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Antinori family gets wine right in the Napa Valley

Piero Antinori has planted Napa Valley stalwart grapes Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley, slowly removing the unruly Sangiovese grapevines.
Piero Antinori has planted Napa Valley stalwart grapes Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley, slowly removing the unruly Sangiovese grapevines. File photo

With twenty-six generations worth of winemaking experience in the family, the famous Tuscan family Antinori has seen it all, right?

Even if they were to buy property in an out of the way corner of Napa Valley (something they did in 1986, along with a slew of monied partners), they’d know exactly what to plant there and how best to turn it into great wine, just like they have done in Tuscany since 1385.

But the wine business is tricky that way. What works in one place may not work in another; just as what works in one vintage usually does not achieve the same results in the next vintage.

Wine is an agricultural product. A million little variables affect the ripeness and flavor of the grapes and a million more can alter the character of those grapes as they turn into wine. Even as wise and experienced a mind as Piero Antinori’s can look at a spot and say, “Yes, here we should plant Sangiovese Grosso grapes (the clone used in Tuscany’s Brunello di Montalcino). It should work out.”

And so for nearly twenty years Antinori kept at it, laboring to build the reputation of his Atlas Peak brand, while his erstwhile partners retreated to their other businesses (more predictable beverages like beer, in one case). Piero Antinori has a remarkably long familial perspective to guide him, and his instincts told him this spot was right for wine.

He decided to go it alone and though he bought the property from his other partners in 2004, it was not until 2008 that he gained total control of the vineyards and grapes. The brand is now called Antica, and over the last ten years, he has planted Napa Valley stalwart grapes Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, slowly removing the unruly Sangiovese grapevines.

The current vintage of Antica Cabernet is from the ample and generally well-balanced 2010, yet the wine is not at all as plump and warm as most 2010’s. That’s no criticism; it is praise.

The wine’s nose tends toward herbal and savory notes. Many 2010’s that display these sorts of aromas have an unripe element to them, showing especially rather rugged tannins. But not this one.

I’m not usually one for predicting the future of wines from wineries that haven’t had years of experience aging and tasting. Nonetheless, the Antica 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon seems quite promising, so I’d recommend you give it a few years in the basement if you have one and if you’re prone to that sort of behavior.

When someone like Antinori has struggled to get it right, I don’t feel so bad about being unsure myself. But I would bet that Antinori gets it right eventually, if he hasn’t already.

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