Solaia Antinori 2005 (Tuscany, Italy)
Author: Oleg Cherne
Wine: Solaia Antinori 2005
Region: Tuscany, Italy
Grapes: 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Franc
Alcohol content: 13.5%
35,000 bottles produced
When it comes to wine quality, the conversation mostly revolves around typical characteristics and factors, including tradition, terroir, grapes, and oenologists. Imagine a wine based on an impressive centuries-long tradition. It wouldn’t be surprising if the winemakers decide to «make money on the brand» and produce a good wine under a world-renowned name. It will guarantee high demand. But now imagine a wine with a rich history that manages to find the balance between tradition and the winemakers’ freedom of creativity. This freedom must be substantial to be able to balance the entire history of the Antinori family! If a balance of quality is achieved, it is a true sight to behold, as both components are very strong. This is the kind of wine Code de Vino is proud to present: Solaia Antinori 2005.
If you’ve read anything about the famous Tignanello Estate in Tuscany, you have surely encountered mentions of the Antinori winery and Solaia, its crown jewel. It has been produced since 1978 and is a part of the Super Tuscan category in the unofficial classification of Italian wines.
Super Tuscan first appeared thanks to marquis Piero Antinori, who was the first to ever create the Tuscan wine known as Chianti. It was radically different from all the previous norms of winemaking. Classic Chianti used to contain no more than 60% Sangiovese and 10% local white grapes, but today it is made exclusively from the local Sangiovese. It can also be mixed with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot international grapes.
Perhaps marquis Antinori’s decision was what pushed Italian winemaking, which was always rather conservative and closed, to the next level, making it more modern. The addition of international grapes was followed by new technology, allowing winemakers to seek new forms.
The first wine of this new type was Antinori’s famous Tignanello. Other Italian producers learned from Antinori and started making wine with modern technology. By the late 1980s, this trend was spread everywhere in Italy, even to the most conservative regions of Piedmont and Veneto.
In Russia, Solaia isn’t as popular yet as Tignanello and Sassicaia. This is perhaps due to the fact that the Antinori brand never promotes its products. However, if you open any international wine magazine or serious website to an article about Antinori, it will likely cover either Solaia or Tignanello. On the whole, Ornellaia, Tignanello, Solaia and Sassicaia are equally great wines, all related in one way or another to Antinori. They are on the same level of tradition, history, austerity, clarity, respect and recognition. It is difficult to say that one is better than the other. These wines represent Tuscany and all of Italy on the global stage. However, Solaia 2005 is a true masterpiece I would like to share with readers of Code de Vino. Solaia is a painting, play, opera—call it as you like—created under the supervision of the great maestro Piero Antinori.
Its 2005 vintage is a wine that in my opinion plays an exceptional role. Although Solaia is always made during excellent harvest years, in Solaia 2005 we can see something truly extraordinary. If the weather and soil aren’t good enough, Antinori won’t produce wine at all.
«Today, this is a difficult decision, as profit is naturally important for our company, but quality remains our top priority,» says Stefano Carpanetto, director of the Tignanello Estate. «This policy also influences the quantity of the wine we produce: we tend to not produce more than 70,000 bottles annually, and in 2005, we only made 35,000.»
Grape is collected here exclusively by hand and from the best lots of the vineyard. Later, during the fermentation process, they decide which combination will form Solaia.
«We need it to consider all the possible factors carefully to create a wine with as much reasoned patience as possible,» Stefano Carpanetto says. «This demands conscientious attention at literally every step and will not tolerate haste.»
The cellar where the wine ages was built in the 13th century. It is 90 meters deep with an automated climate control system. Each year, new French oak barrels are used. Smaller vessels help keep the collected harvest separated until the final stage.
During the first step, they use only natural yeast for alcohol fermentation, ensuring a 100% natural product free of sulfur.
As with any great wine, it is essential to make sure it doesn’t suffer any stress. This is another reason why I highlight Solaia 2005, as for the first time in Solaia history, the wine wasn’t transported; it was bottled right on site, which played a significant role in boosting quality. On-site bottling is essential for the Antinori staff, as they personally cultivated the grape, monitored the process of ripening and fermentation, and as a result accompanied it at every stage.
Another interesting detail that demonstrates their approach to quality is the choice of corks. They order corks for Solaia in Sardinia. Piero Antinori also uses corks from Spain and Portugal. Their in-house expert regularly monitors the quality of plants used to make corks for their premium wine. Corks are a significant detail for wine as it develops, and can even strengthen its vertical axis.
There is a clearly defined order of grape cultivation and vinification for Solaia demanding the utmost precision and responsibility. This wine is made predominantly from two international grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, as well as the authentic Tuscan grape Sangiovese.
Cabernet Sauvignon grows all over the world. It is an adaptable grape that can be cultivated in almost any conditions. However, Cabernet cultivated in various regions differs tremendously.
Sangiovese is the «king» of Tuscany. It is one of the most important Italian grapes, but it manifests its character and elegance to the fullest extent only in the center of the country.
