Monte Antico, Toscana (Italy) “Supremus” 2005 (Empson USA, $27): The term “Super-Tuscan” originally applied to elite and expensive red wines that by virtue of their grape blend had broken away from the (then) DOC Chianti Classico fold. The term has evolved over these past 30 years to encompass wines from anywhere in Tuscany, not just the heartland Chianti Classico zone; wines that can in fact qualify as Chianti Classico but choose not to; wines that have become enfolded into the DOC/G structure (Sassicaia is a key example); and wines so removed from the elite tier that they sell for less than $10 a bottle and aren’t worth a penny more. If a red wine has the appellation IGT Toscana, chances are someone somewhere along the production and marketing chain is calling it a Super-Tuscan.
The red wine called simply Monte Antico ($11) bills itself as “the Super-Tuscan you can afford,” and although it irks me to see inexpensive wines presuming to be elite Super Tuscans, in fact Monte Antico has always been a very good wine and a great value. Now, a second wine has debuted under the Monte Antico label, and it is one whose quality makes it indisputably worthy of the Super-Tuscan moniker. Supremus is a harmonious, complex, finesse-ful red wine whose taste speaks clearly of its Tuscan terroir and of Tuscany’s noble Sangiovese grape.
Monte Antico is a brand created by Neil and Maria Empson in 1977, five years after they launched their company, Neil Empson Selections, a highy-regarded Milan-based operation that exports and markets fine Italian wines all over the world. Their partner in Monte Antico is Franco Bernabei, one of Italy’s earliest consulting winemakers and one of the finest, in my opinion. After 30 years of experience with Monte Antico, Neil Empson and Bernabei created Supremus, a 75-15-10 percent blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Like Monte Antico itself, Supremus comes from grapes grown in various parts of Tuscany, including the coastal Maremma zone, Chianti Classico and other growing districts.
If I were to taste Supremus blind, I would probably identify it as Sangiovese because of its dusty, nutty aroma and its fine-grained, dry tannin that emerges almost right in the front of the palate and builds gently but inevitably to a firm, commanding presence in the back of the mouth. But the wine is softer and fleshier than many Sangiovese wines, most likely because of its Merlot component. As for the Cabernet, it blends so nicely that it is not particularly obvious, which is unusual when Sangiovese is the dominant grape.
Besides those dusty and nutty notes, the aroma of the 2005 Supremus has deep notes of fresh red fruits, herbal accents and a suggestion of dried leaves and smoke. Its flavors are similarly earthy, herbal and fruity, with some dark fruits along with red fruits. Although the wine aged 14 months in barriques, both the flavor of oak and the impression of oak tannin are minimal. The wine is medium-plus in body, definitely not massive, and it contains 13 percent alcohol, a moderate measure. Smooth texture is a key virtue of this wine, but it is smooth texture atop Sangiovese’s energizing acidity and firming tannin. Very Tuscan.
This wine is so lovely now, I recommend drinking it now and over the next five years.