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ITALY:  TOSCANA

wpe2F.jpg (24160 bytes)If you ask most people to name a wine from Italy, they'll probably come up with "Chianti".    It's the quintessential Tuscan wine, to be sure, though, in terms of price and prestige, denominazione such as "Brunello di Montalcino", "Vino Nobile di Montepulciano" along with a category of proprietary wines, "Super Tuscans" (as they're called) far exceed the humble Chianti.

Chianti is, typically, a blended red wine.  The "Chianti" region covers territory in the Provinces of Florence, Siena, Arezzo, Pistoia and Pisa.  The predominant grape is the Sangiovese.   Other varieties play a minor role, the laws governing the production of Chianti having changed over the last decade or so. Originally, the laws called for Chianti to be a blend of Sangiovese, with another red variety called Canaiolo, along with Malvasia and Trebbiano (white grapes!) and perhaps some Malvasia Nera,  Colorino or Mammolo. 

 

 



Bound by tradition, it's only in the past ten or twenty years that we've seen real advances in the overall quality of red wines from Tuscany.   

Some producers thumbed their noses at the law.  "Let them come here, see my Trebbiano vines, taste my wine and tell me I'm doing something wrong," we were told by one winery owner many years ago.  This producer did not, of course, water down the Chianti with Trebbiano.    

Other estates would purchase Cabernet or Merlot and include this in their Chianti wine.  We've visited some producers and, after tasting, are not entirely certain the wines come from vineyards near the winery.  The name of Chianti and the chance to cash in with Super-Tuscan type wines is, apparently, an enticing opportunity for some.

The law has finally changed and producers are allowed a certain amount of flexibility in producing their wines.  Today a Chianti might be 100% Sangiovese.  While the law used to require Trebbiano and Malvasia at a minimum of 10%, today there's a maximum of 6% of these varieties.  Starting with the 2006 vintage, no white grapes will be allowed as part of a Chianti Classico wine.  There's also a 20% maximum of "other" varieties allowed and some estates use Syrah, Cabernet or Merlot to make their particular Chianti blend.  A traditional red grape of Chianti, the Canaiolo, is now limited to a 10% maximum.

But while the laws are wonderfully written in Italy, following them is something different altogether...right, Carlo?

We've heard allegations of shenanigans on the part of some producers.  And Italy does seem to have a wine scandal ongoing at all times.

We've heard about wine being shipped in bulk from Argentina to Spain and from Spain over to Tuscany where it suddenly takes on Italian "citizenship."  We've heard of wines from Sicilia, Puglia or Sardegna being used to "fortify" Tuscan wines (and other Northern reds, for that matter)...

There was a Tuscan producer whom we felt "counterfeited" his own wine!  He had a lovely Chianti and he used the same label for some wine we're certain was from elsewhere which he sold to a US chain store at a much lower price.  We purchased a bottle of the wine he sold to a chain store and compared it to the ones coming from a small importer...totally different wines!  The wine from the small importer was clearly "Chianti Classico," while the wine from the chain store was reminiscent of Antinori's little Santa Cristina wine...who knows what they put in there?

Many estates these days now make a "prestigious" bottling of some sort.  Sometimes it's from an old parcel of vines or it may be from their best vineyard site...a "reserve" quality wine.  This is all well and good, except that often times in doing so, a vintners "robs" their flagship wine of its foundation.  What a pity to make a tiny quantity of something at the expense of the wine for which the estate might have been famous.  

CHIANTI CLASSICO TODAY:
80% Minimum of  Sangiovese up to 100%
10% Maximum of Canaiolo
20% Maximum of "other" red grapes such as Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, etc.
White grapes will no longer be permitted starting with the 2006 harvest.

 

=SANGIOVESE= The predominant grape of Chianti, Sangiovese,  is influenced by the climate and terrain in which it is grown.  Sandier soils are said to cause the wines to be more floral in aroma.  Limestone terrain makes for a wine with a more intensely berryish quality.   Volcanic soils (tufo) are said to contribute an almost tobacco-like quality to Sangiovese. 


=GOVERNO=     This is an old method, not as common today as decades ago, where the winemaker would add some dried grapes (usually the variety was the Colorino) to the fermented or partially fermented Chianti.  This would add some strength to the Chianti.  It reminds me of the "ripasso" process used by producers of Amarone and Valpolicella in the Veneto.  I've read that Ruffino still employs the governo process, but can't confirm this at this moment.

=CHIANTI REGIONS=  You'll find wine labeled simply "Chianti", the most general designation, is often used for wines of modest alcohol or meant for immediate consumption.  It also might be used for Chianti made from grapes grown in two (or more) sub-zones.

Wines from a specific area, located between Florence and Siena, is entitled to the designation "Chianti Classico" if the wines meet certain standards.  There's a consortium which promotes the "Classico" wines, quite effectively.  