Solaia is a unique wine because it is made from grape growing in a special terroir that can’t be reproduced anywhere else. It is a rare combination of the climate, soil, and variety of Cabernet Sauvignon vines growing in Antinori Estate. «In my seven years at Antinori, I’ve realized we have one of the most important wines in the world here,» Mr. Carpetto believes.
Sangiovese («blood of Jupiter» in Italian) is a native Tuscan grape. It is cultivated in many regions around the world, but, apart from Italy, feels most at home in California. Sangiovese makes excellent red wines with a spicy flavor and notes of prune, chocolate, cherry, and vanilla. Many wines made from Sangiovese are well suited for long storage. Sangiovese has many clones, from the world-famous Brunello from Montalcino, to other less known regional varieties. Sometimes even the Italians have trouble classifying all the varieties of Sangiovese.
The climate here is mild, although with possible frequent rains and sudden frost in winter. Sirocco, a warm humid wind from Africa, is the cause of frequent precipitation, while the Apennines mountains protect Tuscany from the cold winds blowing from the northeast.
The Antinori Estate is located three thousand meters above sea level, an altitude ensuring an ideal temperature difference between day and night, especially in the final period of ripening. This condition is the key to perfect ripening. Since their 250 hectares of vineyards face the south and west, the wine is filled with energy from the sun.
The majority of vineyards are occupied by Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese. They say that the Cabernet Sauvignon that grows here is quite «minerally,» which is due to the soil of this land. It is mostly composed of clay, but also has gravel and pebble. This improves the conditions for grape cultivation significantly.
This wine can stay in its bottle for 30–40 years. After a few years, you will find shades of taste that do not manifest themselves right now. Solaia 2005 may seem like a very reserved wine because 2005 was very up and down, but its potential is enormous.
If you want to try it right now, make sure to pay attention to its intense, extremely vivid ruby red color and notes of prune, spices, chocolate, and vanilla.
Its body is very rich, yet elegant, complemented by an intense character. Solaia makes its aging potential clear right away, spurring you on to dream of how long you can keep this bottle.
Solaia is an excellent investment wine. The balance it requires is truly difficult to achieve. For example, summer 2003 was hotter, and the first tannins in the resulting wine were different.
Harvest of 2005
2005 was a special year: it started with a cold winter and lots of snow. The grapes grew and ripened slower than usual. However, the spring was warm and sunny, and the plants managed to grow as needed. There were some heavy rains during the warm July and August.
Stefano shares his thoughts on the season: «I have to say that at the start of the year, we weren’t very happy. However, the final two months, September and October, are the most important for the ripening of the grape, and in 2005, they were extremely favorable, with warm, rather high temperatures during the day and low temperatures at night. These fluctuations created ideal conditions for ripening. On the whole, considering that the year was atypical, we had to work a lot at the vineyards, tending to them and selecting the best vines. We ended up with 4–6 tons of supreme quality grapes per hectare. Cellar fermentation was also a success, where the grape acquired an intense, rich color, and we knew right away that the wine was going to be incredible.»
The grape fermented for eight days until it produced juice. After separating the juice from the pulp, they poured the wine into barrels, where it was stored for 18 months. This was longer than in other years, but in December they had already bottled it.
Philosophy of Solaia
The main philosophy of Antinori is quality. «We stick to this philosophy when making all our wines, but when it comes to Solaia, we follow it religiously,» Stefano says. According to his experience, you can compare the taste of Solaia to an opera by Luciano Pavarotti: -classic and flawless. «One remembers the main part of Pavarotti in Traviata, as a good wine is very similar to good music: to understand both, you need a careful approach and a lot of time.»
Another association with the taste of Solaia is clothes by Valentino: «You know, Solaia is about tradition, history, austerity, and elegance, like what a good designer also respects. If he dresses a man, he doesn’t change things radically,» Mr. Campanetto believes.
Renzo Cotarella, the curator of all Antinori vineyards, is the oenologist of this wine. Renzo is one of the most brilliant and successful representatives of the new wave of Italian oenologists and a major contributor to improving the reputation of Italian wines around the world. In 2001, Wine Enthusiast named the Cotarella brothers the best oenologists in the world, and in the same year, the Association of Italian Sommeliers (AIS) gave Renzo the Oscar del Vino («Wine Oscar»).
Serving Solaia Antinori 2005
Serving Italian wines is an art. Presenting Solaia 2005 is like walking down the runway. Wine is the main attraction, and serving it must be very elegant. It practically demands a fashion model rather than a sommelier to present it. Don’t you think it would be ridiculous to boast about your car to the owner of a Ferrari? Cars can talk for themselves.
This wine should be presented with extra elegance and feeling. If the design of your restaurant does not call for such elegant wine, dim lights, candles, and a Pavarotti aria can serve to set the mood. Keep in mind that Solaia 2005 is the face of Piero Antinori. And Piero Antinori is the symbol of Italy.
Wine Spectator: 97/100
The Wine Advocate: 95/100
Code de Vino: 98/00