Combine the romance and allure of Tuscany with sparkling coastlines, fantastic food and delicious red wines and you’ll find yourself in another Italian paradise known as Bolgheri, the western side of Tuscany bordered by the Mediterranean Ocean.
This region offers expansive ocean views coupled with a picturesque countryside that just happens to be home to some very prestigious vineyards. Wineries known for their luscious, layered, big red wines—the Super Tuscans.
This region’s respected reputation began taking shape in the late 70’s when a relatively unknown, young wine named Sassicaia won a major competition over some world renown Bordeaux wines. Bolgheri wines were soon elevated to the world stage of fine wine, a spot they’ve retained ever since.
This was our second trip to Bolgheri. The goal was to further explore the wines of this region, having been intrigued and captivated by them on our first visit.
On our first sojourn here a couple of years ago, we did wonderful tastings at Sassicaia and Ornellaia – fabulous tours. But, the spot I would recommend as a starting point for exploring Bolgheri wines is Castello di Bolgheri, located in an historic castle just inside the gates to the town of Bolgheri. The wines here are far less expensive than those of its well-known neighboring vineyards. They are delicious and will give you some perspective as you explore the region and its wines. Our noteworthy visits are below.
Petra. Housed in a high-tech, contemporary winery (designed by famous Swiss architect Mario Botta) about 45 minutes south of the town of Bolgheri in the Maremma district.
These wines are bold with earthy notes, tobacco and juniper as well as plums and currants. Petra wines are made in the old world style—big wines with lots of layers and big tannins–wines that are best when aged. They beg for a hearty Tuscan steak Florentine. Some of the Petra wines are available at H-E-B.
Giovanni Chiappini. Loved these wines! Giovanni Chiappini, a farmer, began acquiring land in the late 70’s from other property owners, including the high profile Antinori wine family. He acquired an estate that totals about 64 acres and is located alongside the famous Ornellaia estate…think similar terroir! His lovely daughter, Martina, was our tasting guide.
These wines are elegant, velvety reds—well balanced with great finesse. One sip of their their Guado de’ Gemoli, a Cabernet/Merlot blend, leaves you clamoring for another. Be on the lookout for their Lienå Cabernet Franc. It, too, is quite delicious.
Rocca di Frassinello. A tres chic winery designed by the famous Italian architect Renzo Piano. Take a look at the personal sink drawer, an uber modern spit bucket situated at every place setting on the large tasting table!
I’ve seen a number of interesting ‘spit venues’ at tastings, but this one beats them all.
Aesthetics aside, these wines were beautiful and would make excellent pairings with roasted meats—a Fontina stuffed veal chop comes to mind!
Rocca di Frassinello is a joint venture between Les Domaines Barons de Rothshild-Lafite (hence the elegant style of these wines) and Castellare di Castellina, a very well respected producer in the Chianti region of Italy.
Standouts at this tasting– the Rocca di Frassinello 2011, the Le Sughere de Frassinello 2011 at half the price, and their big gun wine—Baffonero that is 100% merlot.
Le Macchiole. Our last winery visit was perhaps the most fascinating—not only for the delicious wines but also because our tasting guide was the wine maker, Luca Rettondini.
Tasting wines with their maker, to me, is as good as it gets. Seeing the winemaker’s passion and hearing their thoughts and reflections about the vintage certainly enhances the experience. After all, wine is a mood setter, an emotional connector.
Luca was a fabulous tasting guide eager to share his thoughts and insights on his wines, much like a proud parent discussing their children’s accomplishments. An interesting side note, he doesn’t like to decant wine (says it shocks the wine), preferring instead to open a bottle at least an hour before it’s poured…2-3 hours for older vintages.
Le Macchiole produces a number of single varietal wines, and what wines they produce each year depends on what varietals excel that season.
Le Macchiole’s tasting of their 2011 vintages included a luscious syrah named Serio, the magnificent Messorio, 100% Merlot, and the Bolgheri Rosso, a delightful merlot, cab franc and syrah blend. We also had the treat of tasting several vintages of the Paleo Cabernet Franc.
Le Macchiole’s wines are proving challenging to find on a retail level, usually available only on fine wine lists in top restaurants. I’m still searching for a source in the US.
The journey continues 🙂