Spring Tasting in Tuscany

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My spring visit last month to Tuscany was entrancing. The trees and vines were just leafing out, the olive trees were being pruned, and the soil was being turned as the land is prepared for another season of bountiful production. The dramatic scenery is complemented with great depth of history, warm, welcoming people and the tasty vegetables, home-made pasta and flavourful sauces of the local trattoria and osteria. Then, there’s the wine, whether tasted at the Enoteca Italiana Permanente—respository of the 1700 representative wines produced in Italy, housed in the Medici fortress in Siena—in the local enoteca, or at the winery itself. We were welcomed to a number of wineries in the region, including the Ruffino property in the DOCG of Vino Nobile di Montipulciano, as well as the wineries of Castello di Fontirutoli, Castello di Volpaia, and Fèlsina in Chianti Classico. I hope you have the opportunity to visit these wineries or taste some of the wines which are available through the LCBO. 

Ruffino
Ruffino was established by cousins Ilario and Leopoldo in 1877 near Florence and was winning medals at prestigious European wine fairs as early as 1895. The company passed to the Folonari brothers in 1913, and by 1916, Ruffino was appointed the official wine supplier to the royal Italian court. Over the years, the family has added a number of properties, including Santedame in Chianti Classico and the Montalcino estate in the 1980s. In 1994 they purchased LodolaNuova to produce Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and la Solatia for the production of Tuscan white wines.  In Tuscany, the company now has 8 estates, 6 of which produce Chianti Classico, one of which produces Brunello, and the last, located near Montepulciano, which produces Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. We visited the TenutaLodola Nuova (named for the large number of larks which appear in the area in the spring) at Valiano, about 10 kilometres from Montepulciano.Yet another fortified town, Montepulciano was built by the residents of Firenze to control Montalcino, a Sienese outpost, and to monitor the border with the papal state to the south. The legend of the Vino Nobile is that in the 1700s this wine was shipped only to the noble families of Florence, hence it was so named. 

There are only 61 producers in the Montepulciano DOCG who are responsible for about 7M bottles per year. Perhaps due to smaller volume, or to some confusion with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (a wine produced from Montepulciano grapes in the region of Abruzzo), this Sangiovese-based wine (Prunello Gentile is the clone) is less well-known than Brunello and Chianti Classico. The DOCG regulations require a minimum of 75% Sangiovese grapes, which may then be blended with 25% of any other red grape varietal.

Lodola Nuova’s Vino Nobile started with dramatic success—awarded Gambero Rosso’s 3 glasses in its first vintage. The estate has grown dramatically over the years to now include 250 hectares. As a result, a new winery was built about five years ago. Local regulations required that most of the structure be underground, hence the extensive barrel cellar requires minimal cooling. The wine is fermented in open temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, then aged in 500 litre tonneau made of French and Slavonian oak. An ingenious device invented by Leonardo da Vinci, the tappocolmatorre, seals the barrel from the air, yet allows the regular topping up required.

We sampled three Ruffino wines. The TenutaLodola Nuova Vino Nobile di Montipulciano 2007, dry, medium-full bodied offering fresh berry fruit and perceptible tannins; the 2005 Riserva (90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot), aged 3 years, a velvety, balanced wine with a long smooth spiced fruit-filled finish; and the LodolaNuova Syrah 2007 from Cortona (the only DOC in Italy which can produce Syrah), an opaque inky full-bodied wine with loads of ripe dark fruit, some peppery notes and a lasting toasty finish, available only in Italy.

There are a number of Ruffino wines regularly available through the LCBO including their Chianti (#42606), the Chianti Classico ‘Aziano’ (#307025), the Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale (#45195) and Il Ducale (#332411). In addition a number of wines have been released through Vintages, including the Santedame Chianti Classico 2007 (#523076), the Ducale Oro Chianti Classico Riserva 2005 (#353201) and the Brunello ‘Greppone Mazzi’ (#926402).

