Super Tuscans – New Releases from the big boys of Bolgheri: Ornellaia, Tenuta San Guido & Guado Al Tasso
Raising the Bar
They had little choice but to….
Contemporary factors have impacted the wine world immeasurably. Climate change is producing erratic conditions. The modern wine drinker has emerged: the wine drinking that wants to drink and not keep, the wine drinker that wants elegance and less power. Big names cannot trade on their big names anymore because the new generation doesn’t really care about their big names. They want screwcaps, they want organics, they want freshness, the want bio- dynamics, they want cool labels. They want serious juice!
The top wines from these guys will always sell via allocation. It is very likely that the big boys in Bolgheri looked at themselves and asked who the fuck is going to buy our wines if we don’t move with the times? They have started modernising. Dynamic labelling (albeit the Mouton Rothschild model rather than Banksy wine). The wines are vastly improved. This is the best release I have sold, especially for Le Difese, which I used to dislike, they are very pure & focused.
Flashy labels and expensive allocations cannot override one of the most attractive things about these giants: they are family run businesses that focus on history and tradition.
Above: Ornellaia’s “Project” labels, similar to that of Mouton Rothschild in Bordeaux, the iconic blue star sassacaia labels and a family affair: Piero Antinori and his three prodigiously talented daughters, Allegra, Alessia and Albiera;
Those who grace the STSWine annals often will have noticed a slight fascination with the underworld of counterfeit wine. There is something wonderful about the Koch brothers being relieved of thousands of dollars and the speed police chases with late night raiders are more exciting than oak regimes and Winter pruning methods.
Counterfeiters will obviously target wines of renown and preferably wines that will age. The wines of Bolgheri, the Super Tuscans are a particular target, especially in the last few years since they have been given the celebrity seal of approval. Sassacaia is Bono’s favourite wine, and apparently George Clooney’s too. Tignanello is Boris Johnson’s favourite wine, and while that will alienate approximately half the population, it’s also Megan Markle’s, so that will alienate the other half and balance it out (how very dare she anyway).
OPERATION BAD TUSCAN is as noticeable for the catchy name as it’s catchy story. Firstly, Operation Bad Tuscan was not even carried out by the Police, it was carried out by the Carabinieri, a second branch of the Police. To say that they are old fashioned would be something of an understatement. Facial hair is not allowed (but for the highest ranks), there are restrictive rules regarding marriage and where you can serve. Importantly, they can spot a fake from a mile away.
This came in handy recently when two members happened to find a case of Sassacaia on the street (that seems unlikely but it is the story on the record). Suspicious, they decided that they should certainly sample a bottle. Luckily the cops knew their wine and were able to correctly judge the wine as being fake.
The operation yielded 11 arrests and busted a highly sophisticated and international syndicate. The wine was made in Sicily because when it comes to counterfeiting,
the wine is the easy part. The distinctive glass bottles had been recreated in Turkey, while the timber and packaging came from Bulgaria. The distinctive and custom made tissue paper that wraps every individual bottle was a perfect replica. There were thousands of bottles seized by the police, amounting to a Christie’s Value (the fine wine equivalent of street value) of about 2 mill.
The bulk of the haul were the famous 2010 & 2015 vintages, hundred point wines generally regarded as the best the estate has achieved and which will routinely fetch a minimum of €500 per bottle. These wines were on their way to markets all over the world to be fenced by the next person looking to make their own cut. Wine crime costs wine makers 4.9 billion in lost sales every year. Presumably at this point everyone will be rushing to the cellars to check the labels of their 2010’s!
Check out ‘Sour Grapes’ on Netflix for a brilliant account of this hidden industry and a relatively unsympathetic look at some of the characters being relieved of their hard earned cash.
