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 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 Barolo.  

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 sense.

 

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 it's 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  $55.99
2005 CA' MARCANDA "Promis"  (List $52)  SALE  $44.99

 

 

 

POGGIARELLO

Naturally, it's easy to become confused in Italy.  There's this place, Castello Poggiarello just north of Siena and there's another property a few miles north called Poggiarello.  Why not?

This is Castello Poggiarello and it's an old estate and it's located just a few minutes' drive outside of Siena to the southwest.

The property has some great Italian names associated with it.  
The Chigi-Saracini clan owned it in the 1500s.
Today it's owned by the Fineschi-Pianigiani family.

An enologist friend of ours was very excited by the prospects of making wine in this location.  We had visited the Tenuta di Trinoro estate once upon a time and our friend was hugely impressed by the red soils and nice wines.  The Trinoro wines, though, are well more than two hundred dollars per bottle.  

So, here's another wonderful Tuscan estate with similarly exciting iron-rich terroir.  Our winemaker friend seems delighted to be able to make wine from such a property and the results are delicious.
 


 Happily the price tag is much more accessible and the wine is outstanding.



They have a beautiful, simple cellar.  Clearly the focus is on the raw material, the grapes.


Jem Macy in the Poggiarello cellar.
 
We tasted a range of impressive barrel samples when we visited the estate.
 
Happily the wine in bottle is as impressive (sometimes vintners show their best barrels and the wine they actually bottle and sell is less compelling than what one tastes in the cellar).

We're big fans of their Montebruno red wine.


Now, many Tuscan vintners blend Cabernet or Merlot into their Sangiovese wines.  I tease them saying "I've never had a Bordeaux winemaker show us their wines and say they've blended Sangiovese into their Merlot or Cabernet."  

And yet there are some lovely Merlot and Cabernet-based reds coming from Tuscany.  Some carry ridiculous price tags.  

Poggiarello's "Montebruno" arrives in the Bay Area with a sensible price tag given its stellar quality.  The 2007 is currently in the shop.  It's dark in color, youthful in appearance and teeming with black fruit aromas and a nicely cedary note from the French oak barrels in which it was matured.  The tannin level is such that the wine is very drinkable now.  We expect it to cellar handsomely for a decade, or so, but it's a delight at this early stage, so why not enjoy it?

Currently in stock:  2007 POGGIARELLO "Montebruno" (Cabernet Sauvignon)  Sold Out




 


 





LE BOCCE

We have tasted various vintages of wines from the Le Bocce estate over the years and the wines are usually of good quality.

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.  

Typically Le Bocce Chianti is a rather standard blend, with Sangiovese predominating along with a bit of Canaiolo and a few percent of Malvasia and Trebbiano.  If they're "watering" down this wine with white wine, you would hardly know it!  

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.
 
 

The wine is matured in large, traditional botti.
"We're not in the business of selling vanilla.  We sell Sangiovese here."


This 2008 is nice now, especially if you can give it an hour in a decanter.  We find it a bit lighter than the 2006 and 2007...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: 2008 LE BOCCE CHIANTI CLASSICO  SALE PRICED  $13.99

 
 


 


MANTELLASSI
This is  a leading estate in the history of the Maremma wine region in south-western Tuscany.

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 thing.  

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 2010 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: 2010 "MARITMA" SANGIOVESE  $7.99


They DO make some wood-aged wines, but Maritma is not one of them!

 



VILLA BANFI

The Mariani family has owned the Banfi company for more than 80 years.  It's named for an aunt of the founder's back in 1919!  Today the family continues to import Riunite Lambrusco, which must have accounted for the firm's massive fortunes in the 1970s.  They continue to import wines from Chile, including a little winery called Concha y Toro.  

Back in the late 1970s they purchased some 7,100 acres of land in southern Tuscany.  Talk about moving mountains!  These guys literally did.  I remember some of the "locals" loudly complained about this, but the Mariani's thought they knew what they were doing and, hindsight being 20/20, it appears as though they did!

We visited their brand new cellar in the early or mid-1980s and found an amazing facility with very few people needed to operate the place!  The first wines were good quality, but not world-beaters.  Today their line-up features some very good wines, especially at the upper end of the scale.  Even their "everyday" wines are okay.

