More Tuscan Wines
- CA' MARCANDA
- Some years
ago the famous Piemontese wine mogul, Angelo Gaja, ventured into
"foreign" turf in expanding his wine empire.
He purchased a couple of vineyards in the far-away region of
Having spent money elsewhere in Piemonte, Gaja set his sights on Toscana and
purchased a Montalcino estate neighboring that of his favorite Brunello
producer. And Gaja also moved into the neighborhood of the
"aia's" near Bolgheri on the Tuscan coast. The "aia's"
would be "Sassicaia" and "Ornellaia."
- I first visited the region shortly after Gaja started to construct a
winery. Not much there at the time.
But, my, how things have changed!
I ventured out to see the estate on a bright, clear spring
morning. "Now I know where all the money we've spent on
Barbaresco have gone!" I mentioned to Signor Gaja.
"No," he said, "really, my wallet is not full of money...I
spent a lot to build the Ca' Marcanda facility. You have helped
and are responsible for maybe a corner of the winery!"
Here's a view from atop some of the facility...a portion of the cellar
is "under ground."
- Art work is displayed all around the winery.
Here's some wood that's not being used for barrels.
This is my kind of "art work."
- Gaja and his architect, Giovanni Bo, built what looks like a
mass./mess of train tracks. I don't know if grappa was
involved in drawing up this "design," but a bottle of such a
distillate would explain a lot.
Fire extinguishers on the lawn were also perplexing.
Here's another sculpture.
This was, for me, the sort of "art work" which makes the most
- There are three wines being produced presently.
The entry level wine is called "Promis," because they see a
lot of promise in the wine from this region. It's typically 55%
Merlot, 35% Syrah and 10% of some curious grape called
"Sangiovese." We tasted the 2004 on my visit and the
wine is was very nice. So's the 2005, just released...It displays red fruits and a bit of
cinnamon. Promis is not a heavy or profound red wine. In Italy
24. Here Promis is supposed to sell for about $52. We
have a few bottles in the shop and have shaved the price to encourage
customers to try it.
- The "middle" tier red is called "Magari," a term
Italians use when saying "Maybe" or "we hope
so." Gaja's Magari is half Merlot and one-quarter of Cabernet
Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. This wine is a major step up and very
close in quality to their top-of-the-line "Ca' Marcanda"
red. The wine opens nicely with a bit of aeration and displays
some brown spice tones. Medium-bodied. Elegant. We
usually have a few bottles in the bin.
- The Ca' Marcanda wine is a much smaller production, so "scarcity
tax" comers into play. This wine is half Merlot and 40%
Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc. The wine spends about 18
months in barriques and then gets a year of bottle aging. It's a
lovely wine but sells in the U.S. for a premium, of course. Not
quite as costly, though, as Sassicaia.
Currently in stock: 2004 CA' MARCANDA "Ca' Marcanda" (list
$165) SALE $149.99
2004 CA' MARCANDA "Magari" (List $65) SALE
2005 CA' MARCANDA "Promis" (List $52) Sold
- We have
tasted various vintages of wines from the Le Bocce estate over the years and
the wines have typically been of good quality. It's a vineyard and
winery owned by the family of Stefano Farina, which has holdings in a few
other regions of Italy.
The family's story begins just before World War II where Farina and his wife
ran a small dining spot in the town of Erba (Lombardia, about an hour drive
north of Milano these days).
One of their three sons was enthralled with wine and enrolled at the wine
school in Piemonte's Alba, a major hub of Nebbiolo winemaking. As he
studied enology, he became enamored with Piemonte and by the 1970s the
Farina family purchased a small estate in the barolo town of La Morra.
That's winery Number One. With a bit of success there, the acquisition
of a Tuscan estate was next and this is where Le Bocce's story begins.
They now make some wine in Southern Italy, too.
They are not viewed as being a particularly upscale brand as some people may
find the winery too big and not precisely an "artisan"
operation. Yet production isn't huge. That's okay...we're
looking for good wine that's offered at a sensible price and this is what
you will find with the Le Bocce wines.
The wine is a 'classic' style...it's not beefed-up with Cabernet, Merlot or
Syrah, nor is it a wine showing much in the way of wood. As a
result, the basic Chianti Classico is typically overlooked by many of the
influential critics who write about wine.
Typically Le Bocce Chianti is a rather standard blend, with Sangiovese
predominating along with a bit of Canaiolo, maybe 5 percent. It used
to have Malvasia and Trebbiano, but while those used to be mandatory, today
they are not permitted to be part of the blend.
