This article is excerpted from the "101 Things We Love About Italy" cover story in the April 30, 2022, issue of Wine Spectator.
The call of la dolce vita brings millions of visitors to Italy each year, ready to explore the country’s rich art and history, the thriving wine and food culture, stunning scenery and more. Enjoying Italy is as much about the broad, bucket list items (glimpsing Venice on the horizon as you speed across the lagoon from the airport) as it is the smaller details (enjoying the hustlebustle of Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori with its stacks of fresh produce and flowers).
One of the most important and delicious parts of Italy to discover is the country’s wine, and it would be a tremendous mistake to not highlight the amazing winemakers and vintners behind it, including these leading figures.
Forty years ago, Marilisa Allegrini was struggling to put her family’s Valpolicella-based winery on the map, following the death of her father (the Allegrinis were profiled in Wine Spectator's April 30, 2017, cover story). She exuded her fresh energy and passion even as she trudged into retail stores and restaurants. That persistence paid off, and today she’s one of the wine world’s most successful (and stylish) figures, a face for Italian wine as well as the family estate in Valpolicella and wineries in Tuscany. Marilisa’s outward-facing achievements are supported by the next generation: her nephew Francesco and daughters Carlotta and Caterina. Before his death in 2022, Marilisa was also supported by her winemaking brother Franco, who worked at home in the vineyards and at the winery.
Piero Antinori & Family
For many Americans, Antinori was their introduction to the wines of Tuscany. Today, this historic producer extends its reach to several Italian regions and internationally to California, Washington, Chile and Hungary. For more than 50 years, the company was run by the elegant Piero Antinori, who spearheaded the revolution in Tuscan wine quality with the super Tuscans Tignanello and Solaia. Piero handed the reins to his daughters—Albiera, Allegra and Alessia, who represent the 26th generation of the Antinori family—in 2017. In addition to Tenuta Tignanello, Badia a Passignano, Guado al Tasso, Pian delle Vigne, La Braccesca, Le Mortelle and Pèppoli in Tuscany, Antinori owns Castello della Sala in Umbria, Prunotto in Piedmont, Tormaresca in Puglia, Montenisa in Lombardy and Jermann in Friuli. Antica Napa Valley is the Antinori estate in California. Col Solare is the Washington project with Chateau Ste. Michelle, and the company owns Haras de Pirque in Chile.
WINES TO TRY
Antinori Chianti Classico Pèppoli 2019 (90, $22)
Antinori Chianti Classico Villa Antinori Riserva 2018 (92, $35)
Antinori Toscana Tignanello 2018 (96, $130)
Antinori Umbria White Castello della Sala Cervaro della Sala 2019 (92, $60)
Prunotto Barbaresco 2018 (90, $45)
Riccardo & Renzo Cotarella
It would be hard to name a sibling duo with greater influence on Italian wine than Riccardo and Renzo Cotarella. Riccardo, the elder, is Italy’s premier consulting enologist, working with dozens of wineries in Italy and abroad, while serving as president of the Italian enologists association and Union Internationale des Oenologues. Renzo’s career has been dedicated to wine giant Antinori since Piero Antinori tapped him as a young winemaking student. Today, Renzo oversees winemaking at Antinori’s scores of properties. The brothers founded their Falesco winery together in 1979 before passing management of it in 2017 to their daughters, who renamed it Famiglia Cotarella.
One of Italy’s most important wine families, the Frescobaldis trace their roots in wine back to 1308. Lamberto Frescobaldi has been president since 2013, continuing the expansion that began under his father, Vittorio, and uncles Leonardo and Ferdinando in the 1970s. Nine estates fall under the Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi umbrella, plus the Luce della Vite, Ornellaia and Masseto brands. The 2021 acquisition of Corte alla Flora in Montepulciano completed their collection of important Tuscan regions, allowing them to produce quality at a broad range of prices. Frescobaldi’s contributions to vineyards and wine production at the federal prison on the island of Gorgona offer valuable skills to inmates. Educated at the University of California, Davis, Lamberto Frescobaldi has transformed Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi into one of Italy’s most dynamic wine companies.
WINES TO TRY
Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Toscana Rèmole 2019 (86, $10)
Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Chianti Classico Tenuta Perano 2018 (91, $24)
Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Toscana Tenuta Frescobaldi Castiglioni 2018 (90, $24)
Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Chianti Rufina Nipozzano Riserva 2017 (88, $21)
Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Brunello di Montalcino Castelgiocondo 2016 (93, $66)
Angelo Gaja & Family
A master promoter and salesman, with a portfolio of top quality wineries, Angelo Gaja is credited with elevating the image of Piedmont and raising the bar for the region’s Barbarescos and Barolos. With his father, Giovanni, in 1961, he introduced the concept of single-vineyard wines. With the 1996 vintage, he began adding some Barbera to his Nebbiolo, eschewing the Barbaresco DOCG for the Langhe Nebbiolo DOC. In addition to his winery in Barbaresco, Gaja purchased Pieve Santa Restituta estate in Montalcino in 1994 and Ca’ Marcanda in Bolgheri in 1996. Recently, the Gaja family joined forces with Alberto Aiello Graci for a project on Mount Etna in Sicily. Angelo Gaja’s children—Gaia, Rossana and Giovanni, the fifth generation—are also part of the family business. In 2016, they returned to 100% Nebbiolo and labeling under the Barbaresco and Barolo appellations.
WINES TO TRY:
Ca’ Marcanda Bolgheri Magari 2019 (91, $75)
Ca’ Marcanda Bolgheri Camarcanda 2018 (95, $180)
Gaja Barbaresco 2018 (94, $260)
Pieve Santa Restituta Rennina 2016 (94, $180)
Pieve Santa Restituta Sugarille 2016 (95, $200)