Last Updated on December 14, 2021 by Jeremy
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If you've read other articles on our site, you'd likely know by now that we are a bit wine crazy. Not only are we visiting all of the best Pittsburgh wine bars and local wineries, but we also have taken many wine certification classes through the global program WSET (Jeremy is working on Level 4, Angie has completed WSET Level 2) and even run our own wine blog as a side project.
We trace this love affair with wine back to one particular source, the wine school Palate Partners in Lawrenceville where we've visited for many of their informal First and Third Friday tastings over the years (it is also where we took our WSET Level 2 class as they are authorized instructors for some levels of the program).
The informal tastings are great for those who want to get into wine because they are relaxed and take a somewhat high-level discussion into the wines you are sampling. You don't have to know anything at all about wine to have a great time at these. But for those who want to go a bit deeper, but perhaps not into certification level, Palate Partners offers a number of other themed classes to try out each month as well.
We recently were guests of Palate Partners for a Super Tuscan class, and thought it'd be fun to share a bit more about what the focused lessons are like!
Four Super Tuscan Tastings at Palate Partners
One of the things we really like about the focused classes at Palate Partners is that they can really dive deep on one very specific wine topic be it a unique grape (say, Sauvignon Blanc), region (Champagne), or producer that they carry (Pares Balta, Guado al Melo, etc). The Super Tuscan class hit a bit of all of these as we tasted a vertical through one producer's Super Tuscan line with a few core grapes.
But what is a Super Tuscan, you may ask? Well, as was quickly discussed in the class, Super Tuscan is more or less just a marketing term that caught on around the world. Really!
The more elaborate explanation is that several decades ago, Tuscan winemakers started growing grapes that were not traditionally allowed under the PDO/PGI systems. These are a collection of rules and regulations that producers in any given wine region must adhere to. So when you buy a DOCG Chianti Classico, for example, you know it is the Sangiovese grape, it comes from a specific region in Tuscany, and was produced within set volume and quality guidelines. If anything, these systems are great for the consumer as it helps standardize wine production across the board, but really does not give producers a lot of flexibility to try new things.
So when producers did start trying new things, like growing Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (grapes typically found in Bordeaux, not Tuscany), the laws were completely inflexible. They could not use any of the higher-end labeling terms, and the wines were simply denoted table wine. There became an inherent issue because some producers were making world-class wine with these grapes (and charged $50, $100, or more per bottle), but officially still had to label them table wine.
Enter Super Tuscan- a wonderful marketing term that just took the world by fire. This term originated outside of the legal definition, so it was still table wine, but instead of being marketed as table wine it is marketed as Super Tuscan. And who doesn't want a super wine? No one, that is who.
As the popularity of Super Tuscans took off, more producers started experimenting with non-traditional grapes. The PGI system even became a bit more flexible to rank some Super Tuscans IGT (a lower tier classification still, but better than table wine), and one producer even managed to get their region designated a DOC (the next higher tier but not quite the highest). So, to make a long story short, Super Tuscans are world-class wines that had to use a bit of marketing to get around otherwise rigid and inflexible rules in traditional winemaking.
So, what about the wine tasting at Palate Partners?
After our history lesson, we were then able to try four Super Tuscans produced by one single producer- Guado al Melo. As these all came from one single producer, the tasting flight was organized in such a way that we could sample lower end Super Tuscans all the way to the highest quality of the bunch (with a price to match).
Along the way the wines changed their grape blends as well and included a Sangiovese/Syrah mix, Sangiovese/Cab Sauv/Petit Verdot blend, a right bank Bordeaux blend of Merlot/Cab Sauv, and a left bank Bordeaux blend of Cab Sauv/Cab Franc/Merlot.
This is where things get fun for us. For some of the lower-tiered wines, that included Sangiovese, you could see how the wines included hints of Tuscan flavors with some twists thrown in. As we got to the higher-end wines, you really thought you were drinking a bottle produced in Bordeaux, Napa, or elsewhere in the world. That notable bite you get with Sangiovese was simply not present (obviously) and you can really get an appreciation how these non-traditional grapes for Tuscany really can thrive in the region despite the laws saying otherwise.
Then there were some snacks available as well to see how the wine changed with things like olives, salami, and cheese, and is always a fun experience to throw into the mix with wine tasting as well. In being with a class, this was another fun element because then we were able to discuss how the wines evolved as we drank them (and with the food pairings) as well as share which ones were our favorites (for us, it was the Guado al Melo Bolgheri Rute- primarily due to its price-to-value).
Overall, we are always happy to attend a class at Palate Partners in Lawrenceville be it a themed lecture like this one or their informal First and Third Friday classes as well. If you are looking to take a dive into one specific topic into wine, be sure to check out their offerings throughout the year for a class like this one!
Palate Partners is located at 3401 Liberty Avenue in Lawrenceville. We were guests of the school for this class but are frequent customers otherwise. As always, all opinions are our own.