Tag Archives: Tuscany

#chianticool: "Not Your Grandma's Chianti" – A Chianti Tasting in NYC

Chianti The Wine Logo

A few weeks ago I attended a seminar and wine tasting event organized by the Consorzio Vino Chianti (a producers’ consortium that has been promoting and controlling the quality of Chianti wine since 1927) in the posh context of the Beer Garden of the Standard Hotel in the always cool Meatpacking District in the City That Never Sleeps. As is often the case, I went with my wine blogger friend Anatoli AKA Talk-A-Vino: you can read his own take of this event on his blog.

Standard Hotel, NYC: The Beer Garden (courtesy of Standard Hotels)

Standard Hotel, NYC: The Beer Garden (courtesy of Standard Hotels)

Notions About Chianti

As I guess everybody knows, Chianti is a red wine that has been made in central Italy’s region of Tuscany for centuries (the first documented reference to Chianti wine dates back to 1398, and by the XVII century Chianti was already exported to England). Nowadays, Chianti is made in two different appellations: the smaller Chianti Classico DOCG and the larger Chianti DOCG. Both appellations were approved as DOC’s in 1967 and then upgraded to DOCG status in 1984.

The Chianti Classico DOCG appellation comprises a 70,000 HA territory adjacent to the cities of Florence and Siena, namely the area surrounding the towns of Greve in Chianti, Castellina in Chianti, Radda in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti and, partly, those of San Casciano Val di Pesa and Tavarnelle. This territory was identified in 1932 as “the most ancient area where Chianti wine originated”. In the map below you can see the Chianti Classico DOCG territory colored in bright red (the purple-red striped area within the red area indicates the even smaller, original territory where Chianti was made in the period from 1716 to 1932).

The Chianti DOCG appellation comprises instead a larger territory near the cities of Arezzo, Florence, Pistoia, Pisa, Prato and Siena, which is the one contoured by the black line in the map below. The Chianti DOCG appellation also counts seven subzones (Chianti Colli Aretini; Chianti Colli Fiorentini; Chianti Colli Senesi; Chianti Colline Pisane; Chianti Montalbano; Chianti Montespertoli; and Chianti Rufina) that are color-coded as per the legend on the right side of the map.

Chianti Appellation Map

Chianti Appellation Map (courtesy of Consorzio Vino Chianti)

Chianti Classico "Black Rooster" LogoIn terms of winemaking, the Chianti Classico DOCG regulations require that wines be made from 80% or more Sangiovese grapes, which may be blended with other permitted black-berried varieties (including indigenous Canaiolo and Colorino as well as international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) up to a maximum of 20%.

Chianti Classico DOCG minimum aging requirements are as follows:

  • Base Chianti Classico wines may be released to the market not earlier than October 1 of the year following that of the vintage
  • Chianti Classico Riserva wines must age for a minimum of 24 months, at least 3 of which in bottle
  • Chianti Classico Gran Selezione wines must age for a minimum of 30 months, at least 3 of which in bottle

All Chianti Classico wines must bear the traditional black rooster (“Gallo Nero“) logo and must use cork as their closure system.

Chianti LogoChianti DOCG regulations require instead that wines be made from 70% or more Sangiovese grapes, which may be blended with permitted white-berried varieties up to a maximum of 10% and/or permitted black-berried varieties, provided that Cabernet Franc and/or Cabernet Sauvignon shall not exceed 15%.

Wines from the subzone Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG shall be made from 75% or more Sangiovese grapes, which may be blended only with other black-berried varieties (no white-berried varieties allowed), provided that Cabernet Franc and/or Cabernet Sauvignon shall not exceed 10%. To the left you can see the cool logo of Chianti DOCG wines.

The minimum aging requirements of Chianti DOCG wines are as follows:

  • Base Chianti wines may be released to the market not earlier than March 1 of the year following that of the vintage
  • Chianti Riserva wines are required to age for at least 24 months
  • “Riserva” wines from the subzones Chianti Colli Fiorentini DOCG or Chianti Rufina DOCG must age at least 6 out of the required 24 months in wood barrels
  • “Riserva” wines from the subzone Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG must age at least 8 out of the required 24 months in wood barrels plus 4 months in bottle

Chianti DOCG wines may be made according to the traditional “governo all’uso toscano” (literally, “handled the Tuscan way“) method, which entails a slow refermentation of the wine with the addition of slightly dried grapes of the permitted varieties.

The top three countries Chianti DOCG wines get exported to are Germany (32%), the USA (17%) and the UK (12%).

