Italy's Innovator: A View from the Palazzo

Italy's Innovator: A View from the Palazzo

Marchese Piero Antinori is entering his fourth decade as the leading light of Italian wine, elevating quality and raising its profile.

It's often said of people in the wine industry that winemaking is in their blood. To say that of Marchese Piero Antinori is to underestimate the man. He is a 26th-generation winemaker—a hard concept for Americans, citizens of a young nation, to grasp. To put it another way: The family traces its winemaking history to 1180; records from 1385 show the registration of the Antinori family in the Florentine Vintner's Guild.

The accent is on Italy in this issue, and as we were preparing the stories—whether the article involved Italian varietals in California or the wines of Washington State—one name kept popping into my mind: Piero Antinori.

What Robert Mondavi is to the American wine industry, Piero Antinori is to the Italian. When you think of Robert Mondavi, you think of outside-the-box conceptualizing, vision, innovation, and the tireless pursuit of quality. Piero Antinori has exhibited those same qualities since he took the reins of his company 37 years ago. Just as Robert Mondavi raised the quality level of California winemaking and brought its products to the attention of the world, Piero Antinori has raised the level of Italian winemaking and enhanced their visibility and availability throughout the world.

Antinori is the owner of a staggering eight estates, primarily concentrated in the most esteemed viticultural areas of Tuscany and Umbria. And the wines they have produced thrill us in memory and anticipation: Solaia, Tignanello, Tenute Marchese Antinori, Pèppoli, Villa Antinori Riserva, Guado al Tasso, Scalabrone, Pian Delle Vigne, Aleatico, Santa Cristina and so many more. He has combined progressive and original techniques with traditional ones to dramatically improve and redefine winemaking in Italy. He was also responsible for the production of a "new breed" of wine—Tignanello, the prototype of a category of wines referred to today as super Tuscans.

Like Mondavi (à la Opus One, Luce and Caliterra), Antinori has reached across the world to create joint ventures with like-minded, quality-conscious winemakers. His partnership with Atlas Peak created a Sangiovese that was a leader of the Cal-Ital wave—wines produced in California from grapes traditionally associated with Italy. For more on Cal-Itals, see Steve Heimoff's article in this issue.

  Piero Antinori first visited Washington State in 1990. With great foresight, he sensed the potential there and forged an alliance with Chateau Ste. Michelle to create Col Solare, a blended red wine with impressive structure and character. Paul Gregutt has assembled a summary of the top AVAs in the state, along with information on several proposed new ones. Our map of these AVAs is the first of its kind.

Our cover story is a tasting feature on the red wines of the Veneto. Tasting Director Joe Czerwinski and other members tasted these wines, primarily Amarones and Valpolicellas, and discovered that change is overtaking that most traditional part of the world. Is Piero Antinori hovering in the background of that story as well? Not exactly. His company has property in neighbouring Franciacorta from which they will be launching a premium sparkling wine later in the year. But close enough.

"I love wine because it never comes to an end," Piero Antinori has said. "It is always in a state of evolution, and I always feel I can make it better. It keeps me close to nature. It also allows me to travel the world, where I meet interesting people who share my passion for wine and life."

Those twin passions are the pillars of the Italian soul. With this issue we salute the man who exemplifies that sensibility with such unerring class—and the country his family has served for centuries.

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