Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France

Tenuta Luce: exemplary Super Tuscan

In May 2024, I spent a week in Piemonte, followed by a second week in Tuscany. The grand finale was for Regine Ribelle, a press trip to taste Vernaccia di San Gimignano. But it was preceded by the chance to get an update on three classic Tuscan red wine producers. This post focuses on Tenuta Luce. It will be followed by posts on Argentiera (Bolgheri) and San Felice (Chianti Classico). Tenuta Luce’s top wine is a Merlot/Sangiovese Super Tuscan. And what is a Super Tuscan? A wine made with the marked influence of international varieties grown in Tuscany (usually Cabernet Sauvignon/Franc and Merlot) and aged in French oak barriques, not traditional Italian large casks. Tenuta Luce’s top wine, called Luce, is highly regarded and expensive. But is it an exemplary Super Tuscan?

Tenuta Luce: Merlot and Sangiovese

Luce tasting
Luce tasting, 2021, 2014, 2009

The historic Frescobaldi family have owned Castelgiocondo since 1989. In 1993 they entered a joint venture with Californian superstar winery Mondavi to create a new wine at Tenuta Luce, a mere half a kilometre away. In 2004, Frescobaldi took over the project completely. They planted some new vineyards, for example, Cabernet Sauvignon, which was used for a new wine. Today the estate has 93 hectares of vineyard (53 ha of Merlot, 36 Sangiovese–of which five are used for Brunello–and three Cabernet Sauvignon. The entire estate is much larger with 260 ha, mainly forest. The Merlot is planted in the lower clay-rich vineyards, while Sangiovese thrives on the less fertile, higher slopes with schistous soils. The range of elevation is 280–420 metres.

Winemaking at Tenuta Luce

Until 2016 the wine was made at nearby Castelgiocondo, though with separate winemakers. Now the two operations are completely separate, though they share an agronomist. The top wine here is called Luce (‘light’). It is a 50/50 blend of Merlot and Sangiovese, a fairly rare combination among Super Tuscans. More typical would be Bordeaux blends or single-varietal wines made from the top Bordeaux varieties. Merlot and Sangiovese make for an interesting halfway house. Cabernet Sauvignon is often blended with Merlot to add the structure and blackcurrant fruit of the former with the ripe black plum fruit of the latter. In Luce, the structure created by the high tannins of Sangiovese is married to the lush fruit of warm-climate Merlot. Having said that, one of the remarkable features of this wine is the high acidity and low pH of both components. In 2021, the Sangiovese was picked at 7.08 g/L of total acidity (pH 3.30) and the Merlot at 7.75 g/L (pH 3.23). This suggests that, despite the obvious ripeness of the fruit, the Merlot must have been picked relatively early, in fact from 3 September. To anticipate the tasting notes, there is none of the obvious jaminess in the final wine that can beset warm climate Merlot. The Sangiovese harvest followed from the middle of the month. 

The winemaking sees fermentation of around 12 days, with temperature controlled to a maximum of 28º C. A further 20 days of post-fermentation maceration on the skins follows. MLF takes place in wood and the wine is aged for two years in French oak barriques, 80 per cent new. All this speaks to the aims of full extraction of the fruit while retaining balance with the high acidity and careful integration of aromas from oak ageing. (This could be another way of talking about an exemplary Super Tuscan.) The final wine has 14.5% abv and 6.07 g/L total acidity (pH 3.45).

While the choice of a large amount of Sangiovese is unusual, there is no doubt that Luce is a Super Tuscan. The fifty per cent of Merlot guarantees a roundness on the palate and ripe red- to black-plum fruit that is not typical of wines made solely from Sangiovese. You could argue that the large Sangiovese component puts the ‘Tuscan’ into this Super Tuscan. The winemaker stated that while the Merlot dominates the wine when it is young, the Sangiovese becomes more evident as the wine ages. Similarly, most tasters would think that Luce is ready to drink much earlier than the Brunello from the same estate. As stated. the wine is aged in French oak barriques, predominantly new. The wine’s high quality elevates it to the status of exemplary Super Tuscan.

Luce vintages


By any standard, Luce is a very impressive wine. It is a luxury blend of ripe, luxuriant Merlot and Sangiovese. Tasted in May 2024, the 2021 had a velvety texture, pointing to careful tannin extraction. At this point in its development, it is mostly black fruited (black plum, blackberry, black cherry) but there is a certain austerity lying in wait behind the creamy oak and the ripe fruit. The finish is long and accentuates the ripe fruit. It will be enjoyed by those who drink warm climate Bordeaux blends. Those who love classic Italian red wines might be more impressed by its evident quality than its Italian roots.


Tasting the less-than-perfect vintages of wines made by great wineries is always fascinating. 2014 was pretty consistently cool and wet. According to the winery, the Merlot suffered a bit of dilution from the wet weather but they waited for the Sangiovese and were rewarded with a dry and warm second half of September. The wine now shows the first signs of leather-earthy tertiary notes, while the fruit has a light herbaceousness, reflecting the vintage. Similarly, the body is lighter than other vintages and the tannins are a touch prickly, even after a decade. Nevertheless, the 2014 Luce is a commendable result in a difficult year.


This season can be divided into two phases: rain until June and then a heat wave in July. As a result, the grapes had high sugar levels and the wine ended up very rich and ripe.  In May 2024, this wine was approaching its plateau. The oak aromas had fully integrated with the fruit and contributed a certain glossy texture. For me, this wine lacked a distinctiveness of place. I would hope for earthy, tea and meaty notes in a fifteen-year-old wine with Sangiovese as a major component. While the wine is fully ready to drink and will hold for many years, the Merlot and Sangiovese seemed to have cancelled each other out.

There is no doubt that Luce is an exemplary Super Tuscan. The Sangiovese element anchors it firmly in Tuscany. The Merlot, combined with the new oak, contributes to the depth of fruit and the luxuriant texture typical of the category.

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