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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Winemaking Legend
Charles W. Borden, photos by Maria Savelieva

Antinori is one of the oldest and best-known names in Italian wines with more than 600 years of grapes in the family tree. Based in Florence, Antinori is not just a big wine-maker, but it makes very big wines in the quality sense. Antinori has also been an innovator in Italy’s strictly controlled wine market, even planting the French grape varieties that are used in the Super-Tuscan wines that they have pioneered. Renzo Cotarella, Antinori’s top oenologist, was in Moscow at the end of May. We joined him at a winemaker’s dinner at Cantinetta Antinori.

It was a pleasure to return to Cantinetta Antinori, which is located just behind the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and easily recognized from a distance by the expensive black metal that consistently lines either side of the street. The Moscow Cantinetta Antinori is one of several in Europe, this one owned by Antinori’s principal Russian importer, MBG Impex.

PASSPORT publisher, John Ortega, had reserved a table, which thankfully was strategically located near the guest of honor and his hosts. We were joined by Tony Wong (Abbott Laboratories), Johan Sekora (HSBC), Shiraz Mamedov (Goldwell), Jan Heere (Inditex Zara) and Ambassador Michael Tay (Russia-Singapore Business Forum).

The agenda for the evening included a food match with four of Antinori’s wines. Three were Antinori signature wines, each bearing the IGT designation (Indicazione Geografica Tipica). This relatively new indicator was created to cover quality wines such as Antinori’s Super Tuscans that fall outside the strict regional wine classifications (DOC and DOCG), which specify grape content and vinification methods. We were also provided with an order blank with prices (listed below).

Antinori Winemaker’s Dinner

Montenisa Brut, Franciacorta DOCG
Canape with salmon
Canape with Ricotta cheese
Cherry tomatoes with tuna mousse

Cervaro Castello della Sala,
Umbria IGT 2007 (2,300 roubles)
Tuna salad with green beans

Tignanello, Toscana 2006 (3,500 roubles)
Risotto with prawns and basil sauce Pesto

Solaia, Toscana IGT 2005 (12,400 roubles)
Marmoreal beef entrecote

Tony Wong, Abbott Laboratories

In its 26th generation, Antinori has accumulated a number of wine estates in Tuscany and Umbria. Marchese Piero Antinori, the scion and now patriarch of the family and in his seventies, brought his daughters Albiera, Allegra and Alessia into the business, which is also an innovation in the Italian wine industry.

The evening’s guest wine-maker, Renzo Cotarella, has been behind many of Antinori’s modern wines including the Solaia and Tingnanello that we tasted this evening.

Renzo Cotarella, Irina Fomina (President MBG Impex), John Ortega

Renzo has also been actively involved in many of the Antinori ventures outside of Italy, which includes production of partner wines with wineries in Chile (Haras de Pirque), California (Antica and Stag’s Leap), Washington (Col Solare), Malta (Meridiana) and Hungary (Tuzko Bàtaapàti).

Ambassador Michael Tay, Executive Director Russia-Singapore Business Forum

We were greeted upon arrival with a chilled glass of Franciacorta DOCG Montenisa Brut, a relative newcomer to Antinori, launched in 2003 under the stewardship of Alessia Antinori. This is a Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero blend that is produced in Lombardy, golden and dry but surprisingly fruity.

The Cervaro (Castello delle Sala) must be one of Moscow’s top selling super-premium white wines. I have seen Cervaro on the wine list at most of the Passport restaurant review venues and wine tastings in recent years, at prices that vary so considerably it could well serve as a wine list price index. Cervaro is a blend of 85% Chardonnay with the Italian grape Grechetto. It is a reliably delightful example of Chardonnay wine-making perfection that bears just the right level of oak, buttery yet generous with its fruit.

The Tignanello is made from grapes of a 47-hectare vineyard that Antinori acquired more than a century ago. It is a blend of Sangiovese (85%), Cabernet Sauvignon (10%) and Cabernet Franc (5%) and is an intense and powerful wine that opened up nicely. The Sangiovese grape is a personal favorite, so I was interested to later read Renzo’s comments in a Vino Wire post about it and the tendency for Italian wineries to now grow nonindigenous grapes: “Cabernet and Merlot are easier to grow in Tuscany because they require less effort.” But he apparently warned against the “abandoning the potential of the prince of Tuscan grapes and de-Tuscanizing the region’s wines.”

The Solaia is a Super Tuscan blend of the same grape varieties as its neighbour Tignanello but it is dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (75%). Solaia consistently earns extraordinary ratings, and once named by Wine Spectator as “the best wine from the best vintage ever in Tuscany.” The Solaia was wonderful, but as a long-term Italian wine fancier, I much preferred the Tignanello, even not considering the Solaia price premium.

With respect to Cantinetta Antinori, the accompanying food selections were a convincing reminder why this restaurant is certainly one of the best, if not the best, Italian restaurant in Moscow.

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