Bolgheri: a trip through history, between poetry and wine, in search of the Super Tuscans

Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Masseto, Grattamacco, Guado al Tasso, Ca’ Marcanda, Piastraia; Incisa della Rocchetta, Antinori, Satta, Gaja. In one word, Bolgheri: the Italian enclave of the “Super Tuscans” wines.

Lucia Maffei

On the coast of Tuscany, a few kilometres from Leghorn, there is an ancient territory called the Etruscan Coast: here nature, history and poetry synthesise the culture of the Tuscan countryside. An extraordinarily beautiful landscape that today is renowned not only as one of the cores of the Etruscan civilisation, but also as the veritable heart of the best wine production in Europe.

WINE IS AN IMPORTANT PART OF THE MEMORY AND HISTORY OF THIS AREA: the Etruscan people had introduced it from the East and used to consider it as a “sacred” drink, while the Romans, who exported wine to Germany and France, used to celebrate Bacchus with feasts and ceremonies. Like an Ariadne’s thread, a colour, a perfume, wine leads us to the discovery of these ancient places, cradle of the wine civilisation: it unveils modern vineyards, ancient wine cellars, vats, barrels and thousands of bottles carefully lined up on the shelves, waiting for a corkscrew to disclose the secrets of this modern nectar of the gods.

THE MODERN HISTORY OF THESE PLACES STARTS FROM THE BIRTH OF THE SASSICAIA WINE. Not only Bolgheri, Castagneto and the Etruscan Coast but also Italian enology itself owe its “Renaissance” to the renowned label with the 8-pointed golden star on blue background. Originally, it was two young Della Gherardesca countesses who deserve the merit for this, having married and brought to Maremma two “marchesi”, one from the Antinori family and the other from the Incisa della Rocchetta family. The first was Tuscan and a professional vine-dresser for over 25 generations; the second came from Piedmont, was an amateur vine-dresser and a horse-racing enthusiast.

Mario Incisa, indeed, was very adroit with horses: he was the owner of the legendary Ribot, the invincible horse that from 1955 to 1958 won all the competitions from the Arc de Triomphe to the Royal Ascot, from San Siro to Longchamp. Ribot was the best pure-blooded horse: 16 races, 16 victories, a record that is still today unbeaten.

BUT HE WAS NOT ONLY INTERESTED IN HORSE RACING: around the year 1942, along that same cypress-lined walk made famous by Carducci’s verses, he decided to create his own wine. A wine that was to be different from other Tuscan kinds and of higher quality. So he imported to Bolgheri the grapevine barbates of Cabernet Sauvignon cultivated by the Salviati Dukes in their estate in Migliarino Pisano. The territory he chose was called Sassicaia since the late XIX century, due to the numerous stones (sassi in Italian) that had to be removed before cultivating it. He wanted the vineyard to face north-east like the French vineyards of Côte D’Or and Medoc, and had some small vats delivered to him: the so-called barriques, so small with respect to the traditional Tuscan ones that they had to be hand-filled.

So the birth of the Tuscan Sassicaia wine is due to almost a challenge to the Sangiovese wine.

But it took more than ten years before this wine, at first defined “undrinkable” by the bailiff and the local experts, was recognised by Luigi Veronelli, the utmost authority of Italian enology, who wrote: “That wine was extraordinary. I decided to write about it”. With the vintage of the year 1964, bottled in 1967, the unique label, designed by the Marchese himself, made its first appearance.

THE COMMERCIAL SYNERGY WITH THE ANTINORI COUSINS and the choice of an extraordinary enologist, Giacomo Tachis, completed the operation and in a few years, the Sassicaia became as invincible as Ribot! At the end of the ‘70s, the English magazine “Decanter” declared the wine of Bolgheri the best Cabernet in the world. From that moment on, the whole area of Bolgheri, Castagneto Carducci, Suvereto, Massa Marittima became the core of a high-level wine-making activity. The Sassicaia label was soon followed by many others that attained the same fame and the same value on the world market.

In the Ornellaia Farm, a few steps from Sassicaia, lived Lodovico Antinori who had decided to come back to Italy to live in Bolgheri after having travelled the United States coast to coast acquiring a deep knowledge of that market, following his uncle Mario Incisa’s idea of a “different wine”. From the 45-hectare estate, Lodovico and André Tchelistcheff, the founder of American enology, obtained a new wine, another exceptional label, named Ornellaia.

Continuing on among the vineyards, on the road from Bolgheri to Castagneto, there is an impressive series of vineyards and cellars, almost lined up like the age-old cypresses. From this magic landscape come the prestigious Guado al Tasso, Grattamacco, Ca’ Marcanda, Piastraia, Paleo labels.

OBSERVANCE OF TRADITION AND INNOVATION are the secrets of these places: besides the historic farms, there are now new cellars and vineyards like Ca’ Marcanda, founded by the Italian producer of Piedmontese cru Angelo Gaja, the most famous abroad. This new farm represents a place where architecture, design, art and technology melt with the landscape of well-tended Cabernet and Merlot vineyards, perfectly synthesising history and modernity. A bridge that directly brings us to the third millennium wine culture.

TODAY, HERE IN BOLGHERI, RESEARCH AND TECHNOLOGY MEET WITH ANCIENT CULTURE, AND THE TASTES OF THE TUSCAN TRADITION have given birth to a veritable collective myth. The best years of Sassicaia have become a “cult” item to the extent that a true, frantic bottle-hunting was born! An anecdote is often told about a Canadian wine-lover who, after spending a night in the cold to secure a bottle of the very precious Sassicaia ’81, proudly exhibited a pin on his lapel with the words: “I froze my ass for the ’81 Sass!”And indeed for these precious, often unreachable labels, a special category was born, especially dedicated to them: the Super Tuscans.•

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