Very few families stay in the same business for hundreds of years, apart from perhaps the monarchy. But the Antinoris of Tuscany have been growing vines since 1385, which makes them royalty in the wine world. Furthermore, they produce some of Italy’s most iconic wines, including Tignanello and Solaia – several vintages of which were brought to 67 Pall Mall for a masterclass.
Allegra Antinori is part of the 27th generation to continue her family’s liquid legacy. They now have seven estates all over Italy, and another seven around the world, but their heart remains in Tuscany. It was Allegra’s father Piero who created Tignanello, the original Super Tuscan, and she says it changed their entire winemaking philosophy: ‘since then, all the wines we make are intended to be different.’
The icons: Tignanello and Solaia
The story of Tignanello started when Piero planted Cabernet Sauvignon in the 1960s. The first vintage was 1970, labelled as ‘Tignanello Chianti’, but from 1971 it was downgraded to a lowly Vino da Tavola thanks to its inclusion of Cabernet Sauvignon. Blending in foreign grapes was a radical and controversial concept at the time, but the sheer quality of Tignanello was justification in itself.
The blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon hasn’t changed since 1982, and while climate change has brought warmer weather, the Tignanello vineyard has an elevation of around 400 metres, as well as pale soils, both of which provide crucial cooling influence. Head winemaker Renzo Cotarella is reducing the oak influence by using larger formats, fewer new French barrels, and trialling Hungarian oak too.
Tasting three recent vintages showed that quality remains impeccable. Tignanello 2015 is dense and compact with typical Tuscan bitterness but enough juicy cherry flavour to counterbalance. The 2013 is more leathery and saline, with gruff tannins and long, meaty persistence, while the cooler 2009 vintage has a minty edge as well as ferrous, earthy complexity from bottle age.
From the same hillside as Tignanello, Solaia is the opposite blend. The dominance of Cabernet Sauvignon allows Cotarella to use 100% new French oak, in the model of classic left-bank Bordeaux. Solaia regularly gets 100-point ratings, and has become the brightest jewel in the Antinori crown. In an average year, they produce around 80,000 bottles, and the price tends to be at least double that of its sibling.
Like great Bordeaux, Solaia can be austere in its youth, with the ‘complicated’ 2014 vintage showing a recalcitrance that makes it dense and impenetrable to taste at present. It has the layering and intensity that will doubtless mature well, but needs many years of cellaring first. On the other hand, the excellent 2010 vintage reveals the rewards of patience: only just reaching its prime now, there is sweet oak, powerful black fruit and muscular tannins giving great structure and volume on the palate, with many decades of ageability still ahead of it.
Outside Chianti, beyond Sangiovese
The Tignanello estate is in the heart of Chianti Classico, but many of Tuscany’s most exciting wines now come from Bolgheri on the Mediterranean coastline. Alongside star names such as Sassicaia and Ornellaia, Antinori’s Guado al Tasso is a fine example of the modern Tuscan style. No Sangiovese is grown here, allowing Bordeaux blends to reign supreme.
Born in 1990, Guado al Tasso is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot producing a glossy, powerful style that lies somewhere between Bordeaux and Napa. The estate also produces single-varietal reds, such as Matarocchio, made from 100% Cabernet Franc. The 2015 vintage betrays the heat of that year, with loads of tannic grip and concentrated black fruit. Like their inland cousins, bottle age is essential to bring out the best of these wines.
While Antinori’s Tuscan reds take most of the spotlight, their whites shouldn’t be overlooked, especially their homage to white Burgundy: Cervaro della Salla from neighbouring Umbria. Like Tignanello, it was conceived in the 1970s, although the first vintage didn’t emerge until 1985. Chardonnay is blended with up to 20% of local variety Grechetto, and matured in 70% new French oak in emulation of the classic Côte d’Or style.
The 2016 vintage is triumphant: expressively perfumed with matchstick and flint aromas accompanying ripe lemon fruit and a long, smoky, spicy finish. It easily bears comparison with the grands crus of Burgundy, and while the 2014 and 2008 vintages demonstrated ageability, the younger vintage stole the show with its vivacity and precision.
On the evidence of this tasting, the royal heritage of Antinori looks set to flourish for generations to come.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richard Hemming MW is a wine writer, educator and a Master of Wine based in London. He made his name when he started working with Jancis Robinson MW in 2008. This collaboration has led him to write for a number of high-profile publications such as Decanter, Financial Times and The Drinks Business. He is a 67 Pall Mall Member, often found at the Clubroom bar with a glass of northern Rhône Syrah nearby.