super tuscan

A Super Tuscan Rising Star: Tenuta di Biserno

We’re massive fans of Italian wines and Tuscany in particular holds a special place in our hearts. Helena Nicklin heads to a lesser known part of the region to get to know a very exciting wine producer…

If you’ve tried the finest wines from Tuscany, chances are that they’ve been touched by the hand of the most famous wine family in the region, if not the country: Famiglia Antinori. All those beautiful names - Ornellaia, Sassicaia, Massetto, Solaia, Tignanello - have been blessed with the Antinori magic and most of them still are. But this is not a story about the famous Tuscan region of Chianti, where wine tourism mechanics move like well-oiled machines. This is about another coastal Tuscany; a part that’s still rugged, still being discovered and gorgeously authentic called the Maremma.

What’s more, it has already formed a reputation for making wines that breaks the rules but in doing so, have created fine wines to rival the very best in the world. We’re talking about the Maremma, which is coastal Tuscany. It’s an area that splits into three sub regions: Upper, Central and South, but it’s the Upper or ‘Alta’ Maremma where the very best wines are being made. Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Massetto – yes, but there’s a new kid on the block steaming through the ranks and it’s made by Lodovico Antinori’s team at Tentua di Biserno in Bibbona.

From Bolgheri to Bibbona

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Marchese Lodovico Antinori came across what would become the Biserno Estate (Tenuta di Biserno) back in 1995. Located in the Alta Maremma, just north of Bolgheri in Bibbona, the area boasts wild, sweeping landscapes, pine forests, hilltop castles and stunning views all the way down to the Tyrrheniansea. Most importantly however (for the wine in any case), the combination of this climate, cooled by the sea breeze with the unique soils of the area made the Marchese sit up and pay attention. At the time, he had been looking for land with which he could extend his beloved Ornellaia vineyards, but he soon realised that the terrain was much hillier; much stonier than it was at Ornellaia and so would need to be a separate project with different grapes. In a surprising move that some might say is a sad regret for the family, Ornellaia was sold (a long story for another time), but this now meant that Lodovico could devote time to pursuing a new story in this incredibly exciting, undiscovered terroir on just the other side of the fence.

The Birth of Biserno

In the midst of the vines, the lemon trees and olive groves and with a gorgeous infinity pool, sits the Biserno guest house. Originally destroyed in 1850, it was rebuilt in the 1950s and while not open generally to the public, the eight bedrooms can available for exclusive, prearranged visits, which can include wine tastings, personal tours of the region and cooking classes on request. Tiziana, the in-house chef buys fresh produce daily from the local market and makes food with stunning simplicity with the lightest of touches. It is the vines and the wines however that demand even closer attention.

The Biserno wines

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49 acres of vines were planted at Biserno between 2001 and 2005. The clay element of the terroir particularly led Lodovico to plant Bordeaux varietals; Cabernet franc, then some Merlot with, interestingly, a generous dollop of Petit Verdot and a smattering Cabernet Sauvignon. Within these 49, there is a patch of 6 acres, which stands above the rest and is home to the star wine of the Tenuta’s stable: Biserno ‘Lodovico’.

Just like Sassicaia at the very beginning of the Super Tuscan story, Bibbona does not have its own DOC, so all wines, no matter how great, can only be called IGT (Indicazione Geographica Typica). This may change as it did for Sassicaia (Sassicaia was only granted its own DOC in 2013) but to be honest, they may not even want that. A DOC means rules after all – and we all know that Bolgheri didn’t get where it is today by following those! Here’s a look at what Tenuta di Biserno produce and where you can find them:

The Tenuta di Biserno wine range

Rosé - Sof A brand new rosé, named after Lodovico’s 21 year-old daughter Sofia who came back from travels demanding they make a dry pink. It’s made with more or less 50 % Cabernet Franc and 50% Syrah. 2017 is the first vintage and it has a very pretty, vibrant pink colour with a refreshing prickle of CO2. On the palate, bright red fruit settles to soft, strawberry cream and a saline finish.

