Txakoli – a light, crisp white with a slight sptitz
If you’ve ever been to San Sebastian in Northern Spain to visit the pinchos bars you will certainly have drunk Txakoli – the light, white wine with a slight spritz which the Basque like to pour – with an engaging sense of theatre – into a glass, from an arm’s length.
My son and I had decided to walk from Irun on the French border to Santiago de Compostela and Finisterre along the Camino Norte/Primitivo. The Norte follows the Atlantic coast and passes by the pretty town of Getaria which lies about 25km west of San Sebastian. This is the homeland of Txakoli. I had always rather fancied visiting a Txakoli producer and it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.
Now as it happened, one of the few wine events in London held in early summer was devoted to Spanish wine and included some Txakoli. One producer in particular stood out. I swiftly made an appointment to visit.
Bodega Txomin Etxaniz was somewhat off the camino and the unhelpful GPS delivered us to the top of a hill, at the end of a track leading nowhere. The coastal landscape is beautiful and the terrain in the basque country provides plentiful steep gradients. I must have imagined we’d pick up where were left off last summer at the end of the Camino Frances, but with an appointment to make it was not proving a gentle start to our 1000km trek.
The vineyards, which are steeply sloped, have a thin chalky topsoil and more clay beneath.
The region has misty mornings, quite a lot of drizzle, and monsoon-like downpours as we soon discovered, but not that day. By mid afternoon, it was pretty hot. The rucksacks, which included a tent for wild camping, were feeling increasingly heavy and I began to regret this ‘aside’ into a busman’s holiday. After all we had no where to stay and might have to resort to our tent some miles hence.
With some relief we made contact with Mikel just before my phone battery expired and within minutes he had scooped us up and we were delivered into the cool of the winery.
The winery is modern, but the Txueka Etxaniz family’s history with wine dates back to 1649 and the founding of Getaria. More recently Mikel’s father was instrumental in establishing the Denomination of Origin Getariako Txakolina in 1989, which is the oldest DO in Getaria. (This bodega is still very much a family affair. Mikel seems to be in charge of the estate, but works alongside his five cousins)
There are two traditional grape varieties in the denomination. Ondarrabi Zuri (white) and Ondarrabi Beltza (red). Only a tiny quantity of red is produced. Of the four million bottles produced in the DO only 8,000 are red, but regulations demand that white wine should include some 15% of red grapes and that rosé contains 50%.
The white variety has very high acidity and so the softer red was traditionally used to dial down the sharpness. The practice was subsequently written into appellation law. These days the vineyards are managed in a way that the white grape is more naturally balanced.
Most of the vines on the 50 hectares of Txomin Etxaniz estate (it’s the largest of the 32 producers in the region) are trained on traditional parral, which is a pergola system. This keeps the fruit 80cm to 1m above the ground and away from the humidity which is the downside of the Atlantic’s close proximity.
There are issues with mildew, but once in a while, in the right conditions, this humidity can produce botrytis and when this happens the family make a late harvest wine called UYDI.
This has a delicately spicy mandarine character with lively citrus acidity, a touch of grapefruit and a tangy finish. It had about 70 g/l residual sugar so is not super sweet. In found it quite charming and elegant.
As you might imagine, with the bunches of grapes suspended from a pergola, the vineyards have to be harvested by hand. The vineyards slope away in all directions, so no one aspect is utilised. Where the slopes become perilously steep, they are not terraced to accommodate pergola but espalier is used instead.
On this espalier system the fruit is more exposed to the sun and gets riper hitting 12%. The fruit from this section of the vineyard is vinified separately, leaving a touch of residual sugar, and aged in 500l acacia barrels for 5-6 months with some batonnage. It’s labelled Tx.
Bodega Txomin Etxaniz Tx 2018
This has a lightly rounded body and showed ripe lemon and petrol notes; there is no oak showing, rather it has a denser richer profile than typical Txakoli.
So let’s re-cap on the typical profile for a Txakoli. It’s a slim, light white wine carrying about 11% alcohol with a little residual sugar, which you don’t really notice. The 5-7g/l of sugar just nicely balance the punchy note of acidity. It has a slight sparkle – about 1 bar of pressure. This CO2 is natural. When the fermentation is over the tank is closed off retaining some CO2 while the wine ages in tank on the lees. It’s a little reminiscent of Riesling in shape, weight and flavour profile.
