Marchese Piero Antinori hosted a group of wine writers on a recent summer morning at the wine estate his family owns at the end of Soda Canyon Road in the Atlas Peak appellation.
He was here to celebrate the release of the 2012 vintage of the cabernet sauvignons from Antica Napa Valley, coupled with the 40th anniversary of his renowned Tignancello from the land of Chianti Classico.
It was a morning to walk through the vineyards, with estate director Glenn Salva providing facts, figures and tidbits about the development of the remarkable estate in Foss Valley, given its name by putting together “Anti” (from the family) and “ca” for California.
Marchese Antinori came to Napa Valley three decades ago at the invitation of a company from the U.K. to check on the viability of a new wine venture.
“I fell in love (with Napa and environs) because I felt at home,” he said. “I felt the elevation was good as was the rocky soil; I felt this property could produce high-quality wines.” And he’s been proven right.
But it was some time before the property — and the winemaking operation — would belong solely to his family. There were others involved who, as time will tell, fell by the wayside as those in the corporate world tend to do.
“We are not in a hurry,” Antinori said of the family business that got its start 630 years ago when Giovanni Antinori became an active participant in the Florentine Vintners Guild.
Antinori is pleased that his three daughters have essentially taken over business operations — but you’ll never hear him utter the “R” word.
On the contrary, Piero Antinori is excited that next year Tuscans will celebrate the 300th anniversary of enacting the first appellation for wine. He’s doubly proud that Niccolo Antinori — who served as secretary of state to Cosimo III of the renowned Medicis — was instrumental in the writing of that legislation.
In celebrating 40 years of Tignanello, Antinori noted the period when the original Super Tuscan was produced “represents a turning point for Antinori and Tuscan wines in general … it was the beginning of a new chapter of winemaking in Italy. The focus shifted to quality instead of quantity.”
The Antinori family is in no rush to reach capacity at the Antica facility here. The estate is 1,200 acres, with only half that acreage planted to vines. They make use of 20 percent of the annual crop, selected from the best vineyard blocks, producing only 15,000 cases of wine. The bulk of the fruit is sold to others. When it comes to tonnage, about half is cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent chardonnay and the remainder mostly Bordeaux blenders, plus the latest release, an intense, distinct sauvignon blanc.
“We intend to grow step by step,” the dashing, soft-spoken vintner said of the Antica brand, “building the reputation for the brand. We could eventually produce 30,000 cases.
“But as the price for grapes in the Napa Valley is very high, the estate does well by selling our (excess) fruit.”
Introduced as Antinori offered guests the latest releases to taste was the newest member of the team at Antica, winemaker Melissa Apter, a UC Davis grad who worked for a time at the Tignanello operation and had a hand in blending the 2012 vintage, the latest release.
Antinori said Apter makes the Antica wines “with an Italian mentality in an Italian style.” As he sipped the 2012 cabernet sauvignon from the estate’s best blocks, his smile strongly suggested satisfaction. It’s a rich, full-bodied cab with a long, ripe finish that retails for $60.
Also tasted at the estate on that occasion were:
2012 Townsend Vineyard cabernet sauvignon ($110) — this is a very special cab from 24 acres of a 40-acre tract the winery acquired from June Townsend in 1998. Mrs. Townsend continued to live on the property until her death in 2002 at the age of 92. A tribute to this early caretaker of the land, the wine is the pride and joy of the Antica collection, grown in a rocky patch that had to be cleared before vines could be planted. This is the fifth release — an intense 100 percent cab displaying lots of finesse, or as the marchese would put it, “a wine with a lot of drinkability.” It has a lush core of black cherries, blackberries and cassis, with great depth and a wonderful cassis and coffee nose.
2011 Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva ($25) — a blend of 90 percent sangiovese and 10 percent cabernet sauvignon, grapes for this wine also now come from the Tignanello estate. It has round, firm tannins characteristic of the sangiovese grape, and provides a mouthful of red fruit — notably raspberries, strawberries and cherries. A wine with nice complexity, it should age well.
2012 Tignanello Toscana IGT ($105) — a shimmering purple hue and a spicy nose greets the taster. It’s a rich wine that shows off its pedigree, lots of complexity and elegance are first impressions as a mouthful of plums and cherries wash over the tongue, creating a long-lasting impression. I just loved the fruit-packed finish. In general, Tignanello needs a few years to open up, and it’s definitely a wine one can cellar.
When it comes to wine from the Antinoris, there’s no need to worry about a bottle reaching its potential before you drink it. Rather that we can hold onto it until it does.