Two weeks ago I stepped back into Chianti Classico time for an all in, taste as many sangiovese as is humanly possible two-day inculcation at Anteprima 2017. The uninitiated will wonder and ask how this is accomplished. How do taste so many wines of the same ilk and differentiate from one to the next? The answer is really quite simple and straightforward. The sangiovese of Chianti Classico are like children. They are all different. They are snowflakes.
You will have noted my penchant for lengthy tasting notes and excessive use of adjectives. You’re likely privy to a certain infatuation with obscure and insignificant pop culture references and music lyrics. Have you paid attention to my running obsession with geology, climat and terroir? In Chianti Classico there is this ridge, an escarpment really that works its way from Tavernelle and across to San Donato in Poggio. The intendment of this geology and geography and its unique aspects play a vital role in determining some of the most complex sangiovese. The significance is not lost on my mission.
To a world who considers all sangiovese to be cut from the same cloth, from a fichu always woven of volatile acidity, fresh cherry and old leather, there are some things worth knowing. Like for instance did you know that both the Ricasoli and Carobbio estates are variegated with five unique and distinct soil types? Did you know that in Chianti Classico marl and limestone come in many variations, three of which are called Galèstro, Albarese and Colombino? Soil matters for what differentiates hundreds of contrastive sangiovese.
Which brings me to this very special visit I made to see Bruno and Natascia Rossini at Podere La Cappella. You do your best to breathe in and with eyes wide open examine to commit to memory the simple and extraordinary truths that you see around a property such as this. You see it as beatific, elysian, baronial and devout, as a small piece of paradise in a sea of paradisical estates in Chianti Classico, but here unequivocal to San Donato in Poggio.
The estate has been in the possession of the Rossini family since 1979, when Mr. Rossini, a native of Veneto, integrated the growing of vines and olives with the cultivation of apple and pear trees. In the early days Rossini sold off his grapes but in the subsequent years he was drawn to the temptation of self-guided expression and became a producer of Chianti Classico. A re-planting (and re-grafting) scheme took place between 1981 and 1985 and again in the 1990’s. Some varieties were removed and others moved in to take their place. Sangiovese was elevated to top-tier status and merlot was planted, grafted to chardonnay and vermentino rootstock.
Beginning with the 1995 vintage Podere la Cappella started producing its own wines, of Chianti Classico and Corbezzolo, a sangiovese IGT Toscana. Then in 1996 the company released their first merlot called Cantico and it was at this time that Bruno’s daughter Natascia joined in the family’s organically farmed and produced vinous endeavours.
Just across from the house and adjacent the winery in the park of the estate you can visit the small church of S. Maria a Cerbaia, mentioned for the first time in 1043. The church hosts some very precious artistic works, like a painting of a Madonna with the infant Jesus on her lap, which experts date back to the end of the 13th century. Also inside the tiny chapel you will note high relief works representing the stations of the cross.
Bruno and Natascia Rossini are what you might refer to as the most gracious of hosts. From the extraordinary hearth in the kitchen to their sublime and highly personal wines, my visit with them and the Consorzio del Chianti Classico’s Christine Lechner was not so much memorable as it was like going home. At Podere La Cappella, home is where the hearth and the heart can be found. The Rossini’s poured 12 wines for me to taste, before and with a Tuscan lunch for the ages. Here are the notes.
There were very early plantings of vermentino on the property but a decision was made to graft those vines and re-plant them between 2010 and 2012. Oriana is the modern day estate’s 100 per cent varietal white, named after Bruno Rossini’s wife. The grapes are harvested when their colour turns to a mature gold, then left to sit in the cold cellar for 20 days so the perfume concentrates straight to the core. A very mineral vermentino, telescoped, structured, with spice but there is no oak. Non-filtered, precise, unctuous and incomparable. Needs time, but there is no frame of reference here, not for Tuscany, not for the verdant hills of Chianti Classico. Doesn’t make it unusual but makes it extraordinary. The specific galestro marl and columbino here is influenced by the sea, more than in Panzano and that mineral runs through, with the fantasy of fossilized shells, like Chablis. There was a sea here at one time after all. What else should it be compared to? Drink 2019-2027. Tasted February 2017
Bruno Rossini’s vermentino 1998 is still very much alive, with some must on the nose, running along a parallel line to TCA but it’s really just a matter of age and the cellar. Acidity is very much intact, the aromas are notable in lemon purée and gelée, some orange peel and to the palate with great viscosity. Really quite amazing when you think about it, 19 year-old Tuscan vermentino, of salinity and shells. Bring on the oysters. Drink 2017-2018. Tasted February 2017
Every Chianti Classico tasting should begin with a 2015 and Podere La Cappella’s is the ideal portal. Breaks it consistently down with 90 sangiovese and 10 merlot because, as we are informed by Natascia Rossini, “if you want to make Chianti Classico and drink it (relatively) young, you need to blend in a little bit of merlot or cabernet.” This is the wise sangiovese, from vines seven to 10 years old and still the mineral gives, even from young vines. Important in that it is raised with no new oak and in which richness is balanced by the sort of acidity that tries to remain out of focus, out of the spotlight. The fruit is dark and broods in youth, so a comparison to ’14 will be smart. The contrast reminds us of a more getable, dare it be said commercial vintage in this two sides of the moon sangiovese. Robust, consolidated, sober and gorgeous. Still, a year will make a difference. Drink 2018-2025. Tasted February 2017
As with the coming unrestricted vintage, the 2014 get together is 90 per cent sangiovese and (10) merlot but such a different animal. The acidity needed to be stronger for deferential (but classic) fruit squeezed from minuscule yields after so much rain. It all called for the requiem of very strict selection and there is this rusticity in ’14 along with so much more herbology and perfume. Roses and fennel, less fruit, more perfume. There is structure in 2014 and it is a wine that will develop secondary character because of the umami that is necessary without as much fruit due to sun deprivation. Frutti di bosco sharing equal aromatic time with frutti di conifere. Walks a more traditional, taut, direct and unconsolidated sedimentary line for Chianti Classico, with time travel ability to a future blooming with Angiosperms. It’s simple really. The sangiovese usually reserved for Corbezzolo went to Riserva and for Riserva relegated to Chianti Classico. Structure is not compromised. Drink 2018-2026. Tasted February 2017
The most recent release of Podere La Cappella’s “small oak tree” is a vintage success, as always a sangiovese (90 per cent) and merlot configuration and no other Riserva will ever give such defined perfume and richesse. In this smaller than small crop of a vintage the under-rock current is the galestro and the savoury, here with some spice from increased barrel, though of course no new oak. There is some fine chocolate and there is this sweet defined acidity and tannin. When you taste this side by side by each with the 2012 and the 2013 you begin to note these recurrent themes. The smell of orange skin (and in 2013 it was persimmon) is specific to Querciolo. In the pantheon of CCR this is very refined. Drink 2019-2025. Tasted February 2017
The 100 per cent, “small oak tree” sangiovese is showing some reductive funk in ’13 though purely and surely reasoned of a sangiovese seasoning, melted into liquid, like fennel simple syrup. From what is generally considered a high quality vintage, confirmed by Bruno and Natascia, warm, balanced, not too hot, with some rain in the middle of harvest. Picking and selection required greater focus than 2012 though not as serious as 2014 so there is so much more terroir (than ’12) in here and tannic structure similar, though a step down from 2014. Not quite ready, actually, not even close, but gains potential complexity because it is youthful and spirited. Then a different note makes an appearance, one that is hard to define, a red or orange citrus. Wait for it…persimmon! What a finish this stretches towards, forever and intense to Riserva. Drink 2019-2031. Tasted February 2017
Querciolo is 100 sangiovese (as always for the Riserva),”the small oak tree.” Time is of course the catalyst but who would deny for whatever reasons chosen that it is the most beautiful of the (2012-2014) vertical’s three, the only one with the first stages of its developmental life already complete. Come away with its pure fruit aromas and still the structure dominates the mathematical mind, demanding attention. What makes the difference I ask Natascha Rossini? “The extra year,” she shrugs and adds, philosophically, “for my father each wine is a son, or a daughter.” There is a liqueur in here that reminds of what happens with structured sangiovese, regardless of clone and irregardless to place, be it Brunello, Gran Selezione or Riserva. What defines this ’12 is inherent to the specifics of galestro marl from the hallowed grounds of San Donato in Poggio. Drink 2017-2029. Tasted February 2017
The Corbezzolo from vine and into bottle is 100 per cent sangiovese and in name “the fruit tree that produces a very tart berry for making jam.” This comes straight from the heart of the Rossini matter, out of the oldest vineyard planted in 1990-1991. It would be hard not too think on Podere La Cappella’s sangiovese as untethered to family, to meals and the kitchen’s hearth. The demi-glacé in Corbezzolo is deeper, richer, slower developing, of graceful, elegant and ethereal aromatics, even a bit exotic verging on quixotic. There is this far eastern temperament because the fruit seems to simmer with cool, jasmine-floral savour in a galestro clay pot. The acumen is variegated in the singular Corbezzolo concentration but this is not a factor of extract or density. Depth is sangiovese light, dancing from 2013, a gorgeous vintage that everyone will want a piece of. Drink 2020-2035. Tasted February 2017
Corbezzolo in 2012 comes by way of 22 year-old vines and it carries a similar quality in deep, exotic and mysterious fruit. The rich get richer in such a very tannic vintage, taking this top-tier, 100 per cent sangiovese to a place up on a pedestal where it can be really heard. There is a chew to this 2012 and a meaty grip but always ushered along by the spirit guide of sangiovese. There seems to be this relationship between Querciolo and Corbezzolo whereby the current vintage of the former shares a kinship with the subsequent vintage of the former. Though Natascia Rossini will remind me that one extra year in bottle for her sangiovese will both trick and explain, I’m still convinced there is something to the counterintuitive duality. Only retrospective tastings like can reveal the truth. Drink 2020-2032. Tasted February 2017
The Corbezzolo in 2011 is another matter altogether as compared to what comes after, beginning with the 2012 vintage. The fruit is from 1981-1984 planted vineyards and if 2012 in (Querciolo) Riserva showed the most terroir it is the 2011 that does so for Corbezzolo. The older vines do just the opposite of what the 90’s planted vines do for Corbezzolo going forward. Here there is less exoticism and more mineral meets local terroir and with some time there emits this great ulterior perfume. But it’s a sangiovese perfume you can recognize, a fennel-liquorice aroma noted in other parts of Chianti Classico. What separates this ’11 from the rest is that Cappella acidity that is second to none. It’s also chewy, then crunchy with just a side note of chocolate, something that clearly dissipates with time. The structure in 2011 is also remarkable, but singular and with such fine pearls and grains of acidity, leading to the conclusion this will be so long lived. Drink 2018-2034. Tasted February 2017
Cantico is hard to define, laying decanted tracks somewhere between a poem and a song, as in the form created by Dante. This is 100 per cent merlot from the oldest vineyard planted between 1981-1985 and grafted on the old vermentino and chardonnay rootstock. Rich in pure fruit and exoticism, steeped, of black cherry, graphite and more cherries, vivid and wild. This is very grown-up, mature IGT but still that Cappella acidity keeps it round and alive. The intensity and wisdom in this merlot is of its own accord but if you want to make comparisons to the likes of Galatrona, Masseto or Ricasoli’s Casalferro, be my guest. You won’t have much to say after you’re done. There is some still nearly hidden, secondary activity here that hints to truffle, porcini and balsamic but these are mere aromatic accents in a centrifuge of veal demi-glacé that has been simmering for days. Remarkable merlot. Wait two more years. Drink 2019-2029. Tasted February 2017
“The canto is a principal form of division in a long poem,” and yet this 1998 has yet to sub-divide. The nearly 20 year-old Cantico is not as hard to figure as a precocious 2009 but a dante refrain is still the reference, at least with respect to nomenclature. The vines for Podere La Cappella’s 100 per cent merlot were but a mere but established 18-22 years old at the time and I truly believe the old vermentino and chardonnay rootstock had more effect on this particular wine. You can feel it in the Cappella acidity and this is what has kept it sailing along virtually unchanged and certainly unfazed. Few Toscana IGT tasted in 2017 could possibly show such youthful aromatics, barley perceivable yet replete with must be said are loyal and allegiant secondary mineral notes. Seek the mushroom and the truffle and they are not yet there. Wonder aloud that you feel a deep sense of the marl and you will still just be convincing yourself because you happen to know what lays under foot and under vine. The gioventù of the 1998 Canto is extraordinary and tells us so much about what to expect from not only 2009 but the Cantos to come. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted February 2017
Good to go!