Saturday, June 12, 2010

On the Quest for the Perfect Tuscan

For a wine lover like myself, visiting a region like Tuscany always presents a great challenge; finding the wine which really captures me during my stay there. Last year during my visit in March, I visited a number of wineries with my friend Franco Traversi, a true Tuscan wine connoisseur. He took me to some incredible producers which till now represent my favourite in this diverse wine region. Rave wines from last year’s visit include San Giusto a Rentennano Percarlo, Monteraponi’s Chianti Classico, Stella di Campalto’s Rosso di Montalcino, Pian del Orino’s Brunello di Montalcino and other great producers from Bolgheri area like Tua Rita and Le Macchiole.

So last week, apart for my main reason to visit Tuscany which for now I leave secretly undisclosed, :) I again took the opportunity to visit some wineries. The total number of visits by Saturday was up to 5, the total of number wine tasted throughout the week was enough to make me crave for some cool refreshing beer by Saturday evening. :) On this note I must say that for wine lovers like myself beer is a beverage that is truly appreciated especially during a week of great wine tastings.

First winery visited during the week was the very well-known winery of Dievole in Vagliagli. This winery is one of the few in Tuscany which really pushed its way through the modern marketing tools like Facebook and Twitter; tools that are yet undiscovered by many Tuscan and even Italian wineries, and we may also include the French producers here. The first reason for my visit to Dievole, was hunger followed by wine. The Chianti Classico is dotted with small osterias and trattorias where one can enjoy a lovely lunch yet that day I had enough time to make my way to a winery and taste both their food and wine. I must admit that the hospitality at Dievole was remarkable and very well-prepared. The food was mainly a nice carpaccio followed by a massive and tasty plate of pici al ragu. Wines to match were their white wine Bianco di Malvagia from Malvasia and Trebbiano; even though white wines from Tuscany are in my opinion of limited quality and only a few blow away my senses, this wine was an easy drinking aromatic wine enjoyable during a hot summer’s day. The second wine served with my pasta was the Certosa Chianti Classico which is a joint venture wine produced with the University of Siena; this wine is easy drinking with no complexities or aromas you fall in love with yet good quality and matching very well the juicy pici . After my lunch I had the opportunity to visit their cellars and taste their Chianti Classico Broccato, Chianti Classico Riserva Novecento and their Vin Santo. Both Chiantis in my opinion have strong tannins coming from barrique ageing which is not what I really look for in a Chianti. Will these tannins integrate better with age leaving the palate softer and more balanced? Guess I need to taste these same wines in a couple of years to make my judgement, all rise!

Another dynamic and evolving winery I visited last week was the Tolaini Estate which is found on the gentle rolling hills of Castelnuovo Berardenga. Diego Donato, the young talented oenologist over seeing the estate gave me a really good tour of the vineyards which are planted with both international grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot and also with the indigenous grape Sangiovese. A tour which yes ended up with a tasting yet which was brought to a halt by a punctured tyre in our car in the middle of the vineyards; not so bad given the sun, vines and company. The wines of this estate are atypical for the region of the Chianti Classico. My favourite was Al Passo made of 85% Sangiovese and 15% Merlot, whose aromas are very compelling with cherry notes, prunes and spice. The Picconero and the Valdisanti are mostly composed of international grape varieties and have a French twist to them; oh did I mention that the consultant oenologist is Michel Rolland?! His fingerprints are all over. :)

Next on my list was Isola e Olena, a winery which was suggested by a friend who recently tasted their wines at the Decanter Italian Wine Tasting in London. What makes me fall in love with this region over and over again are the magnificent sceneries you discover after making your way through an endless curvy road, praying you won’t have car problems here since you know that even your GPS signal is weak let alone your mobile phone reception. When you arrive at the winery of Isola e Olena, you think to yourself, wow... I am so lucky to have a passion for wine.. it brings me to this.. a tapestry of greenery... undulating vineyards; olive trees and cypress trees dancing with the light wind, then the darker green forest on the background against the bluest of skies.. To top it all I was greeted by this lovely woman, owner of the winery, Martha de Marchi. Her husband’s family originally cultivating vineyards in Piedmont, bought this winery and surrounding vineyards in the 1950s and through research and hard work is now producing some stunning wines. The Ceparello 2004 was truly a gem; the aromas of ripe cherries and prunes intermingling with earthy and forest floor nuances make you wish to stop time and just keep sniffing. The palate was very balanced, with tannins which were very broad on the mouth yet not dusty; just right for a long finish. The other wines tasted including the Isola e Olena Chianti Classico and their Vin Santo, both show really great quality and wine making skills yet difficult to beat their brother Ceparello.

