Italy is a big country, and Tuscany stretches over quite a large area. That’s why a Tuscan wine isn’t just a Tuscan wine, and not necessarily all wines are made of the famous Sangiovese grape. I had the chance to learn more about this in the last week of October when I visited some wineries around San Vincenzo, where I stayed at the beautiful Poggio ai Santi.
A Tuscan wine can be a Montepulciano, a Chianti, a Brunello di Montalcino and there’s more. In the area around San Vincenzo, the wine region is called Bolgheri, which is famous for its Bordeaux style wines. What does this mean? It means that the wines produced in the area are a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot and sometimes contain a small percentage of Petit Verdot.
The Appellation of Bolgheri is quite a young one compared to its sister regions of Montalcino or Chianti. The Sassicaia wine was a pioneer in the area. It made Bolgheri and the surroundings a well-known appellation, nowadays being one of the most outstanding and most expensive wines you can find in Bolgheri. The appellation is unique. It is home to a very mineral and chalky ground, the salty air and winds coming from the sea, and a lot of sunlight thanks to its location partly on a plateau and partly on a hill.
1. Tenuta Argentiera
Tenuta Argentiera felt like a special place. It is located very close to the coast and lying partly on the highest point of the Bolgheri area, 200m above sea level. To get to the winery, you drive on a graveled road, hidden in the shade of tall and dense pine trees. Halfway up the mountain is a beautiful old building, decorated with terracotta-colored tiles that houses a large space for wine production, fermentation, and maturation on several floors. The view from up there is impressive; you overlook the vines, all aligned neatly like matchsticks, many of them facing the sea. Depending on the season you’re visiting, you’ll either see them in lush green, possibly during harvest or in dark brown and orange hues, closer to winter.
Tenuta Argentiera produces several types of wine, 500 thousand bottles a year. Among these is one white Vermentino, one Rosé, and several red wines, with their Argentiera blend being their signature one. It is composed of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc. The wines are aged in French oak barrels, all stored in the cellar of the estate.
The wines I tried were all of a deep red, some more purple colour. The Argentiera wine tasted of red fruit like blackberry, cassis, and plum, rich in tannins and pleasantly oaky. Their white Vermentino called Poggio ai Ginepri was very mineral, with a scent of white flowers, pear, and apricot.
When I was there, we also drove up to a beautiful viewpoint. A bumpy semi-steep road passes more vines and leads to the top of the hill. From here, you oversee the hilly landscape that, like a slide, ends in the sea in front of it—the perfect end to a lovely visit.
Arriving at the Petra vineyard is somewhat a different experience than wineries I’ve been to before. A large and modern brick building, supported by concrete, in a light reddish sand colour, resembling the earth the wine is grown on, is situated geometrically in the middle of the vineyard. The work has been designed by the known architect Mario Botta. He decided to let the massive building melt within the landscape by designing it in a round shape and integrating it into the rock behind it. A dramatic staircase divides the building visually.
The winery is run by Francesca Moretti, who gives the wines a female and pragmatic touch. The Moretti family is well known in Italy for its construction business and its many vineyards.
The cellar of Petra is quite impressive, with mainly medium toasted French oak barrels. A couple of barrels are from Slavonian oak, a region historically located between Croatia and Slovakia. A unique tasting room has been created at the end of a tunnel. It ends directly at the rock, where you can also see the layers’ composition, where the vines grow on.
The signature Petra wine is composed of 70 Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot, and you’ll discover hints of black cherry, wild berries, and hints of tobacco and rosemary.
At Petra, different wines are produced, such as Hebo, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, and 10% Sangiovese. Their Alto wine with a 100% Sangiovese has peppy and velvety notes and mineral hints.
3. Tenuta San Guido
The queen of all vineyards. Their signature wine Sassicaia was the pioneer in ‘Super-Tuscan’ wine, a wine movement arising from the restrictive DOC practices of the Chianti wine region. To be named Chianti Superiore, several requirements have to be met. Wines that didn’t meet these were not recognised within the Italian classification of the appellation system. Mario Incisa Della Rocchetta wished to create something new. So Sassicaia was born, a Cabernet Sauvignon blend with a small amount of Cabernet Franc.
As with other vineyards in the region, the vines at San Guido are located both in flatter terroir, as well as closer to the hills. It is safe from stronger inland winds but still is exposed to milder winds from the sea. The main winery lies on a beautiful alley, framed by tall, dark green cypresses, home to the barrels where the Sassicaia wine is aging.
Sassicaia is a Bordeaux-style wine, a bold, dry, and tannic choice with medium acidity. You’ll discover hints of oak, tobacco, as well as black plums, leather, and blackcurrant. Besides the signature wine, the winery also produces a more affordable Merlot, which can be drunk earlier, called Guidalberto. The third wine, Le Difese, is a 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Sangiovese blend that is aged for 12 months in French and American oak.
Of course, the list is much longer, and it will take you a long time to visit all vineyards located in this little piece of breathtaking landscape.