by Alec Steidl
Bolgheri sits in a region called the Maremma, named for the marshland that once dominated the area. The region was drained first the Etruscans, then the Romans drained by digging canals to the sea. But after the collapse of the Roman Empire, the land reverted to swamp until the twentieth century when fascist state programs restored the canals to rid the land of malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
For centuries, a large tract of land in Maremma (which encompassed the town of Bolgheri) belonged to the Della Gherardesca family. Viticulture in Bolgheri began in earnest when Clarice della Gherardesca married Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, Piemontese nobility. After World War II, the newlyweds moved into the San Guido estate in Maremma. Mario, who inherited a passion for wine and viticulture from his great-grandfather Leopoldo, brought cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc vines from the north and planted vineyards at the San Guido property (which, until then, was used primarily for thoroughbred training). Mario named the wine “Sassicaia” from the word sasso or stone, for the stony soil in the vineyard. The wine produced there wasn’t released to the public until the 1968 vintage. Success was practically instant, and Sassicaia is today considered one of the classic cabernet-based wines of the world.
In the 1970s and ’80s, other producers began to establish themselves in the area. Piero Antinori’s brother, Lodovico, lived near his uncle and was inspired by his success. With the help of one of California’s most influential enologists, Andre Tchelistchev, Piero Antinori built a winery nearby to similar success. Originally, only one wine was produced at the property, a Bodeaux-style blend called Ornellaia, named for a type of maritime oak that grows in the area. A few other wines followed, most notably a single-vineyard merlot called Masseto, one of the greatest examples of the varietal worldover. The property has since been purchased and is now controlled by the Frescobaldi family.
Piermario Meletti Cavallari moved into the area from Bergamo (Lombardia) looking for land on which to pursue his dreams of making a world-class wine. He purchased an old farm and, with the help of enologist Maurizio Castelli, debuted with the 1982 vintage of “Grattamacco Rosso,” a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and sangiovese; and “Grattamacco Bianco,” a barrel fermented and aged vermentino.
Michele Satta started turning heads with a pure sangiovese called “Cavaliere.” Theretofore sangiovese grapes were thought inappropriate for the terroir in Bolgheri.
Today there are some more reasonably priced wines produced in Bolgheri. Tenuta dell’Ornellaia has begun producing “Le Serre Nuove,” a wine produced from fruit that doesn’t make it into the final blend of Ornellaia. The Tenuta San Guido has begun producing a second wine called “Guidalberto,” a blend of cabernet, merlot and sangiovese from additional vineyards in a nearby estate (the 2003 vintage is their best effort to date). Piero Antinori, at his Guado al Tasso estate, produces an excellent Bolgheri Rosso and Rosato from cabernet, merlot and syrah, a Bianco from Vermentino.
Vermentino does well in the warm coastal sun and can result in very interesting wines like the textured “Campo alla Casa,” a blend of vermentino and sauvignon blanc from Enrico Santini. Or the perfumed Bolgheri Bianco from the Ceralti winey, an excellent summertime wine and terrific value.
Bolgheri works well into the winter menu at Babbo. Reds are great with the grilled meats like our ethereal pork chop, the legendary rib-eye steak, or the excellent game-birds like our squab or quail. And then, of course, there is our featured dish of the month, the Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragù, featuring ingredients so familiar too the Bolgheri kitchen. But don’t take my word for it, come in soon and try them for yourself!