Chianti Classico the region is both muse and magnet, its reservoir of territorial intrigue and sangiovese anthology infinite in possibility. By junket or by migration through its communes there is always a sense of awe and wonder, yet no matter how many times the roads, villages and vineyards are travelled there is always something new. This is the story of San Casciano in Val di Pesa.
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San Casciano is one of nine sub-zones of Chianti Classico, also a hamlet, while the commune sits on the north-western border of the greater territory in Toscana. It shares only two sectional borders, with Tavarnelle Val di Pesa to the south and Greve in Chianti to the east and southeast. From the town’s centre to Piazza del Duomo in Firenze should take about half an hour, excluding summertime. The full name San Casciano in Val di Pesa tells us that it’s location is proximate to the valley of the Pesa river. My colleagues John Szabo M.S., Brad Royale, Steve Robinson and I paid a visit with an armful of San Casciano producers in September, 2017. Our host was the affable meets honourable Duccio Corsini of Principe Corsini – Villa Le Corti. The take away from this visit was a sense of San Casciano’s inner voice and exclusive temperament but also how it fits into the puzzle that is Chianti Classico.
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The word congeries comes from the Latin verb congerere, which means “to carry or bring together,” though it could also move through the Italian, palificazione, or piling. I’m not sure any sub-zone typifies this concept more than San Casciano, in part because the multiplicity of its sangiovese rivals or even exceeds many to most anywhere in the greater district. When you pile one on top of another in a tasting you feel the weight and the density but also the permutation and variegation. These are a collection of sangiovese hard to pin down even if this particular sample size is perhaps too small and so a sooner over later return for more will be crucial.
From San Casciano we expand outwards again to think on Chianti Classico the concept as based on the figuration that is the Gallo Nero, a symbol not only designed and enshrined to classify the wines raised from these multifarious soils but to ingrain something deeper, meaningful and soulful. The Gallo Nero stamps each bottle of sangiovese with a seal of amour-propre approval, for a conceit of quality, not out of outrecuidance but in recognition that the opinion of others does matter. San Casciano now sits in requiem of such avowal and validation.
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Just as you’ve settled into the comfort zone of knowing your way around the landmarks of a place, the people take hold of your hand, put on a blindfold (not literally) and reveal a site that blows your mind. The Chianti Tower of San Casciano is an unusual spike of architecture, quirky and seemingly displaced, that is until you make the climb (by elevator) up to its observation deck. From up above there are vistas that take in the Florentine hills and Vallombrosa, the mountains of Pistoia, and Pisa. The panorama turns to the Chianti and Chianti Classico landscape, Siena’s hamlets and perhaps, on a really clear day, the Ligurian sea.
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The 33 meters high cylindrical surge tank tower is part of the Museo di San Casciano in Val di Pesa, owned by the Comune and is characterized in form as suggestivo or evocativo. It’s post World War Two reconstruction continues its function as a storage water reservoir, but it is the panoramic terrace that steals the visitation show. Our group was joined by a gaggle of San Casciano winemakers to take in the immediate and extrapolated lands.
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Over these last few weeks I have published six articles on sub-zones and this seventh and final essay on San Casciano concludes the heavily scrutinizing reconnaissance mission. For now. By the time this week has come to its end I’ll be back in Chianti Classico for more, this time with the knowledge that everything I have thus far learned will be turned on its head, refreshed and begun anew. The goal is always deeper understanding but who am I to speak in absolutes. The journey has just begun. If you’re going to San Casciano you’re gonna meet some gentle people there. Here are my tasting notes on six examples from six wamhearted producers.
Deep, dark and sombre inhalant of grand vineyard fruit in the premium selezione vein, this is indeed a sobering San Casciano in Val di Pesa Chianