Bolgheri wine, relatively new on the Italian scene, has been slowly but surely staking its claim to oenological fame since the end of the 60s. The area in which this palate-pleasing red wine is produced is found on the Tuscan coast, running from Livorno to Grosseto, in a region known as Maremma Toscana, where vineyards slope gently down toward the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Which are the best Bolgheri wines? Bolgheri’s place in history will be forever linked to a particular wine, the Bolgheri Sassicaia, by Tenuta San Guido. In a blind tasting in the late 70s, Sassicaia beat several established Bordeaux wines – fast forward a few decades, and the estate is famous worldwide, synonymous with absolute excellence. The term Super Tuscan was created by international wine critics to designate these revolutionary wines.
Sassicaia means ‘stony field’. It was the similarity of the gravelly terrain with that of vineyards in French regions such as the Haut-Médoc in Bordeaux which led the owner of the Tenuta San Guido, Marquis Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, to plant varieties previously associated with Bordeaux in the first place. Not too long after, the Marquis’ neighbour, Lodovico Antinori, began planting Merlot on his estate, giving rise to the equally highly esteemed Bolgheri wines from the Ornellaia estate. Whilst the pricing of these luxurious wines can be sometimes hard to afford, Bolgheri blends can also be very accessible – try those from Tenuta Meraviglia, Castello di Bolgheri or Tenuta Le Colonne for example.
Bolgheri’s prestige outreaches by far the young age of the appellation, perhaps not surprisingly, however, given that Mario Incisa della Rocchetta took inspiration from the centuries-old tradition of Bordeaux wine. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot are generally the main grapes used in the blend of Bolgheri wines, often joined by Syrah, Petit Verdot, and, less frequently, the native Sangiovese. Recent years have seen a trend towards monovarietal wines. Another point of similarity with their French cousins is that Bolgheri wines are often aged in smaller oak barrels than are commonly used in Italy, the bordolese barriques. Using smaller vessels has the effect of ensuring a larger proportion of the wine gets in contact with the wood, for a resulting more complex bouquet.
What is the tasting profile of a Bolgheri wine? Bolgheri wines boast a very deep shade of red in the glass, and an abundant, intense bouquet. On the nose, notes of dark berry, plum, spice, roots and oak are common. On the palate, Bolgheri is defined by black fruit, flint, liquorice and tobacco. Bolgheri wines usually have silky smooth tannins, with a round, almost creamy mouthfeel, and are well-suited to ageing for several years
What is Bolgheri Superiore? Whereas Bolgheri Rosso wines are aged for one year, Bolgheri Superiore wines must be aged for double the time, spending at least one of the two years in oak. Furthermore, Bolgheri must be made from grapes originating from low yield vineyards.
Bolgheri pairs well with red meats and game as you might expect. Also ossobuco, or lamb shanks are a good match. It goes well with smoky flavours – as in smoked cheese and cured meats. Always remember to open an hour before drinking, to enjoy the full complexity of this special wine – you’re guaranteed to be in for a treat.