Tuscany’s Napa

Bolgheri has become a world-class wine region by challenging conventions and adopting international grapes

From the April 30, 2018, issue

It all began with Sassicaia.

When Marchesi Mario Incisa della Rocchetta relocated his family to Bolgheri from outside Rome in the 1940s, the coastal plains were planted to vegetables and legumes and the hills clad with thick Mediterranean scrub and forests roamed by wild boar.

Incisa della Rocchetta had developed a taste for the wines of Bordeaux. But the wines produced in the coastal plains surrounding the village of Bolgheri, made from high-yielding Trebbiano and Sangiovese vineyards, fell far short of the clarets he had sampled with his maternal grandfather and the Bordeaux-inspired wines introduced to him by family friend Duke Francesco Salviati from the duke’s vines just north of Bolgheri, near Pisa.

In 1944, armed with Cabernet Franc cuttings from Salviati’s vineyard, Incisa della Rocchetta set out to plant vines and replicate such wines. He chose a stony site high above Castiglioncello, at 1,150 feet, facing east and protected from the influence of the sea.

“He was experimenting,” explains his granddaughter, Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta, during a tasting in November 2017 at the cellar of Tenuta San Guido, where Sassicaia is made today. “It was more about the soils. Plus the forest mitigated the temperature and enhanced the acidity,” she adds.

The Marchesi’s workers initially considered the wine too grassy and green, preferring the local Sangiovese, which was made to be consumed young. But when Incisa della Rocchetta tasted bottles from 1949 and 1950 after six years in barrel and four in bottle, it was a revelation. Encouraged, he moved down the hillside, toward the sea, planting 5 acres in Il Quercione in 1965; today, the breezes and luminosity due to the sea are considered beneficial aspects of Bolgheri’s terroir.

For years, Sassicaia was a wine for friends and family, literally a homemade product. Then, a wine from the new vineyard attracted the attention of Incisa della Rocchetta’s nephew Piero Antinori, who was enlisted in 1972 to introduce Sassicaia to the world with the 1968 vintage.

With the involvement of Antinori’s enologist Giacomo Tachis, the vineyards were moved farther toward the plain, and Cabernet Sauvignon was introduced to soften the Cabernet Franc. The new vineyard, planted in 1972, was dubbed Sassicaia, after the wine and also for the local place-name.

Within a few years, Sassicaia was besting French, Californian and Australian wines in comparative tastings, establishing not only its own reputation but proving that the region could produce fine wine. Its success inspired other vintners to follow. Today, Bolgheri is one of Tuscany’s premier terroirs.

Bolgheri is the coastal outpost of Tuscany. Located two hours’ drive west of Siena, it stretches 8 miles along the Mediterranean, from Bibbona southward to beyond Donoratico. The political boundary is the commune of Castagneto Carducci, named after Giosuè Carducci, a poet who won Italy’s first Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1906. Carducci lived in the area and often wrote about the rugged yet charming countryside.

Mario Incisa della Rocchetta settled on land that belonged to his wife’s family, the della Gherardescas of Bolgheri. The entrance to the village of Bolgheri is through a narrow archway in the façade of the della Gherardesca castle, which dates to 1200. The family planted the famous cypress trees that line the road leading to Bolgheri beginning in the mid-17th century.

Incisa della Rocchetta was a man of ambition and varied interests. He reorganized the property, dismantling the sharecropping system, improving production on the farm and developing a training facility for horses. The estate was named Tenuta San Guido, after an 18th-century chapel at the entrance to the Bolgheri road dedicated to Saint Guido della Gherardesca.

It is wine, however, that became della Rocchetta’s primary legacy. The 1985 and 1988 vintages of Sassicaia have become legendary. Today, the vineyards devoted to Sassicaia total 185 acres, planted to Cabernet Sauvignon (85 percent) and Cabernet Franc (15 percent). The newly fermented wine ages 24 months in barrique; average production is 1,000 cases.

