"I have to apologize for my accent, being Austrian rather than Italian!" joked Argentiera owner Stanislaus Turnauer. He wouldn't be the last winemaker onstage from far afield who was entranced by Bolgheri and relocated to this small pocket of Italy, and no wonder: Adventurous vintners are making terrific wines here, unconstrained by Tuscany's traditional rules and grapes.
Using Bordeaux grapes and new-school winemaking techniques, Le Macchiole, Argentiera, Ornellaia and Antinori showed how this coastal region has become world-class for wines that marry "almost New World character [with] savory and wild herb notes strongly rooted in Tuscany," as senior editor Bruce Sanderson said.
Le Macchiole, founded in 1983, began as a love story. But in 2002, Cinzia Merli and her husband had just expanded their vineyard holdings and designed a new cellar when he died. But she kept on: "What has not changed is the love and the passion that we put into this job." Her Le Macchiole Toscana Messorio 2015 (97 points, $235) is pure Merlot, "a great variety, but it's really sensitive," Merli said. "You must take care of it." And they do: Ten vineyard plots are vinified separately, half in steel and half in concrete, then aged 18 months in new oak barrels. The result is a vibrant wine with what Sanderson described as "unabashed fruit."
Argentiera is also a passion project. "The first time [we] came across this most magnificent, beautiful spot of Bolgheri, and after tasting the beautiful wines, we immediately fell in love," said Turnauer; they bought the winery in 2016. His property is "heterogenous," with elevations reaching 660 feet and soils changing from red sand to clay and limestone. "All of these factors together … ensure the personality of our wine," Turnauer said of his 2015 Bolgheri Superiore (95, $75), a 50-40-10 blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, with bright berry notes and smooth tannins.
Ornellaia may be a famous wine, but it all goes back to the vineyard, said winemaker Axel Heinz. "There are sudden soil changes, there are sudden changes of exposition that really make for a patchwork of different terroir expressions," Heinz explained of its advantages. His 2015 Bolgheri Superiore (97, $255) is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, showing the "seamless and flawless" nature of the vintage, with fine acidity but powerful structure.
The Antinori family has centuries-deep roots in Tuscany, but its Bolgheri venture, Guado al Tasso, is a relatively young one, founded in 1990. The 2015 Antinori Bolgheri Superiore Guado al Tasso (95, $130) is 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, with equal parts Merlot and Cabernet Franc and a drop of Petit Verdot. Owner Albiera Antinori said the wine reflects not just the Bolgheri terroir, but its attitude: "It reflects the kind of life we lead there; the pace is very slow." And she reminded the audience that Bolgheri is worth paying attention to. "There is still a lot to discover, and I'm sure that a lot of beautiful wines are going to come."