For more than 600 years, Marchesi Antinori has played a major role in shaping not only the wine industry in Italy, but also that country’s culture.
But unlike the most influential estates of the Napa Valley in California, the Bordeaux appellation of France and other key winegrowing regions around the world, Antinori has made its mark in relative privacy. Only those with connections—wine buyers, primarily—ever had the opportunity to visit the family-owned operation and take a behind-the-scenes glimpse at what made it tick. That was true in 1385, when Giovanni di Piero Antinori became a member of the Winemakers’ Guild in Florence, and it was true in early 2013, as 25th- and 26th-generation family members—Marchesi Piero Antinori and his daughters Albiera, Allegra and Alessia—carried on the tradition in various facilities.
Then in March, everything changed. The cloak of secrecy was retired, and the Antinori family began welcoming guests to its new, state-of-the-art winery in Bargino, about 20 minutes outside Florence. It’s called the Marchesi Antinori Chianti Classico Cellar, but it is more than just a winemaking facility.
Yes, visitors can taste Antinori’s coveted wines—the full line, in fact. And, yes, they can view all of the latest winemaking equipment used at the facility, and learn how the process has gradually evolved through the centuries and the generations. That, alone, would be worth the $27 admission fee, given the quality of the Antinori wines.
But there’s so much more to see and do—even if the exterior of the facility appears somewhat small.
As one approaches the Chianti Classico Cellar, the deck of the facility’s on-site restaurant comes into view… and nothing else. The deck is impressive, highlighted by a stunning spiral staircase and even some newly planted grapevines. But given the scope of the project and the buzz it has created, one expects more.
And one gets more… a lot more… inside the facility, a vast majority of which is underground, built into a hillside. From conception to the grand opening, eight years passed, and visitors agree that the wait was worth it.
In addition to the cellar and wine-tasting area, the facility offers:
- The aforementioned restaurant, overseen by Chef Matteo Gambi of the acclaimed Osteria di Passignano, featuring dishes that use products from the Chianti region. Surprisingly, there is a hamburger on the menu, although it is unlike any burger you’ve ever tasted. Gambi even elevates chicken salad to a new level.
- An extensive tour, highlighting not only the winemaking process, but the amazing architecture that made it all possible. Beyond the neatly arranged rows of oak barrels, one will notice the curved walls lined by terra cotta bricks, fulfilling the family’s desire to focus on local materials whenever possible. Architecturally, the facility has been called inspiring.
- A museum, highlighted by a Renaissance-era wine press that was designed by Leonardo Da Vinci. There also are original scores of compositions inspired by Antinori wine, classical paintings, models of the Antinori family’s other estates, and an array of historical artifacts.
- An auditorium, where documentaries chronicle the family’s winemaking history, as well as the construction of the Chianti Classico Cellar.
- A wine store, where one can purchase bottles after sampling the winery’s current releases.
If you’re planning a trip to Italy and have time to visit only one winemaking estate, the Marchesi Antinori Chianti Classico Cellar should top your “to see” list. The facility paints a compelling portrait of Italy’s most influential wine family, and provides countless treats for the eyes and the palate.