Chances are, if you have driven through the rolling hills of north-east Italy’s historic Valpolicella district, you have come across the wines made by the Allegrini family, known for producing some of the region’s finest expressions of amarone and recioto. The family’s history dates back to the 16th century, before being managed by the capable hands of Marilisa, and her brothers Franco and Walter, who took over operations with their father’s passing in 1983. Since then, they have grown the business to become one of the most recognisable Italian brands in the world, much of which is thanks to Marilisa’s guidance and commitment to communicating the brand’s central philosophies as CEO.
Marilisa Allegrini might be sitting in her family’s estate, Casa della Torre, just outside of Valpolicella during our interview, but her heart nowadays finds itself a little further south. For the past 20 years, the Allegrini name has been finding a spiritual home in a new region, with new varieties, new winemaking approaches and two very different properties.
“Allegrini is my history,” says Marilisa, “Poggio al Tesoro (poggioaltesoro.it) and San Polo Montalcino (sanpolomontalcino.it) are like my babies. I really dedicate a lot of financial effort to develop both properties, but for me it was not just an investment it was more something that I was very excited about because you have to look at the next generation. My two daughters were, from the very beginning, in love with these two properties.”
In 2001, Marilisa and Walter took at trip with the intention of exploring Tuscany and its winemaking regions in the hope of finding a new project. While areas like Chianti already had established winemaking traditions and existing families, the two wanted to keep their identity as a historical wine-producing family in Valpolicella and found more opportunity lay closer to the coast.
Originally the intent was to purchase 10 hectares or so, a small property where they could explore the potential of international varieties that were receiving so much attention on the global market. Quite quickly, however, it became clear – particularly for Walter – that the two might be falling in love with a more significant investment.
By 2002, they had started a new company with a 50ha property with well-positioned soil types and various microclimates.
Bolgheri – the heartland of Italy’s international grape variety scene and birthplace of the Super Tuscan style in the 1970s – had received global recognition for its ability to produce Bordeaux-inspired blends and single variety wines.
While the Bolgheri DOC has only recently been established under Italy’s appellation laws, the area’s reputation for avant-garde winemaking and modern approaches suited the duo’s desire to start something fresh.
“I was more excited than intimidated and also, I definitely look at the positive experience of the area without copying anything but having our own personality,” says Marilisa.
“We started everything from scratch, there was no name of the company, no type of wines, no price point, position, no names. It was really a very interesting creative project.”
The estate, Poggio al Tesoro, now sits at just over 64 hectares under vine across four properties, an extensive landholding in such a new area.
Amid the rows of pines and oaks, vines are planted on sandy, clay and stony soils, with different exposures found on each property. Red Bordeaux varieties, as well as viognier, petit manseng and vermentino, are split between the Via Bolgherese, Le Sondraie and Chiasena San Giuseppe vineyards. A site in the neighbouring Bibbona province also produces syrah for IGT blends.
The styles of wines produced, while staying in line with the blending traditions of other producers, were chosen for their potential to most clearly communicate the terroir of the various properties and what Marilisa calls “the Bolgheri personality”.
“For me it was always very important to have the wine produced according to the grape variety and in a way that was easy to communicate,” she says. “We have one wine that is the highest percentage of syrah, one that is the highest percentage of merlot. The same with cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. In my opinion, it is a portfolio that is quite easy to communicate because when you taste the wine you really feel the grape variety.”
The Chiasena San Giuseppe vineyards are also responsible for producing the grapes that make up the Poggio al Tesoro W Dedicato a Walter Cabernet Franc, named for Walter Allegrini, who tragically passed away in 2003 in the early days of developing the duo’s Tuscan dream. After Walter died, Marilisa continued the family exploration of Tuscany, eventually purchasing in 2006 a small winery that was already established.
San Polo Montalcino, a 7ha estate already planted with sangiovese, merlot and cabernet franc, soon become Marilisa’s next project.
“San Polo Montalcino was a natural consequence of our investment in Tuscany because in Bolgheri, you produce from international grape varieties…in exploring Tuscany, you cannot skip the sangiovese grape because it is the king of the Tuscany region.”
It soon became evident to Marilisa that raising standards was central to the estate’s potential. For seven years, the team worked hard, pulling out international varieties, segmenting the vineyard into individual terroirs and applying principles of sustainable and organic viticulture in order to bring the property into line with the business’ central philosophy.
A similar philosophy was applied to all sites related to Poggio al Tesoro, leading to both properties becoming organically certified in the vineyard, with San Polo Montalcino abiding by the guidelines of organic certification in the winery as well.
“I think that sustainability is mandatory,” says Marilisa sternly, when asked about how central certification is to the Allegrini philosophy. “I really think that all the vineyard owners want to go in that direction, they want to go in the direction of organic because we respect the soil, the vines. But we also want to respect the people that work in the vineyard.”
Marilisa pauses, a warm smile appearing on her face.
“I am so proud of Poggio al Tesoro and of course I am proud of San Polo, [it] is a real jewel,” she says. “So many other people did make a lot of effort to build San Polo Montalcino while in Poggio al Tesoro I feel like I was the only one…in addition of course to the people who work for me…that really are fantastic and they have enthusiasm and dedication and the same passion that I have for the company.”
The conversation links back to the people who inspire Marilisa most to work towards the future - her daughters Carlotta and Caterina - who have both worked in the family business at different times.
While they might have taken a step back for now – to give her space, says Marilisa – one can’t help but feel that like everything else Allegrini, it all links back to family in the end. Only the next 20 years will tell if Poggio Al Tesoro and San Polo Montalcino are the end of their Tuscan story, or the beginning.
Poggio Al Tesoro, Bolgheri
2018 Poggio al Tesoro Mediterra Toscana, A$32
This blend of syrah, merlot and cabernet sauvignon expresses slightly smoky, mocha and baking spice aromatics, with notes of cherry compote, ripe redcurrants and fine tannins.
2018 Poggio al Tesoro Il Seggio Bolgheri, A$65
Merlot-dominant blend. Dark-fruited and broody, with classic graphite and dark pepper spice from the cabernet franc, notes of wild fennel, earthen mineral tannins and meaty overtones.
2017 Poggio al Tesoro Sondraia Bolgheri Superiore, A$128
Cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc produce a concentrated, densely packed palate of cassis and mulberry. Blue-fruited aromatics with notes of milk chocolate and a tight, firm structure.
San Polo, Montalcino
2019 San Polo Rubio Toscana, A$30
A surprisingly powerful blend of sangiovese, cabernet franc and merlot presents quite a savoury palate, with bright acidity and light-on-its-feet red cherry mixing with firm tannins, fine-grained vanilla and lovely star anise/black cherry overtones.
2016 San Polo Rosso di Montalcino, A$55
Classic sangiovese varietal expression of sour red cherry and anise, with fig jam, fresh liquorice and white pepper forming a juicy and approachable palate.
2012 San Polo Brunello di Montalcino, A$115
Delightfully aromatic with super fresh blackberry, black cherry and fine baking spice, notes of camphor and a blend of cassis and cherries on the palate are held in check by fine, but assertive tannins.