Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Solaia vintage classification schema: Rationale and translation

Solaia.net presents the totality of Solaia vintages (with the exception of the 2010) within the context of a classification scheme (The Early Years, The Early Classics, The Challenging Vintages, Underrated Vintages, Milestones Part 1, and Milestones Part 2) and the Galloni retrospective tasting utilized this same schema as its flighting mechanism. In neither case was an explanation of the schema given so I approached Niccoló Maltinti, US Antinori Brand Ambassador, with a request for clarification. Niccoló submitted my questions to corporate and the following perspective was provided by Renzo Cotarella, Antinori CEO and Chief Enologist.

In terms of the origin of the scheme, Renzo traces it back to the Galloni sit-down dinner. As he saw it, "it would have been difficult to taste 28 vintages in a row over the course of a dinner."

As it relates to the classification itself, the wines labeled as Classic are the products of generally warm, low-rain vintages where the grapes are handled in the classic manner during vinification. Markers of the Classic style are "pumping over, looser temperature control, and transfer in oak barrels after the malolactic fermentation."

The wines classed as Underrated "are the vintages that most of the tasters, especially American journalists, usually underestimated." These wines were co-located in order that tasters could "appreciate their absolute power and potential" rather than to compare them to "other unquestionably better vintages." Marchesi Antinori, according to Renzo, feels strongly that these wines were totally underestimated by the press and he picks out the 2008 vintage as an example. This wine, according to Renzo, is considered one of the greatest Solaia vintages ever by the winemaking team (It should be noted that the1990, 1997, and 2010 have received better critic scores.).

The Challenging vintages are those where the vagaries of the weather significantly affected the quality of the offering. One of the most striking examples is the 2002 vintage where the volume of rain resulted in poor Sangiovese harvests and the exclusion of that varietal from the blend. This vintage is labeled Annata Diversa to so signify. Some vintages were so challenging (1980 and 1981, for example) that no Solaia wine was produced in those years.

Milestone wines, according to Renzo, "are those vintages in which Solaia represents for us a benchmark not only in terms of quality but furthermore stylistically."

The placement of Solaia vintages into the classification schema is shown below.

In his article, Galloni mentioned that the Solaia's of the 1990s were Bordeaux-inspired while the wines of the 90's sought ripeness and concentration. He sees the wines of the 2000s as going back to its roots. The style of wine seems to have not dictated the placement in the above categories. There is an equal distribution of early classics between the '80s and '90s while wines from the '90s are 40% as likely to be underrated as are wines from the 2000s. What is apparent from the above though, is that Solaia, based on its own estimation, has been making consistently high quality wines all through the 1990s and 2000s: three of the 1990 vintages are classed as Milestone wines and two as Early Classics while six of the 2000 vintages are classed as Milestone wines.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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