We routinely make a point of tasting the Le Bocce wines when we are in Italy
and these are solid options. We carry their basic Chianti Classico as
we like to have a good example of that designation at an affordable,
everyday price. We sale-tag it to be able to introduce customers to
Chianti in hopes they will want to explore other, more expensive
In chatting with a local importer, we were discussing the various levels of
Chianti Classico wines and the new, more expensive "Gran
Selezione" wines. Our point of view was this new designation is
intended to create a more costly wine, even if these are not always matching
the quality one might expect. The importer agreed and was willing to
admit he has not tasted anything that's worth its price.
A while later we remembered tasting Le Bocce's Gran Selezione and finding it
to actually be pretty good. And it's not stupidly priced, though the
local importer doesn't bring it in presently.
The aromas are deep and show dark cherry notes and a mildly dusty
note. On the palate, this is medium-bodied, with but a mild bit of
tannin. That, of course, smooths out when paired with savory foods.
It's from the 2014 vintage, a challenging growing season to be sure.
It's the sort of wine you can enjoy with a meat-sauced pasta or a good
pizza, but it's not sufficiently complex to have it paired with a bistecca,
The wine is matured in large, traditional botti.
- "We're not in the business of selling vanilla. We
sell Sangiovese here."
This 2014 is nice now, especially if you can give it an hour in a
decanter. It's a
medium-bodied Chianti, well-suited to tomato-sauced dishes thanks to its
snappy acidity. It will cellar nicely for several more years...not a
big, complicated wine and not one fortified with Cabernet or Merlot to
make it taste "familiar" to newcomers to Chianti. Instead
they add about 5% of Canaiolo, a local grape which is traditionally
blended with Sangiovese.
Currently in stock: 2014 LE BOCCE CHIANTI CLASSICO SALE
- This is
a leading estate in the history of the Maremma wine region in
Ezio Mantellassi began his personal crusade for the wine from this part of
Tuscan, an obscure outpost, certainly, back in the late 1950s. The
family had made wine for decades, having moved to the region back in the
late 1800s, but selling it was an entirely different issue. Nobody
wanted this wine.
Mantellassi had given the name of the wine as "Morellino" and he
had more success selling his products to Swiss and German merchants than he
did in convincing the locals to buy the wine. Of course, today this is
ironic, since producers of fine Chianti, Vino Nobile and Brunello now are
owners of vineyards and wineries in the Maremma area!
It's a good drive from Florence to the Maremma. You'll put about 200
kilometers on your car. Even if you don't have kids in the car to sing
out "Are we there yet?!?!," you'll be wondering the same
A local importer brings in some of Mantellassi's wine. A simple
Sangiovese featuring a photo of some guys you'll see in virtually every
little village in Italy. I don't care whether you're in Piemonte or
Toscana, you'll see a bench someplace which has a group of old guys sitting
on it. They may be discussing their latest meal or the wine they
tasted the other day, the latest soccer match or how the government is
really mucking up the world.
I can assure you they are not debating
the numerical point scores of Robert Parker or The Wine Spectator.
Life's too short for crap like that.
- The wine called "Maritma" comes from the 2017 vintage. And
what a delicious and satisfying bottle this is, especially when you consider
it set you back seven dollars and forty-nine cents. Medium ruby in
color, the fruit fragrances are of dark cherries. No oak. I find
it a shade smoother than our simple Chianti wines, but your mileage may vary
depending upon what foods it's paired with.
- Currently in stock: 2017 "MARITMA" SANGIOVESE $8.99
They DO make some wood-aged wines, but Maritma is not one of them!
Chianti and there's Chianti...but actually, the most famous wine bearing
the Chianti name is that of Chianti Classico.
You'll typically see the Black Rooster designation on bottles of Classico
and many consumers have been led to believe this is a sign of quality when
you're looking for the best Chianti.
One of the large Chianti companies is that called Ruffino and they make
quite a range of Chianti wines, Classico and otherwise.
So you might understand the confusion when trying to explain to someone
about the virtues of Chianti from the Rufina area. If they look for
the Gallo Nero (Black Rooster) symbol, it's not there. And
they might wonder why "Ruffino" is misspelled as Rufina.
Let's explain a bit about Chianti Rufina.
This is a smallish region east and a bit north of Florence. It's
about 20 kilometers from Firenze to the town of Rufina.
The microclimate of Rufina is different from other Chianti
sites. It's close to Tuscany's border with Emilia-Romagna and the
vineyards are often fairly high, resulting in a good swing from warm
daytime temperatures during the growing season to low night-time
temps. This results in wines with high acidity and the grapes
typically have longer hang-time.
The Frescobaldi family owns a significant percentage of the Rufina region
and they produce some good wines there.
