Cervaro della Sala vertical tasting
The latest vintages of this great Umbrian white from Marchesi Antinori, as always of the highest level, represent very well and consistently the weather conditions of those years and, due to a new winemaking approach, seem to be even better and more balanced.
Cervaro della Sala is the most iconic white in the Marchesi Antinori wine repertoire. It has been produced since 1985 (although the first vintage to be marketed was 1986) with grapes from the vineyards of Castello della Sala, in the town of Ficulle, north of Orvieto in the region of Umbria. The vineyards surround the 14th century castle built by Mondaleschi della Cervara and which has been owned by the Antinori family for decades.
The history of Cervara is obviously linked to the figure of Piero Antinori, who at the time wanted to have a great, Chardonnay-based white wine to compliment the famous Tuscan reds his family had been producing for some time, first among them Tignanello and Solaia. He was joined in this venture on both a personal and professional level by Renzo Cotarella, who was the authentic mentor of Cervaro. Renzo today is the CEO at Antinori while at the time he was an enologist of just over 30 who Pietro Antinori has literally plucked from the Consorzio dell’Orvieto producers’ association, where he served as director, and placed him at the head of his new project. They had already been making wine at Sala but for many years before the winery Antinori owned in Orvieto was Bigi, which was later sold to Gruppo Italiano Vini.
The history of the Castello della Sala estate and its wines began soon thereafter and Cervaro was envisioned and created only in the mid-1980s with much of the credit going to Renzo Cotarella, who created it initially under the supervision of Giacomo Tacis, to then take full control after 1993. Thus Cotarella’s role was decisive for Cervaro della Sala which today remains the wine that most reflects his winemaking style.
Over time there have been some technical changes. The first years saw a much greater use of wood, sometimes even in an excessive way, which meant that more time was needed for the wood to blend in with the other elements. It could be argued that at the time there was a common approach to interpreting Chardonnay, perhaps following the example of the wines from the New World, first of all California and Australia. The first wines to be less “woody” started coming out in the early 1990s, with vintages 1992 and 1994, and it marked the start of a technical evolution that since then has become increasingly evident. In recent years, the period the wine matures in barriques has been cut in half and since 2017 the Grechetto, which represents 10% of the blend, is matured only in stainless steel.
While this trend may have had to do with climate change, the fact is that the latest vintages of Castello della Sala are quite different and, in my opinion, are better and more balanced than in the past and this is a true sign of the times.
The following vertical tasting focuses on the last seven vintages to reach the market, starting with the 2012. Some are the product of hot years, above all the 2017, while others are from ones that were cooler, like the 2014. All are consistent and represent the weather conditions of that year years very consistently and the grapes are all from the same vineyards with their limy clay soils typical to the northern areas of the Orvieto district where, to paraphrase Luigi Veronelli, Castello della Sala represent an authentic “grand cru”.
Cervaro della Sala 2012
95/100 - € 60
A blend of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Grechetto. Matured in barriques for six months. A clear, golden- yellow color. Pineapple, almond, vanilla and white peach compose the bouquet of this extraordinary Umbrian white that has a propensity to age long. The mouthfeel is pronounced, full yet agile with an excellent acidic-salty component. The aftertaste is warm, wrapping and very long.
Cervaro della Sala 2013
96/100 - € 60
A blend of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Grechetto. Matured in barriques for six months. A clear, golden- yellow color. The aroma is varied and complex with the expected scents of vanilla and flint that alternate with those of exotic fruit, fresh almond, yellow plum, peanut butter and particularly fine spice. The mouthfeel is taut, agile and full-bodied at the same time, aristocratic, saline, extremely elegant and refined. The finish has an amazingly long persistence.
Cervaro della Sala 2014
98/100 - € 60
A blend of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Grechetto. Matured in barriques for six months. The wine this year has less structure and more acidity. The color is a bright, straw-yellow while the aromas shift towards flint, yellow plum and citron with fewer notes of almond. The mouthfeel is saline, agile, fresh and taut, very elegant, with a wrapping drinkability and a subtle yet very persistent aftertaste. Among the best ever.
Cervaro della Sala 2015
95/100 - € 60
A blend of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Grechetto. Matured in barriques for around five months. Less wood, inaugurating a new approach to maturing. The clear color is bright golden-yellow. The aromas are fruity and wrapping with citrus notes, hints of flint and aromatic herbs. The mouthfeel is warm yet taut and saline with an excellent body that is not heavy and the finish is decidedly long.
Cervaro della Sala 2016
95/100 - € 60
A blend of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Grechetto. Matured in barriques for around five months. A minor use of wood continued and the year was quite hot. A straw-yellow, golden color that is bolder than the previous wines. The aromas are composed, complex and wrapping with notes of exotic fruit and hints of honey followed, as always, by scents of aromatic herbs and flint. The mouthfeel is warm and saline with excellent body, bold, rich and very persistent.
Cervaro della Sala 2017
95/100 - € 47,00
A blend of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Grechetto. Matured in barriques for around five months. The product of a scorching and dry year, this has a golden-yellow color with flickering green reflections. The aromas are intense and wrapping with notes of wild flowers, exotic fruit, hints of toasted wood, grilled bread, citron and aromatic herbs. The mouthfeel is warm, rich, full-bodied, saline, with significant texture and a long persistence.
Cervaro della Sala 2018
98/100 - € 48,00
A blend of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Grechetto. Only the Chardonnay matured in barriques for five months. A very luminous, clear golden-yellow color. The bouquet is very complex with notes of hazelnut, ginger, citron, flint and aromatic herbs and even fewer scents from maturing in wood. The mouthfeel is full, saline, very balanced, taut with an excellent body yet decidedly elegant. The aftertaste has amazing persistence. Another top-shelf version.