Arte e vino a San Leonardo: a milestone of Italian wine and its link with art

A vintner recently told me: “I want to make wines that are as far away as possible from the ageè style of those that flaunt noble blazons.” I wish I had asked him what kind of wines made by aristocrats he was referring to, as it is rather obvious that there are huge differences between estates managed by ancient dynasties that have followed opposite paths.

 Some emblazoned wines are the reflection of their blue-blooded owners’ willingness to wink at international markets – these pioneers simply exploited their superior knowledge of the wine business at a global level to garner critics’ and connoisseurs’ attention before anyone else, and they keep treasuring on this competitive advantage. While I understand why their production model clashes with that of new wave growers, I believe the wines deserve praise for opening new horizons for entire appellations. 

Other wines made by Italian noble families have remained unaltered over time, standing out as beacons of resistance against the ephemerality of fashions and retaining their timeless charm over the decades. San Leonardo belongs to this category: there is no better way to describe it than by quoting Jancis Robinson, who defined it as an “Italian rock in a sea of change.”

I recently had the chance to attend the preview tasting of the 2019 San Leonardo in the fairytale-like setting of Palazzo Taverna, the opulent mansion of the Guerrieri Gonzaga family in Rome, which houses an awe-inspiring collection of baroque paintings. 

 This presentation was more than just a glamorous rendezvous – despite being attended by the Italian wine and art jet set. It allowed us to delve into the history of a family that has always patronized art – and is also tied to the Aldobrandini, whose name you will repeatedly hear in some of Italy’s greatest museums. Given how scrupulous they have been in transmitting this legacy over the centuries, it comes as no surprise that timelessness is one of their core values even when it comes to wine production.

Anselmo Guerrieri Gonzaga and Ilaria Tronchetti Provera (left) with visual artist, Marzia Migliora, and curator, Giovanna Amadasi.

Exploring the connections between art and wine 

The art patronizing tradition of the Guerrieri Gonzaga family has been revived in recent years: starting from 2023, they have begun to work closely with contemporary masters to highlight the connections between wine and art. This year it was Marzia Migliora, a renowned Italian visual artist, who created a special artwork that was then used for a triptych of special labels.

 “The link between art and wine is at least as old as wine,” explained Anselmo Guerrieri Gonzaga,  the co-owner of Tenuta San Leonardo. Together with his wife Ilaria Tronchetti Provera, the scion of a renowned entrepreneurial dynasty, Guerrieri Gonzaga conceived Arte a San Leonardo, a project that allows artist to spend a few weeks at the estate amidst the mountains of the Trentino region and craft an artwork that is then portrayed on 999 bottles of San Leonardo – sold through the official website of the winery. This was the second edition of the project, and Migliora came up with a work that she named La Rivoluzione del Tempo Profondo (the revolution of deep time). 

Artists have the unique ability of digging beneath the veil of perception and grasping hidden connections between the elements of nature – remarked Guerrieri Gonzaga – hosting Marzia Migliora was an eye-opening experience for our entire community, as she managed to shine a light on details that those who spend most of their time at San Leonardo aren’t able to notice”. 

La Rivoluzione del Tempo Profondo symbolizes the mountains, a key element defining the landscape at Tenuta San Leonardo. Within the tangle of irregular lines portraying the rocky surface, dozens of different creatures resemble the cycle of life. “ I have drawn a complex living system – remarked Migliora – a vast world of interconnections, grouping cells, organs, muscles, fossils, minerals, plants, sea creatures, barks, sperm, humans and animal in motion: a macro and micro system, a living community and its relationships, the history of a shared world”.

The intimate and essential yet complex dimension of the artwork is in keeping with the personality of a wine that has always been at once subdued and multilayered – understated but thought-provoking. 

Even in the roaring eighties and nineties, when the quest for lushness and opulence seemed almost unavoidable, Anselmo’s father, Carlo Guerrieri Gonzaga,  stayed true to the original identity of this pioneering Bordeaux blend, which mixes the finesse of old school claret with the mouthwatering tension and herbal allure that the alpine growing environment ensures.

Visual artist, Marzia Migliora, standing in front of La Rivoluzione del Tempo Profondo.

Tasting the 2019 San Leonardo by Tenuta San Leonardo (Marchesi Guerrieri Gonzaga)

An excellent vintage with mild temperatures throughout the entire season, 2019 pushes the dolomitic personality of San Leonardo to the extreme.

Hitting the shelves roughly four years and a half years after harvest,  the 2019 San Leonardo by Tenuta San Leonardo exhibits a purple-ish yet relatively transparent ruby color, and opens up to fresh aromas of anise, lavender, earthy violets, jujubes, and a touch of bell pepper hinting at the presence of Carmenere in the blend. With coaxing it also develops darker shades of cigar box, cocoa powder, and a subdued nuance of undergrowth. 

The palate is sumptuously austere: sharp acids and balsamic overtones take center stage and aptly reflect the alpine terroir. Pristine flavors of crunchy black fruits and dusty yet well-extracted tannins follow up, adding to the overall sense of vibrancy and outlining a slim and punchy progression, finishing with resonating flavors of hibiscus, bell pepper, and tangy herbs. If you wanted to draw parallels with Bordeaux, then you could describe it as a happy medium between a classically-styled Pauillac and a top-notch example from Haut Medoc – Cantemerle is the first wine that comes to my mind. 

Devoid of any oak imprinting,  the 2019 San Leonardo will appeal early on to those who prioritize vibrancy and food-friendliness over smoothness and fruit concentration. But uncorking a bottle right now feels like a sacrilege – this wine has a long track record for aging gracefully, and the 2019 is energetic and poised enough to become the age-worthiest among recent vintages.

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