Friday, January 15, 2010

Villa Antinori & The Super Tuscans

Mr. D. was over in the afternoon as Boo and he putzed around, so we twisted his arm to stay for dinner and catch a movie. Unfortunately for him, nothing too special - just frozen lasagna and a cheese plate. I was supposed to pick up the salad home on the way home from work, but I guess I was in such a hurry to open another bottle that I forgot.

As for the movie, much to Boo's dismay, Mr. D. picked Harry Potter over the new Star Trek DVD. I don't think Boo will ever understand how anyone could choose anything other than Star Trek, but I guess it CAN happen.

Whether tonight's wine is magical enough to channel Dumbledore is questionable, but there certainly is a bit of a tale to go with it.

325. 2005 Villa Antinori Toscana (IGT Toscana - Italy)

There have been a couple of Super Tuscans to make The List already but I haven't really made any reference to the story behind the wine. Seeing as how Antinori was one of the innovators that basically forced the Italian wine industry to re-invent their appellation system, maybe this is a good time to do so.

A bit of history first, the Antinori family has been in the winemaking profession for 26 generations, dating back to 1385 when Giovanni di Piero Antinori registered with the Florentine Guild of Winemakers. They established a history of a wine family and empire that grew to include some of the most prestigious estates in Tuscany - and they have since expanded into Piedmont, Southern Italy and even California.

As for the Super Tuscan, it is basically a wine of Tuscan origin that features grapes that are not indigenous to Tuscany and would not, therefore, qualify, under Tuscan DOC standards, in the production of Chianti - Tuscany's most famous wine. Those international grapes - primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah/Shiraz - were used by innovative Tuscan winemakers to blend with the traditional Sangiovese grape to make, what they felt was, a more rounded and flavourful wine. The Italian wine industry had to respond when these Super Tuscans, despite being labelled as Vino di Tavola or table wine, created more buzz and started to sell for values far in excess of the sanctioned Chiantis.

By creating a whole new category of IGT wines (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) or wines that are typical of a specific region, the new designation allowed these, often premium, wines to be sold under a more appropriate quality level. The Super Tuscans still don't qualify as Chianti, but at least the wine industry didn't have to deal with table wines being sold for over $100 a bottle.

Antinori was in the forefront of the development of the Super Tuscan. They started blending Bourdeaux varietals into their Chiantis back in 1924. They currently produce two of the biggest names in the category - Tignanello and Solaia. Arguably, it was the international interest in the 1971 Tig that forced the Italian wine industry to introduce the far-reaching changes in their rules that resulted in the IGT designation.

This Toscana isn't meant to be spoken of in the same company of Tignanello and Solaia, but it is indicative of how the Super Tuscan concept is now found at all levels of the Tuscan wine scene. The 2005 is a representative blend found in a couple vintages of this wine - 55% Sangiovese, 25% Cab Sauv, 15% Merlot and 5% Syrah - and the Villa Antinori wines are all estate-grown and vinified.

Not being a regular drinker of or a huge fan of Chianti, I can appreciate how the blending of the additional grapes fills out the often lighter flavour profile of Sangiovese. I'm not sure that I'd run back to the Toscana too quickly at $25 a bottle though.

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