The Villa Calcinaia estate dates back to 1524 and its gaining on 600 years of Greve in Chianti history is filled with tales of counts, vines and Chianti Classico lore. Today it is the larger than life presence of Conte Sebastiano Capponi that leads the winemaking charge. Capponi wears the family escutcheon on his heart and carries the torch in his mind. Sebastiano is a critical-mathematical thinker but also a wine producer of existential and linguistic intelligence. In fact, his talents also branch out into the realms of the inter-personal and intra-personal. He is by all accounts, Chianti Classico’s renaissance man.
The estate was first owned by the Florentines Sebastiano del Caccia and Niccola di Andrea Capponi, then sold by the former to the latter and it has been used as a countryside retreat for the family ever since. It was in the second-half of the eighteenth century when Count Ferdinando Carlo Capponi decided to reorganise his property in the Greve valley and begin producing wine. The front had already been refurbished some fifty years before, thanks to Count Ferrante Capponi who also added the chapel. The estate comprises a little over 200 hectares of woodland, pastureland, vineyards and olive groves.
On a more than crisp and impossibly beautiful February morning, the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico’s Silvia Fiorentini, Sebastiano and Godello take a walk around the estate, away from the Greve River and onto the fanned amphitheatre of a hill that encompasses the Villa Calcinaia holdings. To the left there are the old plots; a sangiovese vineyard planted in 1959, merlot in 1967 and the multi-varietal plantings in varied blocks. There were post-phylloxera vines of many varieties re-located; trebbiano, malvasia nero, mammolo, gewürztraminer, teredelgo, etc. Also some 1960s nursery plantings from Florence where a flood wiped out all the markings so strange varieties ended up in the vineyard. Roberto Bandinelli helped to identify and separate what from what though some unmarked field blends still exist.
In addition to the classico four tiers of Annata, Riserva, Gran Selezione and Vin Santo, Sebastiano also makes IGT Toscana in Rosato, Vermentino, white and red blends. There too is a second line called Piegaia, also organic and produced from younger vines at a slightly more attractive price point. I just tasted the Annata.
If the 2014 Chianti Classico vintage was a summons to contest then it was winemaker Sebastiano Capponi that met it head on. Challenging weather and low yields tested mettle and solicited acumen so just as the Villa Calcinaia won the battle, so does the Piegaia. My rudimentary understanding would take this to mean “pious earth,” and it is the clay, silt and mineral Greve in Chianti soil that helps to define this wine. Here is inter-personal sangiovese, umami-aromatic, salato e piccante. There may be less refinement (and maturity) than the older sibling but it does not lack for varietal purity or classic character. Piegaia also confirms if perhaps expands on the tart flavours that define sangiovese, with natural acidity and non-combative tannins. I can’t think of a wine list that wouldn’t benefit from this juicy, organic and time-honoured Chianti Classico. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted May 2017
Back to February at Villa Calcinaia. A tour through the inner workings of the winery takes us through some barrel samples, including the yet released Annata Chianti Classico, Riserva and two Gran Selezione, La Fornace and La Bastignano. We also taste varietal Mammolo which is Capponi’s version of back up the truck and gulpable gamay or cinsault, Tuscan style. The tour culminates in a tiny room that houses a relief sculpture of the entire estate. It’s a miniature, naturalistic and realistic dollhouse-like rendering of the plots and vineyards of Villa Calcinaia. It’s so cool. Then we sat down to taste the following 10 wines.
Chianti Classico 2013 is a Greve in Chianti by-product of what winemaker Conte Sebastiano Capponi will refer to as a cooler vintage. Elongated ripening was trespassed by early September rain so harvest was delayed. Capponi’s tredici Annata is a demurred and soft one, as if the low-lying cloud-cover created a protective environmental layer to keep the perfume of sangiovese perfectly intact and now omnipresent on the aromatics. This is textured CC of a gentle touch and round acidity, pretty, feminine and downy. Fans of the scuola femminile style will live and breathe this in for its first few years. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted February 2017 @ @ villacalcinaia nicholaspearcewines @calcinaia Nicholas Pearce
From a challenging and low-yielding vintage that took away more than it gave. The varied renditions of Chianti Classico are all over the map so it’s a revelation to come across Sebastiano Capponi’s calm and beautiful ’14 life. His is a sangiovese that was allowed to just be itself, aromatic to savoury, immune from the pressures placed upon by vintage and expectation. Calcinaia’s is a Greve in Chianti of roses, violets, more amenability than most ‘14s and without any real bother from the barrel. Quite pure with very mature sangiovese flavours, circulating and by extension from natural acidity. The length is exceptional for annata. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted February 2017
So very diffident to that annata Chianti Classico, Villa Calcinaia’s Greve in Chianti Riserva 2013 changes a gear (or three), as it should, into a more reductive and yes, reserved sangiovese. The perfume is deeper clay resolved, texture is amplified and the tannins are not only sweeter than the CC but more toothsome than many Riserva. The acidity is very in line with the annata but perhaps also on the sweeter, even a bit more delicate side. This Capponi walks a very balanced, forward, slow gaining of elevation line, like the vineyards themselves the way they rise with facile incline away from the villa and winery. The peaceful easy feeling gifted by this Riserva impresses the estate’s inclinations, something that is reproduced through a miniature architectural rendering of Calcinaia’s property and vineyards. If you ever pay a visit, don’t miss this fascinating model. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted February 2017