 


The "rest" of Chianti includes

bulletMontalbano (west of Florence and including the DOC of "Carmignano")
bulletColli Fiorentini (just north of the Classico zone around Florence)
bulletMontespertoli (actually located within the Colli Fiorentini)
bulletColli Senesi (a fragmented region near Siena and environs)
bullet Colli Aretini (near Arezzo)
bullet Colline Pisane (Pisa area)
bullet Colline Pistoiesi (near Pistoia, west of Florence, east of Lucca)
bulletRufina (a bit north and east of Florence).

There's another designation, just to keep you on your toes:
Chianti Superiore.  This is not produced within the Chianti Classico zone.  It will come from  Chianti vineyards within the provinces of Arezzo, Florence, Pisa, Pistoia, Prato and Siena.
If the wine is labeled as "Chianti Superiore," you will not find its particular denominazione, such as "Colli Senesi" or "Rufina," for example.  

For a Chianti Superiore, the wine must be at least 75% Sangiovese and have no more than 10% Canaiolo.  It may have as much as 10% white grapes (Trebbiano Toscano and/or Malvasia del Chianti).  There's also an allowance of 20% "other" varieties.  

 

=THE BLACK ROOSTER= The Consorzio of Chianti Classico, with gallonero.gif (3802 bytes)an historic black rooster symbol (called the Gallo Nero) has been effective in promoting the wines of its members.  However, not all the estates in the region continue membership with this group.  
At one time, Chianti Classico wines from Antinori, Ruffino, Isole e Olena and Monsanto (to name 4 prominent wineries) did not have the black rooster symbol on their bottles.  Today, though, you'll find the symbol on Chianti Classico wines, even if some estates begrudgingly use these labels.

This consorzio was sued, incidentally, by the Gallo Winery and lost the right to use the words "Gallo Nero" in publicizing the organization and its wines! 

Other Famous Tuscan Denominazione

BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO Using the "Brunello" clone of Sangiovese, these wines come from Montalcino, south of Chianti.  The aging requirements are changing, here, thankfully. Four years in wood was too long in most vintages for the production of exceptional quality wines.  The minimum was reduced to three-and-a-half years and now is, currently, two years in wood and four months in bottle.   High prices are normal and, sometimes, justified.  It takes an exceptional vintage to make good Brunello, so while we're usually not fans of vintage charts, if you're alone in the woods in buying Brunello, go by the book.  Or come see me.
Brunello producers, by the way, can add 17.6% of Brunello from another vintage to "correct" a wine.  
In April of 2008 a number of estates were under investigation for incorporating other, un-permitted varieties into their wines.  It seems a few producers were nailed for blending in non-permitted grape varieties (which they grew themselves in Montalcino).  Meanwhile, others allegedly had been blended with non-Italian wines...

A prominent enologist claimed that 80% of the wines sold as Brunello di Montalcino have or had been fortified with Montepulciano from Abruzzo.  
The new head of the Brunello di Montalcino Consorzio is quoted confirming this...
CARMIGNANO Wines of this small area have typically included a small percentage of Cabernet.
MONTECARLO Red and white wines made near Lucca.
MORELLINO di SCANSANO From near Grosseto near the coast, this red is sometimes referred to as baby Brunello, but I find these more similar to sturdy Chianti.  An area of improving quality, so worth keeping an eye out for these.  Many producers from other parts of Tuscany are investing in vineyards here.  
POMINO From the Rufina region of Chianti, reds are Sangiovese-based and usually have some Cabernet, while whites are Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay-based, watered down with some Trebbiano.
ROSSO di MONTALCINO A red wine from Montalcino, not subject to the minimum (extended) aging requirements for Brunello. 
VERNACCIA di SAN GIMIGNANO Made in the area surrounding the walled city of San Gimignano, the grape is Vernaccia.  Much improved over the past decade.
VIN SANTO

VIN SANTO DEL CHIANTI
VIN SANTO DEL CHIANTI CLASSICO
VIN SANTO DI MONTEPULCIANO
Made from Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes, typically, which are left on straw mats to dry.  The wine is aged in attic-top conditions in small barrels.   Typically the best are rather sweet and, often, a bit oxidized.  Got biscotti?
VINO NOBILE di MONTEPULCIANO Like the wines of Montalcino, this is made in southern Toscana.   The grape is Sangiovese, but takes the name Prugnolo Gentile. It's said by some the grapes are identical, while others tell you Prugnolo Gentile is but a "clone" of Sangiovese.   Some fine wines here and often a fair bit of tannin.  
SUPER-TUSCANS This category allows each winery to make a special wine without the traditional shackles of old-time rules and regulations. 
The first "table wine" of Tuscany was SASSICAIA, a Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc blend made in the western region of Bolgheri. 
Some producers make "Super-Tuscans" of Sangiovese, predominantly, while other wineries make wines exclusively of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.  There are now Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, Syrahs, Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Grigios coming from Tuscany. 
OTHER DENOMINAZIONE ANSONICA COSTA DELL'ARGENTARIO