Tenuta San Guido now produces two additional wines. Guidalberto was introduced with the 2000 vintage. It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (60 percent), some from younger Sassicaia vines, and Merlot (40 percent); some of the vineyards are leased. Le Difese consists of 60 percent purchased grapes; Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese (60/40 percent) make up the blend.

The success of Sassicaia soon inspired others. Piermario Meletti Cavallari, a young management consultant–turned-restaurateur from Bergamo, arrived in Bolgheri in 1977. He purchased a neglected vineyard in the hills near Castagneto Carducci and founded Grattamacco. There was Sangiovese planted there, which Cavallari blended with Cabernet Sauvignon for his top wine, also named Grattamacco.

“It was home to large estates and small farms in the plain; the hill was neglected,” Cavallari recounts. “The only quality wine was produced by Mario Incisa della Rocchetta in a few thousand bottles. After a short time, I realized that it was important to follow the road traced by Sassicaia, and I grafted some vines with Cabernet Sauvignon and replanted others with the same vine.”

As Councilor for Agriculture of the Municipality of Castagneto Carducci, Cavallari was instrumental in revising the DOC regulations in 1994 to permit red wines in addition to the traditional whites and rosés. He worked alongside Mario’s son, Nicolò Incisa della Rocchetta, in the Bolgheri consortium, and with professor Attilio Scienza of the University of Milan on a zoning study of the viticultural area of Bolgheri, at that time only the second study of its kind in Italy.

Cavallari now makes wine on Elba at Tenuta delle Ripalte, but his influence on Bolgheri remains. He was the first to put Bolgheri Rosso on the label, with Bolgheri in larger type than Grattamacco. (For more on Grattamacco and other Bolgheri producers, see “Building Bolgheri”.)

With the region still in its formative years, it took another Antinori, Piero’s younger brother Lodovico, to propel Bolgheri forward. Fresh from his travels in the United States, and particularly California, where he met legendary enologist André Tchelistcheff, Lodovico Antinori founded Tenuta dell’Ornellaia in 1981. He had sold his shares in his family’s company, and with some land from his mother and godfather, Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, and Tchelistcheff’s guidance, began planting Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and other French grape varieties a year later.

Ornellaia’s vineyards represented a typical mosaic of soils, to which Antinori and Tchelistcheff applied a variety of rootstocks. They cultivated the vines without chemicals, a progressive strategy for the region at the time. The resulting wines achieved critical acclaim from the debut 1985 vintage, and by the 1990s, the estate had become one of Italy’s great success stories.

The Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore 1998 earned Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year honor in 2001. Federico Zileri, Antinori’s cousin, owner of Castello di Bolgheri and the current president of the Bolgheri consortium, gives him a lot of credit for developing the region. “Lodovico Antinori was the one who understood the potential and realized the technicality of the area,” says Zileri.

Some of the Merlot on Ornellaia’s property was planted in an outcropping of clay close to the woods and hills on the eastern side of the region. In 1986, it was bottled separately, as an experiment. The result was successful enough to make a pure Merlot from the 1987 harvest, and Masseto was born.

Masseto has proved to be Italy’s greatest Merlot. In a recent vertical tasting at the winery of all 30 vintages, the 2008 and 2001 vintages flirted with perfection, followed closely by 2004 and 1999. The 2013, 2011 and 1998 showed splendidly, while the 2015 and 2016, not yet bottled, showed excellent potential. Tchelistcheff and Bordeaux-based consultant Michel Rolland had a hand in making Ornellaia and Masseto in the early vintages. Tibor Gal made the wines from the late 1980s until 1997. A succession of winemakers shepherded vintages 1998 through 2004, with Axel Heinz joining the team in 2005. “I have to give credit to the early winemakers because they had to build it up with no references,” says Heinz. “There was Sassicaia, but it was Cabernet.”

Giovanni Geddes da Filicaja, an experienced wine executive, became CEO of Tenuta dell’Ornellaia in 1999. A decade later, he oversaw the separation of Ornellaia and Masseto into two distinct brands, and the company is currently building a new winery devoted to Masseto. “Without Sassicaia and Ornellaia, this region wouldn’t be what it is,” says Geddes da Filicaja. “It’s gone a very long way in a very short time.”