 

Fèlsina
Located on the ancient pilgrimage route from Rome to Jerusalem, the first references to the Fèlsina farm estate date back to the 12th century. The property was purchased by the Poggiale family in 1966 and includes a number of farm buildings and 2 deconsecrated chapels that date from the 17th and 18th centuries. The site is on the border of the Chianti Classico and the ColliSenesi, offering 2 very different soil types. The family has also purchased an estate at Castello di Farnetella near Sinalunga, from which was produced the wine ‘Lucilla’ (#19033) which was released in the LCBO Vintages in November of last year and is still available in Ottawa. The family is currently working with the LCBO to introduce both Fèlsina and Castello di Farnetella wines to Ontario.

The Fèlsina Chianti Classico is aged 10 months in large Slavonion botti which were custom made to fit between the arches of one of the decommissioned chapels. They are sealed with the glass ‘tapo colamatore’ (meaning refilling cork) ordered from Conegliana Veneto, the best-known producer of this device. The Riserva  is aged 14-16 months in French oak barrique, then 10 months in bottle. Also produced are two Supertuscans; Fontallora, 100% Sangiovese from fruit harvested from two vineyards, one in Chianti Classico, the other in the Colli Senesi, and the Maestro Raro, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. A blend of unoaked Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc and an oaked Chardonnay are also available. Fèlsina also produces Vin Santo, aged  7 years in small oaks barrels sealed with wax, similar to the barrels used for producing  balsamic vinegar. The 45-acre estate includes approximately 5000 olive trees, resulting in production of a traditional blend olive oil, as well as single-varietal oils.

We had the opportunity to try 2 wines from Castello di Farnetella, a crisp, fruity perfumed Sauvignon Blanc that brightens the palate with a fresh tart finish, and the 2006 Granoni (a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah), an approachable medium-bodied wine with bold fruit, firm tannins  and smooth finish of spice and toast.

Of the Fèlsina wines, we tasted the 2008 Chianti Classico (100% Sangiovese) , a lively well-balanced wine with ripe tannins and fresh berry fruit; the 2007 single vineyard Chianti Classico Riserva ‘Rància’ (100% Sangiovese), richly aromatic, medium-full bodied, elegant and balanced with great depth of berry flavour and a lasting finish; and the 2004 and the 2007 Fontalloro (100% Sangiovese). The Fontalloro takes advantage of the differing soil profiles of the Chianti Classico—stony and limestone based—and the Colli Senesi—clay loam with a high mineral content—to create a unique wine. In the case of the 2004, well-integrated, velvety in texture, fine acidity, ripe plum and cherry, while the 2007 displayed more earthiness, red berry fruit, fresh acidity and youthful tannins on the long finish. This is a wine is structured to aged 10-15 years.

 

Castello di Fonterutoli
A drive up the Chiantigiana to Fonterutoli provides a true example of how tradition and technology are seamlessly integrated to produce outstanding wines.

The property has been in the possession of the Marchese Mazzei’s family since 1435. It comprises 600 hectares, of which 114 are under vine, and includes the small hamlet of Fonterutoli itself, where most of the vineyard employees live.  The town is known for its spring, whose water was historically transported via aquaduct to Sienna, where it provided drinking water for the city dwellers.

Most of the vineyards are oriented south/southwest, but vary in elevation from just over 200m to just under 500m, and have different inclination, exposure and soil types. Hence, each hectare is treated as a separate parcel and is individually hand harvested, fermented separately in stainless and aged separately in barrels of Hungarian, French or American oak to preserve the unique character of the grapes. The wines from these parcels are then blended to create Fonterutoli’s Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva.  Their Supertuscan, Siepi, is a single-vineyard blend of Sangiovese and Merlot, also grown on the estate. In addition, the family has purchased a property in the Maremma, Tenuta Belguardo, which offers a flatter site with soils with greater minerality, as well as one in Siciliy,  Zisola.

The family practices sustainable agriculture, and is in process of converting one of its vineyards to organic culture. The new winery, which moved into full production in 2006, is an ingenious horseshoe design created by famed Italian architect Agnese Mazzei. The large central courtyard has about one dozen covered disks which, at harvest, are opened to reveal steel pipes which guide the grapes directly through destemmers to the steel fermenters below. After fermentation, the wine flows through a gravity-fed system to the barrel cellar and into barrique. The barrel cellar, holding about 3000 barrels, is 2 levels below ground and has a dramatic ‘open’ wall which is essentially the limestone bedrock itself, with the Fonterutoli spring gently cascading down its face. In this way, no temperature control is required in the cellar, which maintains itself at an average temperature of 14C and average humidity of 80%. The estate produces approximately 1.3 million bottles per year, of which about 380,000 are Chianti Classico.