As the white must contain some red fruit, the grapes are de-stemmed, crushed and quickly pressed. While for the rosé, the skins are allowed to gently macerate with juice. The skin contact lasts eight to ten hours, or overnight in the press. Rosé represents just 8% of the production and is clearly not what the local market demands 85% is exported. Conversely 85% of the white wine is sold at home, largely to restaurants in Getaria and San Sebastian.
Bodega Txomin Etxaniz Txakoli
This is the wine which caught my eye in London. At the winery I tried the 2018 which has a vibrant gooseberry aroma that carries onto the palate where it combines with notes of fresh mint. It is bright and tingles with citrus freshness. A light and lively wine. After drinking many a glass of Txakoli on our walk, I can now say that this is a quintessential example of Txakoli.
BodegaTxomin Etxaniz Rosé Txakoli
This pastel tinted wine is light and pretty; peachy and zesty with lively crunch. Just yum.
And even more yummy with food. And so, after the tasting, which followed the vineyard and winery tour, we were able to dive into the delicious morsels we had seen Mikel’s mother bring to the table when we entered the winery.
Here in Spain the food and wine culture are intrinsically woven and the wines were enhanced by the local specialities. Mikel explained that the anchovies and tuna were prepared and preserved in the traditional way by his mother who buys from the local fishermen. The Atlantic coast here is renowned for its fish and especially for its anchovies. It’s true we were ravenously hungry, but they seemed to be most delicious anchovies and tuna imaginable. The rich tuna made a mellow match with the Rosé Txakoli while the Txakoli was both vibrantly and delicately delicious with the anchovies.
And suitably sustained, we enjoyed the late afternoon sunshine in Getaria before continuing on the camino, eventually finding a stunning headland on which to pitch our tent.
“A sustainable and holistic approach for plants, our souls and for the family.” Johannes Zillinger
When Christophe Hoch converted to biodynamics did he consider this to be evolution or revolution? In a candid response he feels his neighbours saw revolution, while for the Hoch family it was simply an evolution in their 400 year vinous history.
Evolution through co-operation was the overarching sentiment expressed in a recent tasting organised by two biodynamic organisations Demeter Austria and respekt-BIODYN. This tasting brought together twelve biodynamic producers and discussion centred on the themes of ‘the farm organism’ (self- sufficiency to you and me), building strength in the vineyard (improving your vineyard’s resistance to pests, disease, climate change et al); creating soil fertility naturally in the field (cover crops and composting) and what this can do for a healthier future in general, not only for our wines.
Demeter, which is an international association, dates back to 1928 and was founded to provide guidelines for biodynamic farming based on the teachings of Rudolph Steiner. It was adapted for wine production in the 1990s and has today there are approximately seventy biodynamic wine estates in Austria cultivating 800 hectares.
Respekt is much newer and smaller ‘community’ set up in Austria as an alternative to Demeter in 2007. It has 25 converts across Austria, Germany, Hungary and Italy who jointly cultivate 850 hectares. It is also based on Steiner principals, methods and preparations, but biodynamics is viewed as a means to an end – to achieve the highest possible quality.
Initially it seems Demeter wasn’t entirely happy with sharing the biodynamic space, but with their differences sorted, the two organisations are now dedicated to sharing experiences and knowledge to further the understanding and efficacy of biodynamic viticulture and to spread the gospel. As Nikolaus Moser remarks, “Already 3% of the the world’s viticulture is organic and the biodynamic family within this is growing.”
For those considering a biodynamic conversion, both organisations run seminars which are open to non-members. Nikolaus Moser considers it’s easier these days to take the plunge into biodynamics as many producers are willing to share information. He moved directly from conventional viticulture into biodynamics in the late 1990s without dallying in organic farming first and he recalls learning as he went along. “At the beginning of the 2000s organic viticulture didn’t have a good reputation and biodynamics was seem as hocus locus… now we can still be laughed at, but there is more understanding.” He describes a bitter wind of skepticism in the early days, “while now there is so much shared knowledge and lots of people prepared to help.”
