Top Italian Wine Producers and Labels on the Liv-Ex Power 100

Every year, Liv-ex organizes its Power 100 list, a detailed ranking of the highest-performing wines on the market. The most recent Power 100 list included six of the best Italian wine producers and labels in the country, including SassicaiaGaja, MassetoDell’Ornellaia, Solaia, and Antinori Tignanello. Not only did these producers and labels perform particularly well on the secondary market last few years, but Italy’s total market sales also increased as a whole by ten percent in the past year. With the popularity of Italian wine on the market increasing, there’s never been a better time to learn about the best Italian wine producers. If you’re looking for a few promising investment ideas, or you’re dipping your toes into fine Italian wine for the first time, then it may be worthwhile to start with a few vintages from the producers on Liv-ex’s Power 100 list.

1.Sassicaia

Position on the Power 100 List: 7.
Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
Typical Characteristics: Rich, dense, and powerful.
Region: Bolgheri, Tuscany.
Best for: New-World wine lovers who want to try Italian wine.

The Sassicaia label, made by the San Guido estate, is the producer’s most successful wine. While San Guido makes other wines worth trying (Guidalberto and Le Difese), choose the flagship Sassicaia label if you love bolder wines or want to make a profit on the secondary market. San Guido was one of the first in Italy to embrace a bolder, fruit-driven style of Cabernet, and it would later take on the name “Super Tuscan,” influencing countless other producers that wanted to make a beefier Italian red. In this way, it differs significantly from Italy’s traditionally dry, earthier red wine varieties.

Although Sassicaia is one of the most valuable Super Tuscans in Italy and makes an excellent investment for resale, it’s also a wine you should try yourself at least once. A wine collector writes on the Wine Berserkers forum that in 1992 he found six bottles of 1985 Sassicaia on sale for just $80 apiece. After opening the first bottle to try it, he found the wine so delicious that he ended up drinking the rest of the bottles before the year was over. As much as he wanted to store this wine long-term, he couldn’t resist the temptation to drink them. His story isn’t unusual; I’ve heard from a number of collectors who feel the same way. This is a great wine for collectors who prefer to drink their own wines, or who have enough willpower to wait patiently for their bottles to mature so that they can resell them later.

*This chart shows how Sassicaia has been performing in our past auctions.

 

2.Gaja

Position on the Power 100 List: 34.
Varieties: Nebbiolo, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Syrah, Sangiovese.
Typical Characteristics: Nebbiolo wines are medium-to-full-bodied and tannic; the Super Tuscans are floral, earthy, and spicy.
Region: Langhe, Piedmont (known for Barbaresco and Barolo), Bolgheri, Tuscany (the Ca’Marcanda estate wines).
Best for: Anyone who generally drinks New-World wine but has enjoyed some earthier wines as well and would like to try more Nebbiolo.

Gaja wines have experienced a 13.37% increase in value between 2016 and 2017, and this upward trend is expected to continue through 2018. What makes this producer so popular among serious collectors is that Gaja wines age especially well. Additionally, Gaja is modern without losing its Old-World charm; the producer was the first in the area to use temperature-controlled fermentation and small-cask aging. These techniques help create a structured, flavorful wine that will last for decades in a cellar. Barbaresco is the most successful Gaja wine, and you can find some particularly fascinating vintages of the estate’s Costa Russi, Sori Tildin, and Sori San Lorenzo labels. Since the 1996 vintage, these have been reclassified from Barbaresco DOCG to Langhe DOC, which has given the producer more freedom to experiment with unique winemaking techniques.

The biggest question you may ask yourself when investing in Gaja wine is which style will best meet your needs. The obvious choice for the majority of collectors will be the estate’s cru Barbaresco, as it is the most valuable label and a big hit among wine critics. This is the label that I recommend to collectors just getting started with Gaja wine. If you’re looking for a wine with enormous finesse and integrated oak flavors, then Sorì Tildin may also be an excellent choice. Meanwhile, Ca’Marcanda is a polished, memorable wine that often appeals to those who already own and collect plenty of Bordeaux—you may find some similarities between classic Bordeaux and Ca’Marcanda.

