Thanks to a string of outstanding vintages over the last two decades, Italy’s most celebrated wine regions are on a roll.
Even though years like 1964, 1971 and 1978 are legendary in Piedmont, and 1955, 1970 and 1975 evoke similar feelings in Tuscany, stellar vintages used to be few and far between. But toward the late 1990s, things began to change. Better vineyard management — better clones, lower yields and gentler/fewer chemical treatments — coupled with drier, warmer growing seasons throughout the peninsula have regularly produced wines that can age gracefully for decades.
Producers point out that until the mid-1990s, they used to have two, occasionally three, outstanding vintages every decade. The other years were mediocre, if not downright dismal. Now, it’s the opposite. Each of the last few decades have boasted seven or eight very good to outstanding vintages.
Here’s a summary of Italy’s most collectible wines, and some of the greatest vintages of the past two decades.
Featuring rolling hills blanketed with vineyards and medieval hill towns topped with castles, Tuscany looks as if it’s been lifted straight out of a Renaissance painting. Add to its natural beauty delicious food, fantastic wines and a new wave of luxury hotels, and you have yourself your next must-book vacation. The best time to visit is during Fall season, when crowds have dispersed and the local wineries—many among the most lauded in Italy—are harvesting their grapes. Here’s where to sip, sup and stay—and smell the sweet scent of fermenting juice—while on your Tuscan getaway.
Kerin O’Keefe delves into the background of the famed Italian wines Ornellaia and Masseto.
When Lodovico Antinori founded his estate in 1981 on land his mother had given him from her holdings in Bolgheri, he was confident that he was going to make quality Bordeaux-styled wines. This scion of the famed Tuscan winemaking family can hardly have realized, however, that he was on the path to creating two of Italy’s most celebrated labels: Ornellaia and Masseto.
Sassicaia is the Italian wine world’s rock star, and not just because of the unusual rocky soils where the wine’s grapes are cultivated. A rebel when it was first released in 1971, Sassicaia – like the defiant rock musicians of the same period – shook up the status quo and spawned generations of imitators.
It can also claim the title of Original Super Tuscan as it was the first of Tuscany’s renegade wines to break with the antiquated rules that governed Italian winemaking in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Although no longer a revolutionary, Sassicaia is one of Italy’s most iconic and seductive wines.
Tuscan producer Frescobaldi has bought the remaining 50% shares of Ornellaia from Constellation and now owns the elite Bolgheri estate outright.
As reported on decanter.com last December Frescobaldi had been eyeing a complete takeover since wine giant Constellation bought the Robert Mondavi Corporation. Mondavi had been partners with the Frescobaldi family in two Italian joint ventures, Luce della Vite and Ornellaia. Frescobaldi took control of Luce in early March of this year although Constellation was more reluctant to part with the higher-end Ornellaia, one of the jewels of the Italian wine scene, and whose wine, Masseto, is one of the most-sought after around the world.
Frescobaldi exercised the ‘option to buy clause’ in the original contract between the two companies which stated that if either party sold its share of the wine, the other would have the option to take full control.