And a quick head ups here – if you are tempted to convert to biodynamics, don’t expect a rapid response from your vineyards. On average you’re looking at 6 or 7 years.
But it’s clear from listening to the twelve producers that biodynamics reaches beyond cultivating a vineyard and making wine, rather it’s an approach to life or even a philosophy for living.
Clemens Busch spoke of preserving the history and culture of wine. Fifty year ago, on the Mosel’s steep slopes and terraces, every family had a few vines, grew their own food and kept some livestock. Viticulture became more professional from the 1970s and this way of life has all but disappeared, but he feels the biodynamic approach can help keep the traditional spirit alive.
Sven Leiner from the Pfalz is particularly eloquent. He describes the biodynamic approach as “creating a new relationship with our cultural space.” He didn’t intentionally set out to convert to biodynamics, but found things evolved step bu step; starting with the soil and then the cover crops, which brought composing within the vineyard. He remarks “you can only make good wine with healthy vines.”
The concept of the farm organism was discussed. Everyone seems to grow cover crops in the vineyards which can be ploughed back as natural homegrown fertiliser. Moreover they cultivate the plants ‘herbs’ to use for the various biodynamic teas which are sprayed on the vineyards according to biodynamic practices in order to boost the plant’s natural resistance to pests and diseases.
There was much talk of expanding the boundaries of the vineyard. Many, if not all of the twelve producers, manage their land around the vineyards to support the biodynamic ethos. This includes planting trees, keeping chickens, sewing wildflower meadows, setting up insect houses, keeping bees and maybe some cows to use the mature for composing.
Moreover Sven Leiner remarks “It doesn’t end with your property line.” There is impetus to spread the word and convert their neighbours and rationalises that when one’s neighbours become aware of the benefits, for example that wildlife which has not been seen for years begins to return, it will encourage the whole region to become involved. His vision is grand and admirable. “We are sewing another future,” he says.
Herbert Zillinger does not mince his words about conventional agriculture. “Sick exploitation…not good for the soil, the environment or our health. When you change to biodynamics, working with respect of nature, all problems resolve themselves.”
While some made a starting leap to biodynamics, others took a gentler approach, among them Johannes Zillinger, by evolving the organic approach of their parents into biodynamics and together with this, the idea the farm organism. And as they look forward to their children’s future, they are upshift again to truly holistic approach.
“Biodynamics is about allowing the vineyard, the vine and nature to express itself. It is sustainable and holistic – for our plants, our souls and and the family,” remarks Johannes Zilliinger.
Brigit Braunstein talks about an holistic way of winemaking which places every being, animal and plant and the centre of her work.
While Judith Beck, a pioneer of biodynamics, remarks, “I never expected how life changing this would be. It changed my views on food.. and raising children. It has an influence on all parts of our life. She goes back to the point that Clemens Busch made. Her grandparents had a small holding with animals and she laments how easily this was lost in just one generation. She can’t replace the cows, but sources manure for compost from a neighbouring cattle farmer. While not exactly self sufficient, this does tap into the local community.
She made an interesting point about cover crops. She had been ‘taught’ that the sunny and dry area of Gols, East of Neusiedlersee, where she has her vineyard, would not support cover crops ,a they would be too competitive. On the contrary.
Others confirmed that a biodynamics approach can be helpful in a drier areas. Herbert Zillinger and his wife Carmen who have a 16 hectare estate in Weinviertel (very dry and warm place) found the biodynamic prep 500 helped increase humus and the water retaining capacity of the soil. “It livens up dry soils,” and adds, “with good work on the soil, we don’t need to be afraid of climate change.”
It’s widely acknowledged that keeping the soil ‘alive’ and healthy, supports healthier vines and better balanced fruit. Herbert Zillinger has noticed the improvement brought about through biodynamics. The juice has lower pHs (3.2-3.3), higher and riper acidity, more dry extract and lower sugar. And he feels there is more vibrancy in the final wine.
Clemens Busch, who is a member of respekt-BIODYN (quality is the ultimate goal) comments, “People tell me the wine has more structure and depth; more tension and minerality.”
