Sangiovese starred on stage alongside Piero Antinori, one of Italy’s leading producers, who provided four wines to showcase the diversity, history and age-worthiness of Tuscany’s dominant grape.
Antinori, whose family-owned wine company is known throughout the world, is one of the wine industry’s true gentlemen and an innovator in Tuscan wines, said Wine Spectator senior editor Bruce Sanderson. “Piero Antinori doesn’t look to history, rather to the future.”
After taking over his family’s company in 1966, Antinori set about making it one of the most dynamic in Italy. He decided to only produce his wines from estate vineyards. Poor plant material had hindered the quality of Tuscany’s wines so Antinori, as well as other vintners, selected new Sangiovese clones for their vineyards. “Along the way, Antinori raised the quality and reputation of Tuscan wine,” Sanderson said.
The wines represented four different appellations in Tuscany: Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino and the Toscana IGT, a category for wines made with non-traditional blends or practices, otherwise known as super Tuscans.
All from the 2001 vintage, an outstanding-to-classic year with excellent growing conditions, the wines showed how well Sangiovese can age. Sanderson said the wines had reached the stage where the primary fruit had started to recede and more complex flavors were beginning to develop.
Antinori focused on how the distinct terroir of each area was expressed in the wines. While the tannins were quite evident in the La Braccesca Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, the Brunello had riper tannins due to the Pian delle Vigne estate’s elevation and proximity to the ocean, allowing for a longer growing season. The Chianti Classico Badia a Passignano Riserva 2001, which brought back Antinori’s first memories connected to the grape, had richer fruit than the La Braccesca, and more minerality due to the calcareous soil.
While the Chianti and Brunello were made using 100 percent Sangiovese, the 2001 Tignanello highlighted Antinori’s innovative winemaking practices. Though the estate is located in the Chianti Classico district, this wine blends Sangiovese with the non-native varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and is aged in small French oak barrels rather than the large neutral oak casks common at the time. Antinori described Tignanello, introduced in the 1970s, as a turning point for his company and for the Italian wine industry because it helped start the modern era of Italian wine.
Despite his success in working with international varieties, Antinori enjoyed the seminar’s focus on a grape that has always held his attention. “I grew up with Sangiovese,” he explained. “It’s now part of my DNA in some sense.”
Wines in Order of Tasting
- La Braccesca Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2001 (87, $30 on release)
- Antinori Chianti Classico Badia a Passignano Riserva 2001 (91, $45 on release)
- Antinori Brunello di Montalcino Pian delle Vigne 2001 (90, $65)
- Antinori Toscana Tignanello 2001 (91, $75)