If six centuries in the wine business has taught the Antinori family anything, it’s patience. A tasting of six vintages of Antica’s cabernet sauvignon is a testament to that.
Piero Antinori is the 26th generation in the family wine business. He is renowned for creating the Super Tuscan wines Tignanello and Solaia (one of my favorites), and modernizing Tuscan viticulture and winemaking in the 1970s.
But it took Antinori two decades to find his way on Napa’s Atlas Peak. In 1986, he formed a partnership with Bollinger Champagne and Whitbread, a British beverage company. They bought land, planted sangiovese, (the primary red grape of Tuscany) and cabernet sauvignon with the goal of making a California wine that resembled Antinori’s Tuscan wines. It didn’t work.
Antinori bought out his partners, and in 1993 leased the vineyards to the international wine conglomerate Allied Domecq. In 2003, Antinori reclaimed control of the 570-acre vineyard.
Realizing the incompatibility of sangiovese and Atlas Peak, he grafted nearly all the sangiovese vines to cabernet sauvignon. He renamed the Atlas Peak winery Antica, a merging of Antinori and California. A few months ago, I tasted the first six vintages of Antinori’s vision.
Five hundred cases of 2003 Antica cabernet sauvignon were made. None were sold to the public, but it allowed Antinori and Antica’s team to glimpse the future. The wine has good fruit flavors and balance with very nice length. Only the aroma was restricted.
The 2004 Antica cabernet sauvignon was the first commercial wine. It and the 2005 possess black cherry and blackberry aromas and flavors, and the 2005 has a smoky, bacon-like scent. Both are balanced and deliver a long finish.
In our market, the 2006 is on retailer’s shelves, and the 2007 and 2008 are at the distributor’s warehouse.
The 2006 shares the smoked meat aroma of its 2005 sibling. Its black fruit flavor and dry, mineral sub-taste are very pleasant and the soft tannins provide a round texture. This is a very good wine and worth seeking.
The 2007 Antica cabernet sauvignon has hints of cinnamon mixed with the black fruit aroma. Like the others, it is medium-bodied (for California), and has an outstanding texture that recalls the very best Bordeaux wines. It is wonderfully fruit flavored, balanced and long. The 2007 Antica cabernet sauvignon belongs in your cellar.
The 2008 Antica cabernet sauvignon follows the style of the older vintages of flavorful fruit with balance tannins and acidity. It’s a wine to enjoy while the 2007 develops and matures.
Vertical tastings allow you to understand the DNA of a wine or vineyard. I recall the Atlas Peak sangiovese wines were always hard and dry with aggressive tannins. Not so these six vintages of Antica cabernet sauvignon. The wines have good fruit aroma and flavor, balance and length. Each wine was a pleasing experience.
And I was especially pleased that Antinori has not pushed the fruit into the California style of extra ripeness where black raisin aromas and flavors dominate, where vanilla scents and flavors are infused from long aging in 100 percent new French oak barrels, and where the alcohol levels are in the DUI zone of 15 to 16 percent. Who needs another one of those wines?
What we need are exactly the wines Antica is making now. Antica is showing Antinori that shouldering Atlas Peak is a burden that can be lifted with 600 years of ancestral experience.
The Antica wines retail for approximately $50.