In the low-yielding vintage like 2014 the current state of Villa Calcinaia’s Chianti Classico Riserva shows the signs of a growth stock as opposed to one that is generating lots of cash. This sangiovese is obviously young and not yet telling its Riserva tale, nevertheless I find it quite soothing and cool but really without any herbs or savour (to speak of). Tannins are fine but not so sweet (like ’13) so this wine begs for more time. Its length and it’s quietude will confirm such a request. The return will be generous and a just reward for those who have exercised patience. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted February 2017
La Fornace was planted in 1975 in close proximity to the Greve River and its sandier soils bring a contradistinct voice to Chianti Classico produced off of other vineyards on the estate. “The Furnace” is so aptly named because of its solar exposure and how the wine takes it in, bathes in it and extricates it to texture. The plot is not denied some of the typical brick-gray Calcinaia clay and the variegation leads to a beautiful exaggeration of the Capponi sangiovese stylistic. Compared to and in conjunction of what I tasted out of barrel for ’15 this completes the Fornace picture, in line with the texture but leaning away from those sweet accents and returning back to more pure and distinct sangiovese roots. Much time will be needed to elongate those angles. Drink 2020-2029. Tasted February 2017
I’m not certain whether La Bastignano should translate to “good fortune or “good luck,” (buona fortuna or in bocca al lupo) but regardless of the nomenclature this Chianti Classico Gran Selezione will bring great happiness at some point halfway through the next decade. It is actually called Bastignano after the name of the holding on which the vineyards grow and the name refers to one of the four originally poderi of 1524. Bastignano is to me the most poignant and specific gaze into the mirror rendering of sangiovese, the Villa Calcinaia estate and the maker, a.k.a. Conte Sebastiano Capponi. This Greve in Chianti GS is such an ulterior varietal expression from less clay, more silt, less texture and more elastic structure as a result. There is less density in Bastignano, it’s more elegant and in single-vineyard Gran Selezione, reaching for the ethereal, especially out of 2014, because it has been handled with delicate hands. You get the grilling meats, herbs and an impression that is all location. The wine of place more than any in the Calcinaia line-up, with just a hint of concentrated earth on the finish. Drink 2019-2030. Tasted February 2017
Casarsa 2013 is 100 per cent merlot, from the 1967 planted vineyard, meaning “burnt house,” or if you like “masion brûlée.” Vine age wisdom, an eastern slope and attention to historical detail define this IGT. It is a wine in which all is forgiven, for those who might have been upset these vines planted 50 years ago were not malvasia nero, but in fact, merlot. Casarsa is the Van Gogh “Red Vineyard” Chianteggaia, of discreet super Tuscan spirit, soothing, etched in international stone, rock-solid, spicy, not-leafy and rich without the confectionary aspects of merlot. I can’t taste wood but I can taste Toscana. Great fineness in acidity and plenty of tannin. I am confident to repeat that 2013 was a merlot year, like 1998. So every 25 years certainly (save perhaps for a stopover in 2004 but even more so, 2008). Villa Calcinaia’s is merlot with “Chianteggaia,” of adult molars or animale chops, as costoletta or braciola and indeed would pair perfectly with tender medium-rare roasted veal or beef tomahawk racks. For twenty years, easy. Drink 2020-2033. Tasted February 2017
Villa Calcinaia Ocolos 2015 (Barrel Sample), IGT Toscana, Italy
Ocolos could very well be a shortened version of concupiscentia oculorum, “the lust of the eyes,” or in this case sarcopodium odoratum, with sangiovese more volatile (but not screaming sour in any acetic way), just earthy, not microbilia, but soil funky. The Ocolos is drawn from a specific seven rows of vines, adding up to one barrique and it will go to bottle in July. Earthy, from Galestro soil located on the upper seventh and eight terrace of sangiovese, so different from the single-vineyard cousin, Gran Selezione Bastignano. The perfume is redolent of sweet scented bedstraw and exotics, like orchids just beginning to decay in water, still in control of its enticements. This is the natural sangiovese, very specific to place. Drink 2019-2025. Tasted February 2017
Le Refie, “the refit” is not what anyone would expect, a 90 per cent petit manseng and 10 gewürztraminer blend, actually somewhat of a field blend. This harkens back to Villa Calcinaia’s weird, wacky and wonderful mixed varietal history, first from some post-phylloxera plantings and then 1960s Florentine nursery plantings where a flood wiped out all the markings so strange varieties ended up in the vineyards, co-habitating like cats, dogs, rabbits and pigs. Le Refie certainly gives a sweeter impression and plenty of waxy citrus, with beesawax all over the palate. This is a very pretty white, mellow and melting, that really dissolves in the mouth like a soft pastille. In that sense its tonic ability is like a cure, as befits another name for refit. Leaves a tannic impression with thanks to the dry extract separating itself from that delicious melt. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted February 2017
Villa Calcinaia’s Vin Santo 2008 is dried naturally after harvest in the estate’s drying room to produce an ultra-über traditional Tuscan dessert wine. By February the grapes reach 350-400 grams of sugar content and are then pressed and racked to tiny (55 litre) oak barrels (caratelli). The sweet must ferments on the spontaneous yeasts for approximately seven years with only the occasional refilling before bottling. The 2008 is composed of trebbiano (70 per cent), malvasia bianco (15) and canaiolo (15), the latter giving glycerin but not acidity so it is kept to a minimum. The trebbiano is the backbone and source of its nutty spine. The malvasia adds creamy texture and smooth operating consistency. This is closer (at least on the silken palate) to Montilla-Moriles, in a Tuscan parallel universe way, with very aromatic fruits, great acidity and fleshy rehydrated plum, peach, apricot and nectarine. There is a sense of fennel seed on the back palate and then it’s all marzipan at the end. Quite long and unrelenting. Drink 2017-2030. Tasted February 2017
Good to go!