Heed the call to Tuscany, the land of picture postcard views, sumptuous cuisine, awesome architecture and some if Italy’s greatest wines. That is exactly what I did when I was recently invited to moderate a retrospective tasting of 1997 Super Tuscans and Brunello di Montalcino.

1997 was a watershed vintage for Italy and even more so for Tuscany. It is the first “modern” classic vintage with quality being tremendously high over the entire region. This is truly the first great vintage where the winemakers in Tuscany showed off the fruit of the vineyards that were replanted in the 1980s to superior clones and in tighter spacing. The clones were chosen for their ability to give deeper color, brighter fruit flavors and lower yields. The tighter spacing in the vineyards makes each vine struggle a bit more to find nutrients, which keeps the yields down ensuring intensely flavored grapes. These now mature vines were able to produce one of the best harvests in modern-day history. Combine this with the winemakers’ up-to-date winemaking techniques and technology, and you have a synergy that resulted in one of Italy’s greatest years for wine.

There were wines that stood head and shoulders above the rest. The Antinori “Tignanello,” Italy’s first Super Tuscan, showed beautifully with a tremendously elegant persona, soft tannins and fresh, long finish. Montepeloso’s “Nardo” from Suvereto was deliciously decadent, with warm and surprisingly youthful fruit with a hint of mocha that kept me coming back for more. San Giusto Rentennano’s organically farmed “Percarlo” was everything Sangiovese can hope to be – wonderfully complex and seamless. Antinori’s “Guado al Tasso” seemed like a perfect cross between the best of Italy and Bordeaux. Le Macchiole’s “Paleo Rosso” had a youthful vivacity marked by violets, plums and a velvety texture. The Ornelaia was perhaps the wine of the tasting. It was in a league of its own with unbelievably complex and ineffable flavors. The mouth-feel was so sexy and the aftertaste seemingly eternal. It reminded me of a First Growth Bordeaux in quality and style – a tour de force. But not to be outdone,

Antinori’s “Solaia” rocked my world with huge amounts of youthful fruit and thickness akin to the best of California but with an Italian accent.

Brunello di Montalcino’s stars shone brightly as well with Ciacci Piccolimini d’Aragona producing two of the favorites with their Brunello di Montalcino Pianrosso and Riserva. Notes of anise, sweet plum, spice and vanilla jumped from the glass of the Pianrosso. The Riserva was even louder and deeper with notes of chocolate and vanilla that still cling to my imagination. Antinori’s “Pian delle Vigne” was another top-notch example with copious fruit, dried berries and a note of earthiness that added even more to its complexity. Pieri Agostina’s version was just as polished as the Ciacci with darker fruit notes that made it a winner. And Lisini finished off my list of favorites with its complexity, elegance and grace.

If you still have any of these wines in your cellar, you are either lucky or smart, maybe both. If not, you may want to find some because they are providing some of the most luxurious drinking in the world of wine. The hedonistic pleasure that Tuscany offers lives on in these wines. Ciao!

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier.

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