The late 1990s through 2005 were turbulent years in Bolgheri, with many wine personalities and winemakers arriving and some leaving. Ornellaia is a prime example. Lodovico Antinori sold the estate to Robert Mondavi Winery, half of it in 1999 and the remainder in 2002. Mondavi turned around and sold a 50 percent stake to the Frescobaldi family, rivals of the Antinoris. In 2005, Frescobaldi became the sole owner. Nonetheless, due to the success of Sassicaia, Ornellaia and Masseto, Bolgheri had become the hottest wine region in Italy, maybe even the world.

Piero Antinori was encouraged by the success of Sassicaia, as well as by the positive reception to his own Tignanello wine, which blended Cabernet Sauvignon with the local Sangiovese and debuted in the early 1970s. In the early 1980s, he began planting Bordeaux varieties in the foothills of his family’s Bolgheri property, Guado al Tasso. The property was another legacy of the della Gherardesca family; Carlotta, sister to Clarice, Mario Incisa della Rocchetta’s wife, had married Nicolò Antinori, Piero’s father, in 1931.

According to Piero, Nicolò Antinori began planting vineyards in Bolgheri after World War II. “Before that, the majority of the estate was cultivated with wheat, corn, sugar beets and alfalfa for cattle,” he recalls. “Vineyards were almost insignificant, as in the rest of the area.”

However, those early vineyards consisted of Trebbiano, Vermentino and other white grapes, as well as Sangiovese for the production of rosé, which had become popular in Italy, France and a few other markets. In fact, the original DOC, created in 1983, recognized only white and rosé wines. It wasn’t until 1994 that red grapes were included, leading to the creation of the Bolgheri Rosso, Bolgheri Superiore and Bolgheri-Sassicaia appellations.

Today, Antinori cultivates 750 acres of vineyards, which stretch from the SS1 provincial road about half a mile from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Strada Bolgherese that bisects the major vineyards in the region. As the altitude rises gradually from 150 to 215 feet and the stone content of the soils increases, first the vintner’s Matarocchio vineyard and then the Guado al Tasso vineyard appear. The sandier, flatter vineyards on the plain are where Antinori has its Vermentino and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah for the Scalabrone rosé. The company is building a new winery just for the production of the Bolgheri Superiore Guado al Tasso and Bolgheri Rosato Tenuta Guado al Tasso Scalabrone.

The Bolgheri Superiore Guado al Tasso is Antinori’s flagship from the estate. Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon (from 50 percent to 65 percent), the blend changes from vintage to vintage but typically includes Merlot and Cabernet Franc, sometimes with a dollop of Petit Verdot.

For Antinori CEO and head winemaker Renzo Cotarella, it’s about tannin management. “We are in Bolgheri,” he explains. “We have ripe fruit, but not overripe. We want vibrancy and finesse. I think there was a tendency to be too powerful. At the end of the day the wine has to have grace.”

Guado al Tasso is the largest estate in the Bolgheri DOC. Ornellaia (with Masseto) is second largest, followed by Tenuta San Guido, Angelo Gaja’s Ca’ Marcanda and Tenuta Argentiera.

Antinori released its first Guado al Tasso fewer than 25 years ago, with the 1990 vintage. At that time, the entire Bolgheri area consisted of just 275 acres of vines. There were only six producers: Tenuta San Guido, Piermario Meletti Cavallari of Grattamacco, Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Guado al Tasso, Michele Satta and Eugenio Campolmi, who founded Le Macchiole.

“We all produced table wine, as the old DOC was absurdly limited to white and rosé wines,” states Cavallari. “The decision was to introduce the red wine type, modeled on the Sassicaia blend, with variable percentages of the different varietal vines. For the first time in Italy, the percentages of the different grapes were not fixed but could vary from a minimum to a maximum.”

