Information, Tasting Events

It’s A Family Affair – Antinori of Tuscany

A Brief History Of Chianti

It’s not all straw baskets and fava beans!  Chianti is a delimited area between Siena and Florence in Tuscany.  The name has been in use for over 700 years and on wines for at least 600 years, but has changed a lot over that time.

The Chianti wine producing area was one of the first to be officially demarcated anywhere in the world by the Grand Duke of Tuscany’s 1716 decree.  At that time various different grapes were used, including Canaiolo, Mammolo, Malvasia and Sangiovese.

In 1872 the Florentine statesman Baron Bettino Ricasoli (who later became Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy) decided upon and promoted a blend for Chianti based on 70% Sangovese, 15% Canaiolo, 10% Malvasia and 5% other local red varieties.  As it happens it was a Ricasoli wine that gave me my first taste of quality Chianti!

In 1932 the Italian government significantly expanded the area allowed to use the term Chianti on their labels, and created seven subdivisions within it: Classico (pretty much the original Chianti heartland), Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colline Pisane, Colli Senesi, Montalbano and Rùfina.

Gallo Nero - Chianti Classico's Black Rooster emblem
Gallo Nero – Chianti Classico’s Black Rooster emblem

In 1967 the DOC regulations were introduced for Chianti, accompanied by a further expansion of the boundaries and mandating the use of the Ricasoli “recipe” – so all producers were forced to use 10% white Malvasia.  The expansion in vineyard area was done without great attention being paid to clones (Sangiovese mutates easily like Pinot), rootstocks or soil types, and quality fell markedly.

First Amongst Equals

The noble Florentine Antinori family (Marchese means Marquis in Italian) trace their entry into the wine trade back to 1385, though in all likelihood they cultivated grapes on their estates before then.  The current firm was founded in 1895 by the brothers Lodovico and Piero Antinori, and expanded within Tuscany and into Umbria by Piero’s son Niccolò.

Marchese Piero Antinori (front) with his daughters (L-R) Albiera, Alessia & Allegra
Marchese Piero Antinori (front) with his daughters (L-R) Albiera, Alessia & Allegra

It was Niccolò’s son Piero who really lit a fire under the company after taking the reins in 1967.  He increased the land under vine by fifteen times and constantly strove to innovate with the assistance of his oenologist Giacomo Tachis.  Now joined by his three daughters, the company has around 1,800 ha in central Italy and a further 400 ha overseas, particularly Napa.

Antinori is the biggest but also the most important producer in Chianti, and perhaps all of Italy.  They are founding members of the Primum Familiae Vini – the First Families of Wine – an association of family owned and run wineries which are in the top echelon of their respective region.

Chianti Saved by the Super-Tuscans?

Another kind of Super Tuscan
Another kind of Super Tuscan [Photo credit: The Car Spy]

Constricted by the reliance on Sangiovese, ban on foreign grapes and insistence on the inclusion of white grapes in the blend, Piero Antinori and others began experimenting outside the DOC laws.  Tignanello was released in 1971 under the humble Vina de Tavola label.  It was a Sangiovese / Cabernet Sauvignon blend aged in small barrels (quite different from the huge botti which were the norm) and caused the world to look at Tuscany again.

Tignanello label
Tignanello label

Antinori also made Solaia, and helped to launch Sassicaia.  Together these wines improved the image of Tuscan wine and encouraged Chianti producers to up their game.

It also encouraged the wine authorities to rethink their stance on grape varieties (in particular).

Antinori Chianti Classico Tasting with Allegra Antinori

And so to a recent tasting in Dublin in the delightful company of Allegra Antinori.

Allegra took us through four of Antinori’s Chianti Classicos, from everyday quality to seriously premium:

Allegra Antinori
Allegra Antinori

 

Antinori Pèppoli Chianti Classico 2011 (RSP €19.99)

Antinori Pèppoli Chianti Classico 2011
Antinori Pèppoli Chianti Classico 2011

Stockists: O’Brien’s Off-Licences; Next Door Off-Licences; Redmond’s of Ranelagh, Dublin; Carpenters of Castleknock, Dublin; Savages of Swords, Dublin; Bradley’s of North Main Street, Cork; O’Driscolls, Cork; Mortons of Galway; Le Caveau, Kilkenny; Terroirs, Donnybrook; Mitchell & Sons

 

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This is a fruity, accessible style of Chianti Classico designed to be drunk withing a year or so of purchase.  The grapes are grown on the Pèppoli estate between Sienna and Florence;  90% Sangiovese is complemented by Merlot and Syrah.  A light touch of oak adds a bit of chocolate and vanilla to give a little complexity and approachability, but this is unmistakably Sangiovese – plenty of ripe red cherry fruit with acidity and marked, but silky soft tannins.  The finish is dry but long, and far from austere.

A great introduction to Chianti Classico!

Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2011 (due in Ireland Q2 2015)

Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2011
Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2011

This bottling was specifically designed for the US market (Italian wine does very well in the States) but has become so popular that it is being released in Europe as well.  After opening their new Chianti Classico cellars Antinori wanted to pay tribute to their classic Villa Rosso Chianti Classico Riserva.

Again Sangiovese dominates the blend at 90%, but this time it’s an all-Bordelais Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot top up.  As you’d expect with a Riserva, it’s a definite step up in intensity, both on the nose and on the palate.  There’s more fruit, with raspberries being supported by darker berries, but also more tannin to give a savoury balance.

Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2011 (RSP €27.99)

Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2011
Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2011

Stockists: O’Brien’s Off-Licences; McHughs of Kilbarrack & Howth; Higgins Off-Licence Clonskeagh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One of the jewels in the Antinori portfolio is the 160 ha Tignanello estate, known for the Super-Tuscans Solaia (Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and Cabernet Franc) and Tignanello (Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc) itself.  These two icons are selected from vines covering 60 ha, but half of the estate is dedicated to the production of the “Marchese”.

In the glass the wine is deep ruby with a youthful purple rim.  Red and black fruit jump out of the glass before you’ve even managed to take a sip.  The first thing which strikes you in the mouth is how smooth and rich the Marchese is – just so voluptuous to drink.

The flavours encompass red and black cherries, raspberries and blackberries, liquorice, smoke and vanilla.  There are grippy tannins which frame the fruit but give it context rather than detract.

Definitely a serious wine, but a fine one at that.

Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 (RSP €42-€44)

Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2008
Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2008

Stockists: Fallon & Byrne, Dublin; Greenacres, Wexford

 (once the 2008 vintage is sold through, the next vintage – 2011 – will fall under the new Gran Selezione classification)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Antinori bought the Badia a Passignano estate (a few kilometres from the Tignanello monastery) in 1987 and set out to create the ultimate expression of Tuscan Sangiovese.  Clones were specially selected to give velvet and acidity and planted with a vine density of 5000-7000 plants per hectare.  Maturation is in French barriques and “double-barrels” of 500 litres for 14 to 15 months in the cellars under the Abbey

At the tasting, it was easy to see who had picked up their glass of Badia for a sniff – the astounded and awestruck looks on their faces.  It has an amazing nose of red and black fruit, but these are joined on the palate by rich dark chocolate.  It has an international sensibility but is unmistakably Chianti Classico.

This wine is special, and in my opinion, despite having the highest price tag, it’s the best value of the four we tasted.

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8 thoughts on “It’s A Family Affair – Antinori of Tuscany”

    1. I haven’t tried anything that old – the last one at the Antinori tasting was a 2008 so 6 years old, still drinking quite young.

      I’d like to try some older bottles!

      Like

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