From my wine diary . . .
THE SUPER TUSCANS
Presented by Don Kinnan, CWE, Director of Education-Kobrand Corporation
Society of Wine Educators - San Jose, CA
August 4, 2000
What a privilege to be the moderator for a tasting comparing "Super Tuscans" of the incredible 1997 vintage with an older year! As part of my introduction I said something about how only the Italy - center of both fashion and wine-making tradition - could design such stylish wines. I was so taken by the wines that I completely forgot to ask the canned question I'd prepared in advance. But no need, the members of the audience needed no priming to ask their own questions.
Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta who created the first Super Tuscan, Sassicaia, from his 1944 plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab Franc tried this experiment because he recognized that his estate had the climate of California and the soil of Bordeaux. Others say that Super Tuscans combine the ripeness and sensuality of Toscana with the refined structure of Bordeaux.
Don Kinnan drew a distinction between the wines from the Bolgheri zone and those from Chianti Classico. He said that the climate is more even on the coast. Late season rains are light and will pass through the Bolgheri quickly, whereas they will linger and do more damage in C. Classico. Therefore, there is less vintage variation in Bolgheri.
Even though not rated as highly on an abolute basis, I'd pick the Tassinaia and Cabreo il Borgo for my personal drinking for the greater pleasure from the Sangiovese in the blend and less oak influence. Ditto with the 1997 Tignanello (OUTSTANDING) I had with dinner the night before. The high-strung personality and extra indigenous flavor dimension of the Sangiovese makes them more interesting to me.
The acidic backbone of each of these wines (with the possible exception of the Ornellaia) gives them a uniquely Italian flavor and stylishness that sets them apart from Bordeaux or the New World. The flavors are more finely etched and hightoned and carry longer on the palate due to the acid balance. This seems to keep in check the new oak character more sucessfully too.
These wines have plenty of new wood. Sassicaia: 30% new barriques, 18-22 months. Tassinaia: 12 months in old and new barrique. Ornellaia: all new Allier, 15 months. Lupicaia: 18 months in barrique. Cabreo il Borgo: one year old Nevers, 16 months. Il Pareto: all new Allier, 16 months.
Tannins are hard to assess due to the plushness of the ripe 1997 fruit. But the grip is not as strong as Bordeaux, and seems firmer than the typical New World cab. The wines are exquisitely balanced and will only continue to improve in cellar.
What's with all these "aia's"? Sassicaia means "stony place"; Ornellaia, "place of ash trees; and Lupicaia, "wolf place".
1997 TENUTA SAN GUIDO "Sassicaia" Bolgheri, $135 - 85% Cabernet Sauvignon/15% Cabernet Franc. Dense liqueur-like nose with cassis, violets, black stone fruit, blueberry, blackberry, vanilla and a lift of tart/sweet cherry, supple and plush entry, silky tannins and firmly acidic underpinnings balance intensely ripe fruit, mouthfilling yet restrained and graceful in expression with layers of primary black fruits, licorice and sweet vanilla oak, concentrated through very long full finish. OUTSTANDING [Note: considerable bottle variation was observed, not all performed as well.]
