Wine Notes – Innovation Comes to the Old World

When I meet with winemakers, I always ask what they are doing to create better and more interesting products. Domestic producers often tell me about the great new blends they’re creating that will take the market by storm. The Italians I speak with always seem to respond the same way, emphasizing the traditions of old and how they work to achieve the best expression of terroir. Marilisa Allegrini tells a different story. Her family’s brands have made their mark in the wine industry through innovations.

In my column for the May/June issue of mvm, I wrote about innovations the Allegrini family has introduced at their Valpolicella properties, on which the Allegrinis have been cultivating grapes and producing wine for over six generations. That was only part of the story. The family also maintains estates in Bolgheri, an Italian wine region whose DOC (denominazione de origine controllata) wasn’t established until 1994. 

Bolgheri, located in western Tuscany, achieved notoriety in 1978, when Decanter magazine held a worldwide cabernet sauvignon tasting. The winner was the 1975 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia from Bolgheri, which bested the top French cabernets. Two years earlier, at the famous Judgment of Paris, the chardonnay of Napa Valley’s Chateau Montelena shocked the wine world when it triumphed over its French counterparts in a blind tasting. No doubt, the mid-’70s was a time for reflection among French winemakers. These tastings also motivated the Allegrini family to form a new “Super Tuscan” winery in the Bolgheri region.

By Italian law, most Tuscan wines need to be made from at least 70% sangiovese grapes. Maverick winemakers began experimenting with Bordeaux varietals with excellent results, but because their wine did not meet the regulations, they were required to label their products with the lowest Italian wine designation, “Vino da Tavola.” Journalist began identifying these wines as “Super Tuscans.” Eventually, official wine regions were established that recognized these innovative blends. Bolgheri is considered the birthplace of the Super Tuscan.

Left: Aged in stainless steel without oak or malolactic fermentation, this crisp expression of the vermentino grape is perfect for pairing with any seafood or vegetarian dish. The flowery bouquet will captivate you and the acidity will shine through whatever you are serving. If the white wines you have been tasting seem too flabby, this $20 bottle will brighten up your table. Right: Marilisa Allegrini of Allegrini Estates in Italy’s Valpolicella region. Photos by Kevin Harkins.

The Poggio al Tesoro (hill of treasure) estate winery was established in 2002, with Marilisa Allegrini and her late brother, Walter, at the helm. “I put all my creativity and experience from the Allegrini estates to work in creating this winery that features international varieties contrasting from the native Italian grapes,” Allegrini says. “They planted four vineyards that were within walking distance of each other on the estate with red varietals: cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petit verdot, merlot and syrah. During the second year of planting, Allegrini decided she wanted to plant a white varietal and opted for vermentino. She recalls speaking to her oenologist (a term for a wine and winemaking scientist) and saying, “I don’t want to have the typical variety of Italian white-style wine that is fruity and should be consumed in a year or two. … I want a wine that has structure, intensity, minerality, good aromatic expression and longevity. He looked at me and said, ‘My God, you are describing something that we are not used to!’ But he took the challenge and said we can try: ‘I don’t promise anything, but we can try with this clone from Corsica.’” The Italian clones of vermentino tend to lose their acidity dramatically as they ripen, but the clone from Corsica keeps that acidity and ages well.

We tasted this wine, and I can tell you that they achieved the desired results. Allegrini says it reminds her of a dry riesling but I am leaning toward gewürztraminer. It’s nothing like the flabby vermentino that’s cultivated in other regions. Allegrini has retained 1,800 bottles from each vintage and has occasional vertical tastings to confirm its age-worthiness. This unique creation is called Solosole (just sunshine), and it will definitely brighten your day. 

The flagship wine from Poggio al Tesoro is called Sondraia. This textbook Bordeaux blend of 65% cabernet sauvignon, 25% merlot and 10% cabernet franc exemplifies how Bolgheri’s Super Tuscan terroir produces award-winning results. Accolades have come from multiple sources, but most significantly from Gambero Rosso, Italy’s most prestigious guide to Italian wines. Five vintages have received their highest rating of Tre Bicchieri (three glasses). It will set you back around $50 but is well worth the price.

It was my pleasure to meet with Marilisa Allegrini to learn about and taste the wines made with her family’s dedication to excellence and innovation. These wines are well distributed and available locally. Just ask your favorite retailer for Allegrini and Poggio al Tesoro. Everything I tasted was fantastic. 

Salute!    

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