By the mid-1990s, the quality of the wines being made in Bolgheri drew greater attention to the area, attracting a host of prominent outsiders.

Angelo Gaja arrived in 1996, purchasing Ca’ Marcanda just off the Strada Bolgherese. Massimo Piccin, new to the wine business, fell in love with the area and bought Podere Sapaio in 1999. In 2001, Marilisa Allegrini purchased vineyards above the Strada Bolgherese, across from Le Macchiole, but also began planting on the plain in Le Sondraie, an area north of the road leading to Bolgheri and closer to the sea. A recent addition is Antonio Capalbo of Campania’s Feudi di San Gregorio, who purchased Campo alle Comete in 2016.

Gaja and Allegrini were well-known from their respective wineries in Barbaresco, Montalcino and Valpolicella. Bolgheri was still finding its style and growing quickly. Their presence reinforced the region’s reputation.

Gaja, who had planted Cabernet Sauvignon in Piedmont and made a wine called Darmagi there, was interested in working more with that variety. “Giacomo Tachis, with whom I kept a long friendship, would always tell me, ‘Wine loves the breath of the sea,’” recalls Gaja. “After having planted Cabernet Sauvignon in Piedmont in 1978, the curiosity grew in me of experiencing how Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot express themselves close to the sea.

“The project of a blend was fascinating, like a photographer who for a long time worked in black and white starting to discover colors,” he adds.

Merlot was at first prominent in the vineyards and blend of Camarcanda, the winery’s top cuvée, with as much as 50 percent in the initial blend. However, the 2015 contains no Merlot and the portion of Cabernet Sauvignon has doubled from 40 percent to 80 percent. Like others in Bolgheri, Ca’ Marcanda is downplaying Merlot.

“Merlot continues to offer many producers in Bolgheri the opportunity of making great wines,” says Gaja. “On the soils of our property, we preferred to downsize Merlot in favor of Cabernet Franc and a small quantity of Petit Verdot. Time will tell if we took the right decision.”

As Marilisa Allegrini tells it, Bolgheri was love at first sight. “I came here in 1990 and fell in love with the landscape,” she explains. “The Bolgheri road is a national monument. I started tasting Sassicaia and Ornellaia and found that the international varieties were perfectly suited to this Bolgheri terroir.”

Bolgheri enjoys geological, geographical and climatic advantages that provide a unique environment separate from the surrounding Maremma, the coastal area in the provinces of Livorno and Grosseto. Despite the relatively small size of the DOC, at fewer than 2,900 acres, there is significant variation in the soils, and great biodiversity. This results in a complex group of sites from which to make high quality wines.

An amphitheater of hills rising as high as 1,300 feet stretches from the north of Bolgheri and curls around to the southern portion where it meets the sea. This provides a protective environment from the tramontana, a cold wind from the hills in the east. It also acts to trap the breezes off the Tyrrhenian Sea, preserving a saltiness that is detectable in the wines, says Le Macchiole proprietor Cinzia Merli.

Bolgheri’s vineyards are closer to the sea than those in greater Maremma. In summer, the fresh sea breezes aerate the vines, reducing the threat of fungal diseases while simultaneously mitigating the afternoon heat in the vineyards. An added benefit is the light reflected off the shimmering water, according to Zileri.

These factors, combined with the mix of soils, create a tapestry to which vintners can match a wide array of grape varieties, viticultural techniques and winemaking styles. The makeup of the terroir is divided by the Strada Bolgherese: From the road to the sea lie sedimentary and alluvial soils; above the road, erosion from the hills results in a higher stone content.

“We can split the terroir in two big areas: the eastern side and the western side of the Bolgherese Road,” says current Grattamacco winemaker Luca Marrone. “In the eastern side there is an important portion of limestone and clay soil. There are some peculiar sites, such as the blue clay of Masseto, the flysch [layers of shale interspersed with hard sandstone] terrace of Grattamacco, the schistlike calcareous clay stone of Casa Vecchia, the flaky limestone clay of Argentiera. The western side very close to the Bolgherese Road consists mainly of red and brown clay and silt soils, while the sandy portions increase as we proceed to the sea.”