But what about the economics? I would have thought that yields would be smaller, affecting the bottom line. However not everyone has found this so. Georg Schmelzer saw his production become more stable after the first 3-5 years.
Schmlezer is also in the dry Neusiedlesee area. Georg confesses their vineyard is very untidy as they let the cover crops grow untrimmed – sometimes they grow as tall as the vines, but he finds the vines are stronger and healthier and the yield more reliable. There is no copper of sulphur used.
His neighbours may laugh at this vineyards, but he responds that consumers are attracted by the idea of ‘natural wine,’ and of course he is right. Natural has become a buzz word among consumers, many of whom will be unaware of exactly what it entails, but like the thought of something closer to nature – or something made more naturally – and will purchase based on their ideals.
Seems to me that biodynamics has a winning combination – an holistic, sustainable approach which can make sense economically and is in step with a wide global environmental sentiment.
So, by sowing a new future, have these these biodynamic winemakers got it all sewn up?
Ultimately it has to come down to the wine and how it tastes. A biodynamic approach has to produce a good wine. I should ‘fess up that I make some of my wine in Burgundy using grapes grown by one of the finest biodynamic domaines. I am fully convinced by the potential for this approach to encourage the very best from a vineyard.
However, I am not yet convinced that eschewing all sulphur in the making and bottling of white wine produces the best results. I found some wines slightly oxidised and quite cider-like. For me, these natural wines are just a step too far.
*-***denotes the wines I particularly liked.
**Weingut Clemens Busch, Marienburg Fahrlay GG VDP GROSSE LAGE 2017
Mosel, Germany. Member of respekt-BIODYN. Fahrlay. is a 1.6 hectare cru section within the 18 hectare Marienburg vineyard. It is midway on the Mosel river and has diverse soil types, but this cru is particular for its blue slate. South facing on a small terrace.
Straight, fine and cleanly edged. This has a high and pure line. Just a delicate richness wrapped around the middle palate, but this is essentially a swift, trebble-pure wine. Hits a high and sustained note – the finish is persistent and ringing.
*-**Weingut Sepp Moser, Riesling Ried Gebling 1ÖTW 2019
Kremstal, Austria Member of Demeter. C16th generation Nikolaus Moser is Lenz Moser’s grandson (Lenz Moser of prolific wine proportions). Nikolaus’s father Sepp Moser made the first significant change, separating and focusing on the best 30 hectares of vineyard, but he wasn’t interested in organic viticulture. Niki Moser took up the reins in the late 90s and he went directly to biodynamic. “It was a gut decision to convert to biodynamic faming without knowing much about it.” Demeter certified since 2009. His vineyards are in Kremstal. He makes the point that the vines in Gebling vineyard were first mentioned in 1284.
Salted caramel with a hint of mint, cinnamon and camomile on the nose. Very intriguing aroma. The palate is smooth and rich and rounded for Riesling with hints of caramelised orange zest. It’s almost exotically floral. It’s supple and silky – smoothly creamy for Riesling. By the second day after opening it, there were ripe apricot and almonds notes on the palate. It is quite spicy on finish, which is dry, rich and savoury. Seductive indeed.
***Weingut Hirsch, Ried Zöbinger Gaisberg 1ÖTW Kamptal Riesling 2017.
Kamtal , Austria Member of respekt-BIODYN. When the red wine became popular in the late 1990s, Johannes Hirsch pulled out his red wine and planted Riesling and Grüner Veltliner, bucking the trend. Moreover he put the entire range under screw cap. In addition to bio-dynamic practices, Hirsch utilises soft pruning, a method he learned in Alto Adige to minimise the amount of cuts and thus lessening the amount of tissue exposed to disease and old wood near the pruned area. In the vineyards, manure from celebrated cheese maker Robert Paget’s water buffalo and goats, grazing in the pastures in front of the vineyards, is used.
