Take a Crash Course in Winemaking With Alessia Antinori

The VP of Marchesi Antinori — and 26th generation in the family-run wine empire — previews her appearance at Harrison Wine Vault next week.


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Castello Della Sala, Umbria region, Italy

Photos courtesy Marchesi Antinori

It’s a little humbling to think that Alessia Antinori is in charge of American business for her family’s wineries, a family-run business that has been in steady operation since before Italians were even aware of the Americas. Yes, Marchesi Antinori has been producing and distributing wines for more than 600 years, since 1385, in fact.

Next week, Antinori will be joining us here in Westchester at 273 Kitchen on May 15 for a special wine dinner presented by Harrison Wine Vault. The dinner will include five courses — antipasti, pesce, pasta, entrée, and dessert — and will pair with eight different wines from Marchesi Antinori’s vast holdings. On top of that, Antinori wines will be available for tasting at the Grand Tasting Village during our highly anticipated Wine & Food Festival this June.  

Antinori herself was kind enough to allow us insight into what her family will be offering up to Westchester residents in the coming weeks.  

 

After 600-plus years, the breadth of your family’s wine holdings are somewhat staggering. First and foremost, can you tell us a little about the wines you’ll be showcasing at your wine dinner with Harrison Wine Vault on the 15th?

The wines we are serving that evening I would say are a mix of our flagship wineries.

The Marchese Antinori comes from our estate of Tignanello, I would say our most important estate in Chianti. The Chianti Classico is the heart of the [region], in the middle of the Chianti between Florence and Tuscany. This wine is basically a selection of grapes from the Tignanello Estate, and it’s 90 percent Sangiovese, 10 percent Cabernet.

The Badia a Passignano is a wine produced with 100 percent Sangiovese grape variety. Sangiovese has always been blended in the past with other grape varieties because on it’s own it can produce wines that are very tannic, very closed. So we did a lot of experimentation to make this wine approachable too, but with a personality. It’s one of my favorite wines.

Then we have the wines coming from the Castello Della Sala Estate in Umbria, a region south of Tuscany, in central Italy. This winery had been bought by my grandfather between the First and Second World Wars. At the time he was producing mostly red wines, and he wanted to start producing white wines. He invested in this beautiful property close to Orvieto. Orvieto’s always been a production area of white wines with high-acidity, crispy and fresh. The Conte della Vipera is a blend of Sauvignon with a little bit of Sémillon. The Sauvignon gives the fruit to it, and the Sémillon gives the acidity, so the two together is a very interesting wine.

The Cervaro della Sala is a blend of Chardonnay with 20 percent — depending on the vintage — Grechetto, and the combination of two is quite a characteristic for wine. We like to blend international varieties with indigenous varieties. This wine is also aged in barrels, which wasn’t known at all at the time — in the eighties — in the area. You generally used stainless steel tanks. This takes a year in wood and then another year in the bottle and then the wine is released. The last wine from Castello is a dessert wine called Muffato. We produce it only in certain vintages. It’s a blend of Sauvignon, Sémillon, and aromatic grape varieties, like Riesling for example. [It’s] very prestigious, in a way, because we produce only a small amount of it.


The vines at Badia a Passignano.


​Guado al Tasso comes from our estate in Tuscany, but another area called Bolgheri, that produces very high-end wines. We have been very lucky to own this winery. It was of a family called della Gherardesca which was my grandmother’s side.

The last wine is a rosé called Calafuria. It’s a special wine for us because it’s a rosé produced from the Negroamaro grape variety. It comes from our estate of Tormoresca, an estate that we bought in the year 2000 in Puglia, a very interesting, emerging new wine region in Italy. It’s a wine we’re experimenting on. It’s very focused, fresh, and has its own personality.


The wine varieties and vintages being sampled at dinner


One of your passion projects is revitalizing Fiorano, one of your family’s former estates on the outskirts of Rome, as an organic vineyard. What speaks to you about crafting a high-quality organic wine?

That case is a little different from the properties on Antinori, because it comes from my grandfather on my mother’s side. It’s a beautiful property that my grandfather inherited in the 1950s and it’s a property inside Rome, so quite unique. He decided to produce organic wines, which was quite normal in the 1950s, but then he resisted in the ‘60s, ‘70s the era of pesticides and chemicals, cementing the farm organics until now. So we’re talking about a property that has fifty, sixty years of organic soil. There’s not many other properties like that, especially twenty minutes from the city center.

When we inherited the property, we luckily found four rows of historical vineyard Cabernet, and four rows of Merlot, and three rows of Sémillon. From there we did a massive selection and propagation over 19 hectares — so a small production — and now we’re producing only a small amount of this wine. We’re talking about 1,500, maybe 2,000 bottles. Because it comes from the historical vineyards, it’s a really really small production and it continues what he was believing in many years ago. For many reasons it was important to honor him with our wine, so here in the United States it’s called “Alberico” — our Merlot and also our Sémillon 100 percent. The Sémillon is the only one in Italy that’s produced. There’s no one else producing 100 percent Sémillon. Some will occasionally do it, but it’s very challenging.

 

As we get closer to Westchester Magazine’s Wine & Food Fest Grand Tasting Village, what’s something you’d love to have showcased?

A wine that I really like that is having a lot of success called Il Bruciato and it comes from the winery of Al Tasso, in the Bulgary area. It’s a wine that we really started as an experiment in 2002. “Bruciato” means “burnt,” and the vineyard is close to a small forest that had been burnt 200 years ago, but I also say that this wine has been “burnt” on the market because we launched it and within six months we finished it. We never thought this could be so successful, but it’s a very interesting wine: a Cabernet and Merlot blend from the Bulgary area.

 

When you’re surrounded by such a wide variety of amazing foods, choosing a wine may prove rather difficult. What tips can you give our readers to help them pick a wine to compliment their samplings, whether it’s Asian tacos, grilled veggies, waffles, or seared tuna?

I think Sangiovese is a good wine that goes well with Asian food or also with a nice steak. It’s a blend and very food-driven. For whites, I think a Sauvignon or a Vermentino, for example, are very interesting because they have the right acidity, so that goes very well with food.


Sangiovese grapes at the Tignanello vineyard


Westchester is home to plenty of family businesses, but is there something fundamentally unique about being the twenty-sixth generation to run a family business that started in 1385?

I always say it took twenty-six generations to build it and it only takes one second to destroy. It’s a huge responsibility but also a great challenge to give a continuity to it, to transmit these values of high passion, of quality, integrity to the future generations.

This generation — the three of us sisters [and] our father is still involved with the business and we want him to be very involved — is a transitional generation, an interesting generation for the future, but I think the most important one will be the following generation, the twenty-seventh. That generation goes from 25 years old to 2½ years old, so I think there’s a great opportunity to pick from our six children. They seem interested. We’ve never been obliged so I really hope they don’t feel obliged and make their own decisions!

 

The Harrison Wine Vault Dinner at 273 Kitchen in Harrison will be held on May 15 from 7-9 p.m., and costs $150 per person (tax and tip included). Call 914.732.3333 or email info@harrisonwinevault.com to RSVP.

Westchester Magazine’s Grand Tasting Village will be held on June 9 from noon until 5 p.m. at Kensico Dam Plaza as part of our annual Wine & Food Festival, and will feature more than 200 wines from local, national, and international vendors (along with copious amounts of incredible local fare). More info and tickets can be found online. Enter promo code FOOD to receive 10% off! Don’t wait, this code is only valid through May 11 at 5 p.m.

 

 

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