Chianti barrels (courtesy of Consorzio Vini Chianti)

Chianti barrels (courtesy of Consorzio Vini Chianti)

Chianti DOCG NYC 2014: The Seminar

At the Chianti DOCG seminar, six different 2010 Chianti Riserva’s were presented in a guided horizontal tasting: three base Chianti Riserva’s, and one each from the following three subzones: Chianti Rufina Riserva, Chianti Montalbano Riserva and Chianti Colli Fiorentini Riserva.

The Chianti Riserva wine that opened the tasting presented the opportunity for some interesting considerations. The wine was made from 80% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 10% white-berried Trebbiano grapes and had aged for 6 months in large barrels plus 20 months in barrique casks. The nose was vinous, with aromas of cherry, red berries and hints of licorice. In the mouth, the wine was decidedly veered toward the hardness side, with over the top acidity and gritty tannins, which threw it off balance ending up in an unsatisfactory final rating – at least to me.

The interesting point was an argument that ensued between an elderly gentleman who said that he loved the wine because it reminded him of the Chianti that he used to drink when he was young, in the traditional “fiasco” bottles, while a woman (with whom I wholeheartedly found myself in agreement) contended that the wine was actually pretty bad and totally unbalanced. This brief argument just proved to me how different and subjective tastes are, and how the assessment of a wine may reflect personal experiences.

The Consorzio Vino Chianti made the very good point that today’s Chianti is not your grandmother’s Chianti, alluding to the much better quality of most of present-day Chianti versus the “fiasco-bottled Chianti” of the old days. But that gentleman at the seminar proved that old-style Chianti may still surprisingly find a few admirers even in this day and age.

Fortunately for the rest of us at the seminar, the remaining wines were much better than the opening one. Among those six wines, the one that I personally liked best was the last one that was presented:

Castelvecchio, Chianti Colli Fiorentini Riserva “Vigna La Quercia” DOCG 2010 ($27). This is a 90% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon single-vineyard wine with 14% ABV, that was aged for 12 months in new French oak barrique casks plus additional 12 months in bottle. The wine had a beautiful garnet color, with an intense bouquet of red cherries, red berries, black pepper, herbs, cocoa and hints of vanilla, offering a nice balance between secondary and tertiary aromas. In the mouth it was very smooth, with very well integrated tannins and well controlled ABV, definitely balanced and with a good structure. Its flavor profile was subtle and elegant, with intense flavors of red cherries and raspberries going hand in hand with dark chocolate notes and hints of coffee.

Rating: Very Good Very Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

Cork Art (courtesy of Consorzio Vini Chianti)

Cork Art (courtesy of Consorzio Vini Chianti)

Chianti DOCG NYC 2014: The Walk Around

The walk around that concluded the event offered the opportunity to taste many more exciting Chianti’s. Here below you may find my tasting notes of those wines that impressed me most among those that I could try:

Corbucci, Chianti Riserva “Corbucci” DOCG 2009: 100% Sangiovese, aged 24 months in French oak barrique casks plus 6 months in bottle, with aromas of leather, tobacco, cherry and strawberry; smooth and balanced in the mouth, with supple tannins and a flavor profile of cherry, tobacco and cocoa – Very Good Very Good

La Cignozza, Chianti Riserva DOCG 2008: 80% Sangiovese and 20% Canaiolo, aged 24 months 50% in small French oak tonneau casks and 50% in large French oak barrels, with aromas of licorice, raspberry, red fruit candy and vanilla; smooth and structured in the mouth, with muscular but well integrated tannins ending up in a graceful balance – Very Good Very Good

Lanciola, Chianti Colli Fiorentini Riserva “Lanciola” DOCG 2011: 90% Sangiovese, with aromas of barnyard, soil, leather, cherry and sandalwood; silky smooth in the mouth, with already supple tannins, full-bodied with great finesse and a flavor profile of cherry and mineral notes – Very Good Very Good

Pieve De’ Pitti, Chianti Superiore “Cerretello” DOCG 2009 ($17): 90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo and 5% Malvasia Nera, aged 6 months in cement vats and 2 months in bottle, with aromas of red berries, raspberries, licorice, Mediterranean brush; perfectly smooth and masterfully balanced in the mouth – Very Good Very Good

Pieve De’ Pitti, Chianti Superiore “Cerretello” DOCG 2010 ($17): 90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo and 5% Malvasia Nera, aged 6 months in cement vats and 2 months in bottle, with aromas of strawberries, raspberries, red fruit candy, dark chocolate fudge and licorice; smooth in the mouth with supple tannins – Good to Very Good Good to Very Good