The soils are mineral-rich, thanks to the proximity of the Colline Metallifere, hills behind Bolgheri that are profuse in iron, copper, lead and silver. In many parts of Bolgheri, this lends porosity to the soils, allowing the roots to descend and resulting in wines of finesse with mineral elements.

Less important but not insignificant are the streams that run through the Bolgheri landscape. The Fosso Camilla, Fosso di Bolgheri and Botro delle Macine add alluvial elements to the soils that influence the choice of grape variety.

“The streams transport soil to the valley, but also freshness,” says Allegrini, whose Poggio al Tesoro vineyards are bisected by the Camilla and Macine streams. “They run from the Colline Metallifere to the sea, so are full of minerals.” She has named her Vermentino Solosole Pagus Camilla in light of the saline influence the soils near the stream have on the wine.

At Bolgheri’s northern limit lies the town of Bibbona. Some of its vineyards share the same terroir as the northern part of Bolgheri, though Bibbona’s soils are generally stonier and its elevation higher, at 165 to 360 feet.

To the south of the Bolgheri DOC, there is only forest and hills for roughly 15 miles until you reach the Suvereto DOCG, established in 2011, whose vineyards also have excellent terroir for quality wine production.

Not surprisingly, the particular combination of factors in the terroir dictates the grape varieties planted. Unlike most of Tuscany, where wines are based on the indigenous Sangiovese grape, Bolgheri grows primarily French varieties. Based on the success of Sassicaia, but also the climate, elevation and soils, Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted grape.

Its presence has decreased slightly in the past 10 years, but at 37 percent of the vineyard area, it is significantly more important than Merlot, the second most planted grape, with 23 percent of the surface area. Cabernet Franc (12 percent) and Petit Verdot (6.5 percent) complete the Bordeaux variety dominance.

Syrah also has some presence, representing slightly more than 6 percent of plantings. White grapes make up a little more than 10 percent of plantings, with Vermentino far and away the leader.

Despite its preeminence elsewhere in Tuscany, Sangiovese is almost nonexistent in Bolgheri, holding only 1.5 percent of the vineyard area. “We tried Sangiovese, but in our soils it had no chance,” declares Cinzia Merli, whose late husband, Eugenio Campolmi, a Bolgheri native, founded Le Macchiole and began making wine from Sangiovese and Sauvignon Blanc in the early 1980s. “There wasn’t the concept we now have of the area,” continues Merli. “The potential of the area only changed around 1990.”

By 1995, Bolgheri’s total vineyard acreage (including vineyards that are not in the Bolgheri DOC) had more than doubled, to nearly 620 acres. By 2017, it had grown fivefold, to 3,335 acres.

Le Macchiole may have abandoned Sangiovese early on, but another Bolgheri pioneer, Michele Satta, is the variety’s greatest advocate. Satta arrived in Bolgheri from Varese, near Milan, in 1974 at the age of 19. He found work at a winery where the Sangiovese and Trebbiano vines yielded 33 to 40 pounds of grapes per plant (vs. 2.5 to 3.3 pounds, considered appropriate for quality today). “My boss was so happy because he filled six 60-hectoliter tanks from 1 hectare,” Satta laughs.

Satta has been committed to Sangiovese from the beginning. “Sangiovese is the heart of Tuscany. I love Sangiovese,” he states. “Sangiovese is like Mozart: You can listen to it a thousand times and always find something different.”

The key for Satta is harnessing Sangiovese’s vigor in Bolgheri’s warmer climate and richer soils. Sangiovese is one-quarter of the blend of his Bolgheri Superiore Piastraia, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. His Toscana Cavaliere is 100 percent Sangiovese.

Satta was one of the founders of the original DOC. He also worked as a consultant for Ornellaia and Grattamacco, helping to plant part of Masseto with viticulture consultant Danny Schuster.

