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Posted: Wednesday, 17 June 2020 13:47

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Featured Wine: 50 Years of Super Tuscan Tignanello from Marchesi Antinori

June 17: Tignanello Toscana IGT from the House of Marchesi Antinori, might spend its 50th year in 2021 or even 2025, depending on the outlook of the owners but it is one of the most revered Italian brands that compete with top Bordeaux wines at 2-4 times its price, writes Subhash Arora who believes that the forerunner was introduced in 1970 with many years of underlying work with Giacomo Tachis, the winemaker who introduced Sassicaia, a decade earlier and the luxury wine officially introduced in 1971 is truly aspirational

I visited Florence a couple of summers ago to attend the wedding of the son of a friend from the US, whom I knew since my years at the University of Minnesota. Four of us, staying at San Casciano Val di Pesa, went to a close-by restaurant for dinner. Looking at the Wine List, I was surprised to see the 2014 vintage of Tignanello, the iconic Super Tuscan from Marchesi Antinori listed at €70; it normally retails for €70-100. Although 2014 was not considered a great vintage for Tuscany, believing that a great producer can make very good wines even in poor years, we immediately ordered a bottle, followed by yet another bottle of the delicious wine.

It was later that I read the Review by Monica Larner, the Rome- based American journalist and a good friend who writes officially about Italian wines for Wine Advocate and rates thousands every year. She had this to say about Tignanello 2014, "Tignanello has this amazing ability of always being, well, Tignanello. Its very DNA makes it among the most distinctive and recognizable wines in the world. I'm happy to report that this is also the case for the 2014 Tignanello that faced very different growing conditions compared to most.’

‘The wine is beautiful and balanced with sweet tannins and a supporting oak texture that is neatly folded at the back. The wine is all about measure and proportion, and aspires to these goals with an impressive sense of natural harmony. This is not an overtly powerful or muscular expression. Instead, it shows a tasty, almost savoury form of elegance. This vintage was made with 75% Sangiovese, which means that the Cabernet presence is a tad higher than normal. Ultimately, this wine is more delicate and has finesse. And I appreciate the careful tannic management on display here,’ she concluded.

50 years of Tignanello

I have been inspired to write this Article by Daniele Cernilli who writes a Blog in Italian as Doctor Wine. In an earlier Article I had written that Tignanello, the iconic Super Tuscan wine was first released in 1975, after its creators- Piero Antinori and his talented wine-maker late Giacomo Tachis, the original winemaker of Sassicaia, started the new project in 1971. Antinori felt there was something missing in his wines and was keen to make an excellent wine. They created an awesome Tuscan wine using a revolutionary blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, making it a genuine Super Tuscan wine.

Daniele has a different take on this Super-Tuscan. He feels that the Tignanello was officially launched in 1971-making it the 49th year. But Chianti Classico Riserva del Podere Tignanello was launched in 1970. This was the forerunner for what would become Tignanello and hence the 50 years. The wine was supposed to represent both the rediscovery of the estate’s tradition and at the same time, a technical evolution in regard to production.

It was in this scenario that Tignanello made its debut. The sales were slow initially since 1972-74 were not good vintages and the quality of harvest was poor and the wines did not come out. It took off with 1975 vintage when the blend was also changed- using Sangiovese as the main component at 80% and the balance 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and matured in French barriques. The constituents remain pretty much the same, with 80-85% Sangiovese and balance Cabernet Sauvignon with a dash of Cabernet Franc.

It is interesting that Tignanello could well be classified as a Chianti Classico Gran Selezione-the top-echelon Chianti Classico appellation introduced in 2014. But Antinori had planned this wine with a special marketing strategy to differentiate it from Chianti Classico, which had lost some of its sheen at the time due to the price cutting policy being practiced by many industrial producers and bottlers. Piero Antinori realized that what he and a few other estates were trying to do to boost the quality image of their wines could not compete with the irrational commercial policy at the time.

Marchese Piero Antinori is one of the top producers, not only in Tuscany but also in Italy, who has now spread his wings in other countries as well, with the active support of his 26th generation daughters Albiera, Allegra and the youngest Alessia who has been to India many times. 

Tignanello in India

The iconic wine was promoted in India by Sanjay Menon of Sonarys along with other wines from Antinori. In fact, he was instrumental in getting Alessia Antinori, the youngest daughter who visited India 5-6 times to help promote the brand, In fact, there was a special Antinori Dinner organised with the Delhi Wine Club in 2006 when Tignanello was also served.

The Distribution was changed to Berkmann Cellars India in 2010 with Farhad Bhabha, appointed as its Managing Director. Last year, there was a restructuring of Berkmann and the duo of  Dinesh Changela and Farhad Bhabha formed a new company Vinopolis Wines and influenced Antinori to shift the Distribution to the new company. Bhabha says, the sales of Tignanello have been between 1800-3600 bottles (It is on Allotment basis and the quota for India is usually 1800 bottles). But at Rs. 19,500 MRP in Mumbai and around Rs. 18,000 in Delhi it is not easy to sell big numbers. Thanks to the tyrannical import duties, one of the best value-for-money Italian superstars has to keep a low profile.

Tignanello is truly a luxury wine but with good provenance and pedigree. It is considered by many connoisseurs to be a better value than Sassicaia, selling at 4-5 times the price. It is a general consensus that it is far superior to the Top-ended wines of Bordeaux.

One can order one in a restaurant for upwards of Rs. 25,000 a bottle. Hyatt Regency in Delhi is a great proponent of this wine for their top clients and had kept the price at Rs. 18,500 for a couple of years-it is still under Rs. 25,000- making it only a celebratory wine to be shared by 6-8 wine connoisseurs together- just like the practice in Tuscany in the late 1970’s when it had taken the region by storm.

Artusi Ristorante, the leading Italian Restaurant in Delhi and Gurgaon, naturally lists it too at around Rs. 25,000. But as the owner Oscar Balcon confirms to DelWine, they had a special promotion in February, 2020 when he sold it for Rs. 10,000+. Obviously, the left-overs from previous vintages, but it was the best value one could expect anywhere in India. It is usually priced at over €100-120+ in restaurants in Italy.

It is unfortunately not available at Duty Free Shops in India. It is highly recommended to order it in some restaurant in Italy on your next visit post-Corona (though I doubt it would be available at €70- the price I was able to find in the village where it is produced, but one can find it by-the-glass at many places. Do buy a couple of bottles at Duty Free Shops overseas or an Enoteca (specialty wine shop) in Italy at around €70-80 and enjoy the most under-priced Super-Tuscan from Tuscany-it can be stored easily for 15-25 years.

Subhash Arora

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