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Leisure: The Tuscan Tipicita

Jack Smith

The French call it terroir, the Tuscans tipicita—that elusive quality that comprises a vineyard’s geology, climate, topography, and local winemaking practices. Tipicita can endure through the ages; some say that, if you are lucky, you can taste a thousand years of sunrises in a single glass of wine. If you are very lucky, that wine will be an Antinori Super Tuscan.

Tignanello
The first Super Tuscan comes from a vineyard within a vineyard, a 99-acre slope of calciferous soil with almost perfect southern exposure surrounded by 1,400 acres of vines, pine, cypress, and olive trees on Piero Antinori’s Santa Cristina estate. Low density of their planting—about 600 vines per acre—distinguishes the blocks designated for use in making Tignanello. White albarese rocks (reminders of the time when this part of Italy lay underwater) are strewn between the grapevines to collect the sun’s heat during the day and release it slowly at night, thereby warming the vines. At the same time, this vineyard’s 1,500-foot elevation affords a cooling effect during the day, producing a Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot with lower total acidity than is typical on the lower-lying vineyards of Bordeaux.
 
Though Tuscan traditionalists were shocked when Marchese Antinori began planting the French vines, it was a matter of history repeating itself; some 30 years earlier his father had planted Cabernet on the estate as an experimental blending component, a project he was compelled to drop when World War II began. Tignanello ages 14 months in young French barriques and remains another year in the bottle before release. Typically, a rich, exuberant, and full-bodied taste—with flavors of blackberries, black pepper, red meat, and oak—characterizes this Sangiovese-based blend. (2000 vintage, $100; 2001 vintage, $75)

Solaia
With some vintages of Solaia selling at auction for more than $400 a bottle, the collector trade is paying ever closer attention to Antinori’s second Super Tuscan. Solaia shares Tignanello’s tipicita, because the former is grown in the middle of the latter’s vineyard—a vineyard within a vineyard within a vineyard. Solaia essentially represents the mirror image of Tignanello: 75 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 5 percent Cabernet Franc, and 20 percent  Sangiovese. Like Tignanello, this wine ages for 14 months in barriques, then for one year in the bottle before being released. Unlike many superior wines, Solaia was superb from its first vintage, defining an international palate with forward fruit, lively acidity, and smooth tannins—all from vines barely 3 years old. (2000 vintage, $190; 2001 vintage, $165)

Guado Al Tasso
About 100 kilometers southwest of Florence, on the Alta Maremma Coast, the hills form a natural amphitheater around the plains looking out to the Mediterranean Sea. It was here, in Bolgheri, some contend, that the first Super Tuscan was created—not by Piero Antinori, but by his uncle, Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta.
 
In 1944, della Rocchetta appeared on the scene with Cabernet cuttings he had brought from Château Lafite. For the next two decades, the wine he made from the fruit of these vines was reserved for private consumption only. This changed, however, in 1968, when his nephew, Piero Antinori, convinced him to sell the wine through the Antinori firm. They named the wine Sassicaia (or “place with a lot of rocks”), which became an instant hit. The Bolgheri region gained added cachet with the appearance of Ornellaia, another Super Tuscan, from Piero Antinori’s brother Ludovico. Six years later, Piero unveiled his own Bolgheri brand, Guado al Tasso. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, this wine’s tipicita of lower elevation and balmy breezes generally requires an earlier harvest than that of Tignanello and Solaia. After harvest and fermentation, Guado al Tasso will spend 14 months in barriques, followed by another 10 months in the bottle before release. Velvety, concentrated, and intense, with a serious color, it opens with flavors of blackberry, tobacco, and minerals.  (2000 vintage, $95)

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