When I sat down with Bolgheri consortium president Federico Zileri Dal Verme (above) yesterday evening at the überhip restaurant Underbelly to chat and taste his Castello di Bolgheri wines, he told me that it was his first time in Texas.
“In New York they have so much wine,” he said, “and the market is difficult.”
“But in Texas they want more wine!”
Although there still are many challenges in finding a distribution channel here, the state continues to hold allure for Italian wineries thanks to an ongoing energy boom and exponential growth that many compare to California’s in the 1970s.
I was eager to ask Federico about his tenure as the consortium’s new president.
In 2013, legacy producer Nicolò Incisa della Rocchetta (owner of the Tenuta San Guido, where Sassicaia is produced) stepped down from the association’s presidency after eighteen years.
Federico’s presidency represents a new chapter in the appellation’s history. At 50 something, he is a relative young blood.
Even before he became president, Federico led a groundbreaking campaign within the consortium to allow for monovarietal wines in Bolgheri.
Ornellaia’s famous Masseto, a wine made from 100 percent Merlot grapes, he pointed out, has historically been labeled as an IGT because the Bolgheri DOC did not include single-grape wines.
Cinzia Merli’s Le Macchiole Paleo, another historic label that was first made as a blend and then ultimately became a wine made from 100 percent Cabernet Franc, was also excluded from the Bolgheri DOC.
But in 2011, thanks to a proposal by Federico, the consortium members agreed unanimously to change their appellation regulations.
(It’s worth noting here that Cinzia’s Paleo — pronounced pah-LEH-oh — is now Bolgheri Superiore DOC while Masseto is still IGT.)
As he recounted the appellation’s evolution, I couldn’t help but express my disbelief that every member of the consortium had agreed willingly to the changes.
“Are you telling me,” I asked, “that there exists a consortium where all the winemakers agree in Italy” where internecine feuds are legendary?
Federico laughed and told me that yes, it’s true.
“It’s not an envious consortium,” he said.
Currently, the Bolgheri DOC covers 1,250 hectares including: Bolgheri Bianco (mostly Vermentino); Bolgheri Sauvignon (85 percent min. Sauvignon Blanc); Bolgheri Rosso, Bolgheri Rosso Superiore, and Bolgheri Rosato (international grape varieties, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc with smaller amounts of Syrah and Sangiovese allowed); Bolgheri Rosso Superiore (min. aging of 24 months and min. of 12 months in cask); and Bolgheri Sassicaia (which is still a DOC).
The Castello di Bolgheri has been part of Federico’s family’s holdings for countless generations. He’s part of the Della Gherardesca family, a nobile Florentine line that traces its roots to the middle ages and beyond (they’re mentioned, among others, in Dante’s Commedia).
He was the winemaker at Tenuta Argentiera, another Bolgheri consortium member, until he began producing wines at his family’s Bolgheri estate in 2001.
The wines (blends of international varieties) were balanced, with good acidity and wood that didn’t overwhelm their fruit. I liked them a lot.
But more than anything else, I loved hearing about this utopian appellation on the Tuscan coast where everyone gets along. Sounds like a dream, no?
I also have to give a shout out to Underbelly GM and wine director Matthew Pridgen for his excellent new wine list. He’s always had a great list there (I’m a fan) but he continues to expand the wine list genre with his magazine-style format. It’s a super cool, world-class list. Check it out the next time you’re in the area…