Satta’s son Giacomo works with him now, and his son-in-law Fabio Motta makes wines under his own label in Satta’s winery. They are planting a new vineyard farther up the hill from the other parcels, in a stonier site. “The best vineyards in Bolgheri are close to the hills,” Motta claims. “There are deeper soils, more water, more clay.”

The new site is an old riverbed, with a mix of clay and stone. The Sattas have chosen cuttings of Sangiovese from their other vineyards and will also plant Merlot. “In our opinion, the soil is the best we have for Merlot, close to the Masseto clay soil, unusual for the area, and we want to grow Merlot only in this special soil,” explains the elder Satta.

Besides influencing the choice of grape varieties, Bolgheri’s terroir shapes the styles of its wines. Broadly, there are three main expressions: “Old World,” resembling Bordeaux; “New World,” which emphasizes fruit; and a third that is more Tuscan in character.

Sassicaia is very Bordeaux-like, particularly with bottle age. It remains the most elegant and “Old World” of the Bolgheri wine lexicon, often starting out austere and blossoming over time.

Wines such as Ornellaia, Masseto, Messorio and Scrio from Le Macchiole, Guado al Tasso, Gaja’s Camarcanda and Allegrini’s Poggio al Tesoro have a more “New World” character. There’s plenty of ripe fruit up front yet the wines generally avoid extremes of concentration or extraction, and the best offer depth and complexity. Le Macchiole’s Merli, for one, aims for fruit in her wines. “When you taste the berries, we want the same sensation in the wine,” she states.

However, with some bottle age, many Bolgheri wines show aromas and flavors of the wild herbs and Mediterranean scrub that are specific to Tuscany’s coast. And these “balsamic” notes can be more pronounced in certain vintages.

The wines of Grattamacco and Michele Satta taste less international, more Tuscan, in general, and more Mediterranean, specifically. Perhaps because of their hillside vineyard locations, these two estates are less typical of the overall Bolgheri style.

Grattamacco’s Vermentino Bolgheri and Bolgheri Superiore (65 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 percent Merlot, 15 percent Sangiovese) are saline and minerally, firmly structured, even rustic in their youth, and full of wild herb notes. The L’Alberello, from a vineyard on the plain, is the most typically “Bolgherian” wine from its cellar.

The Sangiovese grapes in two of Satta’s wines give them a distinctly Tuscan feel, with wild herb notes from the area but also the almond, leather and tobacco one finds in Sangiovese-based wines from Chianti Classico and Montalcino. Ultimately, their flavor profiles reflect terroir and the choice of grape variety equally.

If there is one overall characteristic to Bolgheri’s reds, it’s freshness, even in warmer vintages, due to the vineyards’ proximity to both the sea and the hills. A growing season that begins before Bordeaux’s and extends as long or longer than the French region’s permits the development of complex aromas and flavors, except in the very hottest of vintages.

Quality is mostly high across the board, excepting a few wines that are overoaked, too astringent or heavy-handed from extraction. What is equally important is that the region’s largest producers are also its quality leaders. Overall, Bolgheri’s success stems primarily from its mix of Bordeaux grape varieties.

As the Bolgheri DOC evolved from its humble beginnings of white and rosé wines, it went through growing pains. The revised regulations of 1994, developed by Nicolò Incisa della Rocchetta, Cavallari and others, embraced blends of international varieties but didn’t allow for 100 percent single-variety wines; in 2011, the regulations changed to accommodate pure Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. (However, Sangiovese and Syrah were limited to a maximum of 50 percent of the blend in order for a wine to be labeled Rosso or Superiore DOC.)

Despite these changes, Bolgheri faces three major challenges to promoting its name and DOC in the future.

The first is that some of its most important wines—Masseto, Messorio and Scrio—continue to carry the Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) designation. These wines, designated IGT since the 1995 vintage, have become brands in their own right, and though some wine lovers may know these IGTs are from Bolgheri, the average consumer could be unaware of their origins. If more wines take on the IGT designation, it would diminish the impact of the Bolgheri DOC.

