Bolgheri goes boom!
With a successful string of recent vintages coming to market, the Bolgheri DOC is releasing a vast array of wines that define its exciting terroir. Over the past few months, I’ve been conducting tastings from the region that span several grape varieties, dozens of wines and multiple price points. Overall, the quality of the wines are impressive. And, since the region is not bound by long required aging periods like their central Tuscan cousins can be, we can often gain an early sense of the vintage from these wines.
What is Bolgheri?
So, what is Bolgheri? I’m often asked about the distinction between Maremma and Bolgheri as distinct regions. It’s an area of ample confusion for my readers and consumers I come in contact with. The major distinction is one of geography. The heart of Bolgheri lies in and around three commune: Bibbona in the north, the town of Bolgheri itself in the center and Castagneto Carducci to the South. The heart of Maremma lies further south in and around Grosseto and Scansano. A simple, basic analogy is this: While all wine in Bolgheri come from Maremma, not all Maremma wines are from Bolgheri.
As a region, Bolgheri is quite small. As of this writing, the Bolgheri Consorzio is comprised of 65 producers who constitute 95% of the region’s wine production. The total vineyard area of the Bolgheri DOC is only 1,190 hectares plus an additional 180 hectares devoted to IGT wines. By comparison, there are 5,000 hectares of vines within the Brunello DOCG and 24,000 hectares under vine in Montalcino. The following graphics illustrate some of the regions key statistics.
The next graphic shows the proportion of grapes cultivated in the region.
Then what qualifications must a wine meet to be within the DOC regulations? When the DOC was originally created (1983) it allowed for the production of white wines only. It wasn’t until 1994 when the regulations were extended to include red grape varieties. Today, three official designations exist:
- Bolgheri Superiore DOC
- Bolgheri Rosso DOC
- Sassicaia DOC
The rules for aging and blending are similar for the first two bullets. The last is obviously unique only to Sassicaia and will remain so for the foreseeable future. You can review the details for Sassicaia here.
Bolgheri Blending Requirements
The blending rules for Bolgheri wines, while fairly liberal, are identical across the appellation. The difference between the two designations lies in yields and required aging limits.
Given the above graphic, the differences are simple. Bolgheri Rosso yield is allowed at 90 tonnes per hectare and aging is only 1 year. There are no rules about how that aging must be conducted. For Bolgheri Superiore, the higher designation, the yields are reduced to 80 tonnes per hectare and the aging increases to 2 years, at least 1 of which must be in oak.
I Vini di Bolgheri
The tastings conducted for this report span no fewer than six vintages from 2015-2020. As a result of the short requirements for aging, wineries often produce a wine which can be released on the market sooner than their flagship reds which can lag by a few years.
The Guado al Tasso estate lies about 60 miles southwest of Florence and spans approximately 320 hectares. The vineyards are surrounded on three sides by rolling hills called the Bolgheri amphitheater and the estate is bounded by the sea to the west. The soil composition varies greatly here an includes sand, silt, clay and rocky deposits called “scheletro”. All of this combines to what is referred to as the “Bolgheri Conglomerate”. Not exactly the most romantic of terms, but nonetheless.
The 2018 Antinori Guado al Tasso is dark plum with s pretty violet rim at the edge of the bowl. Dark berry fruits with spice and toasted oak notes mark the nose. There’s a bit of green oak too. Very reminiscent of a young Bordeaux. Silky smooth on the palate. Fresh acidity surrounds a medium to full bodied core of black plum and cherry. Round and long with a creamy mouthfeel. Adds weight with air but remains so silky. Can’t see aging this. Delicious with and without food. 94 points. Cabernet, Franc and Merlot. Find this wine.
When I sat down with Michele Satta a few years ago he was utterly captivating. You are immediately drawn in by his deep blue eyes that are like a vast sea of knowledge. Yet in that sense, you know he’s always searching for improvement, striving to get obtain perfection from his land and his wines. They are as affable and captivating as he is.
The 2018 Michele Satta Piastraia is a brilliant ruby to dark plum in the glass and a blend of Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah and Sangiovese. Red plums and bright, crushed cherry mark the nose. Toasted spice, Salume and grilled meat add additional aromatic complexity. Drop dead gorgeous on the palate. Full bodied flavors of black fruits, licorice, cured olive and new leather. Mid-weight tannins are tamed by the grilled lamb and the flinty, powdery nature of this wine comes through on the finish. Hint of bitterness on the back end, but overall, I love this. Really well done. 93 points.