BIANCO DELL'EMPOLESE

BIANCO DELLA VALDINIEVOLE

BIANCO DI PITIGLIANO

BIANCO PISANO DI SAN TORP

CANDIA DEI COLLI APUANI

CAPALBIO  

COLLINE LUCCHESI

CORTONA

ELBA

MONTEREGIO DI MASSA MARITTIMA

MONTESCUDAIO

ORCIA

PARRINA

SANT'ANTIMO

SOVANA

VAL D'ARBIA

VALDICHIANA

VAL DI CORNIA

 

Some Tuscan Wineries We Like:

 


PIANCORNELLO
This is a relatively new estate, founded in 1990 by Silvana Pieri.  The property comprises just 10 hectares of vineyards and they're only making about 20,000 bottles annually.  

The first wines we've tasted have been marvelous.  

We had an amazingly good 2002 Rosso di Montalcino.  Obviously, they declassified their Brunello to produce this wine, though a small amount of the heavy-hitter was made in this difficult vintage.  

We view most "Rosso di Montalcino" wines as anything but "baby" Brunello and few are, frankly, as interesting as really good Chianti wine.  Piancornello, on the other hand, makes a dynamite Rosso di Montalcino and it's not baby Brunello but it is as good as really fine Chianti Classico wine.    The 2009 is stellar and it's really nice to see a customer buy a bottle one day and return soon afterwards for more bottles.  The wine shows a nicely woodsy character along with good cherryish Sangiovese.
 



The 2007 comes from a nicely warm vintage and it shows a woodsy character and dark cherry fruit...the wine is very drinkable now, in its youth, and it probably will cellar well for another 5 to 10 years.  Most customers enjoy it in its youth, though and the wine is very showy with a nice grilled steak or roasted rack of lamb.
Claudio Monaci in his cellar in 2005...

 

 
 

Currently in stock:  
2006 PIANCORNELLO Brunello di Montalcino  SALE $49.99 (last bottles)
2007 PIANCORNELLO Brunello di Montalcino SALE $49.99
2009 PIANCORNELLO Rosso di Montalcino Sold Out


Claudio's Dad, Claudio and Claudio's Zia (aunt)...


In the cellar...Piancornello is matured both in large cooperage and small French oak.


A bottle of 2004 Brunello was handsomely paired with roasted rabbit and Tuscan white beans.



FATTORIA DI FELSINA
felsina.gif (6098 bytes)This property is, without a doubt, one of the top Tuscan wineries.  Managed by Giuseppe Mazzocolin, Felsina's wines have been amongst the top Chianti wines for more than a decade.  Not only is their Chianti Classico a top wine, but the special "riserva" called "Rancia" is outstanding.  As if this weren't enough, Mazzocolin makes a Super-Tuscan, but this is not "tainted" with Cabernet or Merlot.  
 
The estate comprises about 122 hectares of vines and they make about 450,000 bottles annually.  Sangiovese is the focus here, though they do make Cabernet and Pinot Nero along with a simple Tuscan white and some Vin Santo.  

I was pleasantly surprised when we visited the estate...the dedication to "Chianti" and "Sangiovese" is remarkable.  You might think this is not unusual, but when so many estates are hell-bent to get high scores from wine writers who measure "size" and power above everything else, finding pure Sangiovese is a delight.


In the cellars at Felsina...very traditional!


Lots of Tuscan vintners use this 'system' to keep their barrels and botte filled to the top with wine.


More modern conditions are found in their cellar full of barriques.

 

The basic Chianti Classico from Felsina is routinely a good bottle of wine.  It's entirely Sangiovese and offers the snappy structure of good Sangiovese.  It's a medium-bodied wine...not heavy or woody.  2007 is the current release...a mighty good vintage, drinkable now and we suspect it will develop a bit more over the next couple of years in bottle...

They have a couple of reserve-level Chianti wines.  The basic Riserva is entirely Sangiovese and spends more than a year in Slavonian oak and French oak barriques.  The "Cru Rancia" Riserva is also 100% Sangiovese, but this seems to have some of the same elements as the regular Reserva, but with the 'volume' cranked up all the way.  It's got a bit more wood and shows more brown spice notes.  There's also a mildly floral aspect to the Sangiovese.  The 2006 is delicious now and I suspect it will mature nicely for another 5 to 8 years.


