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The Best 1997s


James Suckling
Posted: October 16, 2000




The Best 1997s

By James Suckling

After having tasted more than 700 different wines from Tuscany's legendary 1997 vintage over the past three years, I have found 15 that deserve to be called the top wines of the vintage. These are sure to become classics, just like the top wines from great vintages of Bordeaux and California. All need another four or five years of bottle age to soften the rough edges of youth, but they have the potential to improve for years.

Click on the labels for tasting notes.
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ANTINORI
Toscana Solaia 1997
98 points
$90 on release
7,000 cases produced
2,000 cases imported into the United States

This is the wine of the 1997 vintage -- and the greatest Solaia ever. Produced by the famous Florentine wine family Antinori, Solaia was one of the forerunners of the super Tuscan phenomenon. The 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese blend shows a massive concentration of fruit and tannins, yet it comes across as balanced and harmonious. It's a wine for long-term aging. Solaia is made on the Antinori Chianti Classico estate near San Casciano from grapes grown in the vineyard that the wine is named after. Winemaker Renzo Cotarella says he's not sure if he will ever make a better wine than the 1997 Solaia.

ARGIANO
Toscana Solengo 1997
97 points
$58 on release
2,500 cases produced
700 cases imported into the United States

Solengo is the brainchild of Giacomo Tachis, the veteran winemaker who teamed with Piero Antinori to create the famous super Tuscan reds Tignanello and Solaia. Made at the Brunello di Montalcino estate of Argiano, Solengo's first vintage was 1995. Originally a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with dashes of Syrah and Sangiovese, it is now a pure Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet and Merlot. The 1997 shows wonderful length and silky texture, although it will be better with another five to six years of bottle age. Its price has already doubled, as Italian wine cognoscenti now consider it one of the trophy wines of the region.


CASTELLO DEI RAMPOLLA
Toscana Vigna d'Alceo 1997
97 points
$85 on release
1,000 cases produced
150 cases imported into the United States

Vigna d'Alceo is another wine first created by Giacomo Tachis, but it rose to its current level of superb quality under the direction of the brother-and-sister team of Luca and Maurizia di Napoli, owners of the Chianti Classico estate of Castello dei Rampolla. First produced in 1996, the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend is one of the hardest Tuscan wines to find. The 1997 is a blockbuster, yet it shows the backbone and structure of the finest Bordeaux. It's produced from a high-density vineyard on the estate of Rampolla, on the outskirts of the town of Panzano. This vineyard may be one of the greatest in Tuscany.


CASTELLO DEI RAMPOLLA
Toscana Sammarco 1997
97 points
$73 on release
3,500 cases produced
500 cases imported into the United States

Sammarco was first produced at Castello dei Rampolla in 1980, years before Vigna d'Alceo. It was Alceo, the father of Luca and Maurizia di Napoli, who first started making Sammarco, a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. Although its popularity has waned slightly with the starlike debut of its sister, Vigna d'Alceo, serious Italian collectors have always considered this a must-have wine. The 1997 puts it firmly at the same level as Vigna d'Alceo. This Sammarco shows an amazing concentration of fruit and polished tannins, and the 1997 is the best ever.

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LE MACCHIOLE
Toscana Messorio 1997
97 points
$85 on release
170 cases produced
50 cases imported into the United States

When it comes to Merlot produced in the Bolgheri region of Tuscany, Ornellaia is generally the first wine that comes to mind. But the limited-production Merlot of Le Macchiole Messorio, made across the street from Ornellaia, is often even better. Eugenio Campolmi gets amazing quality from his relatively young vines (most are about six years old). He says that the key is to keep yields to a minimum in order to get the most concentration possible. The 1997 shows fabulous exotic fruit, with full body and a fine tannin structure.


SAN GIUSTO A RENTENNANO
Toscana La Ricolma 1997
97 points
Price not available on release
115 cases produced
Not imported into the United States

This is one of the most exclusive insider wines in Tuscany and deserves to be better known. The Martini di Cigala family, who owns the Chianti Classico estate of San Giusto a Rentennano, only makes about five barrels of this pure Merlot each year. Most of the wine is sold in Tuscany, and apparently, none of it is officially exported to the United States. Nevertheless, it's worth seeking out. A trip to Italy may be in order, considering it sells for about $30 to $50 a bottle there. First made in 1993, La Ricolma has never been better than in 1997. It shows stunning character of Indian spices, berries and cherries as well as caressing, velvety tannins and full body.


TUA RITA
Toscana Redigaffi 1997
97 points
$100 on release
200 cases produced
45 cases imported into the United States

This stupendous Merlot is produced by an estate in the region of Suvereto, on the Tuscan coast south of Bolgheri. It's named for Rita Tua, one of the owners, whose husband, Virgilio Besti, treats their 14 acres of vineyards like a well-manicured garden. The best grapes go into this Redigaffi red. The 1997 is an opulent, explosive wine; it still tastes young, exuberant and exciting while many other top wines of the vintage have now closed down. Drink it now or drink it later, it's a super bottle.