Argentiera lies on the Donoratico Estate which was an ancient silver mine. As a result, the winery derives its name from the Italian word for silver, Argento. Originally owned by the Fratini brothers, in 2016 after visiting and falling in love with the place and its wines, current owner Stanislaus Turnauer bought the estate. He immediately set upon creating an ultra premium Cabernet Franc called Ventaglio. This report will feature the estate’s other two red wines.
The team at Argentiera is led by winemaker Nicolo Carrara and General Manager Leonardo Raspini formerly of Ornellaia and Cecchi.
The 2019 Argentiera Villa Donoratico is a dark violet through to the rim. Black plums on the nose give way to a slight hint of green wood. There’s also a touch of bell pepper. Cinnamon powder too. On the palate, the black fruits are plentiful with hints of graphite and iron. An interesting stylistic hybrid, if you will, between Napa and Pauillac. Juicy with a long black fruit and licorice finish. Really enjoyable but I would like to see the green notes on the nose mellow a bit with age. 60% Cabernet, 30% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot. 89 points. Find this wine.
When Cinzia Merli envisioned Messorio, in her own words she “wanted to stay as far away as possible from the soft, predictable style too often associated with Merlot and instead make a thoroughbred eager to win the race.” There’s no doubt, she has clearly done that. Messorio, whose name is an homage to the Wheat Harvest, is 100% Merlot sourced from two vineyards planted in 1994 and 1999. The latter was the first vintage for the wine.
The 2015 Le Macchiole Messorio is a monumental Merlot. In the glass the wine is an impenetrable purple color. The aromas rising from the bowl are complex and penetrating. Ripe blackberry, crushed stone, fresh peppermint, blue flowers and toasted spice are utterly captivating. On the palate, the 2015 is masculine to be sure, but yet remains fresh and elegant. Bold black and blue fruit flavors are married to toasted chestnut, roasted coffee, melted licorice and new leather accents. No hard edges, long juicy finish, a sense of place. This is right up there with the best Merlot in Italy. Simply masterful. 98 points. Messorio is vinified in stainless steel and concrete and then aged for 18 months in new French barrique. Find this wine.
But we don’t want to ignore the older sibling, because that would not be polite! Just because she contains no Merlot, doesn’t mean she isn’t special.
The 2016 Le Macchiole Paleo is deep purple in the glass that expands ever faintly to a violet hue at the rim. Upon pouring, the aromas just explode from the glass. Ripe black fruits, pure lavender, irises and crushed wet stones are utterly spell binding.
On the palate, the wine is fleshy, forward and velvety. It is dripping with smooth, silky viscous black fruit flavor. There are no hard edges. (a trait that comes to define Le Macchiole) The tannins that present themselves are powdery and dusty. Flavors of espresso, hazelnut, smashed mint leaf and licorice are oh so attractive. Impeccable balance.
Paleo is 100% Cabernet Franc and is fermented in concrete tanks and sourced from vineyards varying from 11-26 years of age. After fermentation it is aged for 19 months in new French barrique. 97 points. Find this wine.
Michele Satta never founded his winery in Bolgheri with the intention of relying solely upon Bordelaise grapes. He told me: “Giovanni, I think Sangiovese is capable of reflecting the Bolgheri terroir even better than Cabernet or Merlot. The first wineries in Bolgheri were born following the idea of Incisa della Rocchetta (Sassicaia owner) to make a great Bordeaux wine in Italy for the very first time. At that time, it was easier to communicate a new place in Italy ready to be compared to one of the most important places in the world to make wines. We had the opportunity to say “ Hey, Tuscany could be something more than Sangiovese!” Even if I agree that Bolgheri is probably the only place in Italy to make some very good international wines, Sangiovese finds here an incredible expression, of course different from Chianti and Montalcino, but very tasty nonetheless.”
His 100% Sangiovese will be featured in subsequent parts of this report. Herewith, an intriguing Sangiovese-Syrah blend.
The 2018 Michele Satta Marianova is a medium ruby color in the glass. After about 60 minutes being opened, bright cherry fruit emerges on the nose but the main component is large scaled cured meat notes. It’s a gamey character that I can only attribute to the Syrah and it’s quite evident. That said, right now this is somewhat monolithic. On the palate, this is quite dry. Raspberry and cherry fruit mark the attack. But the mid palate and finish turn dry and the tannins kick in which are partly green. With grilled NY strips, the behavior of this wine was markedly different. The fruit plumped up, the tannins were sliced and diced until they were well integrated. A lesson well learned. Give this one some time but don’t judge it away from the dinner table. 91 points. Find this wine.
We have whites! We have whites! Although most of the wines in this coverage are Rosso, Bolgheri is also home to exciting Vermentino and they will be included here as well. I’ve written about Litorale and La Pettegola many times but the next wine is also one to make note of.