Fontalloro is a magnificent Sangiovese which truly deserves the designation "Super Tuscan."  It is, for our tastes, routinely "super."  The wine comes from three vineyard sites.  One is, in fact, called Fontalloro and it lies within the Chianti Classico area.  The other two sites, Casalino and Arcidossino, are situated within the Chianti Colli Senesi denominazione.  The wine is 100% Sangiovese and is matured, typically, for about a year and a half in French oak.  Yet they seem to have a fine hand in making this wine, since the oak is always detectable, but it's not center stage.  The star of the show is definitely the Sangiovese.  We currently have the 2005 and it's delicious.

 

Maestro Raro is a wine made of Cabernet Sauvignon.

We've usually been a bit critical of Tuscan vintners who are suddenly embracing international varieties, especially when this is at the expense of their own local grapes.  
Sure, Sassicaia used to be a grand wine...Ornellaia IS a terrific, if expensive bottle.  Does the world need more Cabernet and/or Merlot?  

I had not tasted the Felsina Cabernet in a while and on a whim I bought a bottle of the 2006.  
I may have to rethink my position on this.

Felsina's Cabernet Sauvignon production began when they grafted Cabernet on to existing vines of Sangiovese, Trebbiano and Malvasia.  The wine spends about a year and a half in oak and the 2006 is phenomenal.  It is medium-full bodied on the palate, has a fantastic nose and is beautifully drinkable now with food.

The 2006 Maestro Raro can be cellared, too, if you like, but pairing it with some grilled steaks or a prime rib roast (as we did) allows the wine to really shine.  It may be compared to any of the famous wines of Bolgheri, not to mention (but I will anyway) Napa or Bordeaux. 

We recently purchased a library bottle of 1999 Fontalloro...what a grand bottle this was!
The nose was very complex and showing some earthy notes, maybe a touch of mushroom and some black cherry fruit.  There was a nicely woodsy tone, too.  Medium-bodied...still a little bit of astringency, too.

Very fine!


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vin Santo is exceptional.  It's Malvasia and Trebbiano with 20% Sangiovese...aged for something like seven years, this shows nutty and apricot-like notes.  It's sweet, but not sticky...very fine.


Currently available:  2007 Chianti Classico $23.99 (750ml)
2007 Chianti Classico $12.99 (375ml)
2006 Chianti Classico Riserva $28.99
2007 Chianti Classico Riserva "Rancia" $47.99 (750ml)
2006 Chianti Classico Riserva "Rancia" $99.99 (magnum)
1999 Fontalloro  SALE   $99.99
2006 Maestro Raro (Cabernet Sauvignon) List $55  Sold Out
VIN SANTO  Sale $39.99 (375ml)

 

 

 

TENUTA DI GRACCIANO della Seta
North of the city of Montepulciano is a town called Gracciano and it's said to be a prime site for the Prugnolo Gentile grape.  Of course, every vineyard owner will tell you the sun shines brightest on their little slice of heaven.

This winery was originally the Cantine Svetoni and they catapulted to fame and fortune in the 1860s when their wine garnered a medal at some international wine judging in Torino.  At the very least, it put the place on the map.

The della Seta Ferrari Corbelli family bought the property in the early 1900s and they continue to make wine and rent a room or two at their agriturismo in Gracciano.

We've tasted their wines over the years...and these are usually of modest interest.

Recently we had a look at their new vintages and can say there's been a measure of improvement.  

The Rosso di Montepulciano is perhaps the star of the line-up.  We found the Vino Nobile to be perfectly standard and the Riserva bottling, while having nice oak, also was a bit troubled by some Brettanomyces (this is wine-speak for having some aromas along the lines of a leather note).  The Rosso, however, spends less than a year in wood (French cooperage and Slavonian oak).  It's quite charming and brightly cherryish, with the Sangiovese showing nicely here.  The wine is medium-light bodied and dry...perfectly ready to drink and quite satisfying with a Bolognese-sauced pasta or some grilled sausages.

Currently in stock:  2010 TENUTA DI GRACCIANO Rosso di Montepulciano  SALE $13.99
 


 

 


ISOLE E OLENA
isole.gif (10774 bytes)Paolo de Marchi is "Mister Chianti", a dedicated winemaker who is passionate about making honest-to-goodness "Chianti".  The property is in the northern part of the "Classico" zone and "Isole" is a good name for this isolated vineyard.  They used to sell the production in bulk, but today, for the most part, bottle their estate grown wines.  

Chianti Classico is outstanding and usually highly regarded, especially by those who appreciate Chianti.  De Marchi does not make a "Riserva", for example, but offers a wine called "Cepparello", a Super-Tuscan made entirely of Sangiovese and matured in French oak. 


Paolo also produces a Cabernet, Chardonnay and Syrah of note.  Our understanding of the white wine production is that he had purchased Cabernet vines from a nursery.  After some years, the vines produced some fruit, but the grapes maintained their greenish color well into August.  Paolo became concerned that there was something wrong and, after some investigation, found there had been an error in the shipment and his "Cabernet" vines were, in fact, Chardonnay! 
 

