Jancis on Tenuta San Leonardo

Recently, Jancis Robinson published a fantastic article on Trentino’s Tenuta San Leonardo following a tasting of all vintages back to the inaugural 1982.

San Leonardo is simply one of the great wines of Italy and the history of the estate and the Guerrieri Gonzaga family is incredible. Located midway between Verona and Trento, with the Dolomites serving as an imposing backdrop, this lovingly-tended 300 hectares include manicured lawns, parkland, a stunning villa, museum, the original Roman road to Austria and a cellar to rival any Bordeaux chateau. The comparisons with Bordeaux do not end there, for the wine could easily pass as cru classé left bank, but this is no insurance company-owned chateau. Tenuta San Leonardo has soul, and you can feel it: in the place, the wine and the people.

The rich history of the property dates back 1500 years to when a group of prisoners from Trentino, captured by the Frankish army, erected a chapel nearby dedicated to the patron saint of prisoners, Saint Leonard, following their release. In the First World War, it was here that Austria made a formal request for an armistice and, during the Second World War, the family’s villa was the headquarters of the counterespionage section of the German high command. But it was when Carlo Guerrieri Gonzaga took over the Tenuta in the 1970s that San Leonardo began to make viticultural history, replanting the vineyards to craft a wine that would become an Italian classic. Made only in the best vintages, the blend has remained the same since 1982: 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc and 10% Merlot.

The following has been re-printed with Jancis’ approval, and full tasting notes can be found on her website. Of course, if you are in the business then I’m sure you are already a member of Purple Pages right! 🙂

“I find it difficult to think of any wine anywhere that has changed as little over the last 30 years as San Leonardo, surely the most successful Bordeaux blend of northern Italy.

Verticals of even Bordeaux’s first growths since 1982 tend to show the influence of different management regimes and the whim of winemaking fashion. And any similar range of most California and Australian wines, even the most iconic, tends show even greater contrasts between, particularly, the various phases of enthusiasm for oak, for alcohol, for imperceptible tannins, for low acidity and so on.

But San Leonardo seems to have hit its stride very early on in its life, which began in a modest way with the trial 1982 vintage and, even more miraculously, to have subsequently remained immune to the winds of fashion. If I had to think of one possible other Italian wine it is most like, it would be Sassicaia, so it came as no surprise when I read, after having tasted every vintage ever made up to the most recently released, the 2006, that the man who created this wine, Marchese Carlo Guerrieri Gonzaga, claims that it is ‘based particularly on a long and fruitful collaboration with Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, who on his estate of San Guido in Tuscany [where Sassicaia is grown] had initiated Carlo into all of the secrets of his Bordeaux blend, becoming to all effects and purposes Carlo’s “oenological godfather”.’

But what of the wines? In this complete run of vintages from 1982 to 2006 (no San Leonardo was made in 1984, 1989, 1992, 1998 and 2002) there was the most remarkable consistency. Even if 1982 is now a bit past it, the 1994 a bit too weak to enjoy, and vintages 2001, 2005 and 2006 still a bit too young to think of broaching, they all share the most admirable blend of subtlety, balance, finesse and (positive) restraint.

These are wines with the most complex bouquets, showing just the sort of harmony you wish all classed-growth bordeaux had. None is a heavyweight, so I would not recommend them to someone raised on, say, Napa Valley Cabernet, but they are hugely digestible wines for drinking with food that is equally well-mannered and not too insistent.”

The stunning 2006 vintage is available now. Oh, and its worth mentioning that, unlike most bordeaux, San leonardo still represents great value!