Italian Capers – Tignanello


If Stellenbosch is the heart of SA wine, then Tuscany performs the same function for Italy. As is the case in SA, there is a low intensity struggle between traditionalists happy to make rustic reds from Sangiovese and new wave winemakers producing Cabernet Sauvignon dominated Supertuscans, primarily for the US market. Wines like Solaia made by the Marchese Piero Antinori, an 80:20 blend of Cabernetg and Sangiovese from a single sunny vineyard in his Tignanello property whose eponymous wine has the percentages reversed.

tig3 Italian Capers   Tignanello

Tignanello is produced in first growth volumes – 300 000 bottles of the 2004 which has recently been released – and retails for around R500 a bottle. Some Hungarian oak is used to age the wine which has a distinctly spicy flavour profile. The Solaia costs more than double this at R1200 thanks to smaller volumes and an American preference for Cabernet flavours. Aged in French oak, it is a wine made in an unashamedly “international style.”

tig2 Italian Capers   Tignanello

Quality of both is on the up after introduction of a new vineyard practice of adding crushed white marble to the vineyards. The stones reflect sunlight onto the underside of bunches, promoting more even ripening. Drainage is improved and the vines are healthier as weeds and other insect habitats are excluded. The only downside is an aesthetic one, with the vineyards now looking like they are growing out of plastic sheets. But then since Tignanello, the Marchese’s country house (he lives in a palace in Florence), is not open to the public, aesthetic damage is limited.

tig1 Italian Capers   Tignanello

The Marchese clearly likes Cabernet. Last month he bought the Napa Valley icon producer Stag’s Leap Vineyards whose ’73 Cabernet famously humbled the first growths of Bordeaux in Steven Spurrier’s historic Judgment of Paris blind tasting. Interestingly enough, Spurrier now seems to have moved away from blind tastings. As convener of a panel of three judges selecting wine for Singapore International Airlines (himself, an Aussie and an American, proving that SA is not the only country to suffer from terminal cultural cringe when it comes to choosing wine for the national airline) he has introduced a modified blind tasting system to choose wine for onboard service:

Some candidates possess such mega-gravitas (marketing mojo that trumps terroir, every time) they are automatically selected if offered to the airline: Krug, Dom P, the Super Seconds of Bordeaux – Gruard Larose, Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Cos D’Estournel and Leoville Poyferré – plus Cloudy Bay. Making a virtue out of necessity, as the SIA commercial director admits Bordeaux second growths don’t submit tenders. Other entries are scored blind out of 20 and then their labels are rated sighted out of 5 giving each entry a maximum tally of 75 from three judges.

Thus is image and fashion quantified, although with all three judges paid consultants to various producers, hopefully any conflicts of interest are disclosed up front and label scores are suitably adjusted.

In SA, the preferred strategy adopted to produce a desired result in blind tastings (such as those of WINE magazine) is the controversial concept of “seeded players” where a wine knocked out in an early tasting round can be added back to a later one. The Singapore system is arguably better in that label ratings can be quantified, published and discussed, although in practice, they aren’t.

If the modified blind tasting algorithm had been applied at the Judgment of Paris, the French would have won hands down and Mr. Spurrier would probably still be a small wine merchant in Paris. But it wasn’t, so two film versions of the Judgment of Paris are currently in production with names of actors like Hugh Grant, Jude Law, Keanu Reeves and more interestingly Danny DeVito, bandied around.

As consultant to one project labeled the “official” one, Decanter magazine reports that consulting editor Spurrier is “outraged” at being described as “an impossibly effete young Englishman” (with “young Englishman” later replaced by “snob” on the Decanter website by some guerrilla web editor) in the rival script. Spurrier’s response is a classic: “well, I was effete, but not impossibly so.” Reminding me of the comment of Derek Smedley MW on Steve “he’s so pompous. Someone should sit on him.”


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