Emanuela Tamburini, Chianti Riserva “Italo” DOCG 2010: 90% Sangiovese, aged 6 to 8 months in French oak barrique casks, with fruity aromas of violets, cherries and raspberries; ABV a little evident in the mouth, but supple tannins and a fresh flavor profile matching the secondary-dominated bouquet – Good to Very Good Good to Very Good

Italy (courtesy of Consorzio Vini Chianti)

Italy (courtesy of Consorzio Vini Chianti)

Meet the Maker: An Interview with "Mr Sassicaia"

Italy, Bolgheri: Marchese Nicolo' Incisa della Rocchetta in the Tenuta San Guido wine aging cellarOn my previous post we talked about my visit to Tenuta San Guido (the estate where fabled Sassicaia is made) and my tasting of the latest available vintages of the estate’s wine lineup: Le Difese 2011, Guidalberto 2011 and Sassicaia 2010.

Also, on a previous post we went through the history of Super Tuscans and particularly of their archetype, Sassicaia, and how this great wine came to be. If you missed those posts, I suggest you take the time to check them out as they provide a lot context for this post.

Now, without further ado, let’s move on to my interview of Marchese Nicolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta, the owner of Tenuta San Guido, a true gentleman and big time dog lover (he has some 40 dogs, most of whom he got from the shelter) beside of course being the son of Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, the man who created the myth Sassicaia.

Here are the questions I asked the Marchese, along with a summary of his answers:

Q1. Which vintage of Sassicaia are you most fond of and why?

A1. If I had to pick one, it would be 1988: of course everyone goes crazy about 1985 because it received a perfect score from Parker, but to me 1988 was also a stellar year that really shows the Sassicaia style loud and clear and that vintage also did extremely well in the Tasting of the Bordeaux Premier Growths.

Italy, Bolgheri: vineyards at Tenuta San Guido ready for harvesting with olive tree orchard in the background

Q2. Certain consumers worry about investing a considerable amount of money into a bottle of wine like Sassicaia, which they normally plan to hold on for several years before opening, because they fear that when they do open it, it might be corked. Do you or your distributors have a policy in place as to how to handle situations like that?

A2. In Europe, our distributors replace corked bottles, I am not sure whether our US distributor has a similar policy in place. The good news is that, while of course it is impossible to avoid the risk of the occasional corked bottle altogether, the incidence of cork taint on Sassicaia is much lower than the average: we estimate that there are about 10 corked bottles of Sassicaia for each vintage.

Italy, Bolgheri: Tenuta San Guido

Q3. Speaking of corks, certain of the top quality producers around the world have started experimenting with closure systems alternative to cork, such as synthetic or screw caps, one very visible example being Chateau Margaux. Are you also looking into it? Current regulations require that Sassicaia be sealed with a cork: looking ahead, do you think that using a closure other than cork for a wine like Sassicaia would still be perceived by consumers with a negative connotation?

A3. No, we are just not interested. A bottle of a wine like Sassicaia deserves being sealed by a cork, period. On top of that, the minimal contact with oxygen that the cork ensures makes a wine like Sassicaia that is generally meant for several years of in bottle aging beautifully evolve.

Italy, Bolgheri: Bolgheri sunsetQ4. Italian enologist Graziana Grassini has recently taken over the honor and the responsibilities of making Sassicaia from guru enologist Giacomo Tachis, who can be seen as the father of Sassicaia, along with your father of course. How did she approach the myth Sassicaia? Is she following the path of tradition or is she trying to leave her own mark on Sassicaia?

A4. It seems to me that she is walking in Tachis’s footsteps: they both have this approach that they are there just to underscore the unique terroir of the Sassicaia vineyards and make it shine in the wine they make. Tachis hated being called a winemaker, because he felt he was not there “making” (in the sense of artificially “building”) Sassicaia – he considered himself the guardian of the brilliant characteristics of those Cabernet clones that my father planted in the heart of the Maremma almost three quarters of a century ago and the terroir they grow in.

Q5. All your three wines are blends and all three have Cabernet Sauvignon as their prevailing variety in the blend, but each of them pairs it with a different blending partner: Cabernet Franc for Sassicaia, Merlot for Guidalberto and Sangiovese for Le Difese. Taken as a given that the Sassicaia is at the peak of the pyramid of the wines you produce, how would you briefly describe the concepts behind the Guidalberto and Le Difese?

