Friday, May 13, 2011

Bolgheri DOC, home of the Super Tuscans

After our fabulous night at Enotecha Pinchiorri, we rendezvoused at our hotel's breakfast room to reflect on the brilliance of the previous night and to fortify ourselves with a solid food base before venturing out on a day of tastings.  Our entire day was going to be spent in Bolgheri.

Bolgheri, situated south of Livonia on the Ligurian coast, is part of the Maremma sub-region of the broader Tuscany wine region.  The Maremma sub-region is warmer overall than the rest of Tuscany resulting in a


two-week-earlier harvest start than its regional counterparts.  Bolgheri (click here for a map of the DOC) experiences sunny, dry, and moderately windy conditions which allow the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes to ripen fully but with its exuberance restrained by the moderating influence of cool Mediterranean breezes.  The topography slopes gently from the base of the eastern hills to the sea and the highest-quality vineyards are concentrated in the foothills running between Bolgheri and Castagneto.  The hills protect the vineyards from the cold northern winter winds.  The vineyards are bathed in cool winds from the sea during the summertime and this, combined with a significant diurnal shift, causes  slow maturation of grape quality components and retention of high acidity.  There are approximately 1600 hectares under vine in the Bolgheri DOC today.

There is significant soil variation in the Bolgheri DOC: alluvial soils with round pebbles (ancient riverine deeposits); Aeolian sands, limestone, and clay (marine origin), and volcanic rock from the hills to the east.  The oldest alluvial deposits are found in the Hill zone, the area in which the pebbly, iron-rich Sassicaia vineyard is located.  The Intermediate zone has younger alluvial soils while the area closer to the sea consists of an alluvial-deposit and marine-deposit mix.

The first Bordeaux-style vineyards were planted in Bolgheri in 1944 by Marquis Mario Incisa della Rochetta who favored the wines of the Medoc and saw some similarity between the gravelly soils of the Medoc and Bolgheri.  After a period of experimentation, including maturing the wine in barriques in the French manner, the wine, the precursor of today's Sassicaia, was introduced to the market in 1968.  The wine flew below the radar until Hugh Johnson of Decanter arranged a tasting which featured Cabernet-based wines from France, the U.S, and Italy.  The relatively unknown Sassicaia stunned by besting the more established competitors.  Fame and fortune followed thereafter; as did other producers who jumped in to produce what was now being called "Super Tuscans."

These Super Tuscans, even though of high quality, and carrying hefty price tags, did not merit any higher than an IGT (table wine) designation in the Italian regulatory scheme because they were made from non-region-typical grapes.  This state of affairs was maintained until 1994 when a Bolgheri DOC was granted for non-traditional grapes and a Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC was granted for wines grown in the Sassicaia vineyard.  The following are included in the Bolgheri DOC:

  • Bianco
    • 20 - 70% of each of the following: TrebbianoToscana, Vermentino, or Sauvignon Blanc
    • Up to 30% of other authorized varietals
    • Released the Spring following harvest
    • Yields of 100 quintals/hectare allowed
  • Vermentino
    • 85% Vermentino
    • Released the Spring following harvest
    • Yields of 100 quintals/hectare allowed
  • Sauvignon Blanc
    • 85% Sauvignon Blanc
    • Released the Spring following harvest
    • Yields of 100 quintals/hectare allowed
  • Rosato
    • Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, other approved varietals
    • Released the Spring following harvest
    • 11.5% minimum alcohol
  • Rosso and Rosso Superiore
    • 10 - 80% Cabernet Sauvignon
    • Up to 70% Merlot
    • Up to 70% Sangiovese
    • Up to 30% of other authorized varietals
    • Rosso aged a minimum of 10 months; Superiore a minimum of 24 months, 12 in wood and 6 in bottle
    • Yields of 90 quintals/hectare for Rosso and 80 quintals/hectare for Superiore
    • 11.5% minimum alcohol for Rosso, 12.5% for Superiore
  • Sassicaia
    • Produced in Sassicaia subzone
    • Aged for 2 years, 18 months in barrique
    • Yields of 60 quintals/hectare allowed
    • 12% minimum alcohol
Some of the most acclaimed wines from Bolgheri include Sassicaia (Tenuta San Guido), Ornellaia (Tenuta dell'Ornellaia), Masseto (Tenuta dell'Ornellaia), and Messorio (Le Macchiole).

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