The second issue is the size of the DOC. Currently, Bolgheri DOC is limited to about 2,900 acres. Producers may expand within the geographic limits of the DOC boundaries, but wines made from such new vineyards will be excluded from carrying the DOC designation. In the future there will be pressure on the consortium to allow new vineyards planted inside the current boundaries to claim the Bolgheri DOC.

Many producers have planted new vineyards in the commune of Bibbona, Bolgheri’s neighbor to the north. Ca’ Marcanda, Poggio al Tesoro, Le Macchiole and Podere Sapaio all have vineyards in Bibbona. Bibbona has proven its potential with wines such as those produced at Tenuta di Biserno, the new project from Lodovico Antinori in partnership with his brother Piero. The climate is cooler and therefore more amenable to white grape varieties and to Sangiovese, according to Ca’ Marcanda’s Rossana Gaja. In addition to the quality potential, Bibbona vineyard land is one-third to one-half of the price of land in Bolgheri.

This leads to the third issue. Wines produced in Bibbona, even when blended with grapes from Bolgheri, must carry the Toscana IGT designation. Massimo Piccin of Sapaio has changed the appellation of his flagship Sapaio from Bolgheri Superiore to IGT with the 2015 vintage because he is incorporating his Bibbona fruit into the blend. If more producers follow suit, it will dilute the impact of the Bolgheri name by removing important wines from the Bolgheri appellation.

Consortium president Federico Zileri insists the Bolgheri DOC will not expand to include Bibbona. “Bolgheri is very young, we are just beginning, so we have to go very slowly,” he says. Others, like consortium vice president Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta and vintner Angelo Gaja, agree, despite the fact that Gaja owns nearly 90 acres of vineyards in Bibbona.

“I believe it’s a mistake to sustain the need of enlarging a DOC area because of the successful sales of its wines,” Gaja states. “Italy needs jewels to shine in the wine scene, wine such as Barbaresco, Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, Amarone. Each of these wines has history and reasons behind them and those have to be respected and protected.”

But Piermario Meletti Cavallari, who was influential in developing Bolgheri’s DOC, disagrees. He feels extending the DOC to include Bibbona, which he believes is identical in quality, is necessary. “Currently the Bolgheri DOC is just over 1,000 hectares [2,875 acres], while all the most important and appreciated denominations are at least 2,000 [Barolo and Montalcino, for example]. In the perspective of a world market, will we be ready to respond to an increased demand for quality wines?” he asks.

Bolgheri is one of Italy’s greatest success stories. But it is in its infancy in wine terms. With an average age of less than 13 years, the vineyards are still relatively young. If you consider 1990 a watershed for Bolgheri, its history spans fewer than 30 years. In that time, the number of producers has increased from six to more than 50. Hundreds of wines have earned outstanding ratings over the past quarter-century, and two dozen have rated 95 points or higher. Compared to the greater Maremma area that surrounds it and whose wines struggle to find an identity, Bolgheri’s wines express a distinctive style, based on its small size and unique terroir.

“We still have a lot to do to understand the potential of the area, both the vineyards and the winemaking, but I think we understand the style of wines we want to produce and are working the right way,” explains Antinori’s Cotarella. “Our wines are more gentle, more precise and more aromatic.”

The most recent vintages show an alluring mix of international grape varieties combined with freshness, a mineral expression and an infusion of the local Mediterranean scrub and wild herbs that render the wines distinctly Bolgherian. The trio of 2015, 2016 and 2017 may prove to be the region’s best years yet, elevating Bolgheri to the next level and increasing the demand for its wines.

This year, Sassicaia celebrates its 50th anniversary. From this one wine, which inspired so many others, Bolgheri has grown and evolved from a rugged, beautiful and isolated landscape to one of Tuscany’s most important wine regions. Bolgheri is now home to stellar, collectible wines that bear witness to the region’s place on the world stage alongside not only celebrated sites in Tuscany and Italy, but also Bordeaux and Napa.