Last week I was fortunate enough to tour several Antinori estates in Central Italy. Though we had previously visited Tignanello and Guado al Tasso, I was keen to see other properties that were less well known to see how the quality compared.
Being specialists in smaller growers, I have to admit that I am a bit biased when it comes to larger, more ‘commercial’ producers. I often think that the quality is lacking somewhat because they don’t necessarily have the same focus to detail. Any visit to someone like Guigal, however, who has one of the largest wineries in the Rhone Valley, blows this misconception out of the water. I must admit that I was enlightened at what I experienced at the Antinori domaines.
What must be noticed first and foremost is that regardless of the domaine, the Antinoris have spared no expense on top winery equipment, vineyard management and consultants. Saying all that, their domaines are not outlandish or garish but quite hidden and discreet. Any trip to Tignanello would certainly verify this as it requires MI6 intelligence just to find it.
I was looking forward to our first appointment at Guado al Tasso in Bolgheri. We had originally visited this domaine 2 years ago, and I was curious to know if our first experience was accurate. Unbeknownst to most, the vineyard lands of Sassicaia, Ornellaia and Guado al Tasso were originally part of the same estate – such as the Leovilles in St. Julien. They were divided up for family reasons and planted subsequently.
Out of the Tuscan estates, Guado al Tasso feels the most wild. It is replete with a craggy forest, pens of a rare breed of swine (half boar and half pig) and donkeys and organic vegetable patches as everything they serve the visitor is home grown. It was a fantastic visit just like the first time.
The second stop was Badia a Passignano and Tignanello located several kilometers down the road. We know Badia a Passignano pretty well. After all, we drove through this microscopic village about 60 times to find Tignanello. But little did we know that its centre is a monastery now owned by Antinori which was a beacon of enlightenment in the Middle Ages and had originally educated such visionaries as Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo Galilei (there are still 4 monks in residence). Antinori make an exceptional Chianti from its surrounding vineyards which is vinified at Tignanello yet aged in the monastery cellars.
The third domaine is Castello della Sala in Umbria. It is here where the majority of their white wines are made including two very delicious Orvietos (yes, they do exist!) and Burgundy styled Chardonnays – Bramito and their ‘grand cru’ Cervaro. Besides excellent wines, their cellars also house the most unusual ‘spider-like’ long legged grasshoppers that look like they haven’t seen the sun since the 14th century.
The last stop is their newest venture – La Braccesca in Montepulciano. It was another discreet domaine whose sign looked more like a carved wooden version of ‘Gone Fishin’ than a wine domaine. They make two Vino Nobiles (one of the least well known DOCs) and two Syrahs. Their top Syrah, Bramasole, was a delicious surprise which tasted less like a normal Syrah and more like Hermitage.
All in all, it was an educational and enlightening trip that proved to me at least that Antinori wines are well worth seeking out.