Working to isolate various clones of "Brunello" (Sangiovese), they found about 160 of them.  From these selected about 15 of the best to plant on their extensive acreage.  If you've read a bit of my views on Brunello, you'll know I think it's a wine which is rarely successful in smaller vintages.  Most producers should be ashamed to bottle some of the dreary stuff they offer in lighter years.  Yet Banfi's wine has been remarkably good in those so-called "smaller" vintages.  

I am amused by those who are in search of "Only 1997" vintage Brunello wines.  Listen, Banfi's 1993, 1995 and 1996 vintages are all magnificent wines.  If you like "internationally-styled" (read: aged in a lot of new oak cooperage) wines, then Banfi's Brunello wines are going to be well-received at your dinner table.  

They make three Brunello wines.  


The basic bottling has been reliablly good.  We enjoy it served with a grilled steak.  You don't have to drink Cabernet Sauvignon all the time, you know!    

They offer a "Riserva" wine, though it is given extended aging in wood and released after the regular. It's called Poggio all'Oro because you need to bring a small pot of gold to buy a bottle.





Finally, there's a new wine called "Poggio alle Mura," a wine that features their six best clones of Brunello and bottled without filtration.  The 1997 represented the maiden voyage of this new wine.  Lots of blackberries, coffee, vanillin and oak notes are to be found here.  Very showy wine!  It's more of an "internationally-styled" wine than typical Tuscan red from Montalcino.  

The Chianti in one liter, straw-covered bottles no longer has the Banfi name on it.  They probably figure people won't take their $50 bottles seriously if they have Chianti in a fiasco bottle.  The wine is not bad, though...a good, fruity little red that's perfect not out of a Riedel crystal wine glass, but a water tumbler or jelly jar.  

 
Currently in stock:  CHIANTI in "Fiasco" (750ml, straw-covered bottle)  SALE $10.99
1999 BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO Sold Out




FATTORIA SELVAPIANA
This was perhaps the leading estate in the small Chianti district known as "Rufina."  
The region is north and a bit east of Florence and produces some very good wines.  Selvapiana was, at one time, one of several summer get-away places for the bishops of Firenze.  The property was purchased in 1827 by Michele Giuntini Selvapiana and today is run by Silvia and Federico Giuntini Masseti.  
Franco Bernabei is their consulting winemaker.  There are about 45 hectares of vineyards, so production tallies to about 200,000 bottles annually.

We had been big fans of the basic Chianti Rufina, but the most recent vintage didn't quite match up to the quality/price ratio of previous vintages.  We can special order it for you, if you like.  It's about $18.  

 
Currently in stock: Sold Out...
Available by special order...





CASTELLO DI AMA
This is a famous estate located near Gaiole in Chianti.

It has long been famous for a Merlot called L'Apparita and priced at stratospheric levels.  I remember tasting it for the first time many years ago and finding it to be extraordinary.  

But despite their producing Pinot Nero and Chardonnay, along with Merlot, it's Chianti that we've come here for.

The wines have always been premium-priced.  Single vineyard Chianti wines had been around $50 a bottle some years ago.  Going from the modest 1994 vintage to the 1995s, the price tripled to about $150 a bottle.  I sent proprietor Lorenza Sebaste a note asking if the importer's calculator was broken or if Tuscan winemakers were more crazy than Napa Valley vintners.   I still think they're crazy asking ridiculously high prices for their wines.  She sent a nice response saying how costly it is to make good wine.  Thank goodness she's not working for an oil company!

A 1999 Chianti Classico, the normal bottling, is a nice example of Chianti if you frame it in the right setting.  I'm thinking a nice dish of veal or roasted pork, for example.  This is a medium-bodied wine and with a modest amount of tannin.  You can drink this now and it ought to cellar well for several more years.

Currently in stock:  1999 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico Sold Out

 

PIAZZANO
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 famous.
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 Mrs. Rolando.

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 the vines.




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 especially prestigious.
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".
Pasta Toscana!


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 stock.

Currently in stock:  PIAZZANO 2004 "Rio Camerata" Chianti (List $15)  Sold Out
PIAZZANO Vin Santo (List $35) Sold Out (375ml)



The next winemaker at Piazzano.

 

 

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