A5. The Guidalberto was introduced to the market with vintage 2000 and we do not consider it the second vin of the Sassicaia. It was developed as a more affordable wine with its own identity, different from Sassicaia’s. A wine that can be enjoyed earlier than Sassicaia but is all the same meant for aging up to 10 years. Only about 10% of the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes used in the making of Guidalberto come from the Sassicaia vieyards, the rest comes from dedicated, younger vineyards. Le Difese was launched with vintage 2002 and we view it as the second vin of the Guidalberto: it was developed with the idea of an affordable wine that is ready to be enjoyed upon release and is not meant for aging.

Italy, Bolgheri: vineyards and olive trees

Q6. How much of the wine you produce gets exported, and which are the top three countries you export to?

A5. We export about 60% of the production. By far the number one country we export to is the United States, followed by Germany and, maybe surprisingly considering its relatively small size, Switzerland. We are slowly starting to export to China too, but we want to be cautious: it is a huge market with an incredible demand for luxury products, including top wines like Sassicaia, and it is easy to let that cloud your vision. Considering that the number of bottles of Sassicaia that we make is not going to increase, what we do not want to do is penalize our historical and loyal customer base and distributors in the countries we are already in just to jump onto the Chinese bandwagon. It will be a gradual process.

Italy, Bolgheri: One of the buidings in the Tenuta San Guido estate

Q7. Organic viticulture: are you considering to embrace it or staying away from it?

A7. We view it as an emerging marketing trend which certainly appeals to consumers, but whose risks overweigh the benefits. In other words, we do spray our vines but we have always done so in the least pervasive way, as has been done for decades in traditional viticulture. We are a relatively small operation and we just cannot afford the risk of a blighted crop.

Q8. Let’s talk about your winemaking process: do you use pre-fermentation cold maceration? And how about micro-oxygenation?

A8. No to both questions: we feel our wine does not need the additional extraction of color or aromas that pre-fermentation maceration allows, and we certainly stay away from micro-oxygenation: we much rather let time do its work by leaving our wine in the barriques for as long as we think appropriate for it to be exposed to the oxygen that naturally breathes into the casks. No need to fast-track anything.

Italy, Bolgheri: vineyards ready for harvesting

Q9. What kind of fermentation do you go for: selected yeasts or spontaneous (indigenous yeasts)? Same question for malolactic fermentation: do you inoculate lactic bacteria or does it start spontaneously?

A9. In both cases we opt for spontaneous fermentation: we do not add anything to our wine, we just let the temperature start both fermentations spontaneously. We think this practice helps give our wines their own, individual character, which makes them different from other wines.

Italy, Bolgheri: Sassicaia French oak barrique cask

Q10. Last question: which barrique casks do you use to age Sassicaia and are they new, previously used or a mix of the two?

A10. In the beginning we used Slavonian oak, but then we realized that those barrels were assembled with sawn planks, which occasionally were not perfectly airtight. So we switched to French oak, where planks are axe-split instead of sawn. For the aging of Sassicaia we use barriques made of French oak coming from the Massif Central region of France, because oak from that area is known to release the least tannins/tertiary aromas to the wine and therefore we prefer it over more intrusive oak. Sassicaia ages in 1/3 new barriques and 2/3 previously used ones, which may be up to a maximum of 8-time used before, after which we retire the barrique.

Thant’s all: I hope you enjoyed the read as much as I enjoyed having this informational and pleasant conversation with Marchese Nicolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta.

As a final note, I would like to take the opportunity to sincerely thank the Marchese for his graciousness and for the time he took to sit down with me and answer my questions. I also wish to extend my dy deepest gratitude to Carlo Paoli for his kindness in making all of this happen.

Italy, Bolgheri: vineyards and cypress trees

Meet the Maker: A New Column plus a Tasting of Sassicaia 2010 and Its Little Brothers

Italy, Bolgheri: Carlo Paoli, Tenuta San Guido's General Manager

A New Column: Meet the Maker

This post is going to be the first in a new column that I thought I would call Meet the Maker – this column will provide interviews with wine producers or other key players in the wine industry.

When I decided to give this new feature a go, I thought I might as well just start big 😉 so with some luck and lots of gratitude to Carlo Paoli, the gracious General Manager of Tenuta San Guido, I had the pleasure of sitting down for an hour or so in the wine tasting room of Tenuta San Guido with Carlo and Mr Sassicaia himself, Marchese Nicolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta, who was kind enough to answer my questions while we were tasting the whole lineup of the estate, which was something pretty cool.

