Tuscany evokes images of a string of cypress trees lining the rolling, sun-drenched vineyards of the countryside. Together Tuscany and wine represent a long legacy of traditions and notoriety beginning with the Etruscans from Greece who started planting grapevines in Tuscany nearly 3000 years ago. Tuscany is not the center of Italy’s political or economic life, but Florence’s influence on language, art, and culture (including the works of Michelangelo and Leonardo di Vinci) brought its Tuscan wines to prominence and fame in the world.

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Medieval History of Italian Wine (Part I)

In Medieval history the aristocracy and monasteries owned the land and the vineyards in Tuscany. The regional center for selling wine was the Mercato Vecchio (old market) in Florence. The earliest reference to wine retailers was written in 1079 and the wine Guild was formed in 1282, notably with Giovanni di Piero Antinori joining. This noble man was the patriarch of a family that now numbers eight centuries in the wine business. Their vineyard and winery holdings are worldwide. Giovanni di Piero Antinori started the wine dynasty that is upheld by Marchese Piero Antinori and his three daughters who all work in the company.

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Wines of Tuscany

Chianti and Brunello wines are the backbone of Tuscan wine production. These wines hail from the Chianti Classico region and the Montalcino (Brunello) appellations of Tuscany. They are celebrated as some of the best “food” wines in the world especially if paired with the local Bistecca Fiorentina (Florence steak). But these wines are also highly regulated by the DOCG – Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita – tight regulators of Italian wine standards. Until the last two decades, winemakers had to adhere to these dictated traditional winemaking blends and techniques to preserve the price-point and credibility of their wines.

Coastal Tuscany: The Bolgheri Region and Super Tuscan Wine

One of the most newly recognized wine areas of Tuscany is Bolgheri. The Tyrrhenian Sea stretches for miles along this sunny coast in Western Tuscany. It was here that a few, bold wine pioneers started making wines with prices that now match those many of the best Bordeaux wines in France. These innovative Italian winemakers bucked the trend of following the traditional Italian winemaking of the 1950’s and 1960’s when Italian wines were not as highly regarded. They planted international grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah to stand alone in a wine or to be blended with the local Sangiovese grapes. They brought modern winemaking techniques of blending and aging to the region. They produced wines that ranked worldwide attention, wines like Sassicaia, Ornellaia, and Tignanello and Solaia from Piero Antinori. These were called the new “Super Tuscans,” but originally these wines had to be labeled as Vino da Tavola or “table wines” until the DOC recognized their value to the world and the uniqueness of their blends.

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Celebrities Becoming Winemakers

The beauty of the Bolgheri (Maremma) region, its soil, and Mediterranean Sea breezes cooling them has attracted celebrities like the musician, Sting. Sting historically was a beer drinker who grew up in a working-class neighborhood in the UK. Sting and his wife Trudy purchased their 16th century Tuscan villa in 1997. Their passion for each other and attention to the detailed renovation of the property culminated in the establishment of the estate vineyards and the Il Palagio winery. Of wine Sting says, “Wine is like a beautiful piece of music already written. [It’s] an opera that the musician or the tenor has to perform. The notes are always the same, but the result is always different and often exciting.”

Notable other celebrity winemakers in the world have included: Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Andretti, Greg Norman, Drew Barrymore, Mike Ditka, Sam Neill, Ernie Els, Dave Mathews and Fess Parker.

The New Wave of Winemakers

The wines of Tuscany now reflect both the heritage and the new wave of international winemakers bringing the best of both styles to today’s growing wine consumers. Reds, Rosato’s (rosé), and White wines are all being made to satisfy our changing tastes. One of the brightest stars in Tuscany, the Bolgheri coast wine region, not only attracts new tourism but more interest in their exceptional wines.

The Antinori Family: Historic Nobility in Wine (Part II)

[Marchese Piero Antinori photographed with Florence]

It was been more than 600 years since Geovanni di Piero Antinori became a member of the Winemakers Guild of the city of Florence. Originally the Antinori’s were a wealthy Florentine merchant family who were involved in banking and silk trading. Upon Italy unification in the mid 19th century the family was given the “marquesi” title for their role in promoting Italy independence. Since that time 26 generations of this noble family have been in the wine business now headed by Marchese Piero Antinori and now being run by daughters Albiera, 49, Allegra 44, Alessia, 40. The current 25th and 26th generation has been credited in growing the business, expanding the world scope of their holdings, and introducing modern production methods. They have added internationally recognized varietal grapes to the Italian grape mix. Even the two oldest grandchildren are showing interest in the business.

