A Guide to Investing in Italy

Lucy Shaw, Contributing Writer

1 September 2023

Taking on the might of Bordeaux and Burgundy, Italy has steadily emerged as an important force within the fine wine market.

The top names from Tuscany have ascended in the secondary market over the last five years off the back of their growing international reach, beyond the traditional markets of the UK, US and Europe to Asia and beyond. The likes of Sassicaia and Tignanello are now frequently considered in the same breath as Lafite and Latour, proving Italy has joined the fine wine big league.

Italy is home to some 500 native grape varieties, which thrive in an array of soils and climates up and down its boot. Researchers recently found grape seed resin in clay vases in a Sicilian cave, indicating that wine has been made in Italy as far back as 4,000 BC, with viticulture becoming established practice by 800 BC. In the 1960s Italy entered a new era in its winemaking history, with its focus on quality winemaking practices and the rise of iconic estates such as Tenuta San Guido and Tenuta Tignanello, spearheaded by the Incisa and Antinori families, who have been pivotal in helping to thrust Italy into the fine wine limelight.

While the Super Tuscans lead the charge, interest in Italy’s top labels on the secondary market has expanded to include wines from a diverse mix of Italian regions, including: Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello, Chianti and the Veneto from notable producers such as Giuseppe Quintarelli and Gianfranco Soldera, with Piedmont heavyweights Giacomo Conterno, Bruno Giacosa and Gaja being joined by the likes of Burlotto, Roagna, Giuseppe Mascarello, Luciano Sandrone, Giuseppe Rinaldi and Trediberri in the top tier of investment-worthy wines.

Bordeaux Index Fine Wine Gaja vineyards
The vineyards of Gaja

Tuscany at a glance

Famed for its rolling hills and soaring cypress trees, Tuscany is home to over 70,000 hectares of Sangiovese and many of Italy’s finest wines from regions spanning Chianti Classico, Montalcino, Bolgheri and the Maremma. Situated beneath Emilia-Romagna, the region benefits from the cooling influence of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The Chianti sub-region includes the Chianti Classico DOCG nestled in the mountains between Florence and Siena. The wines are characterised by their high acid and notes of sour cherry, herbs, earth and spice.

Wines that don’t conform to traditional production rules are labelled as Toscana IGT, which can be made entirely from Sangiovese or include grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. The gentle slopes of Montalcino produce one of Italy’s most profound and ageworthy wines, Brunello di Montalcino, which is made from 100% Sangiovese and aged for at least four years before release, leading to flavours of black cherry, liquorice and leather, wrapped up in silky tannins.

Aside from the aforementioned Super Tuscans, among the most investment-worthy reds from Tuscany are Merlot-based Masseto, small production Solaia, Gianfranco Soldera Brunello di Montalcino, Fontodi and Castello di Ama.

Bordeaux Index Fine Wine Solaia

The Super Tuscans in focus

The quality and value offered by Italian fine wine is proving an alluring proposition to investors. Sales of Italian wines are up by over 30% in just 3 years at Bordeaux Index, buoyed by the ongoing success of the Super Tuscans, which, with their rock-solid reputations, low volatility and strong track records of returns, have proved to be a savvy investment choice for those seeking to broaden their fine wine portfolios beyond France.

Leading the Super Tuscan pack are the holy trinity of Tignanello, Sassicaia and Ornellaia, which have grown to become strong brands with global recognition and a visible presence at the world’s top restaurants. Made in limited quantities from prized estate vineyards, the inherent scarcity of the Super Tuscan blends combined with their high demand, relative value and critical acclaim has ramped up their investment potential. As the availability of these wines diminishes over time, their value will likely appreciate significantly, making them an even more attractive option for investment.

Sassicaia paves the way

It’s over 50 years since Tenuta San Guido released its debut 1968 vintage of Sassicaia in 1971, which blended Bordeaux varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc planted on the stony soils in Bolgheri from which the wine takes its name. Five decades on, the Super Tuscans have spearheaded the global rise of Italian fine wine, despite their lack of formal classifications.

Having made the wine for private consumption at his estate since 1948, Marchese Mario Incisa was persuaded by his son Nicolo and nephew Piero Antinori to bring revered oenologist Giacomo Taschis on board as a consultant in order to commercialise the endeavour, which was an instant hit on its release. Today, Sassicaia has had an excellent run in recent years with multiple mature vintages doubling in price over the past 5 years…

Bordeaux Index Fine Wine Sassicaia
Sassicaia vintages

Tignanello takes the lead

Edging ahead of Sassicaia in popularity is Tignanello, a favourite of both former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Duchess of Sussex, which is flying high following a recent run of glittering critics’ scores from the likes of Antonio Galloni and The Wine Advocate. Adding to its appeal is its relative value both in comparison to Bordeaux and its close competitor Sassicaia.