 

3.Masseto

Position on the Power 100 List: 72.
Varieties: Merlot.
Typical Characteristics: Lively and powerful.
Region: Bolgheri, Tuscany.
Best for: New-World wine lovers who want to try Italian wine.

Dell’Ornellaia’s Masseto label is currently the best-performing Italian wine on the market in terms of value and sale volume. Masseto grew in price by 24% and it’s expected to continue to increase in value over the next few years. Liv-ex founder Justin Gibbs explains, “It has top scores, the supply is limited, and it seems to be successfully distributed through ‘La Place’.” Masseto is both an excellent source of profit for serious collectors and delicious, complex wine for drinking.

I generally recommend this wine to collectors who already adore New-World wines (especially Napa Valley Merlot) and who want to ease their way into Italian wine for the first time. I once knew a man who claimed not to be a fan of Italian wine at all—he assumed that Italian producers only made light, earthy reds, and he preferred bolder California reds. But everything changed for him when he tried Masseto at a recent tasting event. The wine was full of dark cherry, spice, and chocolate notes, and its powerful flavors reminded him a bit of his favorite Merlot from Hourglass in Napa. However, he found that the Masseto had a unique finesse and depth. It shared some similarities with New-World wines, yet the underlying structure was very Old-World and distinctly Italian. Today, he owns many bottles of Masseto, as well as a few other offerings from Dell’Ornellaia.

You might have noticed that Masseto and Dell’Ornellaia appear at different positions on the Power 100 list. That’s because, although Masseto is made by the Dell’Ornellaia estate, the producer encourages a distinct separation between Masseto and the winery’s other labels. Masseto also typically garners a much higher price per bottle than Dell’Ornellaia’s signature wine, Ornellaia, putting it in a class by itself.

 

4. Solaia

Position on the Power 100 List: 57.
Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese.
Typical Characteristics: Full-bodied, spicy, and very dark in color.
Region: Chianti Classico, Tuscany.
Best for: New-World wine lovers who want to try Italian wine.

Like Masseto and Sassicaia, the Solaia label from Marchesi Antinori is so valuable and sought-after that it has earned its own unique ranking on the Liv-ex list apart from the producer’s other labels. The wine gets its famous ripeness from the ample sunshine of Tignanello Hill—it’s grown in the sunniest section of the vineyard. Due to Antinori’s focus on high quality and careful grape selection, Solaia vintages will last for decades in a cellar. This is especially good news for collectors who wish to lay down some of these wines for future resale—the wine has increased in value by more than 14% since the beginning of 2017.

Before you buy a few vintages of Solaia for your collection, be aware that these wines tend to be very fruit-forward, even more so than some of the other Super Tuscans on this list. During a blind tasting event last year, one wine enthusiast initially misidentified a bottle of 1990 Solaia because the wine tasted so ripe. The enormous fruit flavors in the nose made the attendee believe that he was drinking a late harvest California Cab. For this reason, Solaia typically appeals most to drinkers who love New-World wines and fully ripened fruit flavors. It’s one of the best examples of this style in Italy, and it’s downright hedonistic in personality. If you prefer an earthier, more restrained wine, then you may opt to invest in one of the other Italian wine producers on this list instead.

 

5.Tignanello

Position on the Power 100 List: 71.
Varieties: Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc.
Typical Characteristics: Full-bodied, concentrated, and velvety.
Region: Chianti Classico, Tuscany.
Best for: New-World wine lovers who want to try Italian wine.

