Tuscany's big reds are at the top of their game in a string of excellent vintages
Since its creation 30 years ago, the pure Merlot called Masseto, from the coastal region of Bolgheri, has earned a reputation as one of Italy’s—and the world’s—greatest red wines. The current release, from the warm, rich and concentrated 2015 vintage, is a stunning rendition.
“We’ve gone beyond the Bordeaux style, beyond international varieties,” says Masseto winemaker Axel Heinz. “We feel we’re now making the best possible wines as an expression of Bolgheri.”
The Masseto Toscana 2015 (98 points on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale, $700), made from 100 percent Merlot, is ripe and powerful, yet polished and silky, its dense tannins well-integrated into the structure, with black cherry, blackberry, cedar and iron flavors framed by vanilla and toasty oak elements. Along with its sibling Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore 2015 (97, $255) and neighbor Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia 2015 (97, $245), Masseto is an example of the high quality reds coming from this tiny region that focuses on Bordeaux grape varieties.
In this year’s Tuscany tasting report, Brunello di Montalcino and the top super Tuscans from Bolgheri and other regions shine, with numerous bottlings in the classic range of 95 points or higher. A pair of super Tuscans weighs in at 97 points: Antinori’s Toscana Tignanello 2015 (97, $135) and Castello dei Rampolla’s Toscana Sammarco 2013 (97, $117). Yet Chianti Classico also makes a strong showing and should not be overlooked. In addition, Montepulciano fields a handful of classic-scorers, including both red and dessert wines.
These are the highlights from more than 750 Tuscan wines I have reviewed in blind tastings at our New York office since my previous report (“Challenging Times,” Oct. 15 & 31, 2017). In addition to the 75 wines that earned classic scores, another 450 rated outstanding (90 to 94 points), making the current crop of new releases from Tuscany very desirable to Italian wine lovers. (A free alphabetical list of scores and prices for all wines tasted is available.)
The 2015 and 2016 vintages, which are being released now and over the next few years, are worth particular attention—they may be the most scintillating back-to-back vintages from Tuscany in the past three decades.
As you explore these new vintages, however, be aware that the Sangiovese-based wines are very different in structure and flavor profile than the 2013s and 2014s. The 2015s are dense, concentrated reds, with massive structures and muscular tannins coated with opulent textures, while the 2016s are ripe, pure and expressive, with vibrant structures. Both exhibit dark fruit flavors of black cherry, black currant, blackberry, plum, violet and mineral. The versions based on Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot are more similar to preceding vintages, if richer, more concentrated and more tannic.
BOLGHERI AND THE TUSCAN COAST
Bolgheri has been the source of excellent reds for some years now. It’s a small area, at just less than 2,900 acres, which gives the wines a regional identity when compared with the rest of the Tuscan coast—stretching from Livorno to south of Grosseto—that surrounds it. (For more on the rise of this important region, see “Tuscany’s Napa,” April 30, 2018.)
In addition to Masseto, Ornellaia and Sassicaia, other notable new releases from Bolgheri include Castello di Bolgheri’s Bolgheri Superiore 2015 (96, $75), Le Macchiole’s Toscana Messorio 2013 (96, $225), Argentiera’s Bolgheri Superiore 2015 (95, $75) and Grattamacco’s Bolgheri Superiore 2015 (95, $110).
There are good values to be found in Bolgheri as well. The Argentiera Bolgheri Poggio ai Ginepri 2015 (93, $20) relies on a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot, resulting in ripe black currant, blackberry, licorice, cedar and graphite flavors. The Grattamacco Bolgheri 2015 (92, $30) is dense and monolithic, while the debut San Felice Bolgheri Bell’Aja 2016 (92, $30) delivers power along with notes of blackberry, pomegranate, earth, tobacco and mineral.
Not far from Bolgheri, to the south, lies Suvereto, where Tua Rita owns vineyards on an outcropping of reddish soils high in iron. It’s the source of the lush and polished Toscana Redigaffi 2015 (95, $330), a pure Merlot. To Bolgheri’s north, Riparbella is an interesting outcropping of hills, home to the Caiarossa Toscana 2013 (94, $65), which blends approximately equals parts Merlot and Cabernet Franc with decreasing amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Sangiovese, Petit Verdot and Alicante.
Senior editor Bruce Sanderson is Wine Spectator’s lead taster on the wines of Tuscany.
For the complete Tuscany tasting report, including scores and prices, read the full article, “Treasure Trove,” in our online magazine archives.