With the increasing popularity of Italian wine, particularly internationally, it is no surprise that a lot of wine companies have appeared over the course of the last century or so. Many of them are more than capable of crafting some absolutely superb wines, allowing them to stand alongside some of the more established winemakers in the country.
However, when it comes down to pure history and influence on the wine industry as a whole, few can compete with the Antinori family. They are one of the most prestigious in Italian winemaking history and have maintained a reputation that is still going strong after more than 600 years. Here we will take a brief look at their history, before examining a wine that you might not expect to come from one of the greatest Chianti producers of all time.
The Antinori name is first recorded in regards to Italian wine in the late 12th century, but some sources suggest that it may go back much further than that. In fact, the name is first mentioned in famed Greek poet Homer’s ‘The Iliad’, way back in 11th century B.C. In that famous poem, Homer speaks about a Prince Antenor, whose life was spared in exchange for allowing the famous wooden horse of the story into the city of Troy. The poem then suggests that he fled up the Adriatic and became the founder of what we now know as Venice. It has been suggested by many that the Antinori family derives its name from that famous lineage.
Regardless, it is 1180 when Rinuccio di Antinori is first recorded as making wine at the Castello di Combiate, which is located near the Tuscan town of Calenzano. A mere 22 years later, the castello was destroyed and the family moved to Florence, where they became more heavily involved in banking and silk weaving. However, the lure of wine was never far away and, in 1385, Giovanni di Piero Antinori joined the fledgling Guild of Winemakers and the story of the Antinori family truly began in earnest.
This is the date that the company uses today to pinpoint their start in the industry and the fame of their wines only continued to grow over the following years. In fact, the business soon overtook their banking and silk interests, allowing them to raise the money required to purchase the Palazzo Antinori. The building, which was originally built for the Boni family in the 1460s, ended up in Antinori hands in 1506. During this time, Alessandro Antinori was considered to be one of the richest men in Florence, but that run of good fortune was not destined to last forever.
Upon the discovery of the Americas, the effects of the gold brought over from the New World by the Spanish had an enormous effect on the Antinori family’s wealth. Alessandro was eventually bankrupted as a result, and the family went through a period of upheaval during the conflict that resulted from the discovery of the New World.
However, the family soon began to prosper again once peace ensured, thanks in no small part to the quality of the wines they produced. They played a key role in the unification of Italy, with Niccolo Antinori receiving the title of Marchese for this role in the process.
As the 20th century dawned, the family became less involved in political struggles and placed an even more intense focus on producing great wines. Piero Antinori bought a number of vineyards in the Chianti Classico region in 1900s, including 47 hectares at Tignanello, which is a name that many modern wine lovers know quite well. The family soon set about creating Chianti, developing a reputation for the quality of their drinks as they did.
Of course, controversy was never too far behind. The Antinori family has always had a penchant for innovation and they demonstrated that in 1924 when Piero’s son Niccolo produced a Chianti that contained Bordeaux grapes. From this era through to the 1970s, the family continued to experiment with the way that they produce wine, often causing issues with those who thought that they needed to strictly adhere to the old ways in order to make true Chianti. New blends, barrels and bottle ageing techniques were tried, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that the family struck gold while also causing immense amounts of controversy at the same time.
The launch of Tignanello in 1971 cemented the family as innovators and created a rift between those who preferred these new ‘Super Tuscans’ and those who preferred Chianti Classico. Regardless of this small war of opinion, Tignanello’s quality could not be denied and the drink became so overwhelmingly popular that the DOC had to change their rules to accommodate wines of this nature.
The success of this and other wines allowed the family to invest more heavily in other vineyards throughout the 1980s and 90s. They are now a truly international company, having invested in wineries and ventures in both California and Bátaapáti, Hungary.
While the Antinori family have a well-deserved reputation for creating truly stunning red wines, the quality of some of their whites should not be underestimated. The Antinori Santa Cristina Valdichiana Vin Santo 2008 is a beautifully sweet white that has been aged for almost eight years.
Featuring a truly intense yellow colouring and a captivating amber nose, it will quickly attract the attention of people looking for a good dessert wine. The aromas of toasted hazelnut and dried fruits hints at the sweet taste.
Once introduced to the palette, the wine offers notes of honey and sweet fruits, which evolve into noted of hazel and chestnut. It is a wonderfully intense experience that has all of the hallmarks of quality that we have come to recognise the Antinori family for.
It is often enjoyed as a dessert wine, but try experimenting with some spicy foods as well. The wine is strong enough to properly complement such foods, without being overpowered by the various spices.