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The Antinori Family and the Renaissance of Italian Wine

Tignanello vineyard

Photo courtesy of Fran Miller

The Antinori family has been honing its craft since 1385, when Giovanni di Piero Antinori became a member of the “Arte Fiorentina dei Vinattieri,” the Florentine Winemakers’ Guild.

Antinori. It’s nearly impossible to escape the surname when in Italy, where throughout the centuries, members of this historical family have included politicians, priests, literary figures, explorers and artisans. 

The family’s influence is well elucidated within Florence, where Piazza Antinori commands a prominent spot adjacent to the city’s luxurious shopping district. Within the Piazza is Palazzo Antinori, built between 1461 and 1469, the past and current home of many Antinori family members. And on the ground floor of the Palazzo is Cantinetta Antinori, one of Florence’s most popular eateries where the wine list features a wide selection of wines from the Antinori estates.

During this and the past century, it is these wines for which the Antinori name is most recognized. Tignanello. Guado al Tasso. Solaia. Icons all, and a mere sampling of the family’s substantial vinous output—the result of a 27 generation commitment to the art of winemaking. The Antinoris have been honing their craft since 1385, when Giovanni di Piero Antinori became a member of the Arte Fiorentina dei Vinattieri, the Florentine Winemakers’ Guild. And perhaps no other member of the family has had as great an impact on the business as its current patriarch, Marchese Piero Antinori, who, in 1966 at age 28, took the Marchesi Antinori reins and today serves as honorary president of his family company. 

Iconic Tignanello

Iconic Tignanello

It was the Marchese, who, in 1971, disrupted the conventions of Italian winemaking with his creation of the ICONIC Tignanello. With his enologist, the renowned Giacomo Tachis, he induced the wine with malolactic fermentation and then aged it in new French oak barriques. In 1975, he further pushed boundaries by adding Bordeaux varietals to the blend and eliminating the white grapes necessary for Chianti Classico wine designation. A few years later, Antinori committed to the addition of Cabernet with a new wine that initially and sacrilegiously contained no Sangiovese at all. (He later added a small percentage to subsequent vintages.) 

Antinori wines through the years

Antinori wines through the years, photo courtesy of Fran Miller

This wine—Solaia—was named Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year in 2000, making headlines throughout the wine world. The international press heralded both Tignanello and Solaia as among the most influential wines in the history of Italian winemaking. The Marchese’s delicious ‘experiments’ inspired others to break with Chianti Classico tradition, setting the stage for a new era in Italian wine. Tignanello and Solaia became amongst the first true ‘Super Tuscans’ from Chianti Classico and the Marchese became inspiration for other Italian winemakers to go rogue. 

The Marchese also broke another Italian wine industry tradition—that of passing the business baton to male heirs. Of his three daughters, Antinori at one time assumed none would be interested in taking over the family business; this assumption caused him to sell the company in 1981 to U.K.-based Whitbread, a brewing operation. But ten years later, upon the realization that his daughters did indeed harbor a passion for wine and the wine industry, he bought back the company that continued to bear the family name. 

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This wine—Solaia—was named Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year in 2000, making headlines throughout the wine world. The international press heralded both Tignanello and Solaia as among the most influential wines in the history of Italian winemaking.

Photo by Sara Matthews

Today, each Antinori daughter plays an integral role, overseeing what is one of the oldest family businesses in the world. Each has found a meaningful role, well suited to individual interests. With her strong regard for contemporary art, youngest Alessia, herself an accomplished winemaker, conceived and oversaw the Antinori Art Project in honor of the family’s long standing patronage of the arts. The endeavor invites emerging artists to create site-specific artworks on themes of nature, wine, history, space, time, tradition and innovation—the works of which are permanently displayed at the company’s Tuscan headquarters and visitor center, Antinori nel Chianti Classico.  

