Decanter|May 2020
As this tiny but powerful DOC toasts its first quarter-century, the region’s winemakers are fully embracing the adventurous legacy of the SuperTuscan and continuing to build upon it. Richard Baudains reflects on this Tuscan crown jewel and what lies ahead for its producers
Richard Baudains

Bolgheri, in Tuscan terms, is not big. From north to south by road, the DOC zone stretches a mere 13km, and it is easy to miss the rather insignificant-looking turning between Livorno and Grosseto that takes you through the avenue of cypress trees to the village of Bolgheri, or into the country lane that flanks its most famous estates. The soils are basically deep sand-clay, but extremely diverse. Recent studies identify nine macro-areas and no fewer than 27 different soil profiles. The climate is slightly cooler than in neighbouring Maremma and is significantly drier than in the central hills: a great asset in wet vintages.

Bolgheri means fundamentally Bordeaux blends, although the production norms also allow for monovarietals. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot account for 60% of the 1,370ha of vineyard, followed by Cabernet Franc, Syrah and the complementary variety Petit Verdot.​ Bolgheri Superiore is at the pointy end of the production pyramid, representing a rigidly selected 15% of the total annual bottling, alongside which there are also a limited number of IGTs of the ‘SuperTuscan’ ilk. The younger, early-drinking Bolgheri Rosso represents the second wine for most estates.

Making a name

In August 2019, Bolgheri celebrated the 25th anniversary of the founding of its wine producers’ consorzio. It was an occasion for ‘who are we, where are we coming from, where are we going’ type reflections.

Federico Zileri, owner of the Castello di Bolgheri estate and former president of the consorzio, divides the modern history of wine in Bolgheri into three phases. In the beginning was Sassicaia, the wine that Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta originally made for his own family’s consumption, which was to become one of Italy’s truly iconic wines, with an inimitable style and consistency that sets it apart from any general discussion of the wines of Bolgheri. It was the Marchese’s nephew, Piero Antinori, who persuaded him to begin commercial bottling. Antinori lent the Marchese his oenologist, Giacomo Tachis, to oversee the operation. The first official vintages caught the attention of the influential Italian critic Gino Veronelli, but mainly went unheeded on the international scene until 1978, when Sassicaia trounced the competition and came out on top in a tasting of international Cabernets in London (conducted by Decanter, as it happens).


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May 2020