Italy, Bolgheri: Tenuta San Guido

About the Estate: Tenuta San Guido

But let’s start from the beginning: as you may know, Tenuta San Guido is a huge 2,500 HA estate that is located in that beautiful stretch of forested coastal Tuscany known as Maremma and it belongs to the Italian noble family of the Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta. The estate encompasses a 513 HA wildlife preserve managed by the WWF (Oasi Padule di Bolgheri), the training facility for the Dormello-Olgiata thoroughbred race horses, the most famous of whom was legendary “superhorse” Ribot, and of course 90 HA of vineyards from which glorious Sassicaia plus two more wines (called Guidalberto and Le Difese) are made.

More specifically, 70 of those 90 HA of vineyards are dedicated to the production of Sassicaia and therefore are for the most part Cabernet Sauvignon with some Cabernet Franc. In the remaining 20 HA, Merlot and Sangiovese (the blending partners of, respectively, Guidalberto and Le Difese) are grown, beside Cabernet Sauvignon (the common variety in all three blends). Among the three labels, Tenuta San Guido produces about 700,000 bottles per year.

Italy, Bolgheri: vineyards approaching harvest time with the Bolgheri church in the background

On a previous post, I have provided a pretty detailed story of the vision of an enlightened man, Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta (Nicolo’s father, the creator of Sassicaia), how Sassicaia came to be and how it became the archetype of all Super Tuscans, so if you missed it, I would suggest you go back and take a look before you continue reading this post.

As is described in detail on that previous post, the turning point for Sassicaia was Marchese Mario’s intuition to hire Antinori’s enologist, Giacomo Tachis, in the late 1960’s. Tachis optimized Sassicaia’s production process turning Sassicaia from a good wine to the wine that was awarded a perfect 100 score by Robert Parker for the 1985 vintage. Mr Tachis, arguably the most famous and revered among Italian enologists, eventually retired and Graziana Grassini took the helm of making Sassicaia (along with the responsibility to ensure that the legend lives on) as of the 2009 vintage.

Italy, Bolgheri: Tenuta San Guido's wine aging cellar and wine tasting room

About the Appellation

Interestingly enough, in an effort to recognize Marchese Mario’s vision and tenacity in creating a wine that gave Italian winemaking international lustre and fame, in 1983 Italy created a DOC appellation called “Bolgheri DOC” that would encompass a small territory surrounding the Tuscan town of Castagneto Carducci (in the Maremma, near Livorno) and within that territory a specific subzone was identified by the name of “Sassicaia” which precisely matches those about 70 HA owned by Tenuta San Guido where the Sassicaia is made. This has been the first case in Italy in which an official subzone of an appellation has been created to precisely overlap with the area where a single producer’s wine is made. As a result, Sassicaia is the only wine that can be made in the “Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC” appellation.

In terms of permitted grape varieties, the “Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC” appellation requires the use of at least 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, which can be blended with up to 20% of other black-berried varieties permitted in Tuscany, and a minimum aging of 24 months, at least 18 of which must be in oak barrique casks.

Italy, Bolgheri: vineyards in the Bolgheri DOC appellation

Our Tasting Notes

Before moving on to the actual interview of Marchese Nicolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta (which will be the subject matter of the next post), these are my succint tasting notes of the three wines in the Tenuta San Guido lineup that I got to taste with the Marchese:

1. Le Difese 2011 ($35):

Italy, Bolgheri: An old well at Tenuta San GuidoTenuta San Guido’s entry-level wine, whose first vintage was 2002. It is a 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Sangiovese blend that is aged for 12 months in French and American oak barrique casks and is released ready to be enjoyed (it is not meant for aging).

Pleasant and linear, with no frills: nice (although not particularly intense) nose of wild berries with hints of licorice and ground coffee. Well integrated tannins and good structure in the mouth for an enjoyable red with a good QPR.

Rating: Good Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

2. Guidalberto 2011 ($40):

Tenuta San Guido’s mid-range wine (not Sassicaia’s second wine, as the Marchese pointed out in the course of the interview). It was released with vintage 2000 and it is a 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot blend, aged for 15 months in mostly French and in small part American oak barrique casks, plus 3 additional months of in-bottle aging. The Guidalberto is a wine that can be enjoyed right away, but is meant for aging up to 10 years.

