Social Distancing Wine Club Ep. 2
Since its inception over 40 years ago, Tignanello has grown into an icon of Italian wines and is world renowned as one of the finest red wines to be made. Produced by one of Italy’s most historic wineries, Marchesi Antinori, this wine spearheaded a movement in Italian winemaking that revolutionized the industry and helped restore the almost destroyed reputation of the famous Chianti region.
Antinori has a long history of winemaking going back about 26 generations. Since the 1300s the family has been a pillar of the Tuscan winemaking community, and in 1900 the family bought vineyards in the Chianti Classico region that would help shape their future in a way they never could have foreseen.
Italy is notoriously traditional in their winemaking and the laws that dictate them. To even be able to label a wine with the name of a specific village requires strict following of rules. And many of these rules are archaic and discouraging of innovation. It was because of this system that many of Italy’s famous regions reached a period of diminished reputation due to an influx of subpar wines reaching the market. Everyone has seen one of those gaudy bottles of Chianti in a straw basket. In fact, it was Chianti’s massive success that inevitably became it’s undoing. Historically high market demand pushed winemakers to start farming for quantity instead of quality. The need for more grapes pushed the rampant practice of blending with lackluster white grapes to help stretch the wines out. Chianti went from being a beautiful, well-structured red, to something light and sour that served no better purpose than being a decoration on the table of your local pizza shop. In the 1970s Antinori started to push back.
Tignanello was long the name of Antinori’s top vineyard, but it’s evolution into an iconic wine stemmed from simple curiosity and a desire to make things better. Piero Antinori spent time traveling to some of the world’s greatest regions (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa), trying to figure out what they were doing so right. Bordeaux was arguably the most influential of the mix. These travels pushed him to do the one thing 600-year-old Italian wineriesrarely do: change.
The first step was deciding to not care about putting Chianti on the label which would allow him to take some creative liberties. Next was the decision to age the wines in French barrique, something never done in traditional Italian winemaking. They stopped using any white grapes in the blend, replacing them with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Thus in 1974 we saw the release of the world’s first “Super-Tuscan.” A world class wine designated as no more than a “Table Wine” by the Italian government. Tignanello’s immediate success on the world stage inspired others to follow suit, soon after seeing the birth of other famous wines such as Sassicaia and Ornellaia.
As these wines became more influential, the people behind them became more powerful. They were able to push for a new designation that recognized them as being more than just table wine. In 1992 they created the new designation Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT), which essentially states that the wine is of a “typical style” for the region but does not follow the rules required to claim membership to a classic village like Barolo or Brunello. At last one of the world’s great wines could actually lay claim and take pride in the region whose reputation they helped restore. In the years since the overall quality of Chianti has continued to rise but we also see so many amazing and non-traditional wines that have helped Italy become one of the most exciting and diverse countries in the winemaking world.
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