Solaia bottles behind bars in a wine cellar

~ The Caveau di Solaia ~

In the heart of Chianti Classico sits the Antinori family’s Tenuta Tignanello estate.  It’s the unquestioned heart of the Antinori empire and sits not far from the family’s palatial residence in Firenze.  The estate boasts some of the most advantageous vineyard exposition in Tuscany and stretches over 780 acres, of which slightly over 300 are devoted to vines.  Of those, two vineyard parcels are exceptionally regarded:  Vigneto Tignanello (145 acres in size) and Vigneto Solaia (50 acres in size).  Since the mid to late 1970’s,  Piero Antinori has been pushing the customary boundaries of dogma and quality and in many ways, the wines that hail from these vineyard parcels have done more to shape the Tuscan wine landscape than any other.

The Solaia Vineyard in Tuscany - Vines

~ Vigneto Solaia ~

Despite the pedigree, the Vigneto Solaia has undergone constant renewal.  Today the vineyard is planted to Cabernet (15 hectares) Cabernet Franc (1 hectare) and Sangiovese (4 hectares) and the average age of the vines is only 15 years.   The personality of Solaia is testament to the vineyard site and the careful selection of fruit and methods used in production.

Like many great things (i.e. Champagne) the creation of Solaia was a fortuitous accident.  The 1978 vintage had yielded an abundant, excellent harvest and the Cabernet typically destined for Tignanello was more than required.  Antinori decided to bottle the remaining fruit as a single wine with a small addition of Cabernet Franc.  This was repeated for the 1979 vintage and the Sangiovese added thereafter.  A new standard was born!

Wine barrels in an underground wine cellar

~ The new barrique cellar on the Antinori Estate is partially carved into the earth ~

Today we’re discussing the 1997 Antinori Solaia.

At 20 years of age, I’ll submit right now that this wine still has a way to go in its evolution.  Despite being decanted for about an hour, the wine seemed to pick up steam, complexity and mouthfeel as our dinner progressed and it was drinking its best as it was almost finished.

In the decanter, you can see the color is a deep garnet with purple reflections that fade to a ruby-violet color near the edge.   The aromas from the glass, somewhat shy at first, open to reveal crushed red plums, dried flowers, dried sage, and a spicy, cured meat characteristic.  On the palate, the wine is regal, elegant and powerful.  The stately red berry and plum notes pick up notes of fennel, cedar, and dried tobacco.  Balanced well with fresh acidity, there are still some substantial tannins that assert themselves noticeably in the absence of food. Once vinified, Solaia is aged for 18-24 months in new French barrique where it undergoes a slow, malolactic fermentation in the barrel.  It is then transferred to bottle for an additional year before release.

There has always been a lot of hype surrounding this vintage and I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy this several times.  In fact, I’m lucky to have more and I’m pleased that I do.  Yet, I’ve always found this vintage to be slightly lacking that one transcendent aspect that vaults this ahead of its peers.  In looking back at my notes, I much prefer both the 1999 and the 2001 to this specific vintage.  92 points.  About $75 upon release.

Red Tuscan wine in a decanter. Solaia

~ The 1997 Solaia is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc and 20% Sangiovese ~

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