Boy, I’m lucky. My friend Ernest has a huge cellar and endless generosity. Inspired by my latest obsession, 1001 Wines You Must Taste Before You Die, he offered to open three vintages of the Super Tuscan, iconic wine, Tignanello. Talk about a wine with a story. In the late 60’s early 70’s the Antinori family of Tuscany broke tradition and started producing barrique aged wine from the Bordeaux grape varieties. In 1968, the frontrunner was Sassicaia from the vineyards of Marquis Mario Incisa della Rocchetta. Cousin Piero Antinori answered with Tignanello in 1971. In 1985, Piero’s brother Lodovico trumped both wines with Ornellaia. This first family of Tuscan wine changed the face of Italian wine law. Up to that point wines of this pedigree could only be labeled Vino da Tavola, the lowest of the classifications. This became a source of embarrassment to the Gov as these wines commanded some of the highest prices in the country. To save face, a higher category IGT was formed to house these rebel wines. Top quality classifications of DOC and DOCG have since adapted to allow a percentage of international varieties. (You can google the long Italian name behind all these initials – this is my blog, not the Oxford dictionary of wine). So technically, today, Tignanello would classify as a Chianti Clasico DOCG but this Fonzarelli of wine chooses to remain an IGT. Go Tig!
Today’s tasting crew included Ernest (obviously), Andres, and Treve. All original cast from our sommelier class. When we invited Andres, his response was “half those wines are older than me”. So Junior added a 2003 to the afternoon. We felt happy/sad because this was likely the last time we will see Dre for a while. He is relocating to London, England this week. Bon Voyage. See you over there, buddy. And the lovely Treve… A super-talented, ridiculously hard working foodie / wine nut / writer / entrepreneur / and mother of two of most gorgeous kids in the universe. Absent Sharon. No sympathy please. Sharon is actually in Italy as we speak tasting wine from the source. But we still missed her.
So, the wine. Well it started out at a vertical of three, as you can see by this blog’s title, but Captain Generous found a fourth bottle and added a magnum of Secentenario. That bottle alone could have been its own event. On May 10th, 1985 the Antinori’s celebrated their 600th anniversary with a one-time bottling of a blend of the best wines the Tignanello vineyards ever offered. One retailer in the States said, “it is not wholly accurate to describe this as one of Italy’s rarest offerings, given that the wine is, for the most part, simply unavailable, eluding the most connected and accomplished of collectors.” Go Ernest! Boy, I’m lucky. So altogether we have 5 Tigs (1980 – 1983, 2003) and the Super Tig. None of these wines are actually in my 1001 Wines but they should be. I figure if the Antinori’s can colour outside the lines, then so can I.
The big question: Could the 80’s be too far gone? I think we were all surprised how much fruit these 30-year old wines retained. We disagreed slightly on the ’80 vs ’81. Two thought ‘80 had had the biscuit, and two of us (ME) thought it was drinking perfectly and showed more freshness than the ’81. Interestingly enough, Decanter gave the 1980 vintage in Tuscany only 1 out of 5 stars and said the wines would not hold. Not the case here. We all agreed that each of the vintages presented quite uniquely. For me, ’80 was slightly more floral with hints of rose petal and baking spice amongst the dusty cranberry and cherry fruit. ’81 had less red fruit intensity and more of a herbal component on the nose. Its length was shy of the other examples. ’82 was the crowd pleaser. It was a delicate well-balanced offering of dried red fruit, tea, tobacco, and wood spice. All three of my co-tasters pegged it as their top pick. ’83 was a very hot year and the wine was quite extracted. Kind of Port-like. A bit of a Mac truck. I loved it. I was alone on that call. ’03 was a pup (as we like to call Andres). Easily tack another 10-12 years to that bottle. Then, the Secentenario. It’s almost impossible to taste this wine without bias. We were all a little star struck. The wine lived up to its expectations however, with grace, balance and generous length. Treve pointed out (quite adeptly) that this was the wine that most tasted like Sangiovese.
I wonder what we will pour next that could possibly follow this very special experience.
p.s. Ernest pointed out to me that Tignanello is actually in the book (page 425). It was hidden under “A” for Antinori (oops).