Emergency post: Tignanello, there’s nothing wrong with liking it

Above: As if by some sort of cosmic connection, Tignanello was on my mind this weekend after I learned about a hand bag line called Tignanello while shopping with Tracie B at a local mall in Austin. (I guess the hand bag line has been around for a while but I just learned about it this weekend.)

It’s been a crazy Monday (after the holiday weekend) and I really don’t have time to post today but extreme situations call for drastic measures!

In his post yesterday, one of my all-time favorite wine bloggers and palates and all-around good guy, BrooklynGuy, asked his readers: “Does my Favorite Thanksgiving Wine make me a Bad Person?” The wine in question was a bottle of 1990 Tignanello, one of Italy’s (and Tuscany’s) most famous labels and vineyards and one of the original Super Tuscans — in fact, a Super Tuscan ante litteram. Evidently, his friend brought the bottle to BrooklynFamily’s Thanksgiving celebration and in the words of BrooklynGuy, “Yes, I drank a Super-Tuscan, and I loved it. And I love the fact that I loved it.”

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with liking that wine or wines like it (do you like my chiasmus?): especially when the new wood has integrated with the other components of the wine, as I imagine was the case in this nearly twenty-year-old bottling, these wines can be the source of immense pleasure. In another lifetime, when I lived in New York and worked at the top of the Italian wine circuit, I had the opportunity to taste a number of older vintages of the historic Super Tuscans, like Sassicaia (notably, 1985) and Tignanello (notably, 1990, 1995, and 1997). The wines can be very, very good.

I can’t say that I like the wines but I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with liking them. In fact, I showed 2005 Tignanello in my recent seminar on Tuscan wines (participants loved it, btw).

Why don’t I like them? And more importantly, why don’t I like the categorically? In the case of Tignanello, it’s not that I don’t like it but rather that there are so many other wines I’d rather drink — wines that, in my view, are more indicative of the place and the people who make wine there.

Having said that, I bet that the 1990 Tignanello — first produced in 1971 as Tignanello and the first Sangiovese to be aged in new French oak, according to the producer — showed gorgeously that night (and my deep respect for BrooklynGuy’s palate leads me to believe that it did, indeed, show well).

Above: To barrique or not to barrique? The answer is almost categorically “no” on my palate, especially when it comes to noble expressions of Sangiovese.

Frankly, I feel like I owe BrooklynGuy an apology and I feel terrible that he felt obligated to apologize — however jokingly — for liking a wine that is not a “hipster wine,” as he put it. After all, I have been known to patently dismiss barriqued Italian wines and Super Tuscans in general. The truth is I would have loved to try that wine myself!

It’s important to note that the designation Super Tuscan is generally not used by Italians. I’ve read that James Suckling claims he coined the term but I believe that Nicolas Belfrage actually created it in the 1980s. (Coincidentally, I’m reading Belfrage’s new book, The Finest Wines of Tuscany, and will review it soon. He doesn’t discuss his relation to the term although he does hyphenate it.) It’s also important to note that, whatever its origins, the designation is used purely in an marketing capacity and has no official weight or significance.

And while Tignanello is often called “one of the original Super Tuscans” (together with Sassicaia and Ornellaia), it’s important to note that its creators did not call it a Super Tuscan. In 1971, they declassified the wine from Chianti Classico with the vineyard designation to simply Tignanello, the vineyard designation. Why did they do this? Probably because they’re marketing sense led them to believe — rightly — that by shedding the then-tarnished Chianti label, they could command higher prices for the wine.

Lastly, it’s important to note that the declassification wasn’t the only element that Antinori and the “father of Tignanello,” Renzo Cotarella, introduced in its effort to conquer a greater piece of the foreign market: they introduced new-French-oak-small-cask aging, lower-than-required yields, and — I would imagine — Californian practices in the cellar (I don’t know but am guessing they began using cultured yeasts and other forms of manipulation through technology).

The most interesting tidbit of BrooklynGuy’s post, in my view, is the fact that he points out (and in many ways he’s right on): “Antinori’s Tignanello was a big part of the beginning of the Super-Tuscan craze that ultimately ended with the huge Brunello scandal.” Tignanello has always been made mostly from Sangiovese with smaller amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc (to give color, weight, and tannin). The oaky, beefy (as it were) style of wine ultimately conquered the American market in what is surely to be remembered as one of the greatest coups in the history of wine marketing.

