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The Tuscan seduction

Many people assume that the Italian system of classification of wines is a quality rating. The wines get classified according to their geographical regions of origin and winemakers are not allowed to plant grape varieties that are not statutorily specified for a region.

Sourish Bhattacharyya        Print Edition: April 20, 2008

Among Italian wine families, the name Antinori is treated with a degree of reverential admiration you’d reserve for your favourite royal. The Antinoris are the Tuscan wine nobility, not only because the family has been in the business for several generations, but also because it has been associated with some of the best wines ever produced in Italy.

Sourish Bhattacharyya
Sourish Bhattacharyya
To be a black sheep in this blue-blooded family— and then being successful in life—is very difficult. But Ludovico Antinori, brother of the present patriarch, Piero, managed to be a playboy with good taste in women and luxury cars, and created a great wine after breaking out on his own. The wine is one of Italy’s finest—it’s called Ornellaia and I am writing about it because its 20th vintage was uncorked in Delhi some time back.

Ludovico—who reunited with his patrician brother in 2001—had initially set his sights on California, but he was advised to look closer home to the marshy Tuscan coastland known as the Maremma, which had once attracted only grazing cattle, but is rated as hot property today. He had a point to prove, because his brother Piero had tied up with his uncle, Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, to produce Italy’s original cult wine, the ‘Super Tuscan’ called Sassicaia, followed by the Tignanello and Solaia. What Piero did was rebel against the Italian wine classification system. He did something unthinkable for an Italian—plant Bordeaux grape varieties and create a French wine on Italian soil, with inspiration from the guru of Bordeaux’s wine industry, Emile Peynaud.

Many people assume that the Italian system of classification of wines is a quality rating. The wines get classified according to their geographical regions of origin and winemakers are not allowed to plant grape varieties that are not statutorily specified for a region. At the top of this hierarchy are Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) wines, but then, much of Chianti (that is, half of Tuscany) falls in this category.

 

Sassicaia Price: Rs 14,900

Ornellaia Price: Rs 12,900

Tignanello Price: Rs 11,900

Courtesy of Orient Express, Taj Palace, New Delhi 

A DOCG wine—you can recognise it by the pink sticker on the neck of the bottle—does not have to be a topper. Nor does a Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) wine—you’ll find it with a light green sticker—which is next in the pecking order, have to be the second-best. Both Ornellaia and Sassicaia figure in neither category —in the Italian wine caste system, they figure in the third rung, known by the initials IGT, or Indicazione Geografica (they started out as the shudras, being ranked among the table wines of the country)—but they are undoubtedly the world’s most celebrated wines. The Super Tuscans, who’re on the sidelines of the caste system, are the superheroes— the Pandavas of the Italian wine world.

Let me end with a note of caution. The manager of a much-hyped North Indian restaurant had boasted to me about money he made by selling Tignanello. Now, if there’s a wine I wouldn’t recommend with a barra kebab, it’s the Tignanello. Super Tuscans are complex wines whose tannins don’t agree with our spices. Have them with a lamb rack cooked in red wine or even vegetarian lasagna, but not with our kebabs. And remember, if you order a Super Tuscan, alert the restaurant in advance, because it will require decanting for an hour. Having a Super Tuscan straight from the bottle is like drowning your money. Even if you have lots of it, it’s not a good idea.

Sourish Bhattacharyya is Executive Editor, Mail Today

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