One of the best of the smaller estates is Fattoria Selvapiana owned by the
Giuntini family. The property was basically a watchtower to protect
Florence. In the early 1800s it was acquired by Michele Giuntini.
These days it's owned by Francesco Giuntini Antinori (yes, he's related to
the royal Tuscan Antinori family) and run by his adopted "kids"
Federico and Silvia.
- The Chianti Rufina wines from Selvapiana are quite traditional in style
as they don't blend in any international grape varieties, preferring to
allow the Sangiovese take center stage. These also have a fairly
lengthy period of skin maceration which contributes a modest level of
tannin, another factor (along with elevated acidity) in producing
Federico explains the layout of the vineyards for the Selvapiana wines.
The vinification cellar features temperature-controlled, stainless steel
Having just racked wine out of wood, the cellar crew was washing the cooperage
before refilling each barrel.
They have a variety of cooperage, from small barriques to tonneaux.
And you'll find some large wooden vats, too.
Vin Santo is another specialty of Selvapiana.
They have many bottles of old vintages in the cellar.
The Selvapiana Chianti Rufina is comprised of about 95%
Sangiovese with the balance split between the traditional grapes of Colorino,
Canaiolo and Malvasia Nera. With a 25 day maceration, the wine is racked
into 15 to 25 hectoliter vats for about ten months. With its naturally
high acidity, this is a palate-cleansing red that can repay cellaring.
We tasted a 1980 Selvapiana Chianti which was made in a completely different
style. The maceration period was shorter, maybe 15 days and the wine spent
about seven years in wood. It had not undergone the customary malolactic
fermentation curiously, which helps account for its vitality as a 38 year old
The famed single-vineyard Chianti Rufina is called Bucerchiale
and it's considered their most important wine. It's made entirely of
Sangiovese and they've been producing it since 1979 in vintages which warrant
its showcasing. The vineyard site has a south and southwest exposure and it gets
a protracted maceration period of approximately 30 to 35 days with daily pump-overs
in an effort to extract the maximum character from the grapes. Then it
goes into French oak barriques for about 15 months, with just 10% of the wood
being brand new.
We have the 2013 in the shop presently.
It's a medium-bodied, well-structured Chianti with some mildly leathery
Bucerchiale is a good candidate for decanting. In its youth, the aeration
will allow the wine to blossom and show itself properly.
As a mature wine, you'll want to decant it off the sediment that forms as a
result of minimal cellar treatment and aging.
It is currently sporting a modest level of tannin and good acidity which will
allow this to cellar handsomely well into the 2020s and probably beyond (if
you're sufficiently young). The wine has some red fruit notes of the
Sangiovese and there's a touch of an underbrush sort of character and a hint of
a woodsy tone though it's not an overtly oaky wine. It's nicely intense,
though, a reflection of the handsome 2013 vintage.
During our visit we found the basic Chianti Rufina from the 2016 vintage to be
quite good, having unusual charm and approachability.
The Selvapiana Vin Santo also is quite good and made with care. It's
entirely Trebbiano and Federico explained the wine takes an incredible amount of
work to produce. The grapes, for example, are tied onto string and hung in
a ventilated room to dry and concentrate the sugar. Many wineries dry the
fruit on straw mats...far less labor-intensive. The grapes are harvested
in early September when they have a good level of acidity. Towards the end
of January the fruit is pressed and vinified.
The 2010 vintage is the current vintage.
The wine is mildly sweet and shows a touch of a nutty character from its lengthy
aging in wood.
Currently in stock: SELVAPIANA 2013 "Bucerchiale"
CHIANTI RUFINA Sale $33.99
SELVAPIANA 2016 CHIANTI RUFINA Due in shorly
SELVAPIANA 2010 VIN SANTO del CHIANTI RUFINA $39.99 (500ml
CANTINA LA SALA
La Sala winery was launched in 1981 by Laura Baronti and it had a modest
amount of critical acclaim. The property has long been viewed as a
special site and it has been in the hands of several "noble"
Tuscan families, including the De'Medici clan.
The La Sala estate is just a couple of miles west of San Casciano Val di
Pesa and it's less than ten miles from Florence.
Signora Baronti did a good job of growing grapes and making wine until her
untimely death...some sort of automobile accident.
The property was purchased in 2014 by Francesco Rossi-Ferrini who owns
another estate close to La Sala. His main estate is called Il
Torriano and the family had hoped to build a winery there, but
bureaucratic red tape made that extremely challenging.
When La Sala came on the market, they immediately took the plunge and in
short order they had extended their vineyard holdings plus they had a
Rossi Ferrini still sells grapes and they're slowly working to grow sales
of the La Sala wines as they have good vineyards which are producing more
than they can use presently.
The viticulture is now being done using organic farming practices and La
Sala will soon have its official certification for this.
