Article - RareWine Academy - 5. February 2021

Bolgheri's Rise To Fame In The World Of Wine

Bolgheri is known for it's great wines and some of the best Italian wine producers. Ornellaia, Sassicaia and Masseto just to mention a few. Learn more about Bolgheri...

There is something going on in Italy these years, and it looks really exciting. Not only is Italian wine ranked in the top 10 of the Liv-ex Power 100 list for 2020 with no less than 4 producers, but the Italy-100 sub-index was the best performing sub-index on the English Wine Exchange in 2019 and the second best of all in 2020.

Italy is divided into 20 regions, each of which have their sub-regions that produce different wines. Two regions in particular stand out when focusing on Italian wine for investment. Piemonte, where you find Barolo and Barbaresco, and then Tuscany with Brunello di Montalcino and Bolgheri as the leading wines. The last is particularly interesting. Bolgheri is home to producers such as Ornellaia, Sassicaia and Masseto, which are among the top Italian producers and three of the standard-bearers for the Italian march forward in the wine market.

French-Inspired Italian Success

Italy is known for its more than 1,000 different local grape varieties with everything from Nebbiolo to Sangiovese, which can probably almost be called the "national grape" in Italy. Yet Bolgheri has drawn inspiration from Bordeaux. As a result, much of Bolgheri's success is based on classic French grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

bolgheri-sunset Amazing Bolgheri is one of the most succesful wine regions in Italy.

On The Edge Of The Mediterranean

”The elders said that great wines could not be made near the sea.
Today it has been shown that it is precisely the proximity of the sea that gives great wines.” 

First the geography. Bolgheri is located in the western part of Tuscany, 270 km. north of Rome and 100 km. southwest of Florence. Here you will find a very special terroir, where the vineyards almost reach the sea like an amphitheatre and are protected by mountains with trees. The area where the grapes for the DOC Bolgheri are grown extends over 13 x 7 km and ranges from 10 to 380 metres in altitude. So here you will find 1,370 hectares of vineyards.

The location near the sea provides daily breezes that bring cold to the grapes, which contributes to the freshness of the wines. In the area, it blows well over 250 days a year, which means that mould diseases, for example, have a hard time gaining a foothold in the vineyards. With 600 mm. of rain a year and a large amount of sun, we therefore have optimal conditions for the production of great wine. The soil offers a great variety, from sand to large rocks, everything is there. In total, 27 different soil types have been defined in Bolgheri. The different soil types in combination with the differences in altitude mean that it is possible to work with several grape varieties on a relatively limited area.

Sassicaia Paved The Way For Bolgheri

Marquis Mario Incisa della Rochetta was the man who had the vision to make Bolgheri one of Italy's leading wine regions. He married Countess Clarice Della Gherardesca in 1930, with whom he moved to Bolgheri. In the same year, Clarice's sister Carlotta married Niccolò Antinori, dividing the region's largest domain between the two families. At that time, the wines in the area were uninteresting, simple, and only for everyday use the following year. The Marquis had greater ambitions, however, as he had a taste for the great French wines. He obtained cuttings from a vineyard in Migliarino Pisano, an Italian clone of Cabernet. These were planted in Castiglioncello di Bolgheri, where they were protected from the influence of the sea. In doing so, he took the first small steps towards the Sassicaia we know today, going against the traditions of the region where the Sangiovese grape was already sworn in. The Marquis continued his experiments until the late 1960s. The first commercial Sassicaia was in 1968, launched in 1972.

In the local area, however, people were not enthusiastic about the extravagant wines based on the Cabernet grape, but luckily, they were also being marketed in the rest of Italy. In 1978, Sassicaia won a major competition organised by the wine magazine Decanter against other wines made from grapes from Bordeaux. With the victory in this tasting, the local Tuscans also began to open their eyes to Sassicaia.

The 1985 vintage was the big breakthrough and was compared in a blind tasting with the 1986 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild by Mr. himself. Robert Parker, who awarded the Sassicaia 1985 the magic 100 points. Incidentally, the first Italian wine ever to receive a perfect score from an internationally recognised reviewer. Since then, there has been no looking back, and Sassicaia has been the standard bearer for the rebellious band of producers who are bucking the tradition of using only Sangiovese and instead leaning towards Bordeaux-inspired grapes aged in French barriques. These wines later became known as Super Tuscans.

The Story Of Bolgheri And The Super-Tuscans

Wine has been grown in Bolgheri for hundreds of years, but with the motto; everyday wine to wash down the meal with indicates that the wines were rustic and of poor quality. The first rules (DOC) for quality and wine production in the area were approved in 1983 and included only white and rosé wines.

The first great red wines from Bolgheri could not be sold because they did not follow the current DOC quality pyramid and violated the rules not to blend Sangiovese with international grape varieties. This caused trouble, but also shows very well the rebellious thinking that prevailed in the area. Sassicaia and the other revolutionary red wines were still produced and marketed with the permitted designation "Vino da Tavola". Then came the more stringent "Indicazione geografica tipica (IGT)". These wines quickly gained a large group of fans on the wine market, who called them "Super Tuscans".

Outside Bolgheri people also opened their eyes to blending Sangiovese with other French grape varieties and ageing the wines in French barriques. As a result, Super Tuscans are not only found in Bolgheri, but throughout Tuscany, where Tiganello and Solaia, among others, can be counted among the pioneers who, to that extent, paved the way for the entire Super Tuscan movement.

The set of rules for quality in this area has been adapted several times over the years, and from 1994 onwards the red wines were officially affiliated to the Bolgheri DOC, and Sassicaia was also given its own sub-DOC with an even stricter set of rules adapted to the totally unique wine.

In 2011, the rules were adapted once again, so that it is now possible to produce wines from individual grapes within the DOC rules. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc are the three most prominent, followed by Sangiovese and Syrah. In addition, it is permitted to work with up to 30% of other grape varieties. All in all, an open and innovative set of rules that gives the winemaker a good framework to develop his creativity.

Sassicaia Sassicaia is one of the most prestigious Italian wines and sought after world wide.

Bolgheri Today

Today there are 60 producers in Bolgheri making some of Italy's most sought-after wines. Sassicaia stands alone, with its own well-deserved DOC, but the other top producers leave nothing behind when it comes to quality.

Local winemakers have been fighting a conservative trend for many years. Strong outside forces, however, have had a major impact on making it appear today as perhaps the most attractive wine region in Italy. From 1978 onwards, strong forces entered the scene, including Piermario Meletti Cavallari, who founded Podere Grattamacco in 1977 and is now one of the leading producers.

Also striking is the Belvedere estate, which was split between the two Antinori brothers, Lodovico and Piero, who each built their top estate. Marchese Lodovico Antinori founded another super Tuscan, Ornellaia, in 1981, while Piero introduced Guado al Tasso. Among the locals, we should also mention Eugenio Campolmi, who founded Le Macchiole and who remains at the top of the hierarchy today.

In the Liv-Ex '2020 Power Top-100, Bolgheri is very well represented. Sassicaia ranks number 4, Ornellaia number 6 and Masseto number 9. With three producers in the top 10, Bolgheri is better represented in the list than both Burgundy and Champagne.

Get in touch with RareWine Invest

Fill in the form and we will get back to you as soon as possible