Richard Baudains spots the stellar Tuscan wine performers of the future.
The wine renaissance began in the Chianti Classico and continues to flourish in this extraordinarily dynamic part of Tuscany. With the impetus of wide-scale replanting and continuing investment, both local and from outside the region, Chianti remains the fast track of Tuscan wine. The Maremma is also a hive of activity, although the full results of the massive influx of capital into the province of Grosseto will still be some time in coming. In other parts of the region, small continues to be beautiful as fledgling boutique wineries pop up with every new vintage, often in the least expected places. In terms of wine styles, there is no sign that the Super-Tuscans are going out of fashion, but at the same time many of the emerging estates – a personal selection follows – have native varieties high on their agendas and there is lot of very good, new Sangiovese coming out.
Jacopo Biondi Santi, Castello di Montepo
Location: Scansano, Grosseto
Wines: DOC Morellino di Scansano Riserva, IGT Sassoalloro (Sangiovese), Montepaone (Cabernet Sauvignon), Schidione (Sangiovese, Cabernet, Merlot)
Tuscany is not short of mediaeval castles, but Castello di Montepò really is something special. In a perfect state of architectural preservation (apart from a touch of rising damp), it sits regally on a hilltop dominating the landscape of what is being described as the new Eldorado of Tuscan winemaking.
Jacopo Biondi Santi had been looking for a property in Scansano and was close to clinching a deal when, in 1998, the owner of Montepò (as it happens, the grandson of the author Graham Greene) called to say he was putting the castle on the market and would Jacopo be interested? The rest, as they say, is history. Biondi Santi’s intention is to base his entire future production of Super-Tuscans at Montepò. The château range will therefore include the existing Sassoallora and Schidione, currently sourced mainly from the family estates at Montalcino; the silky Cabernet Montepaone already in production at Montepò; and probably a top-flight international-style white. There is also a very classy Morellino di Scansano Riserva which will provide a considerable prestige boost to the local DOC. Montepò is being replanted with the aim of arriving at around 80ha of vineyard by the year 2003. The geological studies commissioned to prepare the planting campaign reveal soil types ranging from galestro, on which Sangiovese flourishes, through stony marl to sandy clays. It is precisely this feature, explains Biondi Santi, which makes Montepò the perfect venue for the modern, diversified production that he is planning by matching varieties to soil and aspect on the slopes around the castle.
Castello di Bossi
Location: Castelnuovo Berardenga, Siena
Wines: DOCG Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva, IGT Corbaia (Sangiovese, Cabernet), Girolamo (Merlot)
Associated in the past with the solid but rather dour traditional style of Sienese Chianti, in the last two vintages Castello di Bossi has started to bring out wines which demonstrate radically new ambitions. The estate is nearing the completion of a restructure managed by Marco Bacci, youngest son of the family owners, which has involved detailed studies of mesoclimate and soils, replanting, upgrading of the vinification facilities and total restocking of the barrel cellars. The incredibly beautiful estate has more than 100ha of vineyard on the gently contoured hillsides typical of the southern edge of the Chianti DOCG zone. The principal variety is Sangiovese, but Castello di Bossi is also in the rare (in Tuscany) and enviable position of owning mature Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vineyards, planted by Giacomo Tachis with cuttings from Château Margaux in the early 1960s. In terms of immediate results the change of gear came with the arrival of consultant oenologist Alberto Antonini in 1998. His hand is evident in the restyling of the Chianti Classico, with its highly extracted colour and fleshy fruit palate.
When you move up to riserva level the winemaking takes a step back, allowing the personality of the wines – the feature which is missing from so many of today’s over-stylised Super-Tuscans – to emerge. For example, look out for the 1998 Girolamo, a Merlot which challenges all the fruit and oak clichés. My notes read ‘restrained but full of nuance, exceptionally fine-grained tannins, great ageing potential’. Waiting in the wings, meanwhile, is a real stunner, the first release (vintage 2000, due out in 2003) of a new wine called Di Marco, which Antonini describes as ‘one of the greatest Sangioveses I have ever made’.
Poggio al Sole
Location: Badia al Passignano, Firenze
Wines: DOCG Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Casasilia, IGT Seraselva (Cabernet, Merlot), Syrah
The vast majority of the new owners who have bought into Chianti in the past 20 years are estate managers rather than hands-on producers. Giovanni Davaz is an exception. Born and raised in a family of vignerons from the Swiss canton of Grisons, when he moved to Tuscany in the early 1990s, he brought with him the philosophy of the independent grower/winemaker. Davaz hired a consultant oenologist to advise him as he felt his way in the early vintages, but the relationship was uncomfortable and by 1995 he felt the need to go it alone. The result was the spectacular first release of a wine called Casasilia, which was arguably the best Chianti Classico of that vintage and hasn’t been out of the top five since.