A very good wine, despite its young age, with an enticing nose of black berries, ground coffee, tobacco, cocoa and black pepper. In the mouth it was already round and smooth, with tame tannins and significant structure as well as a long finish. In my view, with a few more years under its belt, the Guidalberto will give plenty of joy to those who can wait.

Rating: Very Good Very Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

Italy, Bolgheri: Tenuta San Guido's Sassicaia aging cellar

3. Sassicaia 2010 ($155):

The King of the Hill, of which we already said much in relation to its 1995 vintage on a previous post. It is an 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc blend that is fermented in steel vats and undergoes 15 days of maceration. It ages for 24 months in all French oak barrique casks plus 6 additional months in bottle. Sassicaia is a wine that is meant for aging and in my view it should not be enjoyed before at least 5/7 years after its vintage year.

The 2010 vintage that I tasted was already mind-blowing: the nose was very intense with a symphony of black cherries, blackberries, cocoa, licorice, coffee, sandalwood and leather. In the mouth it is still a bit “separate” in its core elements, which need time to fully assemble and integrate, but it already showed glimpses of how spectacular a wine it will be for those who can wait: full-bodied, with plenty of structure and tannins that are already supple, intense mouth flavors and good acidity, topped off by a long finish. Perfect to be cellared and forgotten for a few years and then enjoyed the way it deserves.

Rating: Outstanding Outstanding – $$$$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

Italy, Bolgheri: Tenuta San Guido's wine bar/store

That’s all for today: until the next post, which will feature my interview to Marchese Nicolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta.

Italy, Bolgheri: One of the buidings in the Tenuta San Guido estate

Wine Review P1: Marchesi de' Frescobaldi, "Tenuta dell'Ammiraglia" Range

Disclaimer: this review is of samples that I received from the producer’s US importer. My review of the wines has been conducted in compliance with my Samples Policy and the ISA wine tasting protocol and the opinions I am going to share on the wines are my own.

Marchesi de' Frescobaldi's "Ammiraglia" LineupThe US importer of the Italian winery Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi has been so nice as to mail me samples of a range of wines that are literally just being launched in the US market as we publish this post so I could try them out and see how I liked them… which I gladly did! Needless to say, the opinions in my review are my own and are untainted by the fact that the wines I reviewed were free samples (which is something that, however, I greatly appreciated as it gave me the opportunity to preview a range of wines that I was not familiar with!)

The wines that I am going to review are made by well-known Tuscan producer Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi and they are part of a line called “Ammiraglia”, after the name of the estate (Tenuta dell’Ammiraglia) where the grapes from which the wines are made come from.

In order not to make this post unbearably long, I am going to break it down into two parts: (i) this post will provide information about the producer, the estate and the Ammiraglia range in general, and (ii) the next post is going to focus on my tasting notes of the three wines in the Ammiraglia lineup that I had the opportunity to taste.

About the Producer

The Frescobaldi’s are an Italian (florentine) family of noble descent that, among other endeavors, have been in the wine business for quite a while. More specifically, the oldest documented reference to their wine production activities dates back to… the year 1300 (!) at the historic estate of Tenuta di Castiglioni in Val di Pesa, southwest of Florence.

According to the Frescobaldi’s records, their wine business took off pretty well pretty soon, as by the beginning of the 1400’s great Italian Renaissance artists such as Donatello and Michelozzo Michelozzi had become loyal clients. One century later, the Frescobaldi wines were served at the tables of the Papal Court and the Court of Henry the Eighth of England.

According to the Frescobaldi’s Web site, in the second half of the XIX century they were also at the forefront of wine making innovation in Italy, as in 1855, at their estates of Nipozzano and Pomino, they were the first in Tuscany to plant Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, while in 1894 at Pomino they built the first Italian gravity-fed cellars.

About the Estate

Tenuta dell’Ammiraglia is the Frescobaldi’s latest project. This estate is situated in Magliano, near the town of Grosseto, in that beautiful, sunny and wild part of coastal Tuscany that is known as Maremma. Commercial production of the Ammiraglia wine range started recently, with the first vintage of two of the wines in the lineup being 2006, while the remaining two wines were introduced in 2009 and 2012 (see below for details). Even the state-of-the-art, environmentally conscious Ammiraglia estate winery was completed and became operational only in 2011.

