WS: Excerpts from Article on Bolgheri: Tuscany’s Napa
Bolgheri has become a world-class wine region by challenging conventions and adopting international grapes
By Bruce Sanderson
Below are excerpts related to Gaja from this article.
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.
“By the mid-1990s, the quality of the wines being made in Bolgheri drew great attention to the area, attracting a host of prominent outsiders. Angelo Gaja arrived in 1996, purchasing Ca’ Marcanda just off the Strada Bolgherese…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 cuvee, 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.” …
Wines such as Omellaia, Masseto, Messorio and Serio 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….
Many producers have planred 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. Bibbiona has proven its potential with wine 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….
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 lncisa 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.” …
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 quartercentury, 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…
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.
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