This is powerful, vigorous wine with a keen, straight and slicing palate. Richly punchy, but crystalline with clean cut edges. It finishes on a fine saline finish. Too early to drink this wine really. It should develop over the next 15 to 20 years – so to 2040. Tip top. Score 17
Weingut Christophe Hoch, Hollenburger Riesling NV
Kremstal Austria Member of Demeter. Christophe’s family can trace their winemaking back to 1640. The bedrock of Hollenburger is limestone. He felt the vintage was in front (dominated) the wine, hence he decided to make the unusual choice of blending vintages.
Cidery aroma. Light, lean and straight palate with a sour-apple note and a saline finish.
*Wiengut Sven Leiner, Kapelle Weissburgunder 2019
Pfalz, Germany Member of respekt-BIODYN Pfalz had the highest number of biodynamic producers in Germany – somewhere between 15 and 20. Kapelle is Sven’s best site. Note the ladybird on the label.
Fresh, lemony aroma. The palate is lightly rounded, broad and actually quite gusty. Definitely plenty of energy with an earthy intensity with a lively quality. Firm savoury sapidity on the finish; I like the tactile note at the end. It’s tangy. It does needs some time or decanting. When I first opened, it was battened down and took a couple of days to start opening up. From 2023-28
Weingut Schmelzer, Weissburgunder 2018
Neusiedlersee, Austria Member of Demeter. No sulphur or copper, only home made teas and biodynamic preps. Natural wine.
This has a light apple and yeasty aroma which continues onto the palate with caramelised apple notes, which become lightly orangey. The acidity is quite tart. There are hints of lime on nose and palate. It’s 13 % but feels light light and breezy and it finishes on a nutty and salty note.
*Weingut Herbert & Carmen Zillinger, Gruner Veltiner Kalkvogel 2019
Weinviertel, Austria Member of respekt-BIODYN Biodynamics can result in thicker skins requiring longer pressing. Not a problem for the Zillingers, who have the time and patience. This wine comes from a barren limestone soil. Herbert feels this is his best Gruner Veltliner. He and Carmen make several. Pressed and put straight into large old barrels. No debourbage and then on year on lees. Low sulphur levels of 30-40pp.
Candied citrus richness on nose and palate. Creamy texture. Lush lemon curd in the middle palate with a lovely balance of freshness. Sherbet-like energy. I really like this natural wine which is uber fresh, unlike some whites in this flight. Such an attractive wine – vibrant, rich and pure. It is not super complex, but it is certainly yummy.
Weingut Johannes Zillinger Parcellaire blanc 1# 2019
Weinviertel, Austria Member of Demeter. A blend of Welschriesling and Chardonnay from the coldest North and North/East facing slopes. If I understood correctly the Welschriesling, as whole bunches, is fermented in amphora and the Chardonnay is kept under flor.
A really rather creamy wine with attractive viscosity. Just nicely rounded with a pretty white peach character; so peaches and cream cut through with quite tart acidity. There is a light fragrance that floats over fruit.
Weingut Ploder-Rosenberg, Cara 2018
Styrian Volcanoland, Austria Member of Demeter. Maria, Alfred and son Manuel Ploder are pioneers in their region of extinct volcanos. Vineyards on the volcano’s slopes. He uses PIWI varieties – crossings which are fungus resistant – including 30% Souvignier Gris and 40% Bonner. The former has good natural acidity which is important here as the gravelly soils result in high pHs – 3.3-3.5.
This is a very light, delicate wine with a hint of apple and some salinity.
Weingut Judith Beck, Chardonnay Bambule 2018
Gols/Neusiedlersee, Austria. Member of Respekt -BIODYN. Gravel soil near the lake. This is fermented for 12-14 days on skins. No sulphur. Judith calls it zero intervention. Chardonnay was the first varied on which she used this approach back in 2011. She presses before the ferment has finished to protect it from oxygen. Aged in amphora for a year.
This is this the most interesting of the wines with no sulphur. It is quite funky. Full, quite rounded and rich, but with bright acidity. It a bit quirky and finishes attractively saline.
Neusiedlersee-Hugelland, Austria Member of Demeter
An invitingly farmy aroma, showing its more evolved character, mingles with red fruit and I do like the rich and fresh earthiness. The palate has marked energy. Loads of black fruit with cherry and charcoal notes. It’s snappy in both energy and texture and there’s a real twang on the finish. I expect wine produced using biodynamic approach to exhibit lively energy and this does.
