Friday, December 6, 2013

Tuscan Vines Exclusive: Gambero Rosso



~ Gambero Rosso Tuscany Red & White: An Exclusive Report ~ 
 
Last month, I had the pleasure of attending a Trade event sponsored by Gambero Rosso called "Tuscany Red & White" which featured producers of Vernaccia di San Gimignano and Chianti Colli Senesi.  
 
The event was a quiet, informal walk around tasting and was very intimate regarding one on one access to winemakers; who, as normal, were eager to discuss their passion and family winemaking history.  The wines impressed across the portfolios and there were a few standouts that readers will want to seek out.  Many of these are "off the radar" as they don't hail from some of the more mainstream Tuscan regions;  use this to your advantage.  As a further benefit, the wines are comparably low priced and very affordable.

European readers will find it relatively easy to locate these wines. Throughout Europe, the majority of the wines have adequate distribution.   That being said,  not all of the wines reviewed below are imported to the US at the moment. I will make note whereever applicable.   However, a key goal of this event was arranging "Meet & Greets" between Importers and Producers, so that should be changing soon. 

As with all tastings of this nature, given the smaller glasses, the absence of ideal food, and the relatively short time spent with each wine,  I will provide a score range only.  Suggested pricing is noted if I was supplied with that information. On to the wines....


Tenute Guicciardini Strozzi

I was first ushered to the San Gimignano Estate owned by Principe Girolamo Strozzi who was there to present his wines.  Principe takes great pride in Vernaccia and although his family estate produces an array of reds from Tuscany, they were not being poured at this event.  Research the family has unearthed provide all the veracity required to document the origins of the estate back to the year 994.  (that's not a typo)  
 
The 2011 Vernaccia di San Gimignano Cusona 1933 is produced entirely from estate fruit.  The "1933" is a nod to the first vintage of this wine that was ever bottled.  "Cusona" is the name of the family estate which lies in the shadows of San Gimignano's famed towers.
 
The wine is a medium gold in the glass.  This is 100% Vernaccia, completely produced in stainless steel. However, varying portions of the harvested grapes are left to dry for 2 months before being pressed.  The complexity on the nose of the wine is a direct result with figs, golden raisins, flowers, lemon and minerals present.  Lovely to smell.  On the palate, the wine is crisp but medium to full bodied with viscous flavors of white peach, honey, lemon, lemon grass and hay.  One of the more unique wines of the event.  90-92 points. 


~ Cusona 1933:  One of the day's standout Vernaccia di San Gimignano ~
 
The next wine poured was the alter ego of the first.  The 2012 Vernaccia di San Gimignano "Titolato" is produced with 90% Vernaccia grapes and the balance to Chardonnay and/or Sauvignon Blanc. Titolato is vinified 2/3 in stainless steel and 1/3 in used French barrique where the wine ages for 4 months before final blending. 
 
In the glass the wine is a clear gold. Pale, like straw.  Pretty aromas of lanolin, lemon, grapefruit and mineral are well delineated and pronounced. On the palate, the oak is noticeable in the body and "feel" of the wine, though it hardly dominates the flavors of stones, gravel and citrus.  Solid, but I prefer the Cusona.  87-89 points. 

~ Titolato is partially barrique aged for 4 months before bottling ~
 
The final Vernaccia was Strozzi's Riserva.   This may have been the first Vernaccia di San Gimignano Riserva I've ever seen.  A single vineyard wine, the 2010 Strozzi Vernaccia Riserva  is produced from a plot closest to the castle on the Cusona estate. The wine is produced only in the best vintages and is 100% Vernaccia, a portion of which spends up to 4 months in used barrique, similar to Titolato. However, in the Riserva's case, the grapes are not dried at all before vinification.

In the glass the wine is a bright gold color with aromas of mineral, lemon, white peaches and honeysuckle that are precise and focused like a laser.  More intensity on the palate, the flavors follow the nose with lots of brightness.  There is more body here and the increased intensity seemingly adds to the complexity of the wine.  Long ripe apricot finish.  Really delicious.  90-92 points.

The Tenute Guicciardini Strozzi wines are imported by Montcalm Imports. 


