How Antinori Changed the Face of Tuscany

Super Tuscans Tignanello and Solaia redefined Italian wine
Oct 21, 2014

Forty years ago, Piero Antinori outraged the Italian wine world with the first release of a red blend that was quite untraditionally Tuscan, Tignanello. A few years later, he followed that with Solaia, which also blended the Bordeaux grapes Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc with the local Sangiovese. Together, they helped create a new category—super Tuscan—and the future of Tuscany was set in motion.

“If there were two wines that changed the face of Tuscany, they were Tignanello and Solaia,” Wine Spectator senior editor Bruce Sanderson said. All the evidence the audience required was in the six wines in front of them—Tignanello and Solaia from 1997, 2004 and 2007—as well as in the thoughts offered by Antinori and his longtime winemaker, Renzo Cotarella.

Antinori remains the august and genteel head of his family’s wine business, whose roots date back to 1375. In 1966, Antinori set about revitalizing not only his winery but also Tuscany itself. “For centuries, the industry was focused on quantity instead of quality,” Antinori said. “I felt we needed to do something to change the situation.” In 1999, Wine Spectator honored his accomplishments with a Distinguished Service Award.

Antinori and Cotarella discussed the history of Tignanello and Solaia as they compared and contrasted the wines. They are produced from separate but contiguous vineyards on the Tignanello estate, located in the heart of the Chianti Classico appellation, so they share similar terroir. The elevations range from 1,150 to 1,325 feet, and the soil is rich in limestone and clay. The site was selected, Antinori explained, because it “had always been recognized as the best vineyard in the area.”

Tignanello is typically 80 percent Sangiovese and 20 percent Cabernet, while Solaia is the opposite. Solaia was produced almost by accident in 1978, when the estate found itself with too much Cabernet for Tignanello. The quality of the Cab was too good to ignore. Eventually, when the wine proved successful, a distinct section of the estate was devoted exclusively to Solaia.

Each wine is produced in a separate facility, with the differences in winemaking being variations on a theme. One key distinction: Solaia is aged in 100 percent new French oak, while Tignanello receives 50 percent.

“It’s very important to me to keep the two separate in order to have a different approach,” Antinori said. While both wines are highly sought, Cotarella told the crowd he is always pushing the envelope on quality. “I do not think that we have yet made our best wine,” he said.

To show how Tignanello and Solaia evolve in the bottle, the first wines tasted were the 1997s. The Tignanello was at a nearly perfect drinking stage, as Sanderson noted, and the Solaia—which was Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year in 2000—was also showing beautifully.

Antinori called 2004 a perfect growing season and Sanderson said wines from the vintage always revealed an appealing fruitiness. “You can definitely see that in the Tignanello,” Sanderson said of the wine, which was No. 4 on the Top 100 in 2007. “It’s just getting to the point where it’s ready to drink.” The Solaia at the 10-year mark still revealed considerable grip.

Released just four years ago, the 2007 wines were still babies. The Solaia was refined but still tightly wound, and the Tignanello showed its youth but was more approachable than its counterpart. “2007 was probably one of the best vintages ever,” Cotarella added.

Antinori spoke of all six wines with obvious pride; even after decades in the business, wine obviously remains for him a romance. “In my 48 vintages I don’t recall two that were exactly the same,” he said. “It’s always exciting.”

Wines in Order of Tasting

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