***Weingut Feiler-Artinger, Blaufrankisch Leithaberg DAC Ried Oberer Wald 2018
Member of Respekt-BIODYN. The texture, which starts smooth and evolves a crisp crunch, is instantly arresting and so is the energy. This is both vibrant and has a vibration. The quivering energy carries to a well sustained finish. I like the ripe, juicy richness of blueberry fruit and the contrasting lively freshness. Its 14 % but carries it with ease. What a lovely wine. I like it lightly chilled. Now and until 2028.
Among the celebrity estates of Bolgheri, Tenuta Argentiera flies somewhat under the radar.
The ‘Nose’ picked up the scent having been invited to a zoom talk and tasting. I was intrigued by the story of a wine named Ventaglio for this promised something more unusual for Bolgheri – not only is it a single varietal Cabernet Franc, but it is a true terror wine coming from a single 1.2 hectare vineyard. It is called Ventaglio, after the rows of vines which fan around the circumference of a small hill.
I expected something ostentatious – a bold and showy IGT in a heavy bottle – Cabernet Franc sexed up – but on the contrary Ventaglio is sleek, sophisticated and serious, a handsome wine indeed – albeit in a heavy bottle.
But let’s backtrack a moment and set the scene. As all wine lovers know Nicolò Incisa della Rocchetta put Bolgheri on the map by commercialising the 1968 vintage of Sassicaia, the Bordeaux blend his father Mario had made for family and friends from vines planted in the 1940s at Tenuta San Guido.
This coastal area of Maremma is quite distinct from heartland Tuscany. The land around the village of Bolgheri was traditionally used for growing vegetables, olives and grapes to produce rosé wine. Away from the coastal strip there were cereal crops, grazing used for cattle and scrubland. Sassicaia, followed by Ornellaia in the mid 80s, raised awareness in the potential of this coastal area, and it was gradually converted to viticulture. In their wake Bolgheri estates eschewed Sangiovese and focused on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. True to Bordeaux fashion the wines are generally estate blends, drawing on a diversity of terroir.
Bolgheri attained DOC status in 1994 for a style of wine, an Italian interpretation of a Bordeaux blend. The Bogheri expression can be more restrained than Super Tuscans from heartland Tuscany. The proximity to the Tyrrhenian Sea may permit an elegant expression, however there is no escaping the fact that it can be pretty hot here. Moreover the reflected light from the sea increases the total light with its ‘mirror effect’. On the other hand the sea helps to moderate the temperature, cooling the vineyards with damp coastal breezes.
Tenuta Argentiera, named after the Etruscan silver mines of the region, lies in the Donoratico Hills, far to the south of Bolgheri away from the epicentre clustered around the famous estates. It began with a flourish in 1999, a latecomer in some respects. The estate belonged to the Fratini family, who in just three years cleared sixty hectares of scrub and planted vines. The Antinori family were instrumental in getting this project off the ground, lending their expertise to Fratini in the early days.
The zoom tasting was hosted by general manager and agronomist Leonardo Raspini and Nicolò Carrara, the winemaker. It was certainly lively as Leonardo leapt up on a number of occasions to hold large large boards in front of the camera to illustrate the terroir. (Tenuta Argentiera’s website is also very informative.)
The estate (now 80 hectares) has diverse terroir, encompassing a patchwork of soil types, but it seems the most significant differences with the land around Bolgheri village, are the higher altitude and the east facing ridge which is sheltered by the forest along which the vineyards are planted. Together these factors create a marginally cooler microclimate of approximately 2 degrees celsius.
The Nose was sent three wines to taste.
First up is Villa Donoratico, DOC Bolgheri Rosso. This comes from a eleven hectare section in the northern part of the estate (nearest to the village of Bolgheri) and from lower lying vineyards. While these are further from the coast, with fewer coastal breezes, the vineyards have a northern exposure which help retains freshness. The lowest vineyards at 30m are more sandy, while those at 100m combine some clay (in which Merlot thrives) and stone. The sandier soils would certain account for the fruity accessibility of this wine.