Recently installed wooden fermentation tanks...
 

Wine which will become "Chianti Classico" with the proper aging.

The Chianti Classico sometimes includes a bit of Syrah and the wine can be marvelously cherryish in fruit with a hint of a spicy note.   We skipped a few vintages, though.  We tasted some bottles of 2004 and they just didn't seem right...and then we later found out there was significant variation, supposedly, in the bottlings that vintage.  We skipped it.  The 2005 seemed a bit diluted and less of a wine than we have come to expect.  The 2006, though, seems to be back on track and showing nicely.  Medium-bodied, cherries and a touch of a brushy note....drinkable now and it ought to cellar well for some years.  The current release is from the 2009 harvest...definitely a good bottle of Chianti...medium+ bodied and nicely cherryish with no harsh edges...even smoother with good food.



wpe4D.jpg (12145 bytes)

 
 
 


Cepparello comes from some older vines on the Isole e Olena property and is a special selection.  French oak aged.  A few bottles of 2005 and 2006 are in stock for the moment.  This is a super wine and it's a stellar example of a Super Tuscan which is worthy of the designation, especially the 2006.

Syrah is highly-regarded in Italy and for good reason:  the wine is comparable to good Rhône Valley wines.  Not many bottles of this arrive in California.  We don't have one presently, though.

The 2008 Chardonnay is a delight.  Our late colleague Bob Gorman said it's different from many Italian Chardonnays in that it "tastes Tuscan and it tastes like Isole e Olena."   We find the 2008 to be mildly oaked and showing some spice and pineapple-like notes.  It's a medium-full bodied wine...quite good.  Seafood pasta?  Risotto with shellfish, perhaps?   


Vin Santo is exceptional here.  It is quite sweet, because they actually pay attention to drying the grapes and pressing out the juice at just the right moment.   It is not inexpensive, but compared to other top producers, quite fairly priced.
Currently available:  2009 Chianti Classico (list $26) SALE $21.99 (750ml)
2007 Chianti Classico (375ml)  $13.99
2005 Cepparello (list $70)  SALE $59.99
2006 Ceparello Sale $59.99
2008 Chardonnay $36.99
2001 Syrah Sold Out
Vin Santo (half bottles) List $60  SALE  $51.99 


 

ARGIANO

The Argiano winery is owned by a member of the Marone-Cinzano family and has been run by the Countess Noemi since the early 1990s.  
I gather her brother runs the Col d'Orcia estate, another famous Montalcino winery.  And he was the president of the Montalcino consorzio until a few years ago.

When Noemi Marone-Cinzano took over this property, she hired the famous Giacomo Tachis, he of Antinori winemaking fame and acclaim, to consult for Argiano.  She also engaged the services of a young fellow whose uncle owned the Tenuta San Guido, producer of the Bolgheri red wine, Sassicaia.

The winery has made some good, solid wines over the years.  They took a bit of flak recently when the government was investigating whether or not their "Brunello di Montalcino" wine was, in fact, made entirely of Sangiovese or Brunello from the Montalcino region.  They were not alone in being investigated and finally they said, out of economic necessity, they needed to sell the wine and so Argiano came out with the wine under a different denominazione.  The wine was sold as an IGT appellation bottling.

The winemaker is a fellow with an interesting and complex background.  He's Hans Vinding-Diers of Danish heritage, though he was born in South Africa and spent a lot of time in Bordeaux at a modest chateau owned by his family.  Vinding-Diers is a proponent of biodynamic viticulture, though they don't make a big deal about this in selling Argiano wines.

He's got a nice touch with the Argiano wines and we've been fans of their Brunello for many years.

The 2003 was a nice Brunello...probably not a long-lived wine, though.  The 2004 was a bit more structured and cellar-worthy. The 2005 was soft upon release and quite attractive for the short-term.

We recently tasted the 2006 and were pleasantly surprised to find such a substantial wine.  It's a medium-full-bodied red wine with red fruit aromas and hints of black cherries.  There's a mildly cedary undertone to the wine and it's quite drinkable now, despite its youth.  If you're grilling a bistecca Fiorentina or a simple rib-eye, this is a showy wine to put on the dinner table, especially set up by a light, non-oaked white wine.

Currently in stock:  2006 ARGIANO Brunello di Montalcino  (List $65) SALE $55.99


Some old, crusty bottles in the deep, dark cellar.


Old labels on old vintages.
Young tour guide, though.


 

 

SASSOTONDO

We've tasted the red wines from this obscure little property in Tuscany for a number of years and have long wanted to visit to see if it's a serious producer of good wines or if it's some big industrial wine factory.

