If Hong Kong has its Avenue of Stars, Tuscany, more precisely Bolgheri, has its Cypress Avenue: the 5km long “Viale dei Cipressi”, which is lined by 2,540 elegant, towering trees. It is the perfect stage for a masterpiece – and I’m not talking about Italian cinema. This little paradise is situated inland, a short ride from the Mediterranean on the peninsula’s west coast, south of Pisa, where the Etruscan civilization was founded long before the advent of Rome. The “Strada del Vino” wine road wanders amid forest, backyard alleys and vine fields, popping up names any wine lover is familiar: Tenuta San Guido, Ca’Marcanda, Guado al Tasso and Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, the wineries behind Sassicaia, Gaja, Antinori and Ornellaia.
Wine and travel expert Julien Yung Mameaux on the joys of Italy’s most fashionable wines.
SUPER TUSCAN, NOT JUST TUSCAN
Italy’s winemaking industry has existed for millennia, dominated by Tuscany, along with Piedmont, known for Barolo and Barbaresco, and Veneto, where Amarone della Valpolicella comes from. Home of the world-famous Chianti, Tuscany defined school-like standards for many wine producers. However a few families truanted from the usual curriculum to create a breed of their own called “Super Tuscan”: wines that were not exclusively produced from local Sangiovese grapes and therefore did no adhere to the only then allowed “DOC” appellation.
The dissident movement was initiated the end of the Second World War by Mario Incisa della Rochetta, a man who thought that the Bolgheri area was more suited for French-type grapes than local ones. He planted Cabernet Sauvignon and started to make a wine whose name pays tribute to the stony soils where it is grown – Sassicaia.
Another man from a 600-year old winemaking family, Piero Antinori, embraced this new approach and also added Bordeaux varietals Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to craft another of Italy’s finest wines – Solaia. Most of these Bolgheri wines started as “vino da tavola”, i.e. table wines, before substantial refinements in viticulture and wine production in the 1980s put them on the road to stardom.
A NEW IDENTITY
Since borrowing inspiration from Southwestern France, Super Tuscan wines have emancipated themselves and established their own identity in a short period of time. One may argue that they take the best of both worlds – Bordeaux and Tuscany. Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, in Mouton-Rothschild fashion, granted the artist Michelangelo Pistoletto the right to design exclusive bottles for their 25th anniversary – the 2009 vintage. When I tasted the Ornellaia 2009 (97 points by Robert Parker Jr.) at the property, my palate was stimulated by delicate notes of spices, leather and tannins balanced with sumptuous red berries flavours, as crafted by winemaker Axel Heinz. Despite a trend in limiting oak maturation, Super Tuscans have a long ageing potential, for fruits ripen in ideal conditions with Mediterranean air under the Tuscan sun.
There, in pure Italian style, wine is art. The beautiful Ca’Marcanda estate of the Gaja family, otherwise famous for transcending Barbaresco into one of Italy’s noblest wines, is a little heaven where wood and steel artworks blend perfectly with the various rooms of the winery, itself concealed behind a flowery garden. It’s delicious, dark colored and very precise Ca’Marcanda wine with blackcurrant and mint flavours is a personal favorite. And it is best enjoyed over an al fresco lunch in the medieval hamlet of Bolgheri, hidden behind a gate at the very end of the Cypress Avenue. There it is, full of harmony, my little corner of Tuscany.
Taste the finest Italian wines in Italy with Julien Yung Mameaux over an exceptional golf and wine holiday. Contact Julien, in charge of The Experience Company (www.TheExCo.com) at +852 2179 3307 or Contact@TheExCo.com.
(published in HK Golfer – April 2014)