A quick aside about vintages. The 2019 vintage was equally successful in Bolgheri as inland Tuscany. It was hot and dry, but there were good water reserves and some rain at the end of July. The stems were properly lignified in 2019 and some whole bunches were used.
The 2018 was a cooler, wetter and more challenging vintage. July and August were quite cool, but September was dry and windy. I found the 2018 Argentiera fresh and energetic.
2016 was described as a tough vintage for the vegetation. A large rainfall at the end of August helped. It’s a powerful vintage.
Leonardo and Nicolòpoint out that the quality and health of vintages on the coast do not always follow inland Tuscany. In cold, fresher and rainier vintages Bolgheri typically suffers less from disease, while the light reflected off the sea in the afternoon gives vines an advantage. Vintage timing is earlier in Bolgheri – mid September for Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, which in some vintages can be an advantage, but in 2010 the weather in the first half of September was poor, while inland (Montalcino was singled out) benefited from holding out through the much better second half of the month.
Moving up the hierarchy, there is Argentiera, a Bolgheri Superiore. This wine is a blend, the grapes for which come from a myriad of vineyards which range from low lying sandy vineyards at 20m up to 200m, but the focus is on the higher altitude. The second level has more clay and the the upper more stone and schist. At 150-200m the terroir is Fliche – geologically one the oldest formations (sedimentary rocks consisting of limestone, marl and argillite with sandstone and siliceous rock). To keep it simple – these higher vineyards have more clay and of course a greater temperature swing between warm days and cooler nights.
And top of the heap – Ventaglio
In 2012 a small hill, 80m above sea level and 2 km from the coast, was planted with Cabernet Franc. The rows were planted through 270 degrees – South to North-East – like the spokes of wheel or indeed a fan, after Ventaglio from this hillside vineyard takes its name. The soil is clay loam with gravel and limestone pebbles – a profile known as Eagle’s Nest in regional classification.
In 2015 the estate changed hands, bought by the Austrian industrialist Stanislaus Turnauer. He clearly has a passion for wine for he moved his family to Bolgheri, but wisely gave his talented team the liberty to focus on the terroir and produce the best wine with minimal intervention.
Ventaglio is made in wooden tanks and aged largely in 500l barrels with a maximum of 25% new oak, some coming from the Austrian cooperage Stockinger.
The first vintage of Ventaglio, 2015, was 85% Cabernet Franc, while 2016 is 100%. (There are 2400 bottles, which are already allocated to collectors.) The tentative first step wasn’t explained, but why not go for broke? A single varietal must be labelled IGT, but in the context of Super Tuscan history, this is patently not an issue. It’s not the first single vineyard, single varietal. Merlot based Masseto is the stellar example, but with this newcomer, the team at Tenuta Argentina have their sites set on a place in the Bolgheri firmament.
Tenuta Argentiera, Villa Donoratico, Bolgheri 2019
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 15% Cebernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot.
A ripe, forthright expressive aroma with a hint of liquorice, methyl and Earl Grey tea. Packs a juicy punch. Deliciously ripe, but vibrant and the tannins have a bit of grip. Nicely balanced. An appetisingly bitter umami note to finish. This is a well structure wine which delivers on fruit and a decent level of complexity. Score 16.
It is 50% Cabenet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc.
Seductively perfumed aroma combining high toned white pepper notes with lower toned shades of violet, vanilla and camomile. It flows into a sumptuously smooth and inviting palate, which has elegant fluidity. It is quite trim and just deliciously laced with freshness. Soft at the beginning, it focuses across the palate, to become tighter and lively and even quite piquant. The finish is nicely sustained and has vibrancy, lift and brightness. Score 17.5 From 2024-33
Ventaglio, IGT 2016
Discreet aroma – a subtle, silky perfume. Quiet and intense palate. It has a refined texture and shimmers with freshness. The flavour spectrum includes some earthier notes, a light herbal edge and tangy, sooty bitterness on the finish which contrasts and balances the sweeter smoothness in the mid palate. Such a refined Cabernet Franc. Beautifully persistent with a chalky, powdery quality on the finish. Score 18.5 From 2025-35+