The Clash of the Tuscans: Guado al Tasso and Tignanello tasting at Berrys…


Did I really have to ask Filippo Pulisci, Antinori’s Export Director, to cut short his monologue on Sassicaia and return the focus of the evening in Berrys’ Pickering Cellar back to that of Guado al Tasso and Tignanello? I know he was only making the causal link between Giacomo Tachis, the once winemaker of both Antinori and Sassicaia; pointing out that Antinori once distributed Sassicaia, and recounting how the Gerardesca family’s Bolgheri estate was split between the Incisa della Rocchetta (Sassicaia) and Antinori families (Guado al Tasso and Ornellaia)…but still there was no need to go on Filippo!Guado al Tasso

Filippo spoke in faultless English, sunned with a well-worn Tuscan accent. I admired his honesty in saying that Guado al Tasso is a wine still very much in evolution having been born only in 1990 (once they stopped distributing Sassicaia?). The early years he said owed too much to the (American) market in making overly fat, gloopy wines that owed more to generous doses of American oak and syrah. In fact the 2001 he kindly brought along reflected those early days, being soft, mature and drinkable if hardly in the same league as their neighbouring cousin.

Since 2007 Piero Antinori has removed the doughy Syrah element, while French and Hungarian oak (similar to Slavonian apparently) have replaced the intrusive American oak influence. Even more importantly they’ve added Cabernet Franc in the place of the Syrah, with Filippo happy to divulge that the cantina is working towards releasing a single Cabernet Franc version. I’m not sure that’s wise; in Napa perhaps but Bolgheri surely not?! For now I’d wish they’d strike out the Merlot part of the Guado al Tasso blend too;  leaving it to the early drinking ‘Il Bruciato’.  Merlot has been become the scourge of Tuscany. Yes I know it has helped in the past to fill the cracks, like putty, of Tuscan blends when finicky Sangiovese has failed to ripen but now with new (Sangiovese) clones and global warming there’s no excuse for unripe fruit. And yes I realise that Italian Merlot has commercial attributes, adding a jammy element that pleases a certain large market with a fondness for sugar but for me it has no place among top Bolgheri or Tuscan blends…just ask Sassicaia! I have also heard that the influx of Merlot has been behind some of the recent outbreaks of brettanomyces in Italy, giving all wines it touches a less than crystalline complexion.

Having been re-assured by the new look Guado al Tasso, through vintages 2008 and 2007,  it was time to switch from the Bolgheri beach to the continental climes of Chianti where since 1975 Antinori have been making the fabled Tignanello; a blend of mainly Sangiovese, along with a dollop of Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc. Tignanello could, given today’s regulations qualify as a Chianti Classico – ‘the diamond in the Tuscan crown’ as Filippo puts it – but they chose not to label it as such as during the bad ol’ days back in the ‘60s/’70s Tuscan viticulture was governed by the cooperatives whose quantity-driven ethic led to thin astringent wines that needed the honeyed influence of Malvasia Bianca and, less so, Trebbiano to make them drinkable. Twas the era of the ‘fiasco’ flask, designed with the vineyard labourer in mind, who routinely dunked the wicker bottles in water prior to setting out so as to keep the ‘wine’ cool. Tignanello’s blend effectively stuck two fingers up at this washed out expression of Tuscan wine, thus enraging the Florentines who saw it as a betrayal. But the effect of being a Vino da Tavola without any white grapes caught the eye of the growing American market; further enraging the locals no doubt who could only have dreamt of obtaining Tignanello prices! No expense is spared in making the wine, even to the point of crushing the white alberese rocks dug up during the replanting of a vineyard and dispersing them under the vines (for solar radiation).

The 2008 and 2007 vintages of Tignanello showed true vintage differences – the 2008 edgier, more herbaceous; the 2007 sunnier and more complete – while the 2001 was still very much alive, putting the Guado al Tasso 2001 firmly in the shade. As with Guado al Tasso, Filippo was at pains to point out that Tignanello has improved since the early 2000s; they’ve all but replaced the French barriques with Hungarian oak, suggesting a more focused and savoury expression is emerging. Tignanello is clearly a Tuscan wine; a feat of engineering (and of marketing?); and who knows, maybe there’s a 100% Sangiovese version in the pipeline?!

Next week I recount how Alain Cailbourdin, the quiet man of Pouilly-Fumé, silenced Berrys’ customers…