The Scope of Antinori Wines

Antinori SRL is now one of Italy’s top wineries producing more than 12 million bottles per year from grapes of Italy: Tuscany, Puglia, Umbria, grapes of the US: Napa Valley and Washington State as well as grapes from Austria, Switzerland, and Hungary. The Antinori Palace – one of the most famous in Florence – serves as the family’s home and corporate headquarters.

Antinori won international acclaim for the rise of the new informal wine type, the “Super Tuscan” with the development of Tignanello, a 1970s-released wine. This is a wine that turned its back on previous poorly made Italian Chianti blends that used white wine in the assemblage. The use of French Oak barrels and modern production methods allowed this wine to garner international awards. Antinori became an ambassador for Tuscany’s wine producers and the promotion of these superior new wines. Accordingly more vineyard acreage in Bolgheri has been cultivated. With the addition of the 2,470-acres estate Tenuta Guado al Tasso, the Antinori’s took the opportunity to graft Cabernet Sauvignon, Vermentino, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Petit Verdot on ancient vines. More Mediterranean varietal grape choices were now available to their winemakers. The growth of these important varietals allowed production of unique new blends adding variety to the Antinori portfolio.

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The Tuscan Seashore Estate and Wine Tourism

The ancient Tenuta Guado al Tasso estate stretches four miles along the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea and four miles inland to the foothills of the medieval town of Bolgheri. The land was inherited through Piero Antinori’s mother, Carlotta. Charlemagne himself rewarded this feudal property to the family in the 800 AD era adding to the history, majesty, and cache of the family.

Wine tourism in Bolgheri was boosted 2017 by points of interest like the World Wine Town, designed by Oscar-winning art director Dante Ferretti and located in Casone Ugolino, a former 16th-Century farm in the Castagneto Carducci municipality. The area also features the Museum Sensory and Multimedia Wine Museum, with its restaurants, conference center and cooking schools.

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Next year the Antinori family will open a public restaurant, tasting room, and wine shop on the Tenuta Guado Al Tasso estate marking the juncture of ancient history and modern wine tourism.

The Wines of Tenuta Guado al Tasso

The latest released wines of Tenuta Guado al Tasso are:

  • 2016 Vermentino di Bolgheri is a 100% Vermentino wine with aromas of ripe citrus, almonds, and flowers and mineral flavors of pineapple, passion fruit, grapefruit, and lemons. $26
  • 2016 Scalabrone Rosato, is a rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah featuring aromas of herbs and raspberries and flavors of cherries. $22
  • 2014 Guado al Tasso Bolgheri DOC Superiore is the flagship wine of the estate. This carefully made wine was made of handpicked Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot grapes, fermented separately then aged in small oak barrels for 18 months before melding in a Bordeaux-style blend. The wine was then bottle-aged an additional 10 months before release. This is a bold yet smooth red wine with aromas of cherry liqueur, tobacco, candied orange, and spice. The complex flavors evoke vibrant black fruit and spices. The wine has a long and savory finish. $125
  • 2016 Il Bruciato Bolgheri DOC is an affordable ($31) wine blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah with aromas of red berry fruit and fresh mint and flavors of spice and with a fruity finish.
  • 2015 Cont’Ugo Bolgheri DOC is a 100% Merlot wine with 12 months of oak aging featuring aromas of ripe cherries and blueberries with candied fruit and sweet spice flavors. $60

A Noble Revolution

At the close of the 20th century Marchese Piero Antinori was awarded Wine Spectator’s Distinguished Service Award for his role in revolutionizing Italy’s wine industry. This Renaissance of Italian wines continues with the updated Italian wine laws allowing winemakers like the Antinori’s to make the wine they want to make, a wine that is suitable to the land and terroir* of the region. The nobility of Italy, especially the Antinori family, has set the stage for further experimentation and development of new wines and the rediscovery of indigenous Italian grapes. Modern tourism at the cellar doors of these estates allows all of us to savor the sights, flavors, and scents of the New Tuscany.

* Terroir is a French term encompassing a sense of place, climate, soil, temperature, and elevation.