Bolgheri is a relatively young yet prestigious Italian appellation located in the Maremma on the Tuscan coast just to the south of Livorno, and named after a town in the north of the region. It is known mainly for deeply coloured, supple yet age worthy red wines, usually based on the Bordeaux grape varieties. The winemaking zone features sloping coastal vineyards close to the Tyrrhenian Sea.
As recently as the 1970s, the area had little reputation for wine production, regarded elsewhere in Tuscany as something of a swampy zone producing fairly nondescript white wines and rosés, and better suited to other farming, in contrast to the prime Tuscan vineyards further up in the hills. Then, in 1978, in an infamous blind tasting arranged by Decanter Magazine, the 1972 vintage of a largely unknown wine called Sassicaia, made at Tenuta San Guido estate of the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, beat a number of top Bordeaux wines. Wine had been made at Tenuta San Guido in a rather rustic fashion for personal consumption for some years previously, and only commercialised from the 1968 vintage, but this early example of a more polished version made by legendary winemaking consultant Giacomo Tachis led to an awakening of interest in the region.
Sassicaia's name ("stony field") alludes to the banks of gravel in the area, reminiscent of vineyards in the Graves and the Haut-Médoc, which inspired the French wine loving Marchese to plant Bordeaux varieties – particularly Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc – rather than Sangiovese. In the 1980s, Lodovico Antinori began planting on his neighbouring Ornellaia estate. An area of clay within this estate was planted with Merlot and became the separate Masseto property. The sunny, dry and breezy climate of Bolgheri and the stony soils with clay patches have attracted further vineyard expansion mostly focusing on red Bordeaux varieties.
Until the current DOC regulations were laid down in 1994, Sassicaia and the other Super Tuscan wines produced here were usually sold as Vino da Tavola or Toscana IGT. Today a Bolgheri Rosso, Rosso Superiore or Rosé may be made entirely from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, or a blend combining one or more of these, and/or up to 50 percent of Syrah or Sangiovese. Other red grapes such as Petit Verdot may account for up to 30 percent. Wines made from other grape varieties or nonconforming blend percentages are classified as IGTs. Earlier DOC regulations prevented mono-varietal wines from being produced as Bolgheri Rosso, and some examples such as Masseto are also still labelled as Toscana IGT. Since 2013 Sassicaia has its own subzone DOC – expected to become a DOCG in due course – whose rules reflect the wine’' typical 85-15 composition of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
The white wine grape most often used in Bolgheri Bianco is Vermentino, which may account for up to 70 percent of the wine. Sauvignon Blanc and Trebbiano Toscano may contribute up to 40 percent, and others no more than 30 percent. There are separate Bolgheri Sauvignon and Bolgheri Vermentino DOCs that must contain 85 percent of the headline grape variety. Many white wine examples are relatively light, crisp and refreshing, though there are some examples of barrel-matured whites.
Wine tourism in the area gained a considerable boost with the opening in 2017 of the World Wine Town, designed by Oscar-winning art director Dante Ferretti and located in Casone Ugolino, a former 16th-Century farm in Castagneto Carducci in the heart of the DOC zone. As well as the MuSeM Sensory and Multimedia Wine Museum, the complex features restaurants, shops wine and cookery schools and conference facilities.