Magazine article Sunset

Super Bottles

Magazine article Sunset

Super Bottles

Article excerpt

The blend that saved Tuscany's red wine credibility is more affordable than ever. Might be time to drink Italian again

AT THE RISK OF DATING myself, I admit to drinking more than a little wine from bottles nestled in straw baskets back in the day. Remember? (Millennials and Gen Y, you're off the hook here.) It was Chianti, of course--the red that was all we knew of Italian wine. It was thin, a little rough, and tasted good only in goofy little Italian cafes with plastic grapes hanging from the ceiling.

The truth is, the questionable quality of that Chianti was baked into law. To put Chianti (the name applies to the Tuscan region and its wine) on the label, you had to use specific grapes. Sangiovese was the main one, but some white had to be included too. And none of those wines saw the inside of a French barrel. With the growing international taste for richer wines (and new oak), no one was going to take those basket bottles seriously.

But one man, Marchese Piero Antinori, wouldn't let Tuscan wine be left behind. A 25th-generation vintner (his ancestors made wine for the Medici), Antinori broke the rules, adding Cabernet Sauvignon to his Sangiovese for a wine "with more complexity, better structure and balance, and more aging potential," as he puts it. The trouble is, he couldn't call it Chianti anymore, only "table wine." It was a risk. "The new style was, at the beginning, seen as an insult to tradition," he says.

As it turned out, the insult became a powerful new tradition. Antinori's 1971 vintage, which he called "Tignanello" (the name of the vineyard it came from), is largely credited with launching the Super Tuscans, as they're known now: wines that are blends of local and/ or international varieties (Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah are common players) and play fast and loose with oak. …

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