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Website © 2019 Joanna Simon

Header photo © Waitrose & Partners Drinks / Cat Garcia

Antinori Guado al Tasso 1998–2011 and Matarrochio 2007–2011



This article originally appeared in The World of Fine Wine, issue 51

A tasting billed as a UK first is tempting by any standard, but when presented by Renzo Cotarella it is doubly so. Cotarella – he hardly needs an introduction – is CEO and chief winemaker of Antinori, a youthful 60-year-old who has been with the company since 1979 and says he has no understudy but a team of 40 technicians. “I think what will be very difficult in future will be a single winemaker and a single vineyard manager. Piero Antinori and I, we built these estates from scratch. We have 2,300ha globally. I know every estate and vineyard. We don’t want to centralize the system. In the future we need a lot of people in each estate.”

Back to the present. The tasting held in London at the end of April 2015 was a vertical of five vintages of Guado Al Tasso from the eponymous estate in Bolgheri, going forward from 1998, followed by the three vintages released to date of its sister red, Matarocchio, starting with the debut 2007 vintage.

There are other wines from the 300ha of vines that stretch from the hills around the old village of Bolgheri down to the sea – Bolgheri Rosato and Vermentino among them – but this is ideal Cabernet country, for Franc as well as Sauvignon, and Merlot too. Sangiovese prefers a more continental climate and stonier soils to the Mediterranean-moderated temperatures and relatively rich, clayey and sandy, coastal Maremma soils.

The object of the exercise was to show how the estate has evolved and is improving, how and why the blend and style of Guado Al Tasso have changed and why Antinori started to produce small quantities of a new wine, the 100% Cabernet Franc Matarocchio. To save any suspense, I can say now: objective achieved, but evolution continues. Cotarella says freely that they have not reached their best yet. “We have a lot of room to improve, depending on vintage, our sensibility and the age of the vineyard. It takes time for vineyards to acquire intensity and for us to acquire understanding.”

Guado Al Tasso is a Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine (57–60%), with Merlot (25–30%) and other red varieties. It is the latter that have changed, in particular since 2007. Until then, the blend included 10% Syrah and other reds (among them Petit Verdot), because, when they started planting grapes for red wine in the 1980s (previously it had all been rosé) and then making the wines in the early 1990s, they didn’t have a clear style in mind. Their roots were in Chianti Classico’s very different terroir; they were influenced in that era by Australian ideas and the vogue for dark, dense, rich, monumental wines; and they also wanted to do something. Hence the Syrah. But, says Cotarella, they went too far: “we produced a wine that was more large than long”.

By the early years of this century, they had decided on a more elegant wine – “deeper and more intense in taste, but less heavy… a savoury, ‘salty’ wine” – and they started to adjust the blend accordingly. The key year was 2007. Out went the Syrah, originally chosen for volume and softer tannins. In came Cabernet Franc, planted in 2003/04 for suppleness and elegance, 10% at first steadily rising to 18% in 2012. Petit Verdot remains at around 3% (although 2% in 2012) , but Cotarella isn’t a fan and “won’t be surprised” if they drop it altogether. “It made more sense when we had Syrah, he says.”

The conditions were such in 2007 that they also had the potential to produce “a great Cabernet Franc”. At the time, Matarocchio was a one-off, but it is now produced in all the best vintages.

In terms of winemaking, the main evolution has been that they don’t extract as much as they did before 2007. They punch down less, do it more gently and pay more attention to the extraction of tannins. At the same time oak ageing has been increased. Guado Al Tasso is now aged for 18 months in new French barrels. Vintages before 2007 had about 14 months. Also, since 2011, the selection and blending have been done after 12 months, rather than at the end of oak ageing. Matarocchio is aged for 18 months in new French oak barrels and then only the best are selected to be bottled.

TASTING

The tasting was held at Morton’s Club in London. There were eight wines: five vintages of Guado Al Tasso then three vintages of Matarocchio and for both wines we went from oldest to youngest.

1998 Guado Al Tasso

60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Syrah and other red varieties.

