Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France

Argentiera, Bolgheri

In my previous post, I defined a Super Tuscan. By that standard, There is no doubt that Argentiera, Bolgheri, makes Super Tuscan wines. Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are dominant, as is ageing the wines in French oak barriques. This is a beautiful-sited estate on the Tuscan coast, at the southern end of the Bolgheri denomination. However, they also make outstanding Vermentino, the typical white grape variety of this coast.

I had visited the estate with its spectacular views over the wooded coastal strip and the sea over a decade ago. Since then, it has both a new ownership and a new winery. The latter was finished in 2009 which is also when winemaker Nicolò Carrara, took up the reins. The wines have improved hugely and the views are just as good!

Combating trunk disease

Contemporary grape growing is beset with many problems. One of them is the trunk disease, Esca. It has been hugely problematic in various Italian regions and in the Loire. Esca was rampant in the rainy May and June in Tuscany in 2023. Argentiera estimated 18 per cent of the vines were affected, which makes it a major problem. More widely, Esca has led to the reintroduction of traditional, less-invasive forms of pruning but sometimes more drastic action is required. The most common approach is to hollow out the trunk that has been affected. (You can see a video of this ‘vine dentistry’ here.) A more radical alternative is to dispense with the entire vine close to the point where the vine meets the rootstock and regraft with a new vine. This is the approach favoured at Argentiera. The pictures below show an amputated vine awaiting re-grafting and a healthy vine after it has been regrafted successfully. The estate reports a better success rate with this rather brutal treatment than just cleaning out the inside of the trunk. (The same result is reported in a small scientific study published in 2023.)

The top wines of Argentiera Bolgheri

Scenario, Bolgheri Bianco, 2022, 13%

Vermentino is rarely a highly ambitious white wine in Bolgheri. It is more typically the standard white offering in a region dominated by red wines. (See Eco di Mare below.) Scenario bucks this trend. The 2022 is the first release, after some years of experimentation. The grapes here are grown in a small, 0.5 ha vineyard. It is a relatively cool, north-facing plot, surrounded by forest. The wine is fermented in ceramic eggs and a small amount of steamed wood (i.e. not toasted) and stays nine months on lees. It is released two years after harvest and just 2,000 bottles are made. This has richer fruit than a typical Vermentino with a hint of pineapple and yellow apple and is not herbal. Great breadth in the mouth, the fruit ripeness is balanced by bright acidity. 92

Bolgheri DOC Superiore, 2021, 14.5%

This is the top wine of the winery, a blend of 48 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 46 Merlot and 6 Cabernet Franc. 70 per cent of the wine is aged in barrique (40 per cent new), the rest in tonneaux. The Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the top vineyard plot next to the winery, the Merlot does very well on a north-facing slope with plenty of clay. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the wine is the high acidity for a very warm place: the pH of the final wine is 3.5, more acidic than a typical wine in Bordeaux. The 2021 is rich with a sumptuous mouthfeel, the oak is well integrated and the fruit covers the tannins. Already with a long finish, this has the potential to age in bottle.  94

The winery’s other wines

  • Villa Donoratico, Bolgheri DOC Rosso, 2021, 14.5%. 40 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, plus Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, grown on cooler sites on flysch soils. 80 per cent of the wine is aged in tonneaux (25-30 per cent new). Excellent depth of mulberry and black plum fruit, ripe but refreshing acidity, chalky tannins, long. 92
  • Poggio ai Ginepri 2022, 13.5% Toscana IGT, 13.5%. A slightly early-picked blend of the same varieties as Villa Donoratico, 30 per cent aged in older wood, the rest in concrete or stainless steel.  A very good early drinker, ripe with good fruit concentration and balancing tannic/acidic structure. 91
  • I Pianali 2023, Toscana IGT Rosato, 13.5%. 100 per cent Syrah from four hectares on sand. The grapes spend two hours in the press, MLF is blocked. This plot was intended to be used for red wine. However, the big bunches are better suited to rosé. It was made initially for local restaurants but now is bottled for general stale. A touch under medium intensity apricot-pink in colour, light red plum fruit, nice ripeness. 89
  • Eco di Mare 2023, Toscana IGT Vermentino, 13%. This wine was called Poggi di Ginepri, now rebranded. Early picked, it spends two hours in the press, fermentation at 15-16ºC for three weeks and wine remains on lees until December. Fresh, lemony, lightly herbal, medium acidity, length and intensity, the wine finish with a hint of saltiness, 88

The wines of Argentiera Bolgheri are exemplary examples of the wines of the Tuscan coast.

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