Maze Row Marilisa Allegrini Fine Wine


Along Tuscany’s southern coast in Bolgheri, Poggio al Tesoro makes wines that are fresh and elegant and deeply connected to this part of Tuscany. Nargess Banks pays a visit to CEO Marilisa Allegrini

The drive to Poggio al Tesoro’s prime plots takes you through Strada Bolgherese. This long, elegant boulevard is lined with majestic centuries-old cypress trees that lead straight to the medieval town of Bolgheri. Italy’s first Nobel Prize winner in literature, Giosuè Carducci, famously wrote of Strada Bolgherese in his 1887 poem “Davanti a San Guido”: “The cypress trees stand straight and true from Bolgheri to San Guido in double rows.” And it is a cinematic treat that awakens you to this more rugged southern coast of Tuscany, one that is famed for its wines and in particular the cultish, nearly fetishized Super Tuscans.

Poggio al Tesoro is Marilisa Allegrini’s beloved winery, her jewel, founded in 2001 with her late brother Walter. With their main family estate Allegrini in Valpolicella (see “Cream of the crop” p66) established, the siblings were after a new adventure, a land far from their native Veneto, where they could explore new ways of growing and making. So they went “Tuscan shopping,” as Marilisa jokingly puts it.

“Allegrini was in a good place, so we decided to find something and somewhere outside of our comfort zone,” she says. “I remember the exact day. It was October 14, 2001, and we went to the Tuscan coast, starting at the bottom to see the different possible acquisitions. When we arrived in Bolgheri we said, if we do something outside Valpolicella, it will be here,” she recalls with a smile, gesturing to our lush surroundings.

A dedicated building for hospitality and with guest accommodation will open next spring, but for now wine tasting takes place in a sheltered seating area, the Salotto in Vigna, nestled among a variety of oaks, and with views over the vines and age-old olive trees at the southernmost point of the Sondraie vineyard. It’s a beautiful, secluded spot, where you feel at one with nature, I comment. She agrees: “The nature, the landscape are so beautiful. When we came here Bolgheri was, of course, already producing excellent wines, and we were attracted by the area’s possibilities.”

This region of Tuscany enjoys great soil diversity and a favorable microclimate thanks to the gentle breeze from the nearby sea. Some of the most important vineyards in the Bolgheri area are found along the Strada Bolgherese, a part of the appellation known locally as Soprastrada since some of the most complex and
elegant wines originate from here. Poggio al Tesoro has four vineyards across the region, at Via Bolgherese, Chiesina di San Giuseppe, Le Sondraie, and Valle di Cerbaia. Each plot produces very different expressions of wine.

From the start, vineyard manager Walter, who passed away unexpectedly in 2003, vigilantly tested each plot, digging deep to test the soil composition. He studied the microclimates to see which grape variety would best suit which plot.

Marilisa explains, “From our discovery, we planted Merlot in the clay soil, Cabernet Sauvignon in the sandy soil, Cabernet Franc in the limestone, and Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in the area along the Strada Bolgherese where we have pebbles, which is the best soil for the grapes. We also decided which wines to vinify by themselves. It was a fantastic experience in terms of creativity,” she says looking across the vineyard before adding, “Walter’s spirit remains here.”

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Marilisa Allegrini Maze Row Wine
Sondraia Poggio Al Tesoro Maze Row

Marilisa Allegrini, CEO of Allegrini and Poggio al Tesoro, photographed at Strada Bolgherese in Bolgheri, Tuscany. The top-rated Sondraia is Poggio al Tesoro’s flagship wine, produced with the best grapes from the estate


When Marilisa, Walter and their brother Franco (he passed away earlier this year), inherited the Allegrini winery in 1983, they set out to continue their father Giovanni’s quest to create the highest-quality cru wines in Valpolicella. It was a big challenge and it took some time, but they succeeded in creating a clean and fresh Amarone that transformed the wine’s reputation in markets like the US. Likewise, the freshness at Poggio al Tesoro sets the wines apart in Bolgheri.

Earlier that day we visited the cellar, a simple, clean and clear space where steel tanks are used for vinification; there are separate spaces for the barriques to keep the wines at different temperatures and ensure perfect aging. And although there is some experimentation during vinification using amphorae and terracotta vessels that began during the 2016 harvest on a selection of Solosole and Cassiopea, it appears a connection to land takes center stage here.

“In Valpolicella the key wine is Amarone, which is made of a drying process that combines viticulture but also technique. Here at Poggio al Tesoro you have to rely on the land,” says Marilisa. “We focus on the choice of both viticulture and vineyard management in order to achieve one very important concept in wine that is freshness. It has been a fantastic learning experience, as with viticulture you never stop learning. You have to adapt your choices to what nature gives you.”