A very good year in Bolgheri – better than 1997 – with a harvest about a week earlier than average. Deep, solid rather than vibrant, ruby-garnet colour. Sweet black fruit, exotic spice, sandalwood and balsamic notes on the nose. Full in the mouth, with the same black fruit sweetness and some, mature, savoury Marmite and liquorice flavours underpinned by slightly dry, grainy tannins. Acidity adds a little piquancy and freshness to the finish, but also emphasises the tannin. Still very much alive, but a less focused and precise wine than subsequent wines in the tasting. 88/100

2001 Guado Al Tasso

60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Syrah and other red varieties.

Deep garnet-ruby colour with a little more vibrancy than 1998. Vibrant, penetrating, black fruit aromas; a generous palate with sweet but well-defined and still fresh blackberry fruit, a chocolaty richness – both bitter-sweet and milk – a vanilla note; ripe, smooth, structure-giving tannins and a satisfying dry finish. Plenty of life in this still. Interestingly, had he had his time with this vintage again, Renzo Cotarella says he might have picked a little earlier, but mainly he would have done things differently in the winery. He thinks they extracted a little too much, but it was the style they were aiming at then. 90

2007 Guado Al Tasso

57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot

A very good vintage – better than 2008 in Bolgheri – and a step change for the wine: out with the Syrah; in with Cabernet Franc. It shows immediately in the delicate floral/violet note on the nose, the clarity and precision of the fruit – more blackcurrant than blackberry – and the mineral undertow; subtle background oak and superfine, dry tannins The addition of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot seems to intensify the character of the Cabernet Sauvignon, whereas the Syrah ploughed its own furrow, adding sweetness and volume in a different field. 94

2009 Guado Al Tasso

60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot.

A great vintage: early for Merlot, but later for Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot because of cooler, occasionally rainy weather in the second half of September. The resulting Cabernet Sauvignon, says Cotarella, was lighter in style but no less intense than in 2007. Vibrant ruby-purple colour. Intense blackcurrant nose with a floral lift and touches of spice and graphite – dare I say, more Bordeaux-like than the previous vintages? On the palate, the intensity is as though the wine is holding itself in, but then it unfolds into fruity succulence, before tightening with fine, firm tannins and a sustained, clean-lined, graphite-mineral finish. 96

2011 Guado Al Tasso 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot. A very different vintage from 2007 and 2009. A cool early summer turned very hot at the end of August and continued into early September, then milder temperatures for the rest of the month benefited the Cabernets. Lively, deep purple-ruby colour. A very fragrant and enticing nose. Vivid, fresh, floral and fruit aromas – jasmine and rose (sweet but not heavy), spiced blackcurrant and blackberry. Deep, intense and succulent on the palate, with youthful dark chocolate and polished oak integrating seamlessly already; fine savoury tannins and a long, cool finish. 96

2007 Matarocchio

100% Cabernet Franc.

A perfect vintage for Cabernet Franc, with a long growing season.

Bright, jewel-like ruby colour. Fragrant, raspberry-ish nose, with a distinct, leafy, green note but an overall impression of sweetness and ripeness. Fresh, sweet, lifted palate with red berry fruit, a tobacco-like spiciness, a suggestion of polished leather and the same leafy note as on the nose. Supple, fine tannins and a richer texture than I was expecting from the aromas and flavours. Plenty of years still in it. A persuasive debut. 92

2009 Matarocchio

100% Cabernet Franc.

Similar jewel-bright ruby colour to the 2007. A riot of raspberries, cherries and mulberries on the nose – intense, pure and crisply fresh, but without the leafiness of the ’07. On the palate, the fruit is elegantly lifted but concentrated and there’s brooding, savoury dimension which brings a dark and youthful depth and complexity. The tannins are fine but still firm, the finish is fresh, long and dry. 96

2011 Matarocchio

100% Cabernet Franc.

Lively deep purple. Very perfumed with flowers and ripe black cherries. A burst of sweet, intense, pure fruit on the palate, but then almost immediately it’s the exceptional silkiness of the texture that is so striking in a wine of this age. Effortlessly concentrated and structured, with tannins and acidity that are still softening, but a wine showing such elegance and lightness of touch already. 98


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