£24.50 from Corney & Barrow and by the case at Champagne & Chateaux

Red - Insoglio del Cinghiale (The wild boar’s hideout): Always mostly Syrah (it’s the only red Biserno wine with Syrah in it). Made to be released a year after production and meant for immediate drinking. The 2016 has a lovely purple hue and a typical Syrah garrigue character; herbaceous and violet-scented with bramble fruit a touch of smoked meat. There’s a cool, saline seam running through it too, which appears in many of the Biserno wines.

£21.50 from Corney & Barrow and by the case at Champagne & Chateaux

Red - Il Pino di Biserno: A step up from Cinghiale and where Cabernet Franc starts to come into its own, with some Petit verdot, a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – like an inside-out Bordeaux blend. With a deeper colour and more complexity than Insoglio and with a year in oak barrels and 6-8 months in bottle before release, the 2015 had a generous, silky red fruitiness and spice amongst the brambles.

£42.20 - £47.95 depending on vintage from Corney & Barrow and by the case at Champagne & Chateaux

Red - ‘Biserno’

With Biserno, Lodovico put the wheels in motion for the next Tuscan icon wine. 2007 was the first vintage and the blend is predominantly Cabernet sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet franc and Petit verdot. The left banker of Biserno, as it were. You can see the vintage variations throughout the years. We tasted the following vintages:

2007: Animal, meaty and powerful. Lots of garrigue herbs. Not shy!

2008: More refined tannins; silky, with a mineral core.

2009: A warmer vintage, shown by lots of baked fruit, blackcurrant compote. Fleshy texture.

2010: Very cool, wet year creating a very elegant and cool mineral vintage that’s drinking well already. Not typical.

2015: Surprisingly drinkable given its youth. Very strawberry up front, with fine, tight tannins and secondary notes of spice just starting to show.

£95.95 - £102.95 depending on vintage from Corney & Barrow (also available in magnum and double magnum) and by the case at Champagne & Chateaux.

Red - Biserno ‘Lodovico’

The first Lodovico vines were planted in 2012 and every year made a difference.  Helped by Michel Rolland, the Marchese always has the last say on the blend. Lodovico is generally around 95% Cabernet franc with 5% Petit Verdot. The 2013 had quite long skin contact (21-28 days) and was aged for 16 m in mostly new French oak. It showed immediate ripeness of fruit with sweet spiciness, concentration, fleshy and complexity. The production is generally small (5 – 10,000 a year) depending on the vintage and it’s only made in best years. Releases so far are 07, 08, 11, 13, 15, 16, 17.

£220-£240 from Corney & Barrow (2012 also available in magnum) and by the case at Champagne & Chateaux.

By Helena Nicklin

Sassicaia: The first Super Tuscan

Running parallel to the Tuscan coast in the Maremma and beginning just below Livorno, you’ll find Bolgheri D.O.C: one of the newest - and arguably most exciting - appellations in the whole of Italy. Though formed as recently as 1994, Bolgheri D.O.C has already achieve legendary status in the world of fine wine and it’s all because of one curious, fearless man and a particular wine he created that broke all the rules: Sassicaia.

A love story that started it all

The story truly began after World War One, when Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, a Piedmontese agronomist who’d fought as part of the cavalry, enrolled in the faculty of Agriculture in Pisa. He brought with him to Tuscany his beloved horse and it was through his involvement with the local thoroughbred community that he met Clarice della Gherardesca, whom he married in 1930. The two moved to Rome to breed race horses, but returned to her home town of Bolgheri after the second World War. Mario busied himself helping to reorganise the property his wife had inherited, which had become neglected during the war. The name of the property was Tenuta San Guido.