~ The delicious Vernaccia di San Gimignano Riserva ~


Campochiarenti

The next winemaker I visited with was the affable, disarming Daniele Rosti,  owner, winemaker and proprietor of Campochiarenti.  Located between Poggibonsi and San Gimignano, Campochiarenti was purchased by the Rosti family in 1977 and the family promptly set to renovating the winemaking facilities and the outbuildings. New vineyards were planted and now, at just over 30 years of age, are producing distinctive estate fruit for the family's wines.  Campochiarenti produces just over 50,000 bottles of wine from it's 14 hectares of vineyards.  The main difference, as Rosti points out, between his vineyards and those of nearby Chianti Classico, is the soil.  His estate is rich in sand and clay and makes for unique terroir. 

The first wine tasted was the 2011 Vernaccia.  Vinified completely in stainless steel, the wine has a clear pale gold color and displays wonderful aromatics of lemon, minerals and grass.  A spicy palate carries the citrus flavors nicely and the undertone of mineral is noticeable. Very nice.  From vines 30-35 years old.  86-88 points.

~ The 2011 Vernaccia ~

Daniele was excited for me to try the next wine because he said he brought it to show people what could become of Vernaccia if you have the patience to age it.  While most winemakers were pouring 2011 or 2012, this one stood out.  The 2009 Vernaccia displays a unique aroma redolent of the ocean.  There's salinity, oyster shells, lemons and lemon grass; loads of character here.  Flavors follow the nose.  The sensation of the ocean permeates everything about this wine. It needs to be experienced. This wine spent 6 weeks on it's lees before being bottled.  I love it.  91-93 points.

~ The Ocean in a glass ~

Following such a unique white wine, we turned to the reds.  The 2011 Chianti Colli Senesi is simply delicious. Daniele explained that his chianti is taken seriously, but at the same time, he wants the wine to be ready to be enjoyed when it's released. He says people shouldn't have to wait a few years to put wine on their lunch and dinner tables.  Therefore, he doesn't release wines until he feels they are ready to be consumed.  This one clearly is.

The 2011 is a dark garnet with violet reflections.  Very dark.  A blend of 85% Sangiovese and the balance to Colorino, Mammolo and Canaiolo, this red boasts traditional aromas of cherries, leather and earth.  However, on the palate is where this wine simply belies it's humble denomination.  A fully ripe core of crushed berry fruit is intense and velvety. The mouthfeel is amazing.  Sweet pipe tobacco, fennel and earth round out the package but I wrote "Amazing! and Wow!!" on my tasting sheet.  This wine is 10 euro.  The quality is astounding.  Bottle aged for 9 months prior to release.  This is one not to miss.  91-93 points. 

~ One of the standouts of the entire tasting ~
 
Finally, in keeping with showing the ageability of his wines,  Daniele poured me his 2007 Chianti Colli Senesi Riserva.   This is the same blend as the normale bottling but spends 4 years in large oak cask and one year in bottle before being released.  This is a special wine,  Rosti notes.  Darker than the Chianti,  with a pronounced blackberry aroma.  There are wonderful floral aromatics from this wine with Christmas Spices and tobacco.  On the palate the wine is concentrated and ripe with blackberry, sweet tobacco and mineral flavors.  There's a dose of vanilla that Daniele says comes from the oak despite the larger barrels. Very attractive and simply delicious.  92-94 points.  

Campochiarenti is not yet imported to the United States, though I am working to try and change that. Their wines are easily located in Europe.
 
 
~ Riserva 2007 from Campochiarenti ~


~ Daniele Rosti of Campochiarenti (R) and Lorenzo Lucii of Casa Lucii (L)
 
 
Tenuta Casa Lucii
 
Speaking to winemaker Lorenzo was a true pleasure.  He regaled of stories about driving his father's tanker truck into the Historical Centres of many hill towns and selling is wine to locals that cued up with their own jugs. "Such was the way of the farmer", he told me.  I didn't find this too odd, as many winemakers have started from humble beginnings such as this. But then Lorenzo dropped the bomb.  "This was the method of sale up until last year!" Indeed, the wines represented here are his first commercially bottled wines.  All wines are estate grown on over 100 hectares of vineyards.
 