The owners are Carla Benini and Edoardo Ventimiglia.  She's from Trento and he's from Rome.  Her background was in agriculture and his in film (his grandpa worked as a camera-man for famous film-maker Alfredo Hitchcock).  

They found this abandoned property in 1990 and began restoring the fixer-upper house and the fixer-upper land, planting vineyards of Sangiovese, Ciliegiolo, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Trebbiano and Greco.

Today there are 10 hectares of vineyards scattered around the winery amongst the 72 hectares which comprise the property.  You're virtually in the middle of nowhere, but you're just three kilometers (by foot) from the town of Sovana and 5 from Pitigliano.  You're 2 and a half hours' drive from Florence, 2 hours from Siena and an hour and a half south of Montalcino.

The volcanic sandstone terroir of the region puts its mark on the wines.  And while Sangiovese does nicely here, the Ciliegiolo grape is even more at home in this remote Tuscan outpost.

Ciliegiolo?

The name translates to "cherry" and wines made from this variety do have a cherry-like quality to them.  Sangiovese, however, also is often described as showing a cherry note.  The scientific community is at odds here, some claiming Ciliegiolo is a parent or elder relative to Sangiovese, while others say Sangiovese is likely the parent, with Ciliegiolo being some sort of offspring.  

The 1997 harvest was the couple's first vintage and they've been slowly increasing production and the wines have been good from the outset and you can say, I think, they're even getting better.


The winery is dug into the sandstone hill...you enter and see these stainless steel fermentation and blending tanks and there's a long tunnel leading to another cool, more humid cellar well underground.
 
 
I really should ask people to pose for a photo, shouldn't I?
 

 
 
The Official Winery Dog:

A bottle of Tuforosso served at cool cellar temperature is a perfect match for this sort of food, as
Carla and Eduardo so capably demonstrated.
 

We have the 2011 Tuforosso in stock.  Much like previous vintages, this wine is a medium-bodied red with lots of "Tuscan" Sangiovese character.  It should.  After all, it's usually 85-90% Sangiovese and the rest is the lovely Ciliegiolo.  The wine is usually bottled in the early Spring while it's fresh...

Currently in stock:  2011 TUFOROSSO  SALE PRICE $10.99

 

One of the official Winery Cats.

 


VECCHIE TERRE di MONTEFILI

This little estate is located about a ten minute drive west of Greve in Chianti.  It's a bit isolated, but the property is beautiful and it seems to be ideally situated for producing great Chianti.

I visited here many years ago, traveling with a California winemaker who was interested in learning more about Italian varietals.  The wines of Vecchie Terre di Montefili were well-regarded, but production was very small at the time and the wines were much sought-after.  We tasted good wines, but had no chance to buy these since they were rather fashionable.

Now I'm amused that so many years later the estate is still making some excellent wines and, now that the novelty has worn off,  this terrific Chianti is available at a very attractive price.

The property goes back hundreds of years and it was, back around 1200, part of the Badia di Passignano (a label owned today by the Antinori family).  Montefili is today owned by the Acuti family, who purchased the estate in 1979.   Their home was in Prato and I suspect this was to be the weekend "get-away" retreat.  Instead, it's turned into a modest-sized business with a world-wide reputation!

They have about 13.5 hectares of vines and make something close to 65,000 bottles annually.  Winemaker Tommaso Paglione (he's the husband of Maria Acuti) says they're working towards biodynamic farming.

Critics tend to be wowed by their proprietary wine called Bruno di Rocca, a Cabernet blended with Sangiovese.  It's usually a rather handsome wine.  Anfiteatro is a French oak-aged wine of Sangiovese.  They make a curious white, blending Chardonnay with Sauvignon Blanc and a small percentage of Gewürztraminer.  

But we love Toscana for its Chianti wines and this is a good one!  It's entirely Sangiovese with NO Cabernet Sauvignon and NO Merlot.  ((I periodically say to producers from Tuscany who blend Bordeaux varieties into their Chianti, "You know, I've never heard from a Bordeaux vintner "We blend a small amount of Sangiovese into our Pauillac..."))  

The 2004 Vecchie Terre di Montefili Chianti Classico is just that, "classic."  If you're a fan of typically-Italian wines, please put a bottle of this on your dinner table soon!  It's offered at a great price and it's a wonderful cherryish, snappy version of Chianti.  The wine is medium-bodied and nicely balanced for immediate drinking, yet we think it has 5 to 8 years of good cellaring potential.  Pair it with grilled or roasted meats, if you like, or a savory roasted chicken.  Impressive!

Currently in stock:  2004 VECCHIE TERRE di MONTEFILI Sold Out


Tommaso Paglione shows off their fermentation cellar.


The large Slavonian oak cask in the background is used to mature the Chianti Classico.


The old label and today's design.


