The vast, 100-hectare Guado al Tasso estate, part of Antinori’s Tuscan empire, stretches from the Strada Bolgherese to the coast road, which bisects all the major estates in the area, taking in a variety of soil types and a range of varieties including Vermentino, the Bordeaux varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, as well as Syrah. Around 320 hectares are planted with vines, while they have 200 hectares of cereal, used to feed their pigs, which incidentally produce excellent salami and ham, as well as 1,000 olive trees.
On arrival, we are immediately taken on a tour of the vineyards by winemaker and estate manager Marco Farrarese and his wife, Luisa. We pass some newly planted Vermentino, a particular favourite of Antinori, and Luisa explains that this now brings the total of Vermentino up to 65 hectares. We also learn that they pick their Vermentino in two separate harvests between 5 and 10 September and at the end of September. The Vermentino is planted here on sandy soils, while other new plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon are on clay and rocky soils. The soils change very frequently here on the estate.
Cabernet Franc had been harvested that morning (26 September) following a three-day stop due to rain. We see this being processed later in their futuristic winery, whose walls, floor and individual rooms are insulated to control temperature and humidity. Marco calls them ‘sandwich walls’, which result in the shape of the winery designed by Fiorenzo Valbonesi. This reflects the heat, while holes in it let in air and light. The grapes pass over two sorting tables – one for bunches and then a second one for berry selection. The vast overground cellar is full of French oak barrels, the front barrel of each row marked with exactly what is in that row. They use French oak as they believe this gives the best results, but they do use a small percentage of US oak for Merlot. Interestingly, they also use Hungarian oak for Sangiovese and the estate wine.
On the way to the modern winery, destined primarily for Il Bruciato, Vermentino and rosé, we also pass the old Guado al Tasso cellar, which Luisa tells us will become a ’ghost cellar’ after this vintage as it will be closed, fully renovated and moved underground.
Their biggest block of land is the 200-hectare Guado al Tasso, which gives the estate its name, as well as several plots in the south of the denomination around Torre di Donoratico and a further block of 30 hectares in the north near Bolgheri. The soils are alluvial, rich in sandy clay or silty clay, with one fine gravelly area rich in iron – agglomerato bolgherese. The range of soils in a small area enables them to match varieties with the appropriate soils.
The estate is not only blessed with a variety of soils, as is the whole DOC, but also benefits from being encircled by the ’Bolgheri Amphitheatre’. It also boasts a mild climate with constant sea breezes and cooler air flowing down from the hills that temper the summer heat and ensure good diurnal range, clear skies and plentiful sunshine.
The rows in the vineyards are planted in such a way as to enable the fresh air to blow through the vineyards and dry humidity in the vines, ensuring that as few treatments as possible are needed in the vineyards. The estate is organic where possible, especially where spraying after flowering is concerned; they use organic fertilisers, plant legumes as cover crops and do their best to improve the presence of grass in the soil.
Some vines are trained lower to the soil, resulting in higher tannins and lower acidity, while others are trained higher to improve acidity in the grapes. This enables them to play with balance in the finished wines.
It was quite a late harvest this year, but there was good concentration of sugar in the grapes, which were picked at 25-26 brix. 2017 was a particularly dry vintage, but Marco believes they achieved a good result. The soils – much of which were formerly swampy land – are deep, fresh and rich in minerals; moreover, they can irrigate when necessary, important in dry vintages.
Finally, we head to the estate centre to taste four of the wines and enjoy some prosciutto and salami made from a special breed of pig that is a cross between a normal pig and a wild boar.
The Vermentino is harvested mid-September after the Merlot. It is quite a protracted harvest, as mentioned above – harvested at different levels of ripeness and for different styles. It is fermented with cultured yeasts in stainless steel and never undergoes malolactic fermentation. The wines are maintained separately on their lees for two months post fermentation. They aim for a wine that is rich in flavour but easy to drink and try to maintain the style every year.
A lovely textured, creamy wine with bright citrus acidity, crunchy green apple and a refreshing, tangy saline finish.
Il Bruciato 2017
The wines are always named after something with a local connection. So, Il Bruciato is named after a local wood that was set fire to by the local peasants in defiance of a cruel estate owner. The wood still exists but is now only 50 hectares instead of its original 150.
This was a hot, dry vintage, so irrigation was important in some vineyards. It’s a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 15% Syrah. All are vinified separately and blended after the malolactic fermentation is complete. No new oak, but aged for one year in 2nd, 3rd and 4th passage barrique.
Dark fruit, toasty oak and luxurious chocolate on the concentrated, spicy nose. Medium alcohol, smooth, fine-grained tannins and elegant fresh acidity. A beautifully layered wine with bags of crunchy dark cassis, bramble, cherry and raspberry pepped up with a touch of liquorice spice. Lingers after tasting.
The first vintage of this 100% Merlot was 2011, when DOC Bolgheri changed its rules to permit wines made 100% with one variety; at the same time, also requiring producers to bottle within the appellations. Fermentation takes place at low temperatures to aid extraction. They are also obsessed with sweet tannins, they say, so they work gently with the skins, with very short pumping over for ten days and then no pumping over. They taste every day to determine when the wine is ready. Normally, they aim to preserve red fruitiness and freshness, but due to the dryness of this vintage, there is more black fruit than normal in the wine.
A complex wine with plenty of ripe plum, dark cherry and raspberry with a toasty, oaky character, balanced by fresh acidity. It’s juicy and ripe with sweet tannins but has slightly warming alcohol.
Guado al Tasso 2016
Fermentation takes place in stainless steel at low temperatures (20-25°C) to preserve freshness. This is then increased to 30°C at the end of the alcoholic fermentation. The wine then goes into French barrique for malolactic fermentation; after it is complete, the best parcels are selected and blended in February. The wine is aged for 18 months in 30% new oak and 70% 2nd passage. Marco considers the 2016 one of the best expressions of the last ten years. It’s a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, although they also sometimes add a little Petit Verdot depending on the vintage.
A complex, elegant wine packed with dark cherry and blackberry fruit, complemented with balsamic notes, cedar and well-integrated oak. Smooth and supple on the palate with fine-grained tannins and remarkable freshness. Incredible length.