Tuscany possesses more vineyard land of potentially brilliant quality than any other Italian province and is at the forefront of the country’s wine-making and viticulture industry. Six of Italy’s DOCG areas are in the province and it is home to Italy’s only investment-grade wines, the highly acclaimed ‘Super Tuscans’.
Wine-making history in Italy goes back as far as Greek settlers planting vineyards possibly as early as 800BC. Wine was integral to the Roman culture at all levels and produced and consumed throughout the Roman Empire. The heyday for Roman viticulture was the 1st Century BC and the first two centuries AD. It was at this point that the wines of central Italy, and most importantly Tuscany, were being recognised as being as great as those produced by the more established Greeks.
The Etruscans, native to the key region of Tuscany, were strongly influenced by Greek culture and produced wine from the 3rd Century for their own consumption. Records state that wine was key to the economy of Tuscany’s foremost city, Florence. The earliest references to wine traders in Florence are from 1079 and the formation of a wine guild (the Arte dei Vinattieri) took place in 1282, which established a code of practice for the industry. From the late 7th Century wine was exported in amphora from Tuscany to southern France.
Despite the ancient origins of wine growing in Italy, its classification system, the DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) was developed as late as 1963. Today, Italy competes with France for the title of the world’s largest producer and exporter of wine generally, but it does not produce the volume of fine wine of France’s Bordeaux.
The Italian investment-grade wines, which are commanding global investor interest and achieving scores and prices to rival the best of Bordeaux, are collectively referred to as the ‘Super Tuscans’. These are Masseto, Solaia, Sassicaia, Ornellaia and Tignanello, and are classified as IGT Toscana wines. IGT wines are required to have a minimum of 85% composition of locally grown grapes.
Tignanello and Sassicaia were the first Tuscan producers to use Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, (prohibited in DOCG wines), in blends with the required Sangiovese grape or produced pure Sangiovese wine. They were also the first to adopt the French practice of ageing the wine in oak barrels. These wines were classed as premium ‘Vino da Tavola’, as they did not comply with the DOC or DOCG regulations, which dictate the grape varieties and ageing requirements.
In 1992 the Goria Law was passed allowing these wines to be accommodated within the regulations of the DOC and DOCG systems and even gave them the ability to apply for their own DOC, which only Sassicaia did.
The region made a further bid to improve quality with the introduction of the ‘Chianti 2000’ scheme. This directed that when vineyards are replanted only the best clones of Sangiovese are used and the Scheme’s guidance on vines per hectare and ongoing viticultural practice must be adopted.
Geography and climate
Tuscany is famous for its undulating terrain. The Chianti region is very hilly with many of the vineyards enjoying excellent exposure to sunshine, they are often also at altitude and as a result experience wide temperature variations between night and day.
The Tuscan climate, which is harsh in winter, and the calcium rich marls in the best areas, particularly suit the key Sangiovese grape type. Further west in the region, maritime influences have created perfect conditions for Bordeaux grape varieties.
Predominantly red grape country, the classic wine of Tuscany is Chianti (DOCG) and the constant factor is the Sangiovese grape which must dominate the blend of any of the region’s wines and is sometimes used on its own.
The Sangiovese grape seems to have the ability to change its character dependent on where it is planted and produces rich, deep wine on poor soils, in cool sites. Other grapes grown in the area include Canaiolo, Malvasia, Colorino, Trebbiano and more importantly for the investment-grade wines; Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah.
Notably the Super Tuscans are acknowledged to be made in a more international way, generally blended with French vine varieties. Tignanello led the way and now every top Chianti uses a portion of Cabernet, Merlot or Syrah with Sangiovese, or makes a pure Sangiovese wine.
The trade in the finest wines of Italy has increased steadily in the last several years and the most famous brands are now recognised as established investment wines. As the market in the traditional blue-chip wines of Bordeaux overheated and subsequently floundered post 2011, many investors have diversified their portfolios to incorporate the Super Tuscans.
The key characteristics of the Super Tuscans which lend them to investment is the use of international grape varieties, strong brands and sufficient volumes to provide liquidity.
The broadening of the market beyond Bordeaux as investors sought value in similarly scored wines from different regions has greatly benefited the Super Tuscans. Prices have tripled on average in the last decade and these assets have seen a more stable performance than Bordeaux. Masseto was also the first Italian wine to be sold on the Place de Bordeaux, where its performance has been impressive.
Investment Wines & Producers