Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Day at Campochiarenti

  Benvenuto a Campochiarenti!

I'm asked often what my favorite hill town in Tuscany is and admittedly, it's a little bit like asking me who's my favorite child or what's my favorite wine.  That being said,  you could easily make an argument for the picturesque town of San Gimignano.  Distinct for it's 7 famous towers,  it's equally notable for it's parade of charming shops,  enotecas, trattorias and some of the best gelato in Italy.  
~ One of the many Piazza in San Gimignano ~
Not far from the old city's walls sprawls the DOCG region, Chianti Colli Senesi.   A subzone of the broader Chianti region, the Colli Senesi - or, the Sienese Hills,  are gorgeous and the splendor of their wines often overlooked at the expense of their more notable brother, Chianti Classico.  Smart readers will look to Colli Senesi for exceptional value.  The wines can be excellent and the main difference between the two regions can be generally summed up between differences in the soil. 

~ San Gimignano:  This picture amazes me architecturally.  Within this shot are 5 different types of windows and 4 different brick & stone structures, despite the homes being conjoined.  Ahh,  Italy!  ~

We had a mid morning appointment at Campochiarenti for a tour and tasting followed by lunch. After a slight derailment courtesy of my GPS,  we phoned Daniele Rosti,  friend, owner & winemaker at Campochiarenti who came to escort us the rest of the way to his charming estate

~ View from atop Campochiarenti.  San Gimignano, with it's famous towers is visible at center ~

Campochiarenti has been in the Rosti family since 1977 when they acquired the abandoned buildings and land that had once been a monastery.  Restoration was immediate and new vineyards were planted with optimal clones for the microclimate of San Gimignano.  Today Campochiarenti is the family home and Daniele is involved in all aspects of the production from vineyard management to the design of the estates new wine labels.  From 14 hectares of vineyards, Rosti produces several interesting wines; some annually, some only in optimal vintages. 

~ The main street into San Gimignano bustles with visitors, though as you meander the piazza and alleys, the crowds thin considerably ~

We began with a walking tour of the vineyards.  Just as we had arrived, the vines were undergoing pruning and the vineyards themselves were being tilled.   In the picture below, you can see the red tractor in the backround traversing the vine rows.  The machine is simultaneously trimming the top of the canopy while blades behind the tractor turn over the dirt. 

~  At right, the dirt has been turned over.  Center & left are awaiting passage of the tractor, note the undisturbed grass. Click the image to enlarge & you can note the difference in the heights of the canopy  ~

Walking the vineyards always gives you an immediate feel for the exposure and terroir of the land.  It was a bright sunny day and the sun was strong plentiful on the vineyards.  You can smell the freshly turned dirt and you can sense the slight minerally dust in the air.  When you see me mention these aspects in a wine review, you'll know first hand what I mean.  San Gimignano was once covered by the sea. It is not uncommon to find oyster and clams shells in the dirt. We spotted a few and in fact, Daniele has a small collection on the wall in his yard.  Just to imagine vineyards this high in elevation covered with sea water is quite the mind bending feat.  Climate change indeed! 

~ This is a close up down vine rows that have yet to be topped.  These are Cabernet vines which are grown for Campochiarenti's Super Tuscans as well as a small addition to the Chianti ~
~ This is a close up of the vines picture above.  The berries were large, but still green. If you note the reddish color of the stems, that is the telltale sign that these vines are Cabernet Sauvignon ~

We then headed to the winery building, which sits just behind the family home.  The winery is very small,  but the space is utilized to perfection.  In a concrete and stone building sits Campochiarenti's barrels.  He uses large cask to age his reds, not wanting to impart significant oak flavors into the wine.  He has stainless tanks for his Vernaccia.  