The arrival of the inaugural 1971 vintage of Tignanello in 1974 ripped up the rulebook in Chianti Classico and reimagined what high-end Italian wine could be. Hailing from the heart of the Chianti Classico region, Piero Antinori created Tignanello to take Tuscan wine to the next level through a modern winemaking approach that shunned the traditional Chianti Classico denomination. Under the guidance of Giacomo Taschis and French oenologist Emile Peynaud, alongside Sangiovese he introduced a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon to add colour and structure to the blend, and a dash of Cabernet Franc for freshness.

Bordeaux Index Fine Wine Tignanello Winery
Tignanello Winery

A solid investment

Tignanello’s appeal among collectors and investors has ramped up markedly in recent years, and the wine has grown to become one of the best-performing investments in the secondary market.

The wine is gaining in stature among drinkers, collectors and investors alike. It’s not surprising then that Tignanello’s value has risen by 100% over the last five years at Bordeaux Index, with the 2014 vintage offering five-year returns of 113%, the 2013 vintage seeing returns of 105%.

The Power of Piedmont

Piedmont sits at the foot of the Alps in the northwest of Italy. Benefitting from the cooling influence of the mountains and the warming presence of the Mediterranean, the microclimate makes it perfect for the cultivation of red grape Nebbiolo, which forms the backbone of the region’s most famous wines: Barolo and Barbaresco, the best of which are among the finest reds in the world.

Considered to be the Burgundy of Italy, Piedmont is attracting increasing attention among investors for its long-aged, terroir-driven Barolos and Barbarescos that shine a light on the Nebbiolo grape in a similar way to Pinot Noir in Burgundy. With its small production, calcium-rich clay soils, terroir focus on a single grape and complex patchwork of vineyards, it’s easy to draw comparisons between the wines from Piedmont and Burgundy, with both regions recently benefitting from the next generation of winemakers bringing new practices to the table, alongside the investment power of outsiders keen to enjoy a slice of the glory, which is helping to improve the quality of the wines.

Offering a comparably ethereal tasting experience to Burgundy with their notes of red fruits, tar and roses, only with more power and concentration, the heavy hitters from Barolo and Barbaresco are being snapped up by collectors seeking a similar ‘high’ to Burgundy at a less eye-watering price. But while similar to Burgundian Pinot, a key difference lies in Barolo and Barbaresco’s more formidable tannic structure and high acid, meaning they tend to need more time in bottle to soften and level out than Burgundy before they come into their own. Among the top-performing wines from Piedmont at Bordeaux Index are Gaja Barbaresco, which is currently offering five-year returns of 70%, and Mascarello Montprivato, whose value has risen by 60%.

Sicily starts to sizzle

One of the most exciting winemaking regions in Italy, Sicily’s dry, warm climate and eternal sunshine make it a haven for grape growing, and the region is gaining a reputation for its high-quality reds and whites. Its shining star is Nerello Mascalese – Sicily’s answer to Pinot Noir – which thrives in the volcanic soils around Etna. When it comes to whites, seek out peachy expressions made from Grillo and smoky Carricantes from Etna that sing of the volcanic soils in which they’ve been grown. Among the most lauded names on the island to look out for are Etna’s Girolamo Russo and Pietradolce, Planeta and Donnafugata.

Bordeaux Index Fine Wine Girolamo Russo
The vineyards of Girolamo Russo beneath Mount Etna

V for Veneto

The Veneto is the birthplace of some of Italy’s most famous wines, from Prosecco to Valpolicella. The region boasts Alps in the north, Lake Garda in the west and the Adriatic Sea to the southeast, making it a hotbed for a variety of native grapes. Two of the region’s top reds – Valpolicella DOC and Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG – are largely made from Corvina, the former charming with its cherry-scented wines, while the latter is revered for its rich character, which stems from the use of partially dried Corvina grapes in the blend. Key investment names to seek out from the Veneto include Allegrini and Giuseppe Quintarelli.

Bordeaux Index Fine Wine Guiseppe Quintarelli
The vineyards of Guiseppe Quintarelli

Solid performers

While the price of Italy’s most wanted wines has certainly risen over the last five years or so, they can still offer great value in comparison to the top names from Bordeaux and Burgundy, particularly given their recent run of standout vintages and high scores from leading critics, who have been more vocal of late in championing their cause. When investing in Italian wine it’s important to pick estates with a solid reputation whose wines have a track record of appreciating in value over time.

Among the best performing vintages of the Super-Tuscans on LiveTrade are: 1997, 2007, 2010, 2015, 2016 and 2019. Interest is currently focused on high-scoring prime vintages that will deliver strong returns rather than more affordable ‘lesser’ vintages.

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