BrooklynGuy asks:

Is this wine partly to blame for the bastardization of Tuscan wine?

No, it’s not the wine. The blame lies with winemakers who have abandoned the flavors and aromas of their land for the sake of avarice.

Is Tignanello bad? And if it is bad, can it still taste good?

Tignanello isn’t bad. But there are so many other, greater expressions of Sangiovese that achieve much, much more at a much lower price point.

The 1990 tasted great, that much I can tell you.

I would have loved to taste it with you, BrooklynGuy! But then again, I know that it’s always a great experience to taste any wine with you!

Chapeau bas, for keeping it real in Brooklyn.

10 thoughts on “Emergency post: Tignanello, there’s nothing wrong with liking it

  1. Jeremy, what would you suggest as a purely Sangiovese based non barriqued Super Tuscan?

    Also, if i may ask, what do you deem as the most exciting wine coming out of Tuscany these days, independently of the composition?

  2. Second Lorenzo’s question. I’m always interested in Tuscan wines, but there is just so much out there, it is hard to sift the gold from the dross. It is also hard to figure out which ones are aged in new oak barriques and those that are aged in more neutral vessels.

    I know people apparently like Montesecondo a lot. I personally enjoyed a Tassi Rosso di Montalcino. Anything else similar to those wines, i.e., wines that can be approached relatively young and don’t require a lot of cellar time to enjoy?

  3. I recently had a bottle of 97 Montepeloso “Nardo” that was absolutely stunning. The most complex and pleasing Bolgheri super I’ve tasted by a long shot. Very traditional in comparison with Tig/Sass/Orn…

  4. Jeremy,It might not taste so impressive today as it might have tasted 30 years ago nevertheless Tignanello is an authentic milestone in the development of Tuscan wine and even Chianti Classico as we know it today as it ended up serving as a prototype for the latter.I must point out that the father of the Tignanello is Giacomo Tachis, and not Renzo Cotarella, who incidentally happened to be the winemaker for the Sassicaia too.Regards

  5. Jeremy ,
    I’ve been lurking for 2 years….love the blog..love Produttori…never posted….but here I go on Tuscany…in no particular order of preference


    Pian di Ciampolo
    Montevertine itself, AND, especially if you can find a teenage bottle,
    Il Sodaccio

    Both the Montesecondo Rosso and the Chianti Classico are excellent earth to palette material

    Their Retromarcia bottling ,bought from purchased fruit, is particulary good value for money

    The vernaccias of Montenidoli enter into Lopez de Heredia territory in their uniqueness ,especially her Tradizionale and Fiore bottlings.

    Next Category -SLEEPERS ,available in the States but scarce.

    BOSCARELLI (esp. before 2005)
    From Montepulciano – Excellent Vino Nobile bottling and a yummy single vineyard bottling, Vigna del Nocio?
    Need age….WInes from 95-99 are in the gloating “oh my God I’m so glad I have a case of this territory”

    From Montepulciano …slightly cheaper and more contadino than Boscarelli
    Good honest-to goodness stuff

    Next category…not avail in the US ,but Jeremy, you can make it happen!
    CASTELINUZZA PIUCCA (Giuliano Coccia from Lamole)…CHIANTI CLASSICO FANTASTICO…a “look no hands wine!.. His loose wine sells for 2 euros a liter…makes me want to move to a land where good honest to goodness wine is cheaper than water

    and FINALLY in the there’s no way I can afford this unless I become a hedge fund manager territory….. SOLDERA(Montalcino)..bio
    I wanted to hate him …non-tuscan intellectual…BUT .his wines are, in the words of Raymond Chandler, good “enough to make a bishop kick a hold in a stained glass window”

    Rock on Jeremy
    Yours stagestruck

  6. Every time I come to Emergency post: Tignanello, there’s nothing wrong with liking it Do Bianchi you have another fascinating post up to read. One of my friends was talking to me about this topic a few weeks ago. I think I will send them the url here and see what they say.

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