Fine Wine Articles/Interviews

Interview with Marchese Piero Antinori

Written by Aksel Ritenis

The Antinori family has been involved in the production of wine for over six centuries, ever since, in 1385, Giovanni di Piero Antinori entered as a member, the “Arte Fiorentina”, the Winemakers’ Guild of the city of Florence. During this entire long period, through twenty six generations, the family has always directly managed this work with courageous and, at times, innovative decisions, but always maintaining, unaltered, a fundamental respect for tradition and for the territory in which they have operated.

Today the firm is run by Marquis Piero Antinori with the support of his three daugthers, Albiera, Allegra, and Alessia, directly involved in the work of the house. Tradition, passion, and intuition have been the three driving principles which have led the Marquis Antinori firm to become a leader in Italian wine.

Each and every vintage, each and every separate area, each and every idea which is to be put into practice is a new beginning, a new search for higher quality standards. As Marquis Piero Antinori likes to repreat: “ancient roots play an important role in our work. But have never been a limit to our innovative spirit”.

The estates in Tuscany and Umbria, the historic patrimony of the family, have been joined, over time, by investments in other territories with an important potential for high level wine both in Italy and abroad, in places where it would be possible to begin working for a larger prestige and wider awareness of the family’s ability to produce outstanding wine.

*This interview was submitted to the Marchese Piero Antinori by Aksel Ritenis in his then role as Editor of Vins&Gastro a Latvian publication.The interviewer met Marchese Piero Antinori at the celebrated Italian tasting VINOVIP organized primarily for the Italian press and Foreign journalists, and organized in the Italian town of Cortina, in the Dolomites. The interview was completed in 2007.

 

In a Decanter magazine survey of Chianti wine, the discussion centered around the question of typicity. Has the essence of Chianti Classico changed, in your opinion?
In the last 30 years the regulations for the production of Chianti Classico (“disciplinare”) have changed several times. As an example, the percentage of “free” grape varieties which can be used in the production of Chianti Classico now reaches 20%.

 
Some scepticism has been expressed about the proportion of none native Italian varieties being used. Is this formula of 80% Sangiovese plus 20% other varieties being adhered to, in your opinion?
In my opinion this is a mistake because using 20% of other varieties, including Cabernet means the essence of Chianti Classico could change. Consequently, at present, you can find more traditional Chianti Classico (made with up to 100% Sangiovese) and wines with less personality distinction.

Do you believe that Chianti Classico is developing on a more international style? Is the style of Chianti Classico and Italian wines in general being too much influenced by the American or New World passion for big structured wines?
Yes, it could be dangerous, in my opinion, to go too much in this direc tion of international, uniform style.

 
GrapesOf course, Chianti Classico with its cherry nuances is very popular in the new European Union countries such as Latvia. In your opinion, how should Chianti Classico be served; with which foods does it marry best?
Chianti Classico is a typical “food” wine with great “drink-ability” and it is a very versatile wine in terms of matching with food. Definitely, it goes well with meat and cheese of any kind.

You may be aware that interest in the so called Super Tuscan wines in these developing countries is considerable and you are famous for your immense contribution in developing an international style wine – Tignanello. Can you, please, explain what inspired you to develop this outstanding wine?
In the late Sixties we realized it was becoming harder to produce great vins de garde in the Chianti Classico area, following the traditional systems of over a century earlier. A series of circumstances, like the use of different vine training systems, the increasing use of chemical fertiliser, insufficient clonal selection of grapes and even changes in the weather trends had led to a variation in the wine’s salient features and consequently a revision of the production philosophy became necessary. After various experiments, in 1971 we created a Tuscan table wine – Tignanello – which differed from the traditional Chianti Classico wine and thus moved away from the prescribed terms of the related production regulations, in the following ways:
* abolishing the use of white grapes from the usual formula;
* introduction and perfect monitoring of malolactic fermentation of the wine from the first fermentation;
* the use of small new oak barrels (225l) for ageing (for Chianti, large centuries’ old barrels were used);
* relatively short ageing period (16–24 months) in these small barrels, and further ageing in bottles for at least one year.

Also, from 1975 onwards a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes were introduced to the blend. Although these are not traditional grape varieties, we had already started growing them in Chianti Classico estates.The well thought out de cision to add these varieties proved that there was a perfect union between Sangiovese and non-native varieties which makes the wine more stylish… with a complex flavour and aro ma and distinct personality… without changing the basic character of Chianti Sangiovese. Ten years after the birth of Tignanello, Chianti Clas sico DOC became DOCG. The new production regulations largely accommodated the production standards of this wine. Tignanello Wine bottle
Do you consider that the de ve lopment of such an international style was essential to bring the Italian wine industry and its products to the forefront?
I think it helped because it proved the immense potential of our regions.

Where did this interest in wine making experimentation come from? Can you tell us a little bit of your formative life and professional experiences and development in a famous wine making family?
It was a necessity of the moment of downgrading of the quality of our wines (end of the 60s), and was inspired by the pioneering approach of some visionary Californian producers (Robert Mondavi). For what concerns my formative life in a family, which has been involved in the wine business for 26 generations, I can tell that on one hand, our ancient roots have taught us the responsibility towards the territory and respect for the environment but on the other, our interest in innovation motivates us to exploit the huge potential of our vines. In fact tradition plays an important role in our philosophy, but it has never held back our spirit of innovation.

Is there some danger that, if the essence of Italian wine becomes too international, the unique Italian identity of ‘terroir, native varieties and wine making’ is in danger?
Yes, as I told before, it could be dangerous to go too much in the direction of international, uniform style. The role of native varieties is crucial to distinguish our wines from other regions and for this reason we have to develop more this kind of production, as fortunately some Italian producers have already understood.

I am sure, our readers would love to know and understand some aspects of your incredible success in the world of wine and international recognition – what are the qu a lities that have propelled you to be one of the leading wine pro ducers both in Ita ly and the world?
A great commitment to constantly follow strict standards, or in other words, continuous work aimed at improving quality in various fields, such as re se arch and experimentation, the purchase and planting of new vines. This has always been part of our philosophy, but has especially characterised the last 10–15 years.
Above all, research and innovation, we are always experimenting, working on the selection of clones of Italian and in ter national grapes, new growing techniques, researching the effects of altitude on the vines, fermentation methods and temperatures, traditional and modern winemaking techniques, the study of the wood, size and age of the barrels, and varying the length of bottle ageing. No less important has been advertising, because quality, once achieved, must also be transferred to the market. This has meant a great commitment in travelling to foreign markets and taking part in events, fairs and establishing contact and a good relationship not only with experts in the sector, importers and customers, but also with the international massmedia.

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Aksel Ritenis

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