The 2012 Vernaccia Vigna Cellori is a single vineyard wine in the northwest corner of his estate. A pale gold color, the wine is delicate, with honey and flowers on the nose and palate. Straightforward flavors and aromas are pleasing and this is best as a companion to lighter fare - shellfish, flaky white fish or as an aperitif.  84-86 points.
 
The 2012 Chianti Colli Senesi is a medium ruby colored wine with hints of pepper and cherry on the nose.  The allure here is the dusty tactile nature of the fruit on the palate.  The fruit and acid balance is moderately presented; this is not a bruiser, but the feminine style here is very attractive.  84-86 points.
 
The 2009 Chianti Colli Senesi is clearly a fuller effort than the 2012 although I'm somewhat concerned that the wine already looks and tastes older than it is.  A brick colored wine fades to orange at the rim and offers dried herb and tobacco  flavors behind the red fruits.  A little too mellow at this stage for me.  84-86 points.

~ The Wines of Casa Lucii ~

PietraSerena

Represented by the young and energetic Davide Angeli,  PietraSerena is but one property of Davide's winemaking family's estates that range across Italy.   Relative to the presentation of their contemporaries, I was less impressed with these two wines.

The 2012 Vernaccia Pietraserena was a light, clear gold in the glass.  Fresh and lively, the wine has a pronounced sea shell and mineral aroma with grapefruit notes.  On the palate, the wine is somewhat lean and austere. There's pleasant enough spice to the citrus notes but this is largely one dimensional.  All stainless vinification.  82-84 points.

The 2012 Vernaccia Vigna del Sole is a single vineyard production from estate fruit and a slight step up in quality. It's a pale gold, with notes of lemon and peach on the nose.  Fuller, rounder body and slightly more concentration than the estate wine. Still, there were better examples at the event.  83-85 points


~ The Vernaccia from PietraSerena are not imported to the US ~

Fattoria La Torre

Fattoria La Torre takes it's name from the medieval tower that dots it's landscape and dates to the 10th century. Located in the hills outside San Gimignano,  La Torre is more of a working farm and hamlet than an azienda dedicated solely to winemaking.  The farm, the vineyards, the restaurant, the lodging, all make up a unique oasis but struggle to impart a specific identity to the products offered.  The owners were present at the tasting and were very pleasant in discussing their wines.
 
The 2007 San Gimignano Rosso La Villa is the proprietary red of the estate and is 85% Sangiovese and 15% Cabernet.  Like the 10th Century tower, everything is old here.  The methods of production are uber traditional and the wines reflect that.  This displays aromas of wood, graphite, and austere currant.  On the palate, the wine displays earthy components above all else:  cedar, decaying leaves, mushrooms and barnyard.  It's funky to be sure. When I commented that "il vino e molto tradizionale"  I was told - "Absolutely, no modern flashes here".  I'm not sure that's a good thing, but it's clearly a theme amidst this production.  The wine is full bodied, muscular and tannic, yet I wonder where the lush fruit from the 2007 vintage has gone.  I just can't like this.  79-82 points.  Not imported. 
 
The 2011 Chianti Colli Senesi La Villa was much fresher.  A blend of Sangiovese with 10% Canaiolo, this ruby red wine was straightforward and pleasing.  Spice, tobacco and earth aromas follow through on the palate where moderate cherry and smoke notes are added.  100% old Grande Botte aging.  Pleasant enough, but not in the same class as some of the other producers in this report.  82-84 points.

~ 2011 Chianti Colli Senesi ~

The 2007 Chianti Colli Senesi La Villa Riserva returns us to the impression of the Cabernet blend.  What happened to the vibrant fruit of this vintage?  This wine is 100% Sangiovese and aged 4 years in grande botte and an additional year in bottle before release. Darmagi.  The fruit is dried out here.  There's dried mushroom, decaying leaves and hay on the nose whose aromas carry through to the palate where tarry fecal matter is perfunctorily added to the mix.  Austere and disappointing.  78-80 points. 

~ La Villa Chianti Riserva Center - Rosso Blend at Left ~
 
The 2012 Vernaccia di San Gimignano  may have been the best effort from this winery.  Clean, crisp, refreshing despite it's relative simplicity. Grapefruit and mineral aromas and flavors are nice and that little touch of hay seems appropriately placed here.  A pleasing effort.  82-84 points.