Poggio al Sole is at Badia di Passignano, on classic ‘galestro’ soils on a south-facing ridge 450m above sea level – conditions which favour both structure and aroma and bring out the very best from Sangiovese. In the cellar, Davaz believes in long maceration and ages his wines in Limousin and Nevers barriques. (He does not like the vanilla tones of the more widely used Allier). Seraselva is a Merlot and Cabernet mix with a structure and depth of flavour that most producers would be thrilled with, although Davaz says he doesn’t get great satisfaction from producing a Bordeaux blend in Tuscany. He is more excited by Syrah, which his oenologist had intended to use in the Chianti blend but which Davaz now makes in small quantities as a monovarietal, partly because he likes it but mainly to preserve the integrity of his real passion, Sangiovese.
Castello di Terriccio
Location: Castellina Marittima
Wines: IGT Con Vento (Sauvignon Blanc), Saluccio (Chardonnay), Rondinaia (Chardonnay), Tassinaia (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese), Lupicaia (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot)
Castello di Terriccio seems to have missed out on the glamour surrounding other new-generation estates in the prestige area of the Maremma, south of Livorno. This is somewhat inexplicable since Terriccio has a track record over the last five or six vintages which, in Tuscany, is probably second only to Sassicaia. The 1,700ha property is owned by Gian Annibale Rossi di Medelana Serrafini Ferri (known as Signor Rossi), who inherited it in 1988. The previous owners had only made bulk wines for local consumption but this did not deter Rossi from planting international grape varieties and hiring a young consultant called Carlo Ferrini to make his first vintage in 1992.
Throughout the 1990s, Ferrini has been a major factor in the consistency of the quality and style of the wines. The 1999 vintage, which Ferrini considers the best since 1993, is extremely representative of Terriccio’s warm climate, Cabernet style. The top selection Lupicaia (90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot) has chunky fruit and a touch of eucalyptus, along with a very rich, but at present slightly ponderous, palate. It needs bottle age. Tassinaia, which is made from equal parts of Cabernet, Merlot and Sangiovese, is a classy second label with immediate and very inviting drinkability. The big news on the white wine front is the arrival of no less a consultant than Hans Terzer, one of the Alto Adige’s most respected winemakers, and the innovative planting of the Rhône varieties of Marsanne, Rousanne and Viognier.
Tenuta di Trinoro
Location: Sarteano, Siena
Wines: IGT Le Cupole di Trinoro (Cabernet, Merlot, others), Tenuta di Trinoro (Cabernet, Merlot, Petit Verdot), Cincinnato (Cesanese d’Affile)
‘Cult’ is over-used in wine writing today, but with Andrea Franchetti’s Tenuta di Trinoro the epithet is unavoidable. Not that he gives the appearance of seeking out personal cult status – he is far too busy making wine – but he just happens to have all the features of an authentic cult producer and is rapidly acquiring a cult following. The estate is new – 1997 was the first official vintage – but already Trinoro is traded en primeur in Bordeaux at blue chip prices. Trinoro wines have a personality deriving from the geographical location of the estate. Sarteano is the last frontier of Tuscan vine growing, where the resistance of the vine is tested to its absolute limit by heat, drought and rock hard soils. In his approach to winemaking Franchetti acknowledges the influence of the ‘garagistes’ of Saint Emilion: high density planting, short pruning, drastic thinning of an already meagre crop and very late harvesting result in yields of around 15 hectolitres per hectare of concentrated fruit. The wines ferment in open vats with manual punching down of the cap. Franchetti doesn’t believe in long maceration because, ‘with grapes like this you don’t have to worry too much about extraction’, but managing the fermentation of such sugar-loaded musts is critical (he lost most of his Merlot in 2000 when the yeasts gave up). The wines are raised in 200% new oak.
The Tenuta di Trinoro Rosso is a huge, soft, mouth-filling Bordeaux blend. Le Cupole di Trinoro is a variation on the same theme which includes the southern Italian Uva di Troia and the rare Cesanese d’Affile. For the real cult buyers there is also tiny production of the dense and intriguingly exotic monovarietal Cesanese.
Richard Baudains is a wine writer based in Italy.