No grape is more closely associated with Tuscany than sangiovese. The grape of Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti Classico and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, it is the most widely planted and important varietal of the area. But in the Bolgheri region, sangiovese is a minor player, taking a back seat to the Bordeaux grapes, cabernet sauvignon and merlot.
Up until fairly recently, Bolgheri’s story has been focused on one wine: Sassicaia. Though wine had been made here since at least the 17th century, outsiders were skeptical of Bolgheri’s ability to produce good wine, especially when other areas of Tuscany had a wealth of grapes.
That changed in 1944, when Mario Incisa della Rocchetta planted cabernet sauvignon on the San Guido estate, which the Rocchetta family acquired in 1930.
Located on the sea, Bolgheri’s climate is similar to that of Bordeaux — Mediterranean, without a drastic variation between day and night temperatures.
Rocchetta’s original 2.5-acre vineyard was joined by two other pieces of land in the mid-’60s. The family consumed most of the wine until San Guido made its first Sassicaia in 1968. It didn’t take long before word got out and, by the 1980s, Sassicaia was widely considered to be on par with Spain’s Vega Sicilia and the five first growths from Bordeaux.
Sassicaia’s success brought others to the area. Grattamacco released its first wine in 1978.
Lodovic Antinori, a cousin of the Rocchettas, founded Tenuta dell’Ornellaia in 1981. Lodovic’s older brother, Piero Antinori, the patriarch of Marchesi Antinori Sri, entered the picture in 1990 with the first vintage of Guado Al Tasso.
Many of these wines fetch a pretty penny (or euro). If you can find Sassicaia and Ornellaia for less than $150 a bottle, you have stumbled upon a deal; yet when compared with Bordeaux, Bolgheri’s top wines are pretty reasonable. It’s all relative, of course, and luckily there are some really tasty wines that are not in the stratosphere.
Here are three:
Petra Ebo Val di Cornia DOC, 2007: Vittorio Moretti founded the Gruppo Terra Moretti in 1977 with the acquisition of Bellavista in Franciacorta. One of four red wines made on the estate, it drinks like a wine double its price. Made from sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and merlot, it has notes of juniper, balsamic, fresh herbs, plums and black cherries with bright acidity and moderate tannins. Suggested retail: $29.99
Podere Sopaio Superiore, 2007: Founded in 1999 by the young Venetian Massimo Piccin, Podere Sopaio has pushed its way into the company of the big boys in a short period of time. Made from 50 percent cabernet sauvignon with cabernet franc, merlot and petite verdot comprising the rest, this wine has some teeth, but the bite is rather gentle. A warm vintage, the fruit is flushed out and accounts for its early approachability, but over the next five to 10 years, this wine could morph into a Bolgheri classic, with terroir leading the way. Suggested retail: $47
Tenuta Guado Al Tasso, 2007: Always reliable and often exceptional, Guado Al Tasso has something for everyone to love. A blend of 57 percent cabernet sauvignon, 30 percent merlot, 10 percent cabernet franc and 3 percent petite verdot, it has the fruit of a California wine, the finesse of Bordeaux and the unique herbal-tobacco quality found in the wines from Bolgheri. While this wine has a way to go, it tastes great now with shades of mocha and sage, with blackberry and plum fruit dominating the core. Suggested retail: $89.99
Pamela S. Busch is the owner of Skrewcap.com, founder of CAV Wine Bar and a Bay Area wine consultant. Please submit your questions to Pamela@Skrewcap.com.