Divine Taste in Socks
For a mere $15, you too can sport a bit of papal
Alessia Antinori doesn’t remember her father, Piero, ever pressuring her or either of her sisters, Albiera and Allegra, to join the family business. Seated at a cozy corner table at Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria, one of her favorite New York City restaurants, Alessia digs into a plate of crispy artichokes, sips a glass of her favorite white, a 2014 Alberico Bianco Sémillon, and smiles as she recalls the first time she took an interest in the family’s legendary Tuscan wine empire, Marchesi Antinori.
“He never obliged us to work in the vineyards,” she laughs, “and I was always obsessed with art. But these vineyards have been in my family for more than 600 years!” Indeed, Marchesi Antinori, with property stretching from Chianti and Bolgheri to Puglia and Piedmont, is one of Italy’s oldest wine producers, in business since 1385. Today they make more than 26 different wines, with grapes grown on vast properties such as the Chianti Classico winery and small vineyards like the organic Fiorano estate outside Rome, which was inherited by Alessia’s maternal grandfather in the 1940s.
After an upbringing in Florence, Alessia embraced her family’s legacy, studying winemaking at the University of Milan’s agriculture school. She then set out for Asia to help introduce Antinori wines to new markets in Hong Kong, Japan, Cambodia and Vietnam. Along the way, Alessia cultivated her passion for fine art and photography by creating a museum featuring installations of contemporary art at the Antinori Chianti Classico winery. She also oversees the Antinori Art Project, which develops partnerships with artists such as Rosa Barba—known for her cinematic installations—and filmmaker and photographer Jean-Baptiste Decavèle.
As Florentines we have always been surrounded by art,” says Alessia, who now lives in New York, where she is a member of the International Council of the Museum of Modern Art, in addition to holding a seat on the board of the American Academy in Rome. “So Marchesi Antinori’s involvement in art is a natural evolution of our heritage. The winery is more than just the land and the wine—it’s a larger cultural experience.”
Alessia, Albiera and Allegra Antinori at the Antinori new Chianti Classico winery in Tuscany
As the 26th generation to inherit the business—and the first generation of women—the Antinori sisters had big shoes to fill. Their father was responsible for reviving Chianti Classico and for single-handedly elevating Italian wine with the introduction of Tignanello in the 1970s, creating a new category known as the Super Tuscans. Although he didn’t compel his daughters to take over, Piero did ask that they learn the business from the ground up: All three sisters began by culling grapes at the annual vendemmia before they moved into management positions.
Since 2017, when Piero retired and the Antinori sisters officially took the company’s reins, they have shifted their focus from the brand’s epic heritage to its bright future, completely redesigning the company’s main winery in Bargino, a small village between Florence and Siena, headquarters of Antinori’s Chianti Classico production. Designed by leading Italian architects Laura Andreini and Marco Casamonti of the Florence-based firm Archea Associati, the winery occupies a striking low-slung terra-cotta brick structure tucked into a Tuscan hillside, with two protruding rooflines barely visible upon approach. A monumental spiral staircase forms the centerpiece of the building, and visitors taste wines in the cellar, where a futuristic glass pulpit overlooks hundreds of barrels. Albiera, who is president of all of the Marchesi Antinori estates, supervised the development and construction of the 540,000-square-foot structure, which was finished in 2012.
Unlike many Italian and French vineyards that are inaccessible to the public save for the occasional tasting, the Antinori sisters have worked tirelessly to share their love of the Tuscan land, wine and cuisine by opening their estates to the public with the introduction of restaurants, cooking schools and even a small hotel complete with apartments. “This is new for us because we never do this kind of thing in Italy,” says Alessia, who is as passionate about food as she is about wine. “We have 15 varieties of tomatoes at one of our working farms, so I always ask the chef to prepare the best possible pasta pomodoro!” She speaks as easily about contemporary artists and their work as she does about the acidity of artichokes and how difficult wine pairings can be.
The shop at the Antinori net Chianti Classico winery
Over lunch at Il Buco, Alessia recounts her sales adventures in New York for Marchesi Antinori, traveling from restaurant to restaurant, arranging meetings with sommeliers, and increasing the visibility of her family’s wines. “It’s a business based on relationships, and you have to really understand the city and the complexity of all the different kinds of restaurants and food and consumers here,” she says. She was successful during her first stay in New York, placing Antinori wines in more than 50 different establishments. Today, on her second tour living in the city (now with her husband and two children), she is building consumer awareness of her favorite pet project: the Fiorano estate on Rome’s Appian Way, where she has restored four rows each of her grandfather Prince Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi’s original grapes and planted about 30 acres of new vineyards in the rich volcanic soil. Alessia also oversees limited production of several organic wines, including an exuberant 2011 red called Fioranello.
“When my grandfather inherited the vineyard in 1946, he pulled out all of the vines and replaced them with Bordeaux grapes like cabernet and merlot, which were not popular in Italy at the time,” she explains. But Prince Alberico developed a cult-like following for his wines, selling them only to customers who would show up at the winery and pay in cash. Over the years, Fiorano became among the most sought-after Italian wines on the market. Now, in addition to reviving the vineyards, Alessia is managing sales herself and approaching the original customers first. She has also cultivated the estate’s olive-oil production and opened a farm-to-table restaurant, L’Orto di Alberico, on the property. Allegra, who is vice president, oversees all of the restaurants in the Marchesi Antinori group, including the Cantinetta Antinori, a small wine bar in the family’s palazzo in Florence (with additional locations in Moscow, Monte Carlo, Zurich and Vienna), as well as the Rinuccio 1180 restaurant in Bargino, where guests can order the ChiantiBurger to pair with a glass of Tignanello.
Chef Nicola Damiani in the herb and vegetable garden at Osteria di Passignano
Ten minutes away, another Antinori jewel, the Osteria di Passignano, is a family restaurant in the town of Badia a Passignano, where the 11th-century abbey of the same name towers over the family’s vineyards. The Antinori sisters have started offering guided tours of the cellars, where Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva is aged in 2,000 wooden barrels. Cooking classes at nearby Fonte de’ Medici are also available to visitors who want to learn traditional Tuscan recipes.
“Badia a Passignano is where the monks of the Vallombrosian Order produced wine since the Middle Ages,” says Alessia, referencing the vineyards that grow the Sangiovese grapes used in Chianti Classico. Of course, this being Italy, there is always a connection to art: On some days, the monks open the abbey for people to view Domenico Ghirlandaio’s famous Renaissance fresco The Last Supper.
Since 2000, the Antinoris have also offered what they call agriturismo at the Fonte de’ Medici, a small hotel and several apartments in the heart of the Tignanello estate. In addition, the property is a working farm generating olive oils and produce. Alessia says agriturismo brings visitors to farms to understand the process and technique of creating native produce and goods such as wine and olive oil. Guests can stay in the apartments or the hotel, tour the winery, take cooking courses and dine at the informal restaurant, Trattoria della Fonte, where they pair Antinori wines with recipes from the area.
While her heart belongs to Tuscany—and she can also wax poetic about the 18 different kinds of artichokes planted in her Roman vineyard—Alessia admits that she loves traveling throughout Asia and America and living in New York City, with its plethora of food choices and amazing restaurants. Recently she discovered 15 East, a Japanese omakase restaurant not far from her Greenwich Village home. “Have you been there?” she asks, eyes wide. “It’s amazing, really amazing. To tell you the truth, when I ate the sushi, I cried!” Now that is Italian passion.