Who has done more for the reputation of the wines of Tuscany than any one else? The answer has to be Piero Antinori, the current head of a family that has been producing wine for over 600 years.
He was in London recently to show a small selection of his wines, those which have made the most impact on the Tuscan wine scene, namely Cervaro della Sala, Tignanello, Gualdo al Tassa and Solaia. Each has a story to tell, in three vintages.Cervaro della Sala is in fact a deviation into Umbria, but as Piero said, it could almost be considered an extension of Tuscany, and its white wines have always been more successful than those of Tuscany.
Cervaro della Sala
Back in 1980 Antinori began experimenting with new grape varieties on their estate at the magnificent Castello dell Sala and in 1985 produced the first Cervaro della Sala, a blend of international Chardonnay and the intrinsically Umbrian Grecchetto. The wine was seen as a white counterpart to Tignanello, and they included Grecchetto as they did not want to produce “just another Chardonnay”. With its high acidity and thick skins, it can enhance a blend, but as with Petit Verdot in Bordeaux, you do not want a pure Grecchetto.
Cervaro della Sala 2000
Quite a solid oaky nose with a rounded nutty palate. The oak is still quite dominate, after nine months in barrel, but there are layers of flavour to develop.
Cervaro della Sala 1999
Beginning to lose its youthful oakiness and develop some intriguing herbal notes. The oak on the palate is nicely integrated with appealing mouth-feel and texture.
Cervaro della Sala 1994
The colour is much deeper, with slightly oily overtones on the nose, and on the palate lovely herbal notes, with a good acidity and a long nutty finish. It certainly shows the ageing potential of Cervaro della Sala.
Tignanello is the wine for which Antinori is known above all others. It was developed in the 1970s in an attempt to redeem the abysmal reputation for Chianti at that time. The first Tignanello, the 1971 vintage, was a pure Sangiovese, but since 1975 they have added some Cabernet Sauvignon, so that the blend is usually about 80 per cent Sangiovese to 20 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact with the change in the regulations controlling Chianti Classico, Tignanello could be labelled Chianti, but it remains firmly Tignanello, with its own individual identity. As Piero Antinori explained, the real break with tradition was the absence of white grapes, at a time when Chianti was criticised for the excessive amount of white grapes used in a red wine, while the use of small oak barrels of French oak, rather than the large casks of Slavonian oak, represented another significant departure from local practice.
A deep young colour, with a ripe, rounded nose. There are firm tannins on the palate, with a concentration of fruit that is typical of the vintage. The Sangiovese in 2000 was softer than usual, so this Tignanello will be ready to drink relatively early.
Developing a more cedary character on the nose, with some firm, smoky fruit on the palate, with firm tannins and an elegant finish. It is more structured than 2000, with a longer life ahead of it, and for Piero, “more Tuscan”.
1993 is not a particularly special vintage in Tuscany, but this shows just how well Tignanello can age, with a smoky, cedary nose, and rounded chunky fruit. There was something intrinsically Italian about it, quite unlike many of the more modern Super-Tuscans.
Gualdo al Tasso
Gualdo al Tasso marks the development of the Antinori estate in the increasingly fashionable coastal wine region of Bolgheri. 1990 was the first vintage of this essentially Bordeaux blend of Cabernet and Merlot, with just a hint of Syrah.
Gualdo al Tasso 2000
Quite closed on the nose, with some soft tannins and rounded fruit.
Gualdo al Tasso 1998
A particularly good vintage in Bolgheri. And Piero is very pleased with this, with its structured nose, and on the palate some ripe cassis fruit, with a backbone of supple tannins.
Gualdo al Tasso 1997
The colour is beginning to develop, and the nose has some dry cedary notes, with quite dense, firm fruit on the palate, and chunky tannins. It is beginning to lose its youthful fruitiness to take on some notes of maturity.
Solaia provides a contrast to Tignanello, for having begun life as a pure Cabernet Sauvignon it is now about 80 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, with some Sangiovese. The first commercial vintage was 1979, with its development prompted initially by an excess production of Cabernet Sauvignon.
A harmonious balance of concentration and elegance, with rounded tannins and ripe fruit.
Generally considered the best vintage of the last ten years, with a firm nose and dense cedary notes on the palate and tightly-knit fruit. It is very appealing now, but will continue to develop with age.
Just beginning to drink well now, but with twenty years of life ahead of it, according to Piero. The colour is beginning to develop; there are wonderful smoky notes on the nose, with long lingering, cedary fruit on the palate. It was the perfect note on which to finish a tasting.