Sebastiano Rosa, Winemaker and Nicolò Incisa della Rocchetta, owner, Tenuta San Guido (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
This is part one of a two-part series on my recent visit to Bolgheri - Tom Hyland
Ah to be in Bolgheri in February! February you say? While it’s a time of the year than can be a bit cold and overcast and while the buds have yet to bloom, it’s a great moment to be in this area. The air is crisp, the nights are clear and best of all, the tourists haven’t taken over the environs. So I get to visit estates, taste the latest releases and talk with the vintners, all at a leisurely pace.
During my two full days in Bolgheri along Tuscany’s west coast, I worked in a nice mix of famous producers as well as some smaller, lesser-known ones. Tenuta San Guido, where Sassicaia is produced, Tenuta dell’Ornellaia and Le Macchiole fit the former description while Guado al Melo and Enrico Santini represent the estates that are not household names, yet produce some excellent wines, several of which are fine values.
I'll discuss the latter two estates in my next post on Bolgheri; for the time being, let's talk about the big boys. There has been so much written about Sassicaia and Ornellaia over the years that it’s difficult to come up with anything new. In this case however, that’s a good thing, as the wines remain as great as ever. At Tenuta San Guido, winemaker Sebastiano Rosa and owner Nicolò Incisa della Rocchetta led me through a tasting of four different vintages, from the 2005, released last year up to the 2008, which will not be in the marketplace until 2011. Each wine is outstanding; the standard blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc creates a ripe, gusty, spicy, powerful wine that ages for 20-25 years. The current 2006 is impressive in its complexity and the 2007 and 2008 promise even more with slightly higher acidity. This is clearly a case of “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.” The producer’s other wines, “Le Difese,” a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese and Guidalberto, a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend, are also beautifully crafted and are meant for consumption within 5-7 years. (note- legendary winemaker Giacamo Tachis still acts as consulting enologist here; Sebastiano Rosa has taken over the everyday winemaking duties.)
At Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, the signature wine also remains one of the best reds of Italy. This is a slightly different blend than the Sassicaia, as Ornellaia is a cuvée of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 17% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot. As powerful as Sassicaia, it is a bit more polished than that offering. This is not to say the wine is better, it is just a bit more subdued in its approach, though hardly less powerful, as the new 2006 bottling will age well for 20 years plus. The second wine, “Le Serre Nuove,” a blend with a greater percentage of Merlot and slightly less Cabernet Sauvignon, is a marvelous wine with sumptuous aromas, great complexity and marvelous Bolgheri terrior. Retail prices vary for any wine in the United States, but I’ve seen an average price for this wine between $60-$65, making this a relative bargain. It’s a wine you can store for 7-10 years and it’s a great choice to show off Bolgheri without getting into $100 and higher.
Bottles of Ornellaia and Masseto (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
One final note from Ornellaia and it’s the 100% Merlot known as Masseto, produced from a gorgeous 18 acre vineyard at the estate. This is a magnificent wine, full-bodied with tremendous concentration and remarkable structure. It’s a good a Merlot as I’ve had from anywhere in the world; I expect the 2005 bottling to be at its best in 25-30 years. Some writers have compared this wine to Chateau Petrus; while I rarely get a chance to try that wine, I’m not about to argue with this assessment. It’s difficult to find this wine, as most of it goes to a few select restaurants and it is quite expensive – it retails for over $300 a bottle – but it is one of the world’s great red wines.
Cinzia Merli, owner of Le Macchiole (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
I mentioned the big boys of Bolgheri, but you need to add at least one dynamic woman to that list. Cinzia Merli has been running Le Macchiole for several years since her husband passed away and she has performed her duties brilliantly. Her wines are beautiful with deep fruit and elegant structure and most assuredly belong in any discussion of Bolgheri’s best. She has been producing 100% varietal wines for some time now; according to regulations, she has had to label them as IGT Toscana Rosso, as Bolgheri DOC wines must be blended. But now these laws are changing and Merli will be able to sell these wines as Bolgheri DOC. These include Scrio, made exclusively from Syrah, Messorio, a monovarietal Merlot and her finest wine, Paleo produced solely from Cabernet Franc. This last wine (2005 is the current release) is a superior effort with enticing aromas of lavender, pink peppercorn and chocolate and excellent depth of fruit. Cinzia Merli is such a delightful person – it’s so nice to see her doing so well!
3-liter bottle of Paleo, Le Macchiole (Photo ©Tom Hyland)