About the Ammiraglia Range

The Ammiraglia lineup comprises four wines:

1. Vermentino Ammiraglia: the only white wine in the range and its newest addition (first vintage: 2012)
2. Terre More: a Bordeux-style blend (first vintage: 2009)
3. Pietraregia: a Sangiovese-based Morellino di Scansano Riserva (first vintage: 2006)
4. Ammiraglia: a varietal Syrah (first vintage: 2006)

However, currently only the first three wines in the Ammiraglia range have been imported into the US and therefore will be covered by my review. Word has it, though, that it will not be long before even the missing Syrah joins the other three wines on US wine store racks (probably, as early as next year).

Before we wrap this post up, here are three general observations on the wines that I have tasted – two good and one… not so good.  😉

– The good ones:

(A) The price: if these wines deliver in terms of quality (I don’t want to spoil the outcome of my reviews here, so stay tuned for the next post!) I think they are going to sell really well: two of the three have a suggested retail price of $18 and the third one (the Pietraregia) of $25: certainly appealing.

(B) The capsule: the three wines come with a nice tin capsule, which I like so much better than cheap feeling and cheap looking plastic capsules. Besides, tin foil is much easier to take off in the context of a proper wine opening procedure (yes, at some point I will write a post about what this entails exactly!)

– The not so good one (at least to me): only one of the three wines that I tasted (the more expensive Pietraregia) utilizes cork as a closure. The other two resort to a synthetic closure in a color that vaguely resembles cork.

Now, I realize that retailing at some $18 these two wines are not premium segment wines and using synthetic instead of cork helps keep the retail price down; I understand that they are not meant for long-term aging and this takes care of the question marks about the long-term effectiveness of synthetic closures; and I also appreciate that using synthetic avoids the dreaded TCA taint problem (AKA, the occasional corked bottle) altogether. I get all that, of course. Still, my personal reaction to a synthetic closure in a bottle of wine is not one of excitement: I don’t know, I may be old school and everything, but to me, it just makes the bottle feel cheap.

By the way, if you are interested in the whole wine closure debate, I have come across a pretty interesting article published by the American Society for Enology and Viticulture summarizing the outcome of research conducted in 2007 at Oregon State University’s Food Innovation Center regarding the “Effects of Wine Bottle Closure Type on Consumer Purchase Intent and Price Expectation” that essentially shows how consumer appreciation and price expectations of a bottle of wine (a Chardonnay and a Merlot) were affected by the use of a screw cap, a synthetic closure or a real cork (the article also cites the outcome of previous studies on this topic).

Anyway, forget about my prejudice about synthetic closures: this is the end of part 1 of this review. On the next post, we will get to my actual tasting notes of the three wines that I got to taste, so stay tuned for more! 🙂

Wine Review: Casa Sola, Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 DOCG

Disclaimer: this review is of a sample that I received from the producer, who also happens to be a friend of mine! My review of the wine has been conducted in compliance with my Samples Policy and the opinion I am going to share on the wine is my own.

Casa Sola, Chianti Classico Riserva DOCGToday I will review a bottle of Chianti Classico Riserva that I received as a sample from the producer, who happens to be a former schoolmate of mine and a friend. The wine that I am going to review is Casa SolaChianti Classico Riserva 2007 DOCG (\sim \!\, $35). As I said in my disclaimer, my review will not be tainted by my personal relationship with the producer and will be as objective as a wine review can be. 🙂

The Bottom Line

Overall, I found Casa Sola’s Chianti Classico Riserva to be a very pleasant Chianti, which could nicely complement a juicy steak or game dish.

Rating: Good to Very Good and Recommended Good to Very Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

Let’s now say a few words about Chianti in general.

About the Appellations

Chianti wine may be produced under two different Tuscan appellations: Chianti Classico DOCG or Chianti DOCG.

The Chianti Classico appellation encompasses that stretch of Tuscan territory where the grapes for making Chianti have traditionally been grown for centuries (the first document referring to Chianti dates back to 1398!): this means an area surrounding the cities of Florence and Siena, including such landmark towns as Greve in Chianti, Castellina in Chianti, Radda in Chianti and Gaiole in Chianti.

The Chianti Classico regulations require that the wine be made from 80% or more Sangiovese grapes, while the remaining maximum 20% may come from other permitted black-berried grapes (these include Canaiolo, Colorino or international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot). The minimum aging required is (i) 12 months for the base version of “Chianti Classico” and (ii) 24 months, at least 3 of which must be in bottle, for “Chianti Classico Riserva“. Every bottle of Chianti Classico wine must bear the “black rooster”  logo on its neckband. Plenty of additional information may be found on the Website of the Chianti Classico Wine Consortium.

