By Celia Strong
Since we learned last week that all Chiantis are not created equal, this week we get to learn that all wines from Tuscany, the region for Chianti, are not Chiantis. In fact, some are other reds and some are whites; some are more expensive, some less expensive; some we’ll like and some, oops, maybe not. We just have to remember that no matter how each new wine turns out, we have at least enjoyed them together. We’ll try two wines this week, one a Tuscan red, one a white made by a Tuscan producer but not, strictly speaking, a Tuscan wine. But, we’re tough and we’re flexible and we can do two new wines! And, back to Italy we go.
First, let’s review a bit. It never hurts to have things repeated (especially if you heard them the first time with some alcohol involved). I find if you just nod your head, people never know what you know and what you might be hearing for the first time. They don’t need to know, either, hence the nodding. (Nodding like you know also covers your boredom and sleepiness if you’ve heard something before. Sorry if you’re doing that now.) We know that Sangiovese is the predominant variety in Chiantis. From last week, we know that some wines made from this grape can be aged with success, meaning good results. Many wines based on Sangiovese, though, do not age well. This is not a bad thing, for us, because we don’t all have the time or the inclination to sit around waiting for our wines to mature. And, further, we really do like some of our wines younger, more vibrant and with more pronounced fruit flavors. Many of the wines from Tuscany, other than Chianti, made with Sangiovese are IGT level wines. They are typical of their geographic origins. And, many of them are made by well known, good quality Chianti producers. With these wines, a producer can make everyday wines, use some grapes for blending with his Sangiovese that might not be allowed in his Chiantis, or use percentages of blending grapes not allowed, play with ideas for new wines, have fun, and lots more. All of which I mention because that is the case with our winey for this week.
Antinori, or more officially Marchesi Antinori, is a Tuscan winery that can trace its history back to 1385. In 1180, Rinuccio di Antinoro is recorded as making wine at the Castello de Combiate near Calenzano, a town in Tuscany. His castello (castle) was destroyed in 1202, and the family moved to Florence. There, they were involved in banking and silk weaving. In 1385, Giovanni di Piero Antinori joined the Guild of Winemakers in Florence. The official incorporation, as Fattoria dei Marchesi Lodovico e Piero Antinori, was recorded in 1898. Because of their early success, the family could afford to buy the Palazzo Antinori in 1506. The head of the family at that time, Alessandro Antinori, was one of the richest men in Florence, a short term situation because, like many Florentines, he was bankrupted by the effects of King Charles V of Spain. Apparently, Charles’ great triumphs in the new Americas, brought such huge amounts of gold that no matter how rich someone was in Italy, they just couldn’t keep up with all the gold. Of course, Charles did also invade parts of Italy in his dreams of expansion and wealth. Fortunately, the Antinori family prospered in the peace that followed. In 1861, Niccolò Antinori was given the title Marchesi, in part for his efforts toward the unification of Italy.
In 1900, Piero (a new one) Antinori bought several vineyards in the Chianti Classico area. This purchase included 47 acres at Tignanello. In 1924, his son Niccolò scandalized most of the Tuscan wine industry by mixing some Bordeaux grape varieties into his Chianti. (Remember, there were accepted formulas for Chianti, just no laws yet.) Over the following years, he continued to play with different blends, types of barrels, temperature control for fermentation and bottle aging of some of his wines. Niccolò retired in 1966, and his son Piero took over and continued his father’s innovations. He worked with early harvesting of white grapes, different types of barriques (specific barrel sizes), stainless steel fermenting and malolactic fermentation in his red wines. As logical and common as these practices are now, they were almost more than Tuscan traditions could stand.
In 1971, all the new came together for the Antinori winery with the release of their first wine called “Tignanello.” Named for its vineyard, that contained Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc vines along with the Sangiovese, this wine was not legally a Chianti Classico. Even though it was grown and made on legal soil. Not really the first Super Tuscan (that honor goes to Sassicaia and another winery), Tignanello had a massive impact on the region’s wine industry. It was such a great wine – it sold for more money than the best Chiantis, and still does, eventually forced law changes that had been based on century old wine traditions, and showed the world that Chianti wasn’t all that came from Tuscany.
At this point, and then we’ll get to this week’s wines, I have to tell you the story of where the Antinori name came from. It can be traced back to the 11th Century BC, and the city of Troy. Prince Antenor, a Trojan, was spared in the attack of the city by the Greeks because he opened the gates to let their horse, the big Trojan Horse, in. After the battle, Prince Antenor fled, duh, and travelled up the Adriatic coast to become the founder of the city of Florence. Possibly, the House of Antinori derived their name from his. A nice story, and adds years to the family’s history.
Now, our wines. Both of them, red and white, come under Antinori’s Santa Cristina label. The very first vintage of Santa Cristina was made in 1946. The current red wine is called, simply, Toscana. An IGT level wine, it is named for its place of origin. It is a blend, changing from year to year, of Sangiovese, mainly, with some Cabernet Sauvignon, some Merlot, maybe even some Syrah. This wine is always a combination of its heritage with hints of cherry and soil flavors, from the Sangiovese growing in Tuscan soil, intermixed with rich fruit flavors (black cherry, blackberry, currant) and mild tannins. For our white wine, Santa Cristina has an Orvieto. This wine comes from Umbria, right next door to Tuscany. It is DOC level wine, made mostly from Trebbiano. Light, crisp, always pleasant, perfect for warm weather. Both of these wines, at $10.99, can be ours for many meals and glasses to come. And they don’t have to be saved for Italian dinners either. They are way better than that. Enjoy!