The Super Tuscan Story
Tenuta San Guido, Ornellaia and Antinori
The term Super Tuscan describes Tuscan wines that are made with varieties other than, or in conjunction with Sangiovese, the main component of Chianti Classico. The term was coined (accounts differ) by David Gleave, MD of Liberty Wines and leading MW expert. Officially, these Super Tuscans sprung from producers frustrations with the laws governing production of Chianti Classico, which at the time required the inclusion of white grapes amongst other archaic laws.
Marchese Piero Antinori led the revolution within Chianti Classico. In 1974 he released the first vintage of Tignanello 1971, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese and aged for three years in French oak. At the time, Chianti Classico was a laughing stock in terms of commercial wine. It was light in colour and insipid in taste, and it came in a wicker basket, aptly named a fiasco! Critics noticed and these new mavericks took the wine world by storm despite being labelled as lowly table wine, due to the fact they could not be called Chianti Classico. This only represents one side to the Super Tuscan coin however.
The true origins are far before Tignanello, out on the Tuscan coast of Bolgheri. Marchese Mario Incisa Della Rochetta was the original prognosticator of the Super Tuscan. Having served in World War II he returned to Italy to indulge his two great passions: horses and agriculture. His wife had inherited an estate in Bolgheri named Tenuta San Guido and they moved there to breed horses with the undisputed genius of horse breeding Frederico Tesio. They enjoyed incredible success including Ribot, widely regarded as Italy’s greatest ever racehorse (named alongside Roberto Baggio and Alberto Tomba as Italy’s greatest ‘athlete’ by Le Gazetta dello Sport). Tesio died in 1954.
Mario’s Great Grandfather had written about French varietals being grown in Piedmont in the 1800’s and Mario was fascinated by the subject, so much so that he had decided to plant some Bordeaux varieties on Tenuta San Guido. He had observed that the stony soil of Bolgheri was similar to that of Bordeaux (sasso means stone, hence Sassacaia). Coming from an exceptionally well heeled family, Mario was able to indulge his interest further by spending some time at Mouton Rothschild. Though he had first planted in 1942, it was not until the death of Tesio in 1954 that he turned his full attention to winemaking.
Mario had passed around his hobby wine and been effectively laughed at people the industry. Wine nationalism, for want of a better term, meant that Italians had shunned him for his focus on Cabernet, a French grape. Stick with Sangiovese or Nebbiolo they said. He enlisted the services of Giacomo Tachis, one of Italy’s most famous oenologist who assured him he was indeed onto something. When one has the time, one takes the time. They worked and then they struck.
Sassacaia took the wine world by storm when it was released in 1968. Released as a table wine as it was not following the guidelines sourounding production, it was extraordinarily expensive compared to it’s peers, but it almost immediately became the biggest revelation of the century in wine making winning over critics and consumers alike. It set Chianti into a dowward spiral and eventually forced a rethink of the whole region and methods of production. Mario enjoyed his success but sadly passed away before Bolgheri was awarded it’s own DOCG. So special was the Tenuta San Guido site that it got it’s own DOCG classification within Bolgheri.
With Sassicaia from Bolgheri and Tignanello in Chianti dominating the conversation, Piero Antinori’s brother Ludovico realised that the family had holdings in Bolgheri that just happened to be adjacent to the famed Sassicaia vineyards. Deciding he could hold his own, he established Ornellaia. He planted in 1981 and released his first vintage in 1985. The success of Ornellaia and the seemingly simplistic reasoning of Lodovico led to a gold rush towards Bolgheri as winemakers up and down the country rushed to get a piece of the action. The Antinori family would then repeat the trick in the 1990’s with the establishment of Guado al Tasso – now one of the leading Super Tuscans.
These three houses still boss the conversation on Bolgheri, but the second and third labels were a bit of an afterthought for years. Now as mentioned already, there is a renewed focus on quality and class, in order to try and indoctrinate the next generation of drinkers (of whom very few could afford the top wines). With the latest release of the second and third labels, you are not buying them just to drink the big house, but to see Bolgheri and her wines as you are supposed to: rugged, pure and very unique.