These large vats are made of French oak (mostly)...non-toasted.
The 2015 Chianti Classico has about 5% Merlot blended into the
Sangiovese. It's a medium-bodied to medium-light Chianti with classic
cherry-like fruit on the nose and palate. The tannin level is modest, so
with food this comes across the palate as a smooth red. Will it cellar
well? It doesn't seem intended for extended aging, so drink this over the
next couple of years.
Their Riserva Chianti Classico has Cabernet and as that accounts for 10%
of the blend, we found the Cab to be a bit intrusive. The wine, though, is
still good, even if it's not a precise expression of Chianti Classico.
While the entry level bottling is a versatile red, pairing with white meats, red
meats and tomato-sauced dishes, the Riserva is best paired with grilled or
Their 2015 Gran Selezione is intended to compete with Brunello di Montalcino
wines and this does give them a run for the money. The fruit and oak are
nicely integrated. It's pure Sangiovese and has good length and complexity
with sweet red fruit notes and a touch of wood.
There's a decidedly Tuscan Cabernet/Merlot blend called Campo d'Albero.
This spends two years in French oak barrels. It's a good, medium-full
bodied red that does not taste like Bordeaux, nor New World Cabernet
blends. It tastes Tuscan.
Currently in stock: 2015 LA SALA CHIANTI
CASTELLO DI QUERCETO
- The town of
Empoli is probably unknown to most American wine-drinkers. I suspect
few Italians know it as a wine-producing area, though the town is certainly
That's because when spelling a word with the letter "e," an
Italian will say "e as in Empoli."
So now you know.
Piazzano is located on the outskirts of Empoli, a few minutes' ride south
of Vinci. Otello Bettarini built a small astronomical observatory
there in the late 1940s. Today you can observe the vines growing,
particularly Sangiovese. There are about 33 hectares of vineyards at
Piazzano and the place is still run by Bettarinis. Rolando and
The region is subject to the marine-influenced climate. Bettarini
told us that one year, 1989 to be exact, they found their vines covered
with sea salt as the wind had blown inland with some vigor that year!
We were impressed by the terrain of their vineyards and their apparent
dedication to quality.
We saw well-manicured vines, cropped sensibly in order to obtain good
quality grapes. We did not see huge masses of fruit weighing down
They make a delicious Sangiovese which comes under the name of Ventoso, as
the wind tends to whip over hill and dale, especially in November.
Rolando says the wine also has a drop of Canaiolo, Colorino, Ciliegiolo, Malvasia Nera
and NO Cabernet! It's not matured in French oak barrels, either, so if
you're looking for something which tastes like every other Super-Tuscan,
this ain't it.
The Piazzano Team.
They actually have a small tasting and sales room at the winery.
They planted some Syrah recently and this shows much
promise...dark and spicy!
Though we saw some French oak barriques, we were
impressed that Piazzano's wines still retain their identity was
"Tuscan" and well as their Sangiovese "typicity."
They make some Vin Santo, too...very fine, indeed.
Rolando is making good wines in a zone which hasn't been
As a result, the wines tend to be "good values" as so many
consumers only know "Chianti Classico" as a premium wine.
(This is good for smart shoppers who drink what's in the glass and not
what's on the label!)
Tuscan bread and a bottle of good Chianti!
We accepted Rolando's invitation to stay for lunch...I think they were all
so shocked to have visitors from California come to see the place.
Most of their customers are "locals".
A Tuscan stew with veggies and vino!.
Vin Santo from Piazzano is, indeed, very good.
Especially with Tuscan "biscotti" such as "Cantucci."
The Vin Santo, by the way, is made of Malvasia, Trebbiano and an obscure
variety which seems to be somewhat common in this region, San Colombano.
The grapes are harvested in mid-September and dried until late
January/early February. The wine is matured for about 2 years in
small wood barrels, typically chestnut and acacia cooperage.
Ventoso is intended for immediate drinking, not long-term cellaring.
The 2004 vintage was a good one, the fruit maturing evenly and to a good
level of sugar without being too strong. It's a lovely, cherryish Sangiovese which tastes like Tuscan
Sangiovese. The importer doesn't keep this in stock regularly, so
we're currently sold out....
The Rio Camerata Chianti is routinely very fine and it gives the more costly
wines from the Chianti Classico region a serious challenge.
We also like their delicious Vin Santo...some half bottles are currently in
Currently in stock: PIAZZANO 2004 "Rio
Camerata" Chianti (List $15) Sold Out
PIAZZANO Vin Santo (List $35) Sold
The next winemaker at Piazzano.
BACK TO OUR MAIN
BACK TO OUR HOME PAGE