From grain to grapes

As an agronomist, Mario Incisa helped the property thrive with fruit, vegetables and other agricultural products including incredible tulips that even turned the heads of the Dutch. Eventually, it was the turn of grapes. Now, growing up in a noble family, Mario Incisa had tasted a lot of wine from Bordeaux, which he loved. It was therefore only a matter of time before he turned his attentions to winemaking. Wine was already being made in the region with the local Sangiovese grapes, mostly down in the drained marshlands by the sea, but it wasn’t producing fine quality or enough quantity - a key factor in production at the time. This was not the wine Mario Incisa wanted to make; he wanted to create a fine Bordeaux - only at home, in Tuscany and to hell with what teh rules said in the D.O.C. wine guidelines for the area. He set about studying what made the wines of Bordeaux so good. Was it the grapes? The soil? The climate? Or was it something else entirely? So, off he went to stay with family friends at Mouton Rothschild (as you do when you’re a nobleman) to find his magic formula.

Friends in high places

Back in Italy after studying Bordeaux in depth, he realised that the position of his vineyards needed to be more inland, slightly higher up and on stony soil, like much of the left bank of Bordeaux. He found the perfect spot in the hills of Castiglioncello di Bolgheri: a family lookout, surrounded by forest and with a stunning view over area. He planted his first vines here at 400m above sea level, facing east and 15km away from the sandy soils by the Tyrrhenian sea. More interested in creating his own ‘Bordeaux’ than playing by the rules, Mario Incisa planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and named his vineyard ‘Sassicaia’, meaning ‘area of many stones’.

Kick-starting the Italian wine renaissance

The first vintage of Sassicaia was officially bottled in 1945, but it was not much like how it tastes today. Mario Incisa experimented for a few more years before deciding he needed help from a proper oenologist, so he looked to their cousins, the Antinori family, and spoke to their oenologist Giacomo Tachis. Together, Mario Incisa and Giacomo agreed they should make fine wines from Bordelais red grapes on this terroir and Giacomo helped to introduce modern processes he’d learned on Bordeaux to fine tune the winemaking. The rest happened impressively quickly. 1968 was Giacomo’s first vintage - and Sassicaia’s first commercial vintage - was 1968. Ten years later, Decanter Magazine held a blind tasting competition for ‘Great Clarets’ where the 1972 Sassicaia beat 33 wines from 11 countries to win its first international award. Heads were starting to turn towards this ‘table wine’ from Tuscany. Sassicaia’s fate was sealed with the 1985 vintage (85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc), thanks to a stunning 100 point review from Robert Parker, who said of the wine that it frequently reminded him of a 1986 Mouton Rothschild, of all wines. Giacomo continued to work with Sassicaia, completing his final vintage in 2007. He died in 2016 and will forever be known as the man who kick started the Italian wine renaissance. Bolgheri got its own DOC status in 1983 but more recently in 2013, Sassicaia was awarded its own: DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia.

Tenuta San Guido and Sassicaia today

Today, Tenuta San Guido is run by Mario’s son, Marchese Nicoló Incisa della Rocchetta. Sassicaia is still their flagship wine, but the family wanted to produce something to that could be drunk while they waited for it to mature. Two more wines were born: Le Difese and Guidalberto.

WINES

Le Difese

‘Le difese’ are the tusks of the wild boar. This wine is their entry level label, made for immediate drinking within two or three years. The 2016 (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Sangiovese) is very red and black fruit forward, with lots of cassis and just enough structure and freshness to make this over deliver for the price.

£19.50 from Armit Wines

Guidalberto

Named after the Clarice’s father, Guidalberto was produced after the amazing 1985 vintage to cover market demand. Not a second wine, Guidalberto has its own identity and style, using some Merlot in the blend. The 2016 (60% Cabernet Sauvignon 40% Merlot) has a darker, blue black colour with sweet, cinnamon oak on the nose and tightly woven bramble fruit on the palate, with delicate tannins.

Find the 2015 at Hedonism wines for £29.90

Sassicaia

We tasted the 2015 vintage (85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc), which had an intense, cedar and spice nose with generous blackcurrant and bramble fruit on the palate. While this wine is so you, it has an incredible drinkability already thank to is cool minearlity and super fine tannic structure.

£148.60 from Armit Wines

By Helena Nicklin

Originally written for Winerist Magazine in October 2018