Middle daughter Allegra fittingly specializes in hospitality, managing the family’s various cooking schools and restaurants. Outgoing, vivacious and exuding a palpable zest for life, Allegra is a perfect host, traveling often to Moscow, Vienna, Monte Carlo and Zurich to oversee the menagerie of Cantinetta Antinori restaurants. When in Florence, she might be found enjoying aperitivo at the family’s delicatessen style, truffle oriented bar Procacci, just across the street from her Palazzo Antinori home where the family’s vinous heritage is illustrated by an outer wall ‘porticina,’ a small, arched opening that served as a 16th century drive through. Customers could knock on the wooden door marked ‘Vino,’ and an Antinori cellar worker would pass off a classic Tuscan fiasco. 

nel Chianti Classico Antinori Art Project piece. Photo Dan Miller

Antinori nel Chianti Classico Art Project. Photo Dan Miller

The eldest daughter Albiera, serves as company president, working with her two sisters and CEO and chief winemaker Renzo Cotarella in managing the family’s different estates, mostly in Tuscany and Umbria, each located in wine-growing areas particularly suited to the production of their high quality wines. From Bolgheri to Montepulciano, and from Maremma to Montalcino, and throughout Chianti Classico, each estate is completely unique with a well-defined identity, and each is managed with an artisanal approach. (The family also owns a Napa Valley winery, Antica, as well as Haras de Pirque in Maipo Valley, Chile.) 

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The wines that emanate from the Antinori estates are ambassadors of their territory of origin, such as the prized labels from Guado al Tasso, within the small, prestigious Bolgheri DOC appellation where winemaker Marco Ferrarese creates smooth and elegant wines, the grapes of which flourish in the breezy Tyrrhenian Sea air. Set within a series of gently rolling hills surrounding a coastal plain called the Bolgheri amphitheater, the distinct climatic conditions provide the region’s grapes with exceptional aromatic qualities that make for memorable wines.

A particular interest in architecture led Albiera to supervise the seven year construction of the monumental Antinori nel Chianti Classico winery and visitor center just outside of Florence. While only a handful of the twelve Antinori estates welcome guests (Tenuta Guado al Tasso, Le Mortelle and La Braccesca) it’s the Chianti Classico site where fans can go deep on Antinori family history and their wines. When the site was inaugurated, part of the family’s art collection (including paintings, ceramics, valuable textiles and ancient manuscripts) was transferred from Palazzo Antinori. Portraitures of ancestors line a wall, while the impressive Antinori family tree image takes center stage. A large theater plays a film loop detailing the prodigious Antinori family history.

Antinori nel Chianti Classico Barrel Room

Antinori nel Chianti Classico Barrel Room, photo courtesy of Fran Miller

Just outside of Florence, this Tuscan nel Chianti Classico site is not far from where the Antinori winemaking tradition originated—now, it also holds the keys to the company’s future. Serving as the business headquarters since its completion in 2012, the site—an ideal fusion of design, nature and environmental sustainability—is extraordinary in its architectural innovation. 

The vineyard-covered winery is nestled among olive groves and oak forests and is practically invisible to the eye. It appears as two elegant horizontal slits that cross the Tuscan hillside. The building’s three levels are connected by a spectacular spiral staircase, one of the winery’s most distinctive features. Also unique are the two glass-walled, illuminated tasting suites that seemingly float above the barrel room. A rooftop restaurant, Rinuccio 1180, named in honor of the forefather of the Antinori family, Rinuccio degli Antinori, serves contemporary interpretations of Chianti’s best cuisine, accompanied by a wide selection of Antinori estate wines. 

Antinori nel Chianti Classico is utterly unique, and unlike any other winery facility in the world, illustrating the Marchese’s ongoing mission to fulfill the promise of his family crest motto—Te duce proficio (the quest for excellence)—a quest also fully embraced by Albiera, Allegra and Alessia and their children, the 27th generation of Antinori winemakers. Giovanni would be proud.

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