~ The bottling & shipping area at Campochiarenti. Wines are bottled and cellared until they are ordered.  They are then boxed and shipped. ~
~ Directly behind the bottling area is the temperature controlled cellar.  Bottles are binned, unlabeled and organized by vintage and wine.  You can see the yellow sticker on the shelving frame which denotes wine, vintage, etc.  ~

We crossed the courtyard to go into Daniele's back yard.  He literally rolled out the red tablecloth for us. Set in a wonderful picturesque garden among shaded pergolas, lemon trees, vines and olive trees, we sat with a generous spread of antipasti while Daniele proudly prepared his wines.  He had a digital, wireless thermometer with which he "scanned" the temperature of each wine prior to serving. Daniele is keenly aware to attention to detail and that fact translates into his wines.   

~ The Chapel attached to the former Monastery at Campochiarenti has been respectfully restored by the Rosti family ~

Our Tasting

We began with Daniele's whites.  When I first met him last year,  Daniele was presenting his Chianti and Vernaccia at a trade tasting in New York.  One of the wines he served that day was his 2009 Vernaccia - an aged beauty that quite simply, was the most distinctive Vernaccia I've ever enjoyed.   I was excited to try the rest of his offerings.
What follows are reviews of each wine he poured for us. Given the relaxed nature of the event,  I typed only brief notes into my iPad.
2011 Dorato, IGT:  This is a white made from all 3 Pinot grapes:  Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.  For those wondering, yes! you can make white wine from red grapes.... The Dorato is a pale gold and the palate slighty creamy. Medium bodied with tropical fruit & melon and on the nose and palate. White stone fruits join in as well.  The grapes for Dorato are harvested beginning at first light and all are completed by 11am.  This allows the grapes the most protection possible from the sun once they've been picked.  Fruitier and less mineral driven than the Vernaccia.   87 points
~ 2011 Dorato, Toscana IGT ~
Next up, was a trio of Vernaccia. 

2011 Vernaccia:  The 2011 was the first vintage poured and was the youngest and most primary. 100% Vernaccia di San Gimignano, the wine was a  medium, pale golden color.  Medium body & slightly sweeter than the Dorato.   White stone fruits are pentiful on the nose & palate. A touch of grass on the finish.  This is nice. 87 points. 
2009 Vernaccia:   This is slightly darker than 2011.  Aromas of salt air and wet sand at the sea.  The ocean! Just as I remember it.  Crisp,  with mineral and lemon zest.  Tastes of brine & salinity. I really love this.  Maybe not showing as well as it did in New York, but still unique.  Daniele was convinced it was slightly too cold.  89 points.
2006 Vernaccia:  A bit more austere & crisper in body. Slightly leaner with more focus on tertiary than fruit components. Stones & citrus with some grapefruit.  Lighter in body than the previous two wines.  Lots of minerals and the fruit  is a bit faded.  85 points.  
~ The 2011 Vernaccia di San Gimignano:  This wine still sports the old label ~
Next, with some crusty bread, olive oil, and an array of hearty cheeses, we moved onto the reds.  The class and terroir in these wines are exceptional.  It bears repeating that the essence of the San Gimignano area has been captured in these bottles.
2012 Chianti Colli Senesi:  First up was the 2012 Chianti.  A deep violet red through to the rim.  The wine is 85% Sangiovese with the balance to numerous other allowed red grapes.  This is juicy & fruity with dusty ripe tannins. Flowers & spice on the nose & palate.  This is really great.  Good, medium body that finishes fresh & vibrant. 88 points. 
~ The 2012 Chianti Colli Senesi - Note the new classy label being used as of 2012 ~
2011 Chianti Colli Senesi:  This is more ruby in color.  There's nice fruit & leather on the nose with warmly crushed fruit.  Smooth and ripe w/ juicy tannins & fresh balanced acidity.  Red fruits & licorice on the finish.  Really good.  88 points. 
~ The old label, but nice consistency in this wine from vintage to vintage ~
2008 Chianti Colli Senesi:  Very fresh. Crushed red fruit on the nose that turns to violets. Floral and aromatic.  On the palate a hint of bitterness (olive?) with drier tannins. Very good but this needs food more than the younger wine.  Tougher to stand on its own.  86 points.
~ The 2008 shows more age advancement than it's younger siblings ~
2007 Vivi, Toscana IGT:   Vivi is an important wine to Daniele, having been named in honor of his Mother - Vivi is her nickname and is a nod to the way she embraces life.  Vivi is 50% Sangiovese, 30% Merlot, and 20% Cabernet.  It's a dark crimson color.  Rich, ripe aromas of fruit and and Tuscan brush are joined by leather and red clay.  Great balance.  Juicy and concentrated with velvety tannins and a long ripe finish.  Could age 1-2 years. Special wine and produced in top vintages only.   93 points.
~ Classy Vivi ~
~ Winemake Daniele Rosti opening his wines on the patio ~
The next wine we tried was an homage cuvee dedicated to Daniele's father.  While Daniele's Mother is still alive, and I was surprised to learn she almost joined us!  his father passed away in 2008 and Daniele named this wine in his honor. 
The 2008 Gian Ambrogio Rosti (GAR):  The label contains Daniele's Father's name and a Latin phrase, which I will struggle to relate:  "There is a meaning in things, and there are limits that we cannot go beyond; but we must consist of steadfast devotion."
The 2008 is a deep ruby with rich brick notes at the rim.  The nose is plentiful with notes of anise, crushed red fruit and flowers. The GAR is 60% Sangiovese & 40% Canaiolo.  There is delicious sweet tobacco on the palate coated with crushed fruit.  Really great texture. Delicious.  This wine will be made in only the top vintages but 2008 was the first to be bottled.  94 points. 