The very first Super Tuscan to hit the market, Antinori’s Tignanello label is still thrilling collectors today. Although the wine doesn’t garner quite as much attention as its Solaia sister, it is still one of the best offerings from the Antinori estate. It claimed many firsts when it was introduced: the first Sangiovese to be aged in barriques, the first Italian wine blended with non-traditional grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, and the first red blend in Chianti Classico to use purely red grape varieties. This subregion is known for mixing white grapes into red blends, but Antinori was the first to ignore this common practice. As a result, these wines still have plenty of Italian personalities (in part from the traditional Sangiovese grape), yet will taste very familiar to New-World wine lovers as well.

The Tignanello label will always hold a special place in my heart in part because it was one of the first Italian wines that I invested in on a serious level. When I first began drinking fine wine, I stuck mainly to California proprietary blends, Bordeaux, and Burgundy. But one night a taste of a 1997 Tignanello absolutely fascinated me. The wine was full-bodied, yet had soft, supple tannins, and the finish seemed to last for ages. The quality of the wine made me want to learn more about Antinori and Tuscany’s many other collectible producers. To this day, I still adore the Tignanello label, and I’ve continued to buy these wines over the years.

 

6.Dell’Ornellaia

Position on the Power 100 List: 91.
Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese (and Merlot for the Masseto and Le Volte labels).
Typical Characteristics: The Super Tuscan blends are full-bodied, balanced, and elegant.
Region: Bolgheri, Tuscany.
Best for: Collectors who enjoy both the finesse and elegance of Old-World wines and the plush fruit of New-World wines.

Along with its Masseto label, Dell’Ornellaia’s Super Tuscan proprietary blends—the most important being Ornellaia—also made it onto the Power 100 list. While Ornellaia often isn’t as high in value on the secondary market as Masseto, it tends to be slightly more elegant in style, making it appealing to those who drink other Old-World wines. And because these wines can last for 20 years or more in storage, they make a potentially valuable investment in addition to being an enjoyable drinking experience.

When you’re starting an Italian wine collection for the first time, the Dell’Ornellaia estate can teach you a great deal about the environment in which these wines are made. The Ornellaia label is a near-perfect expression of Bolgheri as a region, so if you’re not that familiar with the Bolgheri region, or even with Tuscan wine as a whole, then Ornellaia can give you a good sense of what Bolgheri’s typical style is. Once you have some knowledge of Bolgheri under your belt, you may choose to move on to other great Dell’Ornellaia wines, like Masseto, that will give you a glimpse into a single-vineyard, single-variety wine from this area.

 

Other Producers That Make Age-Worthy Reds

If you want to get to know the best Italian wine producers, you’ll want to look at more than just Liv-ex statistics. I’ve known a few collectors over the years who thought that the only wines in Italy worth buying were those on the Power 100 list. But in the process of collecting only the best vintages from these producers, they missed out on a number of fantastic Italian reds that fall outside of the “Super Tuscan” category. Recently, one of these collectors, in particular, has made it a goal to start tasting wines from a variety of areas, and he has become much more open-minded about Italian wine, branching out to try offerings from other great producers like Bruno Giacosa and Vietti. Today, his Italian wine collection is diverse and well-rounded, and he’s discovering a new passion for aged Barolo and Brunello in particular.

*Tuscany has been the King region in our past auctions, which offers the most lot value.

 

All of the Italian producers on Liv-ex’s list are located in Tuscany and Piedmont, as those two regions offer some of the most collectible Italian wines. But there are more great Italian producers than the handful that made it onto Liv-ex’s Power 100 list. Here are some other Italian wine producers that craft legendary red wines:

1.Biondi Santi

2.Speri

3.Masi

4.Poggio Antico

One of the struggles of getting into Italian wine is figuring out which styles you most enjoy. As someone accustomed to drinking bold New-World wines, I discovered that Super Tuscans, Tuscan Sangiovese, and young, ready-to-drink Barolo were excellent gateway wines for me. These styles are more modern and international than some of Italy’s other classic wines, but they have enough local flavor to ease New-World drinkers into more traditional Italian wines. Likewise, mature Barolo, Barbaresco, and Brunello di Montalcino typically appeal more to those who already collect Old-World wines, as these usually taste more elegant and subtle.