Tenuta San Guido
Le Difese & Guidalberto
Aromas of star anise, dark-skinned berry, wild herb and toasted oak form the nose. A blend of 70% Cabernet and 30% Sangiovese, the wine’s bright, linear palate offers red currant, prune and a hint of licorice before a coffee-bean finish. Racy acidity and taut close-grained tannins provide the framework and tension. KERIN O’KEEFE, WINE ENTHUIAST
The 2018 Le Difese is a very pretty, understated wine. Crushed flowers, sweet red berries, dried herbs and a touch of spice bring out the more delicate side of Maremma Cabernet Sauvignon. Best of all, the 2018 will drink well right out of the gate. ANTONIO GALLONI, VINOUS MEDIA
Le Difese was always a little bit soupy and broad, very much a wine trading off the name of the famous upper wine. Last year was a revelation. It was elegant and soulful. the new vintage sees them start to put weight on in the right places and it has the famous bitter tea leaf quality, while also achieving more leather, animal and Tuscan charm. Crucially it is very, very Bolgheri. STSWine
The 2018 Guidalberto, tasted from an approximate blend from barrel, is positively stellar. I can only hope that the bottled wine is as fresh, vibrant and nuanced as this sample. A rush of black cherry, plum, spice, leather and licorice graces the 2018 with striking depth and nuance. Light on its feet and deep, the 2018 has a lot to offer. In many years, Guidalberto can be a rather rich wine, but in 2018 it is very closely aligned with the house style. 93 POINTS, ANTONIO GALLONI, VINOUS MEDIA
A deft and bright blend to serve with a platter of creamy Camembert wedges, the 2018 Guidalberto is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon supplemented with 40% Merlot, showing a smooth and silky delivery of aromas with black fruit and sour cherry backed by spice, pressed flower and tilled earth. These are fragrant and delicate results fitted to a medium-weight finish that is driven by freshness and elegant tannins. 92 POINTS, ROBERT PARKER
Made with 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot, this smooth red opens with aromas of cassis, vanilla, violet and a whiff of bell pepper. Racy and delicious, the linear palate doles out juicy red currant, black cherry and vanilla set against lithe tannins. Bright acidity keeps it balanced and fresh. Drink through 2025. 92 POINTS, WINE ENTHUSIAST
Le Volte & Le Serra Nuovo
Moving to the reds, the 2018 Le Volte Dell’Ornellaia can be thought of as the entry-level wine of this great estate and is mostly Merlot with small amounts of other red varieties. It has a juicy, Mediterranean vibe in its bright cherry and redcurrant fruits as well as loads of peppery herbs, new leather, and spicy aromas and flavors. Medium-bodied, elegant, and undeniably delicious, with both richness and freshness, it’s ideal for drinking any time over the coming 4-6 years. JEB DUNNUCK
The 2018 Le Volte dell’Ornellaia is fresh, fruity and an absolute delight to taste. Crushed red berry fruit, spice and floral notes abound, giving the 2018 an effusive character that is impossible to miss. Silky and gracious, the 2018 will drink well upon release. The purity of the flavors here is really quite lovely. ANTONIO GALLONI, VINOUS MEDIA
This wine is my go to wine when I see it on a wine list when I am very unsure of other offerings. It is so widely available and famous, the piss is rarely taken on price and it ALWAYS delivers. Out of the three on show here it offered up the least surprise but delivered the same quality and ambition it always does. Ornellaia have always focused on this wine, probably because they were the last of the big three to enter the fray. It is so rustic and delicious, there are not that many wines made by icon prroducers that can satisfy wine geeks and novices alike. STSWine
Characterized by a lively ruby red color, Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia 2018 is a wine of great aromatic complexity, a distinctive feature of this vintage. In the glass, aromas of berries, blackberry, raspberry and red cherry are accompanied by floral hints of wild rose and spicy notes of pink pepper and licorice. On tasting, the wine has a good tannic structure, enveloping and balanced, with a crisp and savory finish. ORNELLAIA
