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 more than 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 in Tuscany.
Recently I hosted a themed dinner showcasing Solaia and today, we’re reporting on 5 vintages of this esteemed wine spread over 20 years. The aim is two-fold; to present a few snap shot data points for the wine and also to illustrate just how slowly Solaia improves in the cellar.
We’re starting off with a wine that is now almost 25 years old. Patience is a virtue; some wise man somewhere once said that. In the past, I had found this wine to be lacking. However, this most recent tasting reinforces the notion that patience is often rewarded.
The 1995 Antinori Solaia is a deep, almost impenetrable color in the decanter. In the glass, it trends more toward the garnet color that one might expect given its age.
In the glass, the aromas are complex and seamless and need little coaxing to be expressive. Crushed black plum, worn leather shoe, pipe tobacco and roasted coffee are so wonderful. Imagine being in a black fruit covered Starbucks; can you? That’s this wine.
On the palate, the wine has completely resolved its tannins and remaining are wonderfully, silky flavors of black plum, espresso bean, slight green pepper and Christmas cake spices. There’s an attractive nuttiness on the finish. I have no official evidence of this, but I wonder if this vintage spent more time in barrique than subsequent years? It almost seems so. That’s meant as an observation more than a criticism but I can see how some may be off put by this wine. Not me. 94 points.
The next wine is the famed 1997; a wine that Wine Spectator proclaimed “Wine of the Year” when it was released.
The 1997 Antinori Solaia is 21 years of age and to my palate, still has ample time to mature in your cellar. Despite being decanted for almost 90 minutes – the wine is throwing a thick, coffee grind like sediment – it continued to slowly improve in body and aroma as it was consumed during dinner.
In the decanter, the color is still a deep purple/garnet that fades to more of a ruby-violet color near the edge. From the glass, the aromas open to reveal plentiful notes of crushed black plums, dried flowers, dried herbs such as lavender and rosemary and cured meats.
On the palate, the wine is aristocratic, elegant and rather powerful. The plum flavors echo the aroma and pick up notes of dried fennel seed, toasted cedar, and dried tobacco. There’s also a brown, leaf tobacco essence about this that I really dig! The 1997 has always been and continues to be balanced well with fresh acidity and a moderate level of tannins that make their presence felt without food. To me, this is not the greatest Solaia I’ve ever tasted. However, it’s exceptional and still has life ahead of it. 93 points.
“The writing on the scroll leaves an indelible mark upon the hand of civilization.”
In the Tuscan dialect, Solaia translates as “Sunny One” and is a reference to the optimal exposure that the eponymously named vineyard enjoys. Piero Antinori himself has quipped about the terrain the vineyard calls home: “Solaia is harvested from the best grapes, in the best vineyard on the sunniest part of the Tignanello hill. The rest is passion, attention and hard work.”
1999 was a warm, wonderful vintage in central Tuscany with optimal weather that extended into October and lengthened the growing season. The Solaia vineyard was harvested late that year; the grapes being brought into the winery only as the first week of October came to a close. Head winemaker Renzo Cotarella then aged the wine for an additional 3 months in oak because, as he mentioned, “the structure of the vintage was clearly evident.”
The 1999 Antinori Solaia is stunning. A deep purple in the glass, the wine is almost black in the decanter even at almost 20 years of age.
The aroma from the wine is utterly mesmerizing. I say “aroma” because that’s how it portrays itself. A singular, but complex array of orchestral parts that form a deeper harmonic symphony. Blackberry, crushed black plums, blue flowers, roasted coffee and sweet, pipe tobacco meld incredibly. The majesty of this aroma defies linguistic description.
On the palate, the wine is equally impressive. Robust, rich, ripe flavors are persistent, balanced and juicy. Loads of velvety black plum fruit sits center stage on your mid-palate while laser beams of coffee, baked terracotta, Christmas spices and leather reflect through a tactile prism. This is just one of those wines. It’s why geeks like us adore wine. I’m spellbound. I’m ready to marry. 97 points.
Well, well. Now how do you top that? We managed…..
The 2001 Antinori Solaia is a special wine for me as it’s also the birth vintage of my youngest son. That being said, it is spectacularly special by its own birthright.
Dark ruby in the glass, this interestingly does not present as dark a color as some of the older vintages. Throwing a fine, silt like sediment, the wine was filtered into a decanter about 60 minutes before dinner.
The aromas from the glass are profound. Crushed black fruits, toasted oak, Tuscan scrub brush and pulverized, powdery galestro combine for a complex but younger profile of aromas. On the palate the wine is refined, elegant, powerful and impeccably balanced. Flavors cascade from wild flowers to crushed black plums and cherries. From sweet pipe tobacco to Christmas cake. From menthol and mint to leaf tobacco. In short, this is an aristocratic red that is seamlessly woven together. The 2001 still beholds some substantial tannins so it may be some time before these melt away. It’s hard to imagine this improving with additional cellaring but if it does, watch out! 98 points.
Finally, we closed the event with a check in on a relative baby. Given the youth of this vintage, we decanted the wine for almost 2 hours. It likely needs longer or more apt, another 3-5 years in the cellar.
The 2005 Antinori Solaia is a deep purple color that appears almost black in the glass. Reticent aromas feature an almost closed like Bordeaux styled wine. Cedar, cigar tobacco, flinty stone and dark fruit aromas are not so willingly coaxed.
On the palate, the wine is full bodied with lots of black plum fruit backed by a wall of ripe tannins, lots of fresh acidity, toasted oak overtones and spices. This needs time to settle and integrate. Right now, this appears to rely more on power than grace or elegance. With the charred porterhouse it was approachable, but not nearly in the same league as some of the older vintages. Keep this one in the cellar until it gets closer to 20 years in age. I think that will yield rewards. 92+ points.
To recap, the 2001 led the way in this report with a score of 98 points but was closely followed by the 1999 which clocked in at 97 points. My past tasting experience with Solaia pre-dates this website but includes the 1994, 1985 and 1990 vintages of the wine. All of these vintages were consumed in the 2005-2007 time frame and the 1990 was a “100” point wine for me. The 1985 was not far behind, though it may have been fading a bit at the time. The 1994 wasn’t memorable.
So there you have it; a glimpse into one of Tuscany’s standard bearers. Should you decide to dig deep into your cellar this Christmas, you’ll have a few additional data points for guidance.
Salute e Buon Natale!