~ Sangiovese & Canaiolo comprise the Gian Ambrogio blend ~

We were about to head out to lunch when Daniele said, before we go, we must have some Vin Santo!  He explained that in Tuscany, it's very common to make Vin Santo and keep it in your home because it is considered the minimum that someone should offer a Sunday guest.

The 2003 Vin Santo del Chianti  has just been released.  It's the current vintage after spending 8 years in barrel,  1 year in steel, and finally  2 years in bottle.  Made from 70% Trebbiano  and 30% Malvasia, the wine is deep golden color.  Lots of brown sugar and honey on the nose, with faint rose hips.  Crisp  with good, refreshing acidity.  Rich and full in body with dried orange peel, caramel and honey flavors.  I love this, it's very well done. 93 points. 
~ Produced in miniscule amounts, but worth the search ~

Finally we were off to lunch, following Daniele through the winding unpaved roads to one of his favorite agriturismo where we had some wonderful pappardelle sul cinghiale. 

~ Another view out over the panorama from Campochiarenti ~

~ Such a simple, wonderful condimento for pasta.  The rich pork ragu is enhanced with carrots, onions and rosemary ~

Finally, we bid goodbye to Daniele, the richer for having been in his company.  His wines are wonderful, and although not yet imported to the US, they are widely available in the EU.  What's more, they are absolute bargains with most being available for less than 20 Euro.  Seek these out and in the meantime, I'll continue attempting to have them imported to the US.  

~ Daniele and I before setting off to lunch ~

To learn more about Campochiarenti, click here.
Ci vediamo!



  1. Great feature, John. I wish you luck in your efforts to get these wines here. The Colli Senesi subzone of Chianti has always been one of my favorites.

  2. Roland, thanks for the comment. As I'm sure you're aware, there are myriad challenges to importing wine - and just finding a suitor isn't easy. I've been able to put Daniele in contact with a few people and thus far, nothing has come of it. But I know of others and I'm still trying - even if only for my own interests. His Chianti sells for about 7 Euro in Italy. Sometimes less. It's a steal.

  3. John, I echo Roland's comments. Also the Vivi and the GAR sound so special in the meaning and the quality; would love to find a source for them.

    Your enjoyment of the overall trip rings out of all of your writings on the trip.

  4. Joe, thanks, I appreciate it. I saw Campochiarenti's wines all over San Gimignano in shops and you can easily purchase them at the estate. He has some stock of every wine we tasted.