~ La Villa Vernaccia ~

Il Palagione

In picturesque hillside country lies the estate of Il Palagione.  Owner and winemaker Giorgio Comotti was affable and welcoming as I sat at length to discuss his passion, his winemaking and his wines.  The estate is covered by forest, fig and olive groves and the centerpiece is the 10 hectares of vineyards that are meticulously hand cared for by Giorgio and his wife.  The methods employed are 100% certified organic.  Even before we began tasting (he tasted the wines along with me) I asked him what benefits he saw from utilizing organic methods...
 
"Giovanni, this is my passion. It's the way I work.  I am a small producer that nurtures each vine in the vineyards. I walk the rows every day and I am close to the knowledge of what the vines need. I don't want them to have anything that nature can't provide.  This is the only way I know how to work."

~ The Fantastic Il Palagione Lineup ~

The results speak for themselves.
 
The 2012 Vernaccia di San Gimignano "Hydra"  is 100% Vernaccia and vinified in 100% stainless steel.  It does not undergo malolactic fermentation.  The color is clear gold and the aroma impressively unique.  This is the ocean in a glass. Dominant are aromas of minerals, sea shells, freshly shucked oysters, salinity and pepper.  On the palate the wine is backed up by these tertiary notes, but there is a nice core of pretty citrus and grass notes.  My comments say "Sea!" I really enjoyed this.  87-89 points. 

~ 100% Vernaccia, 100% Stainless Steel Production ~
 
The 2011 Vernaccia di San Gimignano Riserva "Ori"  represents a more fuller expression of the Vernaccia grape. Aged a year longer, the wine is vinified 30% in stainless steel and 70% barrique where unlike the Hydra, it undergoes malolactic fermentation.  Ori shares a similar aroma and taste profile as Hydra.   The sea is equally evident and when I asked Giorgio how this was achieved, his response was immediate: 
 
"It is the terroir. Period.  If you look at Tuscany eons ago, the sea covered our estate.  When you walk the vineyards you can easily find sea shells in the soil. This is the only way that it occurs. You cannot create it through winemaking."
 
The Ori is decidedly more fuller in body - the only place the oak is evident is the feel of the wine, not in the flavor.  It's rounder and has more of an oily viscosity to it.  Very well done.  87-89 points.

~ Vernaccia Riserva Ori:  Stainless Steel & Barrel Fermented ~

The 2012 Chianti Colli Senesi "Caelum"  was the next wine sampled and the reds continued to impress.  This Chianti is 100% Sangiovese that is fermented in stainless steel to retain all the freshness of the grapes.  The wine finishes malolactic fermentation in large, used French barrels.  The color is gorgeous, a deep crimson.  Before I could utter a word, Giorgio pronounced:  "Ah, violetti!"   He was spot on.  The violets pour forth from the glass and easily add discernible aromas of cherries, pepper and fresh leather.  Wonderful acids and structure here - this is much "larger" than one would expect from a "simple" Chianti.  Aged in bottle for 9-12 months before release.  Really great effort.  88-90 points.
 

~ Caelum is both fermented in Stainless Steel & French Barrels ~

Before tasting the final wine, it finally occured to me question Giorgio about the names of his wines.  The glean in his eye tells of his secondary hobby, if not alternate passion.  Each wine is named after stars or constellations as Giorgio often peers into the Tuscan sky on clear nights to observe the way the moon and stars light his vineyards. As if somehow sensing some sort of sembiotic connection, I asked him about nature's effect on his vineyards, specifically the increasing threat of harsher seasons.  
 
We take care - again by hand - to pay close attention in winter. We prune the vines often, maybe 2-3 times if I sense that is what they need. We are careful to trim the canopy too.  We want as much air and wind to pass through the vines as possible to keep the grapes dry in order to prevent rot and mold.  Like fine wines though, Giovanni, there has to be a balance. We make sure to leave enough canopy to cover the grapes in summer so that we don't get burned fruit." 
 
