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Monte Antico: A super-cheap Super Tuscan

If you hang around wine folks for long enough, you'll eventually hear the term "Super Tuscan." What does it mean? Well, the wine laws in Italy stipulate for wines from Tuscany to be called "Chianti Classico," they have to be made predominately with a grape called Sangiovese. But back in the late 1960s and 1970s, some winemakers shook things up by using Cabernet and Merlot — French grapes — in new-wave blends. The wines didn't qualify, by choice, to be labeled Chianti Classico, but the dreary "vino da tavola" (table wine) didn't really sound too hot, so "Super Tuscan" was coined, especially because the wines were usually rather expensive.

For example, Tignanello, a Super Tuscan from way back produced by Antinori, a famous Italian winemaking clan. It can retail for $100 easy.

The wine importer Neil Empson took note and in 1977 started counterintuitively producing an el cheapo Super Tuscan called Monte Antico. It's still around. Beloved by wine lovers, critics, and even collectors seeking a great everyday quaff. It costs $11, and it's just about the finest $11 Italian red wine made by humans on planet Earth.

Speaking of which, it's flavors are a little earthier than what drinkers of fruity California or Australian reds might be used to. But that's a good thing. It has some nice, crispy tannins, too, that enable it to stand up to red meat better than flabbier red wines.

I like Monte Antico with a New York strip steak, right off the grill, drizzled with olive oil and served with a simple side of, say, grilled asparagus or roasted potatoes. 

It might not be a true Super Tuscan. But it's truly super perfect.

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