1986 TENUTA SAN GUIDO "Sassicaia" Bolgheri - Leathery and earthy nose with
more nuanced aromatics of black fruit, anise, potpourri and anise,
unresolved tannin and youthful acidity protrude through drying mid-palate
of dusty red fruit, earth and dried cranberry, tart acidity carries long
finish. Not as concentrated as the 1997 and headed down the other side of
the slope. VERY GOOD
1997 TENUTA DEL TERRICIO "Tassinaia" Castellina Marittima, $60 - 45% Cabernet Sauvignon/45% Sangiovese grosso/10% Merlot. Fascinating and intricate nose of red berries, granite, Tuscan rosemary, thyme, sage, eucalyptus, cocoa, fountain pen ink and cassis, seemingly firmer structure and acidity contrasting with tightly wound fruit on the palate, more indigenous flavor profile with red and black fruits, dried cherry, roasted herbs and taste of the soil, good persistence through clean chalky finish. EXCELLENT
1994 TENUTA DEL TERRICIO "Tassinaia" Castellina Marittima - Easy-going and
softer nose of chocolate, dried herbs, licorice, red and black fruits,
open-knit and generous mid-palate with softened structure and
multi-dimensional flavors, refreshing through rounded finish. Ready to
1997 MARCHESE LODOVICO ANTINORI "Ornellaia" Bolgheri, $100 - 75% Cabernet
Sauvignon/20% Merlot/5% Cabernet Franc. Plump and outspoken nose of
licorice, cassis, black cherry, mocha, vanilla and animale, upfront
luscious fruit cloaking firm spine, fruit-forward International style with
candied entry and fat mid-palate of licorice, chocolatey wood and sweet
black fruits, very ripe and ostentatious through long finish. OUTSTANDING
1994 MARCHESE LODOVICO ANTINORI "Ornellaia" Bolgheri - Complex nose of
fennel, black olive, black fruit and well-integrated toasty oak, softish
entry with zing of acidity lending focus to earthy black fruit on the
palate, harmonious and generous, rounded velvety finish. Lighter
personality than 1997 and on point for current drinking. EXCELLENT
1997 TENUTA DEL TERRICIO "Lupicaia" Castellina Marittima, $115 - 90%
Cabernet Sauvignon/10% Merlot. Detailed and very complex nose of rosemary,
licorice, finocchio, soil, saddle leather, cedar, pipe tobacco, and black
fruit, darker fruited and weightier in the mouth than the Tassinaia, firmly
structured with regal carriage and great depth, perfectly balanced with
polished sweet black fruit, black olive, anise, rosemary and eucalyptus,
impressive persistence through long-lasting sinewy finish. OUTSTANDING
1993 TENUTA DEL TERRICIO "Lupicaia" Castellina Marittima - First vintage from vines planted in 1989. Extremely dark and fully saturated purple hue belying its age, well-developed and complex nose of rosemary, chocolate, anise, earth, fennel and black fruit, polished and refined in the mouth with youthful structure, upfront and accessible flavors of bittersweet chocolate, Bing cherry and black stone fruit, turns lean in the finish. VERY GOOD
1997 TENUTA CABREO "Cabreo Il Borgo" Greve in Chianti, $42 - 30% Cabernet
Sauvignon/70% Sangiovese piccolo. Direct nose of black cherry, cassis and
smoke, more acidic entry with good cut, not as dense and lush but still
very ripe and supple, better integrated with more interesting nuances,
black-fruited in personality with dried cherry, cassis, anise, leathery
spice and sweet vanilla bean, long fanning finish. EXCELLENT
1993 TENUTA CABREO "Cabreo Il Borgo" Greve in Chianti - Wafting nose first
of spice box then unfolding to reveal anise, black cherry, cassis and plum
skin, very graceful and harmonious impression, a spritely dance rather than
coating the palate, very subtle and feminine with chocolate kisses on red
cherry and black plum, long tapering finish. EXCELLENT
1997 TENUTA DI NOZZOLE "Il Pareto" Greve in Chianti, $67 - Single vineyard
estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Aggressive nose of chocolate, vanilla, cedar,
black cherry, blackberry and cassis with a hint of dried rosemary,
fine-grained tannic backbone and juicy acidity define bold and upfront
fruit, four-square, rich and luscious in the mouth with black fruit, toast,
coffee and chocolate, dense blockbuster finish. EXCELLENT
1990 TENUTA DI NOZZOLE "Il Pareto" Greve in Chianti - Surprisingly darker
color than the 1997, concentrated and intense nose of dried fig, black
cherry, cassis, blackberry and chocolate, chalky structure still evident
underpinning ripe black fruit, anise, tobacco and leather, bit overripe
with some raisining but still delicious with potential to improve further,
grace and power in the same package with solid finish. EXCELLENT