Bbbbbrrrrr Brancaia was the next winery I visited. A winery introduced to me by another wine friend a number of years back. Another Italian winery owned by non-Italians, once again giving a modernist approach to a traditional region like Tuscany. Work both in the cellar and vineyards is very meticulous with high density plantings and lutte raisonnée viticulture put into practise. As expected, given their modernist approach, the recipe for their wines mainly includes international grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. By now you would ask, but what’s wrong with such grape varieties? Why is Berenice so hard to please? Surely there is nothing wrong with Cab and Merlot wines and surely yes I am hard to please. :) In my opinion wines should represent the region, area, piece of dirt they are coming from and to do this I believe that only indigenous grape varieties can reflect this. By all means I cannot deny that the Ilatraia and the Blu tasted at Brancaia are awesome wines which I am willing to drink and taste on a frequent basis yet it’s totally different from when you are discovering a true Sangiovese, a distinctive Nebbiolo or even a pleasing Gamay. Back to this tasting, Blu will always be amongst my favourite Bordeaux blends in the area. The grapes for this wine are mainly grown in the Maremma area which gives lovely ripe fruit notes on nose and palate; tannins are also ripe with dusty hints that support very well the alcohol and broadness of this wine.

Last but not least and from a completely different area altogether I visited Cantina Dei in Montepulciano. When the going gets rough I like to trace some imprints stored at the back of my mind and one of my favourites is the view one can admire from the belvedere hidden on the edge of the tiny village of Montepulciano; it makes anyone’s frown turn into a smile! :) At Cantina Dei I was welcomed by Catherina Dei herself who is currently running the winery with the help of her omnipresent father. The tour in the cantina followed the usual trail until she introduced me to their new project; a new cellar in an oyster shell form cut into the ground. Still under construction, using my “creative” brain I could imagine this future realm; a mix between old and new; the smell of wine filling up the empty spaces and yes the beautiful music by Catherina herself accompanying wine through its maturing journey. My favourite wine her was the typical Vino Nobile di Montepulciano made from the Sangiovese clone, Prugnolo, enticing both on the nose and palate. I don’t really like to describe wines according to gender but this wine genuinely has a female touch; silky tannins, nice acidity and succulent fruit all branching to a long persistence.

Have I found the perfect Tuscan? Who am I really to judge perfect or imperfect? Each wine, each wine maker has a story of its own to tell, discovering each and every one of them is what keeps me going on, what keeps my thirst and dreams alive!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Unwinding through the Winding Roads of Tuscany!

After 10 hours of night train sleeping in on a hard sofa bed, then complications to rent a car without GPS, and getting lost in Florence in search of my apartment I finally made it to Greve in Chianti were I attended a tasting for 2007 Chianti Classico wines from different areas in Chianti showing different terroir characteristics. For many the word terroir doesn’t really mean anything, others understand it but its not the sole factor behind a label, for others it makes a really big difference. Terroir as many books might define it makes up a blend of different aspects around wine. Terroir is mainly the soil, grape variety, aspect of vineryard, climatic conditions and the different appellations of the region. It is ultimately the skill of the winemaker to interpret the different aspects of terroir in the wine he produces. Some winemakers might consider this unrelevant and just produce a style of wine the consumer ultimately demands.

But now back to Tuscany. For me Tucany represents the epitome of beauty. I admit that Burgundy has a mystical richness that no other region has yet Tuscany is a wine lovers dream. The winding roads of the beautiful Strada del Chianti unwind you as you drive through them. The wines of this region vary according to grape variety and ohhh yes terroir. You can taste Chianti, Rosso di Montalcino, Brunello, Rosso di Montepulciano and Supertuscans all in one day, not mentioning any whites.

Well, surely what Tuscany has in common with Burgundy is the characterisitics of their red grape varieties; Pinot Noir and Sangiovese. Both light in colour due to low anthocynins; both with good acidity and sapidity; both with lovely cherry, cassis fruit with floral aromas when young which can age really well; both difficult to tame. Most Chianti Classico wines which have a minimum of 80% of Sangiovese need time to develop in the bottle so that all the components in the wine integrate better. This is the same for most red Burgundy wines.

My favourite 3 picks from todays tastings have to be Fontodi, Castello di Ama e Felsina. The Fontondi coming from the.... area had beautiful lavender notes on the nose with undertones of sweet almond liqueur; on the mouth tannins still a bit austere showing that the wine needs time to integrate better. Castello di Ama had the most vibrant colour from all and fruit was more concentrated; cherries and prunes. Mint was very present too on the nose. Tannins covered all the mouth very nicely giving the wine length and persisitance. The Felsina was the most intense in colour and its nose had enticing fruit with noce moscato very present. Even if wine had high alcohol level of 13.5% it was still very elegant and balanced, with a long silky finish.

How did the day end? With a lovely dinner at a friend who was orignally a friend of a friend who I met during the Benvenuto event last February. Well I had some burro di lardo, some pasta with collante di alici and some lovely sfogliate di ricotta da Napoli. Wines of the evening included Les Clos Laherte and Billecart Salmon Rose Champagne, Chardonnay from Valle d’Aosta, a Ribolla Gialla from Gravner and a lovely Recioto di Soave to finish up the dessert.

Well a day which started off not so well surely end with a big bang!! :)