Really beautiful second wine from Ornellaia with blackcurrant and blueberry aromas and flavors. Full body and round, soft tannins that caress the palate. 96 POINTS, JAMES SUCKLING
The 2018 Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia is everything a second wine should be. Open-knit and silky, with impeccable balance and tons of sheer appeal, the 2018 is exquisite today. I would prefer to drink it on the early side in order to capture all of its freshness. In some vintages, Le Serre Nuove can be a bit imposing; in 2018 is all charm and seduction. Drinking window: 2022 – 2033 93 POINTS, ANTONIOGALLONI, VINOUS
When a producer is producing 3 tiers of a similar blend and house style, there should be definite progression as you move through the gears. Ornellaia has always achieved this, Le Serra is always a big step up from Le Volte and on the best years you question why you would both going all the way with the top wine. 2017 achieves this in spades. STSWine
Guado al Taso
Il Bruciato & Cont’Ugo
The Guado al Tasso estate is located in the small but prestigious Bolgheri DOC appellation on the coast of Upper Maremma, about one hundred kilometers southwest of Florence. This appellation has a relatively recent history as it was established in 1994 but has gained worldwide recognition The vineyard is richly covered with wheat fields, sunflowers and olive groves, set in a beautiful plain encircled by rolling hillsides known as the “Bolgheri amphitheater” due to its particular shape. Guado al Tasso’s vineyards are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Vermentino. The nearby sea provides a mild climate with constant breezes mitigate summer heat and alleviate harsh winter weather, maintaining a clear sky and a high level of sunlight exposure. Il Bruciato was created in the year 2002 during one of the most difficult vintages at Guado al Tasso in order to present the unique terroir of Bolgheri and give it a greater visibility and recognition. The first blend to be used was that of Guado al Tasso only to see, in the years which followed, a modification of the varietal composition and the identification of a series of vineyard plots intended to be used exclusively for this wine. The wine was not produced in the 2003 vintage. Il Bruciato 2019 is intensely ruby red in color. Its nose expresses notes of small dark fruit, sweet spices and tobacco. Its well- structured palate is harmonious and very pleasant to drink. Fresh fruity notes dominate the finish giving the wine a lush, sweet character. ANTONORI
This wine is always running a vintage ahead of the other two on release, this vintage sees wonderful clarity and brightness with the same intensity as usual. Such. Good. Value. STSWine
A fresh, plump and alluring red, this features plenty of black cherry, plum, violet, cedar and earth flavors, with dusty tannins providing grip. Eases into a long, fruit- and tobacco-filled finish. Merlot. Best from 2019 through 2028. 93 POINTS, WINE SPECTATOR
The 2015 Cont’Ugo, 100% Merlot, from the Antinori family’s Guado al Tasso property, captures all the radiance and natural intensity of the year. Sweet red cherry, pomegranate, spice and floral notes abound. What is most surprising about the 2015 is the level of aromatic freshness that Antinori has preserved. 93 POINTS, VINOUS MEDIA
This is a pure merlot from a special parcel that shows wonderful finesse and depth. Medium body, ultra-fine tannins and a long and polished finish. A beauty. Drink now or hold for 2019. 92 POINTS, ROBERT PARKER
This Merlot opens with aromas of black plum, roasted coffee bean, cedar and spice. The firm palate delivers flavors of blackberry jam, licorice, clove and mocha alongside fine-grained tannins. Drink 2020– 2025. 92 POINTS, WINE ENTHUSIAST
I was blown away by this wine. It shows such beauty and clarity, and when you see varietal purity in Bolgheri you really see something. This wine poses a serious problem for Masseto, Ornellaia’s famed 100% Merlot offering. Only it’s fourth vintage, it draws a lot of fruit off the main Guado al Tasso vineyard. One hopes this remains the case as it is something special from the Antinori clan, Italy’s first family of wine. STSWine
WRITTEN BY: RORY CRAIG – STATION TO STATION WINE