Campo al Mare is the Bolgheri estate of renowned Chianti Classico winemakers, the Folonari family. Covering 25 within sight of the Sea, the terroir of the estate is rich with skeletal sea material. This minerality is prevalent in the next wine .
The 2020 Campo al Mare Vermentino is a pale gold. Almost clear in color. Effusive nose. White peaches, honey blossom, & lemon zest are perfumed on the nose. In the mouth, the wine is crisp and lively with zesty lemon, nectarine and smashed mineral flavors. Light to medium body and is easy drinking and fresh. Nice as an apperitivo, but also paired well with Cod Livornese. 100% Vermentino aged 4 months in steel and 1 month in bottle before release. The 2020 is not yet fully released. 87 points. Find this wine.
Castello di Bolgheri is the historical castle for wine growing around the commune of Bolgheri. It is located near the Viale di Cipressi, which runs perfectly straight for almost five kilometres and is flanked on both sides by almost 2,000 cypress trees. Today, the vineyards are spread around the medieval village covering 130 hectares. In 1997, the vineyards were planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot. The Castello has been owned by the same lineage of families since the 13th century.
The 2019 Castello di Bolgheri Varvàra is a deep violet to purple in color. Aromas of black plum, blackberry, toffee and new leather on the nose are precise. Very nice. Flavors of black plum and black berry with licorice on the palate are round and long. Spicy notes dot the finish. This is really nice. 92 points and a nice value around $28. Portrays the vintage well. 60% Cabernet, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 10% Petit Verdot. Find this wine.
Fabio Motta was just a young apprentice in 2003 when he realized his passion for wine. That undeniable passion led him to Michele Satta for whom he would work for the next 5 years. In Fabio’s own words, “I was attentive, obsessed with learning everything I could from Michele. He was a wonderful mentor and I soon realized the attention to detail you need to have. Never settle and sacrifice nothing. That’s how you make great wine”. In 2009, Fabio acquired his own property and today farms just over 7 hectares. In 2012 he planted the “Le Gonnare” vineyard which represents his first wine in this report. Le Gonnare means “washer woman” because the vineyard sits at the mouth of a today basin where women used to wash clothes centuries before.
The 2017 Fabio Motta Le Gonnare is a deep purple color. Deep blackberry aromas take center stage but truffle, leather, mint and salume are there too. Amazing bouquet! Full bodied on the palate with loads of crushed black plum and blackberry. Beautiful! Grilled meat, dark cocoa and cured olive accent the juicy, long fruit finish. Tannins are a bit grippy. Very, very impressed by this. 85% Merlot and 15% Syrah. 95 points. Great value around $42. Find this wine.
The estate of Castello Colle Massari is situated at the foot of Mount Amiata, at approximately 320 meters above sea level and oriented towards the Mediterranean Sea. Extending over 1,200 hectares, about 110 hectares are devoted to vineyards, 60 to olive groves and 400 are various mixed crops. The remaining area is woodland and the whole farm is surrounded by a protected state forest.
With the 2017 vintage Grattamacco celebrates 35 vintages. Despite that length of time, I bet it’s a Super Tuscan that few have heard of. It’s clearly under the radar and it’s surprising to me as it’s always consistently excellent.
The 2017 Collemassari Grattamacco is a deep violet to purple in color. Without being decanted, the wine is exuberant on the nose immediately upon opening. Crushed black plum and blackberry is accented by fresh herbs, blue flowers and new cedar. On the palate, the wine is round and forward with intricately woven tannins. The primary fruit flavors are joined by toasted spice, mint, saddle leather and mushroom. It’s juicy, fresh and vibrant. 65% Cabernet, 20% Merlot and 15% Sangiovese. Drinks well now but will continue to do so easily for a decade. Not inexpensive, but given the arena where it belongs, it’s good value. 95 points. Find this wine.
With that, Part 1 is a wrap! The wines in this segment were exciting and incredibly well made across a range of vintages. That variety will continue as I work on Parts 2 and 3. One complaint I always field is that Bolgheri wines lack tipicity. What are they supposed to be like? Sometimes I have leveled the same criticism. While I understand that sentiment and often share it, I’m beginning to think it may be unfounded. One of the issues is that the wines can be made of many different varietals in almost any percentage. That alone lends significant variability to what may ultimately be a typical Bolgheri wine.
That said, the breadth of these wines enlightened me and I’m starting to see a pattern. I’ll opine further as subsequent Parts publish. In the meantime, Buon Festa di Tacchino!