The complex, elegant, beautifully balanced 2005Siepi (#740019) is the only wine of Fonterutoli which has found its way to LCBO Vintages. A small number of bottles are still available. However, we would recommend that you keep your eyes open for the winery’s other products, such as the Fonterutoli Chianti Classico 2005 (90% Sangiovese, with small amounts of Colorino, Malvasia Nera and Merlot)—well balanced with a smooth texture, lovely ripe fruit and a lengthy finish with some attractive cocoa notes; the Castello di Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Riserva 2006 (90% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvginon)—opaque, intensely aromatic and complex, weighty on the palate and long on the finish. From the Tenuta Belguarda, we tasted the Bronzone Morellino di Scansano 2007 (100% Sangiovese)—medium bodied and fruity with a fresh texture and bright acidity; and the Belguardo Supertuscan 2006 (90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc)—a dry, medium-full bodied meaty wine with depth of fruit and a firm tannic presence, finishing with a refreshing aromatic Rosé produced from a combination of Sangiovese and Syrah.

 

Castello di Volpaia
Strategtically situated up a tortuous road high in Chianti Classico, Volpaia was built in the 11th and 12th centuries as a fortification on the oft-contested border between Siena and Florence.  Giovanna Stianti’s father purchased 900 acres around the small hamlet, transferring the property to her in the early 1970s. Giovanna developed 100 acres into vineyard, where Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and the local varietal Marmolo are grown to produce both Chianti Classico and 2 Supertuscans, as well as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc for a tasty white blend and Trebbiano and Malvasia for Vin Santo. The property also includes 30 acres of olive orchards, with extra-virgin olive oil produced using a traditional granite mill.

Volpaia is a national historic site and as such is subject to stringent building regulations. The Stianti family has created ingenious methods to ensure a modern winemaking process while maintaining the unique historical character of the hamlet. There are 3 historic churches in the village, only one of which is still functional. Under this church is a barrel cellar where the Supertuscans, Coltasala and Balifico are aged in l’Allier oak barrique. The space under the two remaining churches also houses fermentation tanks and a barrel cellar. The stainless steel fermentation tanks under one cellar were placed there by crane, as no modifications are allowed to the buildings; hence the only way to renovate was to remove and replace fermenters through the roof. Similarly, the 3000-litre botti of Slavonian oak used for aging the Chianti Classico and Riserva wines had to be disassembled to be moved to the renovated barrel cellar and reassembled onsite. The wine moves from the fermentation tanks to the barrel cellar through an underground stainless steel ‘wine duct’ (like an aquaduct) so that no piping is visible. About 35 people live in Volpaia, most working for the Castello di Volpaia winery.

We tasted 4 wines, a white blend, two Chianti Classico wines and the Supertuscan Balifico. The 2009 Bianco di Volpaia is an equal blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, stainless-steel fermented, a dry fresh fruity wine with a silky texture and lovely flavours of lemon pie and orchard fruit. The Volpaia Chianti Classico2008 is primarily Sangiovese, with a small amount of Merlot and Syrah, dry, medium-bodied and approachable, with ripe tannins and a fresh finish. The Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva from the heralded 2006 vintage is 100% Sangiovese, aged 2 years in botti, complex, medium-full bodied, lengthy and dry on the finish. Volpaia’s 2006 Balifico is a single-vineyard blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon aged 18 months in French oak. Dry, robust and full bodied, this wine has loads of fruit and muscle and is a candidate for lengthy aging. Currently the only wine available through the LCBO is what was described to us as a basic wine, the Compagnia di Volpaia ‘Citto’ 2008 (#134817).

I hope you enjoy this glimpse of the wines of Tuscany, and that we may have the opportunity to savour more of these wines in Ontario.

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