 
The 2011 Chianti Colli Senesi Riserva "Draco" is serious wine on all fronts.  Draco is 100% Sangiovese that is fermented in stainless steel and like the Chianti, completes malolactic in French barrique, 50% of which are old and 50% of which are new.  The wine displays a deep violet color with intense aromas of crushed red fruits, fresh flowers, pipe tobacco and roasted espresso.  On the palate, the wine is meaty and beefy, with blood, crushed berries, salume, anise, and a great acid/tannin balance.  It's full bodied, yet nimble and very fresh. I love this.   90-92 points. 

~ The Chianti Colli Senesi Riserva ~
 
Now for the bad news...  Il Palagione is not imported to the United States.  So I am left wanting.  European readers will delight in finding these wines - relative values since they will sell for between 8 and 15 Euro.  They are wines to buy by the case.  I am selfishly trying to assist Giorgio to have these wines imported into the US, so importers, if you're reading this article, please take note.   This is one to watch.


~ Antipasto Table ~

~ One of the Small Plates: Orecchiette with Basil & Parmigiano ~

Tenuta Poggiolo

Located in the gorgeous, tiny hamlet of Monteriggioni,  this estate may just be one of Tuscany's best kept secrets.  Founded by Federico Bonfio, the winery is now in the capable hands of owner-winemaker Luca Bonfio. His niece Elena is the charming sales manager for the estate and engagingly poured the following wines.  Together they run this 10 hectare farm.
 
The 2009 Chianti Colli Senesi  is a wonderful dark crimson color.  Made from 100% Sangiovese, the wine is fermented in stainless steel and then transferred to Slavonian oak barrels where it ages for up to one year.  This is no light weight wine.  The quality and ripeness of the fruit in this vintage is evident.  A boisterous aroma of crushed berry, tobacco and mushroom gives way to similar flavors on the palate where a sense of fennel is woven in.  Classy, delicious and long, this finishes with precision - the flavors last.  Moderate tannins and structure suggest this will last and improve with mid-term cellaring.  Delicious wine.  European Readers will be delighted to find this wine for about 8 Euro.  89-91 points.


~ 100% Sangiovese from Monteriggioni ~

The 2007 Chianti Colli Senesi Riserva is nothing short of stunning.  The deep garnet color provides a hint of the pleasure and aromatics to follow.  This wine was only just bottled in July of 2013, so Elena cautioned me that "it might not show at its best."  Well, if that is the case, this wine is quite simply a must have for Tuscan wine lovers.  Read on......
 
In the glass, this 100% Sangiovese has aromas of flowers, crushed wild berries, roasted coffee, cake spices and porcini.  On the palate the wine is full bodied and vibrant with spice, pepper, porcini and berry flavors that are layered and persistent.  The Riserva is vinified in stainless steel for 6 months before being aged in a combination of French and Slavonian barrique and tonneaux.  This is an absolutely wonderful wine of great character and easily reminds me of the best Chianti Classic Riserva and Super Tuscans like Flaccianello or Fontalloro.  92-95 points and about 15 Euro.  Yes, 15.

~ The Exceptional Riserva from Villa Poggiolo ~

As a final testament, before I left the tasting for the evening,  I visited with Elena and Luca again to share a final glass. 


Final Thoughts and Musings

This tasting was organized by Gambero Rosso to spotlight some excellent wines that hail from an area that doesn't get the attention and respect that it deserves.  Wine drinkers and retailers are pre-disposed to favoring Chianti Classico above the rest as though it is somehow automatically superior.  This tasting confirms rather resoundingly that such a notion is folly.  Perhaps when the zones were originally drawn and created, that was the case.  But experience, education, technology and passion have closed whatever gap existed and the matter is now one of intent and determination.

The wines above represented Tuscany well.  They are delicious, well made, and soulful.  The one thing they possess that lags behind their more notable cousins is actually a positive - and that's pricing.  Many of these wines can be found for 1/2 or even 2/3 of what a comparable Chianti Classico would fetch.  They are worth every penny and then some. 

Hopefully importers will take notice.  Contact me and I will be happy to facilitate introductions. Until then, I'll be shipping quite a bit home the next time I'm in Tuscany. 
 
A presto!

 
 
 








2 comments:

  1. John, such a great resource which I'll have to reference when Italian wines go on sale in NH!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Dennis. Reports coming on Sagrantino and Amarone.

    ReplyDelete