Bolgheri - Italy's Bordeaux?
Submitted by HedonisticHiking on 8 Jun 2022
On our Lucca, Volterra and Elba tour we pass through a wine producing area on the Tuscan coast known as Bolgheri. Today this is truly one of Italy's wine-growing success stories, but fifty years ago the region was considered a swamp zone and not in any way fit to rival to the premium Tuscan vineyards of Chianti, Montalcino or Montepulciano.
However, the sloping coastal vineyards of Bolgheri benefit from a unique microclimate. The proximity to the sea means that the climate is never extreme - grapes can ripen in the summer sun with refreshing sea breezes and winter is never too cold. As it became clear, the region was perfectly suited to growing Bordeaux grape varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in particular, and these were firm favourites of the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta who was making wine at his Tenuta San Guido estate in the heart of the region and experimenting with these new varieties. At this time Tuscany of course was famed for its indigenous Sangiovese red grape, from which the renowned wines of Chianti were made.
Interest was really piqued in this area in 1978 during a blind tasting arranged by Decanter Magazine. The Marchese put forward his relatively unknown wine called Sassicaia and it beat a number of top Bordeaux wines. The name Sassicaia roughly translates as the "place of many stones". Around the same time the Antinori family began to plant Merlot grapes on their neighbouring Ornellaia estate and the following decades saw the arrival of many more famous wine-makers to the area, each wanting a piece of Italy's hottest wine region. These wines started to command extremely high prices and attract legions of high-profile fans.
The term "Super Tuscan" may be familiar in relation to wines from Bolgheri, and it is a phrase that was coined in the early 1980s to describe these red blends made from grapes which were not indigenous to Italy. The strict rules and regulations of the DOC and DOCG classifications did not allow for non-native grape varieties to be used, but Italy's wine laws eventually changed in 1992 with the creation of IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica), a new designation that gave winemakers the ability to be more creative.
We hike from the medieval town of Bibbona on the north side of the region to the village of Bolgheri itself which sits surrounded by vineyards. At the entrance to the village is the family coat of arms of the noble Gherardesca family, who have owned the castle of Bolgheri since the 1200s, and leading away from the village towards the sea is the stunning Viale dei Cipressi. This avenue is about 5 km long and bordered by majestic and ancient cypress trees. It was celebrated by one of the major Italian poets of the nineteenth century, Giosuè Carducci, in his famous poem “Davanti San Guido”. It goes without saying that during our lunch at the lovely Enoteca Tognoni, we have the chance to enjoy a glass of the esteemed Sassicaia!
This fabulous tour will run again in 2023 from May 11-19. Get in touch now if you'd like to try this taste of Tuscany. If you are interested in wine, the UK's Wine Times podcast has recently been voted Podcast of the Year. Its aim was to create a series that was accessible and which might encourage a younger demographic to engage both with wine and the Sunday Times Wine Club, and the result is a fun and light-hearted look at this broad subject.