The Chianti appellation encompasses a significantly larger territory in the surroundings of the Tuscan towns of Arezzo, Firenze, Pistoia, Pisa, Prato and Siena. The Chianti regulations require that the wine be made from 70% or more Sangiovese grapes, while the remaining maximum 30% may come from other permitted grapes, provided that (a) the use of permitted white-berried grapes may not exceed 10% and (b) the use of Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Cabernet Franc grapes may not exceed 15%. The minimum aging required is (i) 6 months for the base version of “Chianti“; (ii) 12 months for the “Chianti Superiore” version, and (iii) 24 months for “Chianti Riserva“.

About the Grapes

Regarding Sangiovese, Chianti’s main grape variety, it is a variety that is indigenous to Central Italy and was first mentioned in writing in 1600 under the name Sangiogheto (which begs the question: if the first documented use of the word Chianti to identify the wine dates back to 1398, what did they call the wine’s main grape for those 200 and change years???).  In 2004, DNA parentage analysis showed that Sangiovese originated as a cross between Ciliegiolo (a Tuscan grape variety) and Calabrese di Montenuovo (a quite obscure variety from Calabria). Sangiovese is a vigorous and late ripening variety that is one of the most widely cultivated in Italy, especially in the regions of Toscana, Umbria and Emilia Romagna. Some is also grown in California and Washington State. (Note: information on the grape variety taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012)

Sangiovese is one of the most renowned Italian grape varieties and is utilized for making several signature Italian wines, including (beside Chianti) Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Morellino di Scansano. Varietal wines made out of Sangiovese grapes tend to have fairly aggressive tannins when they are still “young” and are generally best enjoyed after a few years of aging, when time takes care of taming them. Given the massive quantities of Sangiovese that are produced, quality levels of the wines made out of such grape variety tend to be inconsistent and knowledge of the various appellations that allow its use and of the specific wineries is important to avoid unsatisfactory experiences.

Our Detailed Review

Now, on to the actual review of the wine I tasted, Casa SolaChianti Classico Riserva 2007 DOCG.

This Chianti Classico is a blend of 90% Sangiovese, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Merlot grapes grown in the winery’s vineyards near the town of Barberino Val d’Elsa, in proximity to Florence. The wine has a muscular 14.5% ABV and was aged for 18 months in a mix of larger oak barrels and barrique casks plus 8 months of additional in-bottle aging. The Riserva retails in the US for about $35.

As usual, I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.

In the glass, the wine poured ruby red and thick.

On the nose, its bouquet was intensequite complex and fine with aromas of cherry, strawberry, sweet tobacco, licorice and vanilla.

In the mouth, the wine was drywarmsmoothfreshtannic and quite tasty. It was a full-bodiedbalanced wine and its mouth flavors were intense and fine, revolving mostly around fruity notes of cherry and strawberry. Its tannins were gentle and offered a pleasant counterpoint to the wine’s smoothness. It had a quite long finish and its evolutionary state was ready, meaning definitely enjoyable now but a few more years of in-bottle aging could make it evolve even more and add additional complexity.

Finally, beyond producing wine and olive oil, Casa Sola also offers guided tours of the vineyards and winery culminating in a wine tasting experience, cooking classes and in-house accommodation in 11 rustically-furnished apartments: for more information, please refer to Casa Sola’s Website.

Winevent – October 20-22, 2012: Tuscany Wine Fair, Arezzo (Italy)

If you happen to be in or around Tuscany next week, you should consider stopping by Arezzo any day between the 20th and the 22nd of October to visit not only that beautiful Tuscan town but also and especially Tuscany Wine, a fair that has been organized in coordination with VinItaly (the most important Italian wine fair) to showcase and promote the best Tuscan wines.

Tuscany Wine will be at Arezzo Fiere e Congressi, Via Spallanzani 23, Arezzo and will be open daily from 10:00am to 8:00pm, tickets are EUR 10 each.

If you go, you will have the opportunity to taste wines made by the more than 200 Tuscan producers who will be present at the fair. In addition, Sunday October 21 will be entirely focused on biodynamic wines. The fair will also include a Cooking Show where chefs from the Italian Chef Federation and the Regional Union of Tuscan Chefs will present traditional Tuscan dishes spiced up with a modern twist which will be paired with Tuscan wines selected by the Italian Sommelier Association.

For more information please check out the full program of Tuscany Wine on the fair’s Website: unfortunately, it is only in Italian, but if you have any questions feel free to email me and I will be happy to help you out.

And if you happen to go visit Tuscany Wine, please make sure to let us all know how you liked it by leaving a comment below!