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San Leonardo: A Surprisingly Perfect Site for Bordeaux Grapes

Stylized image of Tenuta San Leonardo, Vigneti delle Dolomiti Terre di San Leonardo, 2019


Tenuta San Leonardo remains one of the benchmark Trentino producers, if not in all of Italy. Any fan of classic, old-school Bordeaux or cool-climate Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carménère owes it to themselves to better understand these wines

—Eric Guido, Vinous

Two weeks ago, we adventured from Bolzano up to the Isarco Valley, the fairytale land where Kerner and other Germanic varieties are grown. Today, we again start in Bolzano, but we're heading south this time, following the Adige river and the valley that it forms. Here, the German language gives way to Italian, and the ubiquitous German grape varieties give way to something else entirely: red wine.

We are still in the Alps. Snow-capped mountains soar on either side of the Adige river. You sometimes even see snow in the vineyards, as seen above! But the valley floor is actually fairly warm, thanks to gusts of air that travel up the valley from Lake Garda. And the river brings with it loads of geological goodness, ensuring complex mineral-rich soils of pebbles, clay, sand and more.

Conditions, in short, are ideal for producing world-class wine. And that’s exactly what the Marquis Mario Incisa della Rocchetta realized. After founding the iconic Tuscan Bordeaux-inspired wine Sassicaia, he headed north, came across the historic wine estate of San Leonardo, and became the winery’s “oenological godfather”, teaching them how to make a Bordeaux blend of their own.

The Marquis of Sassicaia was not the first to realize the potential for Bordeaux varieties in Trentino. When phylloxera hit Bordeaux in the 1860s, winemakers searched the world for new places to plant Cabernet and Merlot. In addition to far-flung places like California and Argentina, they found this magical valley. The grapes are not indigenous to Trentino, but their roots — pardon the pun — run very deep indeed.

San Leonardo today produces one of the greatest Bordeaux blends of Italy, comparable in quality — but not in fame — to Sassicaia. Why is Sassicaia more famous (and so much more expensive)? Is it because it came first? Is it the “Super Tuscan” brand? Is it because the wine is more plush, a bit less edgy, and therefore more appealing to international tastes?

We don’t know. We do know that Italian wine lovers — such as Monica Larner, whose review is reproduced below and who rated the wine even more highly than Sassicaia from the same vintage! — appreciate the majesty, the elegance, and the Italianate edges of this great wine. It remains, for wines at this level, one of the top values of Italy:

Tenuta San Leonardo, San Leonardo, 2018 $99.99
"From a cool vintage, the 2018 San Leonardo is incredibly fine and beautiful with a filigree of aromas that recalls wild blackberry, tobacco, pressed rosemary, cherry tartlet and orange marmalade. The wine's elegance is extraordinary, and the mouthfeel is very fine and precise. This classic vintage will certainly appeal to San Leonardo purists. I recommend giving it a long runway to age." — Monica Larner, Wine Advocate

Tenuta San Leonardo, Vigneti delle Dolomiti Terre di San Leonardo, 2019 $22.99
If you don’t feel like shelling out for their top wine but you still want to see what San Leonardo is all about, the Tenuta also produces an extremely good value Bordeaux blend from their younger vines.


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