A great example is the estate’s flagship Sondraia, a Super Tuscan produced with the best grapes from the parcels. It’s a blend of 65 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 percent Merlot and a touch of Cabernet Franc, “although the blend isn’t a mathematical formula,” adds Marilisa with a chuckle. She explains: “Cabernet Sauvignon has the power and intensity as well as the structure, Merlot gives the roundness and Cabernet has the spiciness. This is the style we wanted for the wine. It is elegant. We learnt in Valpolicella that power, structure and opulence are all important, but the key thing for longevity is elegance.”

Another of Poggio al Tesoro’s most prized wines is the small-production 100 percent Cabernet Franc Dedicato a Walter. “Cabernet Franc is now considered a very important grape in Bolgheri, but at the time it wasn’t so,” explains Marilisa. “The Cabernet Franc in Veneto is very green, while here you have a perfect maturation. From the very first year we decided to concentrate on this. When Walter passed away,
I decided to dedicate the wine to him.”

“I don’t wish to make a lot of wine. I want to make great wine. This is what excites me”

Marilisa Allegrini

Walter's tree, planted in his memory


Hospitality at Allegrini is at the historic Villa della Torre in Fumane, Veneto. It’s a passion project for Marilisa, as are her other patronage and engagements with the arts which include involvement with the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. Spending time with Marilisa, it’s apparent that her approach to winemaking, and the way she runs the wineries and hospitality, are part of a wider belief in cultivating an aesthetic of beauty and pleasure.

Her face lights up when I mention this. “We became very close to the arts when I purchased Villa della Torre, the jewel of the Italian Renaissance. You know art is so essential to Italy, we have such a rich history, and so you have to be sensitive to this, and give something back.”

This includes collaborating with contemporary artists through the limited artist edition on the Allegrini La Grola, a project that began in 2010 with work by the Italian comic book artist Milo Manara and has involved some renowned names in the international art world, including the Japanese artist Hiroyuki Masuyama. I’m curious to know if she has similar art label projects in mind for Poggio al Tesoro. “We don’t copy ideas across the two wineries but we are open to a different approach for here,” she replies.

Her daughters Carlotta and Caterina are increasingly involved with the winery. She tells me with great pride how Carlotta fell in love with Poggio al Tesoro when she spent time here while studying to be a medical doctor in nearby Florence. Looking around me, I’m not at all surprised. “She’s spoken of starting a limited-edition label that looks at the flora of the area starting from the wildflowers in the hills to the sea. Maybe in the future we will hire a young artist to make a painting of these flowers. Nature is so important to this part of Tuscany.”

Looking ahead, the next big project is to complete the hospitality offering and guesthouse, which opens next year. Marilisa is aware that to experience the wines fully, afficionados need to stay here, be immersed in this glorious part of Tuscany. “We want them to fall in love with the wines, the company and the area. We want to make people curious. Bolgheri has so many special qualities: its proximity to the hills, the nearby sea, the beautiful landscape and archaeological sites. There is lots to discover and explore.”

She takes a moment before continuing.“With winemaking you have to have patience. At Poggio al Tesoro we were starting from scratch, like my father did at Allegrini. Even if you’re a well-known winemaker elsewhere, you still need to demonstrate that you are able to make the company successful. The vines need to mature to give you the best quality, you need to promote the products and demonstrate that you are committed to quality. It’s been a long process.”

Earlier in the day I spoke with the agronomist Franco Dal Colle, whose passion for farming and respect for land (he calls himself a “vine whisperer”) evokes the spirit of Poggio al Tesoro. He told me how sustainable practices and encouraging biodiversity are fundamental to Poggio al Tesoro’s winemaking philosophy with the vineyards Equalitas and BRCGS- certified and declared organic three years ago.

“You need great vineyard management by people with great passion like Franco who takes care of the vines,” says Marilisa when I recount our conversation, “His team comes every day, even on weekends, to keep an eye on the vineyards. You have to consider if you go organic you will in some years lose some of the production. You have to accept this, and give into nature.”

The midday sun is now mellowing and the gentle breeze from the nearby sea cools the summer air. I ask Marilisa what she is thinking. “It took a while, but Poggio al Tesoro is now one of the largest companies in the Bolgheri appellation and is recognized as one of the most innovative. It is thanks to the dedication of our team, Franco and Christian Coco (the winemaker), who understand my key phrase: never compromise with quality. I don’t wish to make a lot of wine. I want to make great wine. This is what excites me. When Walter and I came to Bolgheri it wasn’t to do an investment, but to make great wine in a beautiful area. And I’m very pleased.”

Agronomist Franco Dal Colle’s passion for farming and respect for land evokes the spirit of Poggio al Tesoro

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