Monday, March 5, 2012

Marchese Piero Antinori: An Italian wine "Eagle" spreads his wings over U.S. soil

Antinori and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates: A Partnership of Iconic Cabernets

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

-Marchese Piero Antinori with Dwight The Wine Doctor

-Piero Antinori and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates President & CEO Ted Baseler preside over the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival tasting seminar

-The iconic FAY vineyard at Stag's Leap Cellars

-Col Solare wine

MIAMI BEACH—Italian wine icon Marchese Piero Antinori addressed the capacity audience at the Wine Spectator Wine Seminar program he headlined at the 2012 Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival with a youthful enthusiasm that belied his 73 years. Appearing with Ste. Michele Wine Estates President & CEO Ted Baseler, the two would lead a tasting journey of their signature Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet-based wines from Italy, California and Washington state, including 2008 Col Solare from Columbia Valley ($40), 2008 Antica Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($46.95) and 2008 Solaia Toscana I.G.T. ($140). For wine enthusiasts, this was a rare opportunity to taste some groundbreaking wines from legendary vineyards in Tuscany and Umbria in Italy and in Washington State’s Columbia Valley and the famed Napa Valley of California. It could not have been a more gratifying experience.

The Antinori name is venerated. The family’s winegrowing heritage goes back 26 generations spanning 625 years. Known for his life-long curiosity of how grapes are grown around the world, hPiero Antinori journeyed to Washington State and discovered Chateau Ste. Michelle in 1992. “The growing conditions there could not have been more different from what I am accustomed to in Tuscany,” Antinori said of his initial impression. “It’s true that opposites do hold some interest, because I was intrigued by the land and how the grapes thrived in Washington’s unique micro-climates.

“It’s a very different experience for us. The conditions are so different from what we are used to, in terms of climate and soil. At first, we didn’t think it was possible to produce great wine in Washington State. When I finally did realize that we could make the type of wine I wanted, it presented a challenge. And that’s when we decided to move forward.”

In addition to the Washington State partnership, Marchesi Antinori and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates also purchased the legendary Napa Valley estate winery, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is famed for the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting in which Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon took top honors among all red wines at the historic Judgment of Paris tasting that took place on May 24, 1976. Last year, on the 35th Anniversary of the 1976 Paris Tasting, Stag’s Leap created its unique “Judgment of Paris Seal” for its iconic Cabernet Sauvignons.

“They recreated the Paris Tasting in commemoration,” Antinori told the tasting participants, “and the results were exactly the same. Stag’s Leap won again, confirming the correctness of the original decision.”

Napa Valley holds a special place in Marchese Antinori’s heart. “Napa Valley has always been one of my favorite wine areas of the world. Since the first time I visited the area in the 1960s, I always followed the evolution of Napa Valley. When I was finally able to become a part of its great history, it became a great opportunity for my winemakers and vineyard managers to share their experiences with people there and it also became a great experience for me personally and for my family.

“It could be that one day, one of my grandchildren will decide to make California their home or become a part of the educational facility we are developing in Washington State that we hope will rival the program at UC Davis.”

The fact that the Antinori legacy has expanded to the New World should be no surprise to anyone, he explained. “Great vineyards and great wines can happen in almost any part of the world. To work in such incredible environments as we’ve found in Napa and in Washington, is something that I think elevates the quality of life. That’s why I think we are privileged to be in this type of business.”

To say that the wines were spectacular is an understatement. They were a testament to the art of winemaking and to the vast experience and expertise of their creator. The 2008 Col Solare Columbia Valley ($40) is a lavish expression of the soft, dark fruit Cabernet blends that have come to characterize Washington State red wines. Col Solare means “shining hill” in Italian, and it could not be a more apt name for this bright, luminous fruit-forward wine with its long finish and soft mouth-feel.

Both 2008 Antica Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($46.95) and 2008 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon ($125) expressed the soil of their origin before even taking one sip. The unmistakable aroma of the unique terroir of the Stag Leap district sprang to the fore with a heady nose. This signature perfume and hints of minerality were the gateway to lush, ripe bramble fruit, hints of cassis, coffee, chocolate and leather that further round out one of the most rewarding flavor experiences of wine drinking. These wines are the standard against which all other Napa Valley red wines are judged and rightly so. It is no accident of serendipity that one of the legends of winemaking, in the person of Marchese Piero Antinori, is the standard bearer for this storied wine.

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