MARCHESI DE' FRESCOBALDI
Merlot Toscana Castelgiocondo Lamaione 1997
96 points
$58 on release
2,800 cases produced
500 cases imported into the United States

This is a blockbuster Merlot. Produced since 1991 on the Marchesi de' Frescobaldi's Brunello di Montalcino estate of Castelgiocondo, it's made from vines more than 20 years old. The 1997 is one of the greatest wines the Frescobaldi family has ever made. Full-bodied and almost Port-like just after bottling, the wine is now slightly closed and not showing as much. Give it time in the bottle to open again. This wine has a long future ahead of it.

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FATTORIA DI MANZANO
Syrah Toscana Podere il Bosco 1997
96 points
$63 on release
1,750 cases produced
200 cases imported into the United States

Just about everyone seems to be planting Syrah in Tuscany now, but few are doing as well with it as the D'Alessandro brothers -- Massimo, Giulio and Francesco. Their estate, Manzano, is located near the town of Cortona in southern Tuscany, and most of the vines are less than a decade old. But the wines are always very good to outstanding in quality, due to extremely low yields in the vineyards. The 1997 Syrah Podere il Bosco can give most Northern Rhône reds a run for their money. The wine now is tough as nails and needs at least five years of bottle age, but it's concentrated and extremely well-structured.


ISOLE E OLENA
Toscana Cepparello 1997
96 points
$38 on release
3,900 cases produced
800 cases imported into the United States

This Cepparello is full-bodied and powerful, yet it shows wonderful finesse and elegance. Paolo de Marchi, the winemaker and owner of the Chianti Classico estate of Isole e Olena, believes that it is his greatest wine ever. It's pure Sangiovese, the great grape of Tuscany, and it's fantastic -- the No. 3 wine of the year in Wine Spectator's Top 100 of 1999.


ISOLE E OLENA
Cabernet Sauvignon Toscana Collezione de Marchi 1997
96 points
$70 on release
600 cases produced
180 cases imported into the United States

Paolo de Marchi always says that his Cabernet Sauvignon is one of his easiest wines to make. Perhaps he is being overly modest, but his 1997 certainly is superb. The wine is very close in quality to his amazing 1990 Cabernet. It shows layers of chocolate, berry and currant character and ripe, velvety tannins. At this time, this is Italy's greatest pure Cabernet.


ANTINORI
Bolgheri Guado al Tasso Tenuta Belvedere 1997
96 points
$52 on release
8,000 cases produced
1,750 cases imported into the United States

This is another well-structured red from the vineyards of the Antinori family. Produced near Sassicaia and Tenuta dell'Ornellaia in Bolgheri, Guado al Tasso is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with a dash of Syrah. Antinori makes the wine at the Tenuta Belvedere estate. It has loads of ripe fruit and tannins yet remains wonderfully harmonious and balanced. The vineyard is so superb that this wine could one day surpass Solaia in quality.

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LE MACCHIOLE
Toscana Scrio 1997
96 points
$75 on release
125 cases produced
50 cases imported into the United States

Another tiny-production red from Le Macchiole, Scrio proves that Syrah has a future in Bolgheri. Owner Eugenio Campolmi grows just under 4 acres of Syrah on his small estate; he believes that it may make his most exciting wines. The 1997 Scrio is an extremely polished Syrah with wonderful berry, licorice and blackberry character. It's a wine with excellent aging potential.


TENUTA DELL'ORNELLAIA
Bolgheri Ornellaia 1997
96 points
$100 on release
11,415 cases produced
2,660 cases imported into the United States

This Bordeaux-style blend has been up and down in quality since its glorious 1990, but the 1997 firmly places Ornellaia back with the best of Italy. A second wine called Le Serre Nuove was introduced in 1997, so now only the best of the harvest goes under Ornellaia's label. The 1997 Ornellaia, predominately Cabernet Sauvignon with some Merlot, is full-bodied and extremely fruity, with superpolished tannins. It's hard not to drink it now, but be patient. It will give more pleasure in years to come. This year, owner Lodovico Antinori sold a large portion of the property to California's Mondavi family, in a partnership that promises to put the emphasis back on quality at this Bolgheri estate.


TENUTA DELL'ORNELLAIA
Toscana Masseto 1997
96 points
$240 on release
2,500 cases produced
600 cases imported into the United States
The pure Merlot of this respected estate goes from strength to strength, thanks primarily to the work of consulting enologist Michel Rolland. The Frenchman, known for his work with Merlot in Bordeaux's Pomerol region, has been working at Ornellaia for close to a decade, and only now has he really begun hitting his stride. The wine is produced from the estate's two best Merlot vineyards, Masseto and Vigna Vecchia. The 1997 is the best Masseto ever, rich and powerful with loads of velvety tannins. It's a red built for aging.

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