Maria Acuti and Tommaso Paglione

 



 
ANTINORI
antinori.gif (6903 bytes)The Antinori family have a number of wineries in Italy, not to mention concerns in other parts of the world.  Buying a bottle of Antinori wine is rather like purchasing a Robert Mondavi wine--even if the wine is not extraordinary, it is, at the very least, a well-made product and of sound quality.  
 
 

The Antinori family is probably not proud of having offered wine with their name on it in a "fish" bottle. 
No...we do not have this available for sale.
Don't even ask.


 

The Antinori's have discontinued their basic "Chianti Classico," feeling that the name Antinori is, apparently, more of a guarantee of quality than the designation "Chianti Classico."  This will be interesting!  

Will Antinori customers continue to buy Antinori or will they migrate to other Chianti Classico producers?  Tuscan wine industry people are watching this development with great interest.  

Many contend that Antinori is unwilling to pay the price for good quality Sangiovese in the Chianti Classico zone.  Antinori was quoted in a San Francisco Chronicle article as saying the quality of fruit available on the grape market is not especially good.  

(We heard recently that their contract with a good grower had expired recently and this precipitated the Antinori's decision to make this change).  Time will tell on this issue, but it is a bit sad to see the names Antinori and Chianti Classico not as married as they once were!

We tasted first vintages of their Chianti-replacement and found it to be as good as Antinori's recent Chianti Classico vintages.  This is not a bad wine, but it's not Sangiovese at its zenith, either.  That may be due to all the other grape varieties included in the blend.   It's got 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 5% Syrah.  The 2008 is pretty much the same, despite the wildly different vintage conditions.  It's a lovely red wine, more "modern" in style and less easy to identify as a Tuscan red.



wpe22.jpg (3866 bytes)"Solaia" is the Antinori's version of their cousin's "Sassicaia", a Cabernet-based red which in some vintages rivals the best of Bordeaux and California. The wine has been of superlative quality for many years.  In December of 2000 an influential American wine publication tabbed Solaia as its top wine (most "exciting" wine, actually).   This is good news for the Antinori family, but bad news for wine drinkers.   After that,  everybody and his cousin (not to mention the Aunt and Uncle) wants Solaia.   Prices have doubled as those who actually have some bottles ask a fortune for this newly-minted "gold coin."    What used to be merely hard-to-get is now some sort of ultra status symbol, as well as being a "mere" bottle of wine.  

There's an interesting publication in Europe called "Il Mio Vino."  I've seen it in Italian (of course) and in German.  Each issue features the "debunking" of a high-priced, highly-regarded wine.  One issue I picked up in the Spring of 2007 chose to spotlight Solaia 2003 in their "Grande Delusione" series.  My command of Italian is not perfect, but I found I agreed with many of their descriptions of the wine (lots of vanilla, oak, moderately tannic...) but those adjectives are why I like the wine.  At the end of their article, they claimed to have tasted Solaia alongside an inexpensive bottle of Bordeaux, one costing less than 10% the price of a bottle of Antinori's wine.  They claimed the Bordeaux was better.

*************

Vin Santo is also quite good here.  

Though not a Tuscan wine, but from neighboring Umbria, we wish to point out their "Cervaro della Sala", a barrel-fermented blend of Chardonnay and Grechetto which is one of the best Italian white wines.  Experiments with Pinot Noir have yet to hit the mark, but their Umbrian dessert wine called Muffato is outstanding.

antinori's_brunello.gif (16404 bytes)Never say Piero Antinori is late for the train.  He's one of the few Chianti producers to also have a property in Montalcino called "Pian delle Vigne."  A recent acquisition, this is situated nearly four miles south of Montalcino.  And there is a small train station on the property!  The first vintage was the fine 1995.  Medium-bodied, Bob found this to be quite to his taste.   I think it's a pretty good start, but will venture to guess succeeding vintages will be even better as the Antinori winemakers become more familiar with the viticulture and winemaking in this region.  The 1998 vintage is quite nice, one I'd put in the same "very good" category as previous vintages.  You can drink it now, if you like, and it ought to cellar well for a few more years.  The 2001 is their current offering.  I find it acceptable, but not as fine as other Brunello wines we have from 2001.  We can special order this for you, if you like.

Pèppoli is an estate which Antinori acquired in 1985.  It's in the Chianti Classico area with vineyards facing east-northeast.   Pèppoli is made in a more fruity style than the Riserva or Tenute Marchese Antinori Chiantis.  This may be the best vintage of Pèppoli  to date...pretty nice, actually.  They add a bit of Merlot and Syrah to the Sangiovese and it's not made to be aged, but to be consumed when purchased.
Currently available: 
2009 Villa Antinori Toscana Rosso (Chianti Replacement) List $24 SALE $18.99
2006 Tenute Marchese (List $40) SALE $34.99 
2004 Passignano Riserva Sale $42.99
Pèppoli Chianti Classico (List $25) 21.99 (sale)
2006 Tignanello 750ml  SALE $89.99
1998 Pian delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino  Sold Out
1998 Guado al Tasso $99.99 (only a bottle or two remain)
1999 Guado al Tasso $85.99
Vin Santo (list $35) SALE $33.99  (500ml)
Aleatico (sweet dessert wine) No Longer being imported...
Muffato della Sala  $44.99 (500ml)

2010 CERVARO della SALA (Chardonnay/Grechetto blend from Umbria) (List $55)  
SALE
$49.99
 


A vineyard site Antinori was to plant...
The piles of rocks will be scattered throughout the vineyard allowing for reflective heat for the vines, fewer weeds and they can show visitors what a wonderfully rocky "terroir" they have.
I will post an "after" photo when I next visit Toscana.

                   


 

UCCELLIERA

The story of this little property starts in the mid-1980s when, after working for Mastrojanni and Ciacci Piccolomini, Andrea Cortonesi was able to buy a couple of hectares of vineyards in the area of Castelnuovo dell'Abate.

Cortonesi now has 4 hectares of his own and rents two more.  The winery is fairly new and additional construction was in progress as we visited in May of 2010.

We've been fans for many years as this fellow produces good wines with a modern touch, yet showing respect for the Sangiovese or Brunello.  We even had a 2002 Brunello, which Cortonesi sold for 'small money' and yet it was a remarkably good wine and customers were happy.
The wines have been getting good reviews from various critical publications and this has increased the demand for the small production.  :(


Brunello is vinified in stainless steel tanks and then matured in both large botti and barriques.   Cortonesi prefers to do a cold soak or pre-fermentation maceration, saying this retains more bright fruit on the nose and contributes a measure of intensity to the color.  He likes to keep SO2 levels low and indigenous yeasts are used.  
 


We appreciate this fellow's approach to wine.  He's serious about attention to detail in the vineyards and the cellar seems to be a place to validate the vineyard work.  
 


We currently have a 2005 Brunello di Montalcino from Uccelliera...we like the charm of the wine, as it is quite approachable now and it will continue to develop and gain complexity with bottle aging.  The wine offers a dark cherry fruit tone of Sangiovese and there's a light touch of wood framing it.  

There's a good Rosso di Montalcino here, though we're bigger fans of the IGT wine called Rapace, a Sangiovese fortified with Cabernet and Merlot.  
 

 

 

Currently in stock:  2005 UCCELLIERA BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO  Sale $59.99








LA GERLA

This small estate in Montalcino has periodically made some pretty nice Sangiovese wines.  The vineyards had been owned, apparently, by Biondi-Santi. Perhaps the Biondi-Santi people didn't like the fruit from this vineyard because the wines one can make here ARE drinkable during one's lifetime (Biondi-Santi wines are of such high acidity, they are difficult to appreciate in their youth and, sometimes, even for a generation or two or three after!).   

Sergio Rossi had been working in the advertising business before trading his briefcase for a wine barrel.  The estate was purchased in 1976 and the cellar is in the Canalicchio area...northern Montalcino.  But they get fruit from Mercatale and Castelnuovo dell'Abate.
 


Vittorio Fiore is the consulting winemaker.  He's been on board since the beginning.  The wines seem to be made without catering to current fashions and a healthy respect for tradition.  You'll rarely find La Gerla at the top of some wine critic's numerically-scored list of Brunello wines, though they're well on the radar of most Tuscan wine drinkers.

The cellar features large wood as well as small French oak.  Typically the Brunello spends three years in large Slavonian oak.  There's a single vineyard bottling of Brunello called "Vigna gli Angeli" as well as a Rosso di Montalcino and an IGT wine.

A favorite wine from La Gerla has been a French oak-aged proprietary red they called "Birba."  The Italian word for "scoundrel" is "Birba," so I suppose this is Rossi's little joke, though he's certainly neither a scoundrel nor a scallywag.  The wine is entirely Sangiovese from vineyards which could produce "Brunello di Montalcino."  Birba is matured for a shorter period of time and in smaller cooperage, a portion of which is new.  The small size of cooperage means the wine develops more quickly. 

The 2004 Brunello is very fine.  I found typically cherry notes of Sangiovese on the nose, deeper than Chianti, for example.  The wine is medium-full on the palate and with a mouth-drying bit of tannin at this early stage.  It is certainly a wine you might open now, though it's really going to be more interesting with a few years of cellaring.  I read one review of this vintage where the wine was described using adjectives such as "milk chocolate and fudge."  That's not the wine I've tasted...this is meant for adult palates.


Currently in stock: 
2004 BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO  Sold Out


The estate's manager, Alberto Passeri.


 


 

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