Few wanderlust statements sound better than “I returned to Tuscany” and with the greatest of fortune smiling upon me I am able to utter the phrase again. Not just Toscana mind you, but Chianti Classico, in and out of February Anteprime tastings, to a pin on the map south from Firenze along the Chiantigiana, sidestepping for the Florentine view from Impruneta, then through Greve and into Panzano. The reason for my return begins as it always does, to adduce a lifelong pursuit deep into the meaning of sangiovese. It also fosters a fixation dug into the variegated soils of Chianti Classico and even further still, to the nurturing, sub-appellative specificity of sangiovese’s intaglio secrets. With each return it also ingrains a feeling of coming home.
Related – Grace in Chianti Classico
The most recent visit brought me back to Panzano, first to Il Molino di Grace and then to Tenuta Carobbio. Panzano in Chianti lies at the heart of Chianti Classico and below the hilltop town sits the “golden basin” of the Conca d’Oro, once a prized wheat producing area interspersed with grape vineyards and olive groves. Carobbio is not so easy to find. The tight twisting road from Panzano climbs and descends before turning off-road for the descent into the valley where tucked away and recondite Carobbio lies. It is no stretch to call Carobbio a hidden gem.
Forza e Passione
E la sua passione describes the vision of Carlo Novarese’s decision to create Tenuta Carobbio. The Como silk king was born into a family from Monferrato and the childhood memories of wine production at Sannazaro Castle conspired to transfer passion into the estate’s Panzano ways. At 60, Novarese handed over the family textile company to his son and returned to Tuscany. “A spontaneous return, perhaps atavistic, which marked a new beginning.” With a “desire was to return to his roots and begin living close to the soil.” During a magical evening in June 1986, in a moment frozen in time, Carlo Novarese felt the certainty of having found “un angolo di paradiso in Toscana, “a little corner of paradise.”
A little slice of Eden in Tuscany
The southern facing Carobbio set between 350 and 400 metres of elevation stretches over 50 hectares, mostly forested, 10 of which are specialized vineyards and two are dedicated to olive cultivation. The Panzano hill and its houses protect the southern Conca d’Oro valley from the cold Apennine winds. The peaks of Monte Domini, Poggio Convento, Monte San Michele and Monte Querciabella in the east shelter the vineyards of Carobbio from the winds and damp air from the Arno.
The soils are characterized by a significant proportion of deep clay, sandstone, siltstone strata, marl and Alberese, the latter two most typical of Chianti Classico. The land is simply and emphatically “un territorio che vive graze alla forza e passione delle persone,” a land that lives through the strength and passion of its people. The 150 year-old farmhouse, ‘Capiteto’ is a great symbol of the estate’s history, a home at the edge of the Conca d’Oro, with views stretching from Rignana in San Donato to Tavarnelle.
After walking the estate I sat down with Carobbio’s Director of Winemaking Dario Faccin and the Consorzio di Vino Chianti Classico’s Silvia Fiorentini for a tasting of current vintages and indelible memory etching bottles from the past. Dear Carobbio, thank you for taking me in, for sustaining me and for introducing me to the mysteries of the Conca d’Oro. Here are my notes on the nine wines tasted, with thanks to Dario, including selections from 1997, 1995 and 1991.
Carobbio’s is different, a rosato of its own accord from a hasty (24-28 hours) fermentation descried of 100 per cent sangiovese. After four to five months in stainless steel it asks to show the world what it has to offer from a specific, steep-terraced red clay soil vineyard, thus the moniker and only used for this wine. A mineral-saline aroma sears ahead of the fruit which is bright of light cherry and convincingly of an intent to celebrate sangiovese in a form not so often noted. Like a cross between Coonawarra of terra rossa for cabernet sauvignon and Swartland of schist for syrah but here with sangioivese, for Rosé. Much more fruit on the palate but still the light and lithe cherry. There is more colour from sangiovese, naturally, but not from pressing. A very distinguished and elegant Rosato. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted February 2017 @ @ @ @
Chianti Classico 2014 is a Panzano in Chianti, Conca d’Oro sangiovese with five per cent merlot that takes just one whiff to gain an understanding of what’s going on with wine director Dario Faccin, Carobbio and where these wines are heading. From the start I would ask to leave vintage concern or controversy out of the equation and simply concentrate on the purity from a variegated sangiovese that is entirely specific to the vineyards here. The red to purple sangiovese, transversing a line from a classic to ultra modern without ever veering from what sangiovese must have been and quintessentially is, off of vines tendered into Carobbio’s soils. The only comparison thus far is the Radda in Chianti Colle Bereto from Bernardo Bianchi, here of course so different, but with perfect hue, avoidance of massive structure and bullish tannin, in a word or two, “molto elegante.” Precise. Drink 2017-2025. Tasted February 2017
For Chianti Classico Riserva the solo performance is 100 per cent sangiovese and just as 2013 must be this grabs you by the olfactory senses with elegant inhalant immediacy. You are immersed straight away into a wine without reserve in the way that the only the purest of Riserva can be. Philanthropic, generous and kind. Even more so and because it is Carobbio, there is no fence to jump over, hoop to hurl through or great wall to climb. Not in aroma and then what follows is palate texture and finally fine-grained tannin. Not even acidity will lash out but rather support, with more kindness. Everything is presented from the start with a wisdom that doesn’t rely on oxidative or cured character. Just elegance. Rich and affirming, for sangiovese and life. Humour this CCR ’13 and wait just one more year, per il rispetto. Drink 2018-2027. Tasted February 2017.
Leone is Chianti Classico incarnate, a single-vineyard sangiovese and perhaps the artist of the future known as Gran Selezione. The aromatics are a force from fruit raised in front of the river (Pesa) on the border between Florence and Siena, a high-density (5,000-5,500 plants per hectare) vineyard. In the first week of June Dario says “I take all the leaves off of the stems,” executed with risk-reward abandon but on second thought, as a factual matter of personal volition and intuition. Then two weeks later the smaller leaves begin to grow. This allows the early phenolic process to work on the young skins and increase the early offerings of photosynthesis. The skins carry a natural protection against the sun (in June) but not in August. Voila, wine begins in the vineyard. Leone is incredibly young and perfumed with so much restraint. It gets neither more precise, elegant or wise, or even more important, as a vineyard representative or as such a mindful and consistently right expression as this. The tannins are the finest of any you are likely to taste in sangiovese. The fruit is so perfect, red and purple, living and loving together, and you don’t need to name them. Dario insists on the simple and the obvious. That you taste the grapes every day at harvest and when the bottom of the skins do not attack you with aggressive tannin and the brown seeds crunch, you are ready to pick. “If you want to produce a great wine, you have to walk in the vineyard every day.” Leone’s got soul and only 4,000 bottles are produced. Drink 2020-2033. Tasted February 2017
Pietraforte is the Carobbio diversion into 95 per cent cabernet sauvignon (plus five cabernet franc) out of a 30 year-old vineyard that generally yields 3,500 kg per hectare or what Dario Faccin deems “niente.” Only 2,000 bottles are produced and 2013 is still a bambino, with wood more apparent on the nose than the sangiovese, quite spiced and then even spicier on the palate. Nothing vegetal takes any place at this international varietal table but the franc lends its must give current, of currants and even a little espresso. This has cool red soil savour that the cabs will inherit from the wind and the earth. But I have to say and say it with conviction, this is more varietally correct and obvious than most. More cabernet than Toscana. Needs five years, minimum. 2022-2030. Tasted February 2017
Chianti Classico 1997 was made by then oenologist Gabriella Tani, the first pupil of Vittorio Fiore. With 20 beautiful years of slow development now in the past this has drifted into the smoky, opaque and cloudy future, elegant and elongated though its best days have only recently receded out of view. Plums mingle with raisins while the original cherries are now dehydrating sweet and turning to leather. There is this delicate acidity and silky mouthfeel that reminds you of what Chianti Classico once was (and for some continue to make), that curative, always knew what it was going to be in disposition for two years even before it has taken its first steps. In glass 15 minutes it now changes and becomes even more like its original self, minus the tannin. The old funk is in, quietly slipping into the room, lingering and taking a seat at the table. It is most welcome. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted February 2017
Ranging back further to 1991, now this is something else, 26 year-old Chianti Classico (Riserva), but surely so like the normale, alive, singing and oh I bet it can tell some stories. From a Carobbio golden age, at a time when the wines were at one with grandfather’s pipe, when I and so many other children would sit on his lap and as the pipe-cleaner came out, we would take in a deep breath and this was the smell. He wasn’t Tuscan, never walked the Conca d’Oro, knew nothing of Panzano, but does it matter? Chianti Classico of no guru, no method, no teacher. Now the wine morphs into delicate, fine-spice, a moment’s travel on a magic carpet to somewhere exotic. Than back to sangiovese reality, with lavender, rosemary and wild cherry. The acidity in 1991 is kept, preserved alive so there will easily be five years left to repeatedly find this in a sound and gifting place. “We’ve got to go back. For the healing. Go on with the dreamers.” Drink 2017-2023. Tasted February 2017
Leone 1995 was made under the auspices of the Vittorio Fiore-Gabriella Tani oenology stylistic for Carlo Novarese. To say that this single-vineyard sangiovese is youthful would be the biggest IGT understatement of the century. From vines that at the time were 25 years-old, Leone is not just a survivor of a universally-declared incredible vintage, it is a singular expression from 1990’s Tuscany, in Chianti Classico and for Panzano. The violets, dried espresso and plum-amaretti semifreddo (savoury, not sweet) mixes with fennel frond, fresh rosemary and the 20-plus years lingering Carobbio tobacco. The acidity is fully intact, still travelling up and down the sides of the tongue, repeatedly and soliciting so much savour, sapidity, a desire for a mouthful of hematic, rare sear of Claudia’s beef filet and then more and more sipping. After 20 minutes the aromatics deliver a raspberry purée and even a black olive and mineral-saline, short of briny caper into the fray by stroke of some aromatic brush and bush in the light afternoon wind. That’s enough. I’m not sure my heart can take any more. Time for Vin Santo. Drink 2017-2029. Tasted February 2017
Vin Santo del Chianti Classico Occhio di Pernice, “The eyes of the partridge,” called as such because it adheres to the credo of Vin Santo, made from at least 80 per cent sangiovese. Here the number is 90, with (five) trebbiano and (five) malvasia bianca, a completely different take, with so much more fruit, red fruit, away from the stone-peach/apricot vein and grounded, back down to the earth. Long, created by time in barrel spice, with the accent in cinnamon and there is this lemon peel and ripe crabapple aroma too. The palate is all cherry blossom liqueur, soft, creamy, downy, silky and nearly gelid. But it’s warm and comfortable. The gentlest and most ethereal Vin Santo in which acidity tempers sweetness, connecting with each other and neither bleeding ego or control. Drink 2017-2035. Tasted February 2017
Good to go!