News' and 'The Cape Breton Post.' Today Peter's irreverent answer man column 'Bon Vivant' appears each month in Tidings Magazine and his weekly 'Liquid Assets' column is published across Canada in editions of the METRO newspaper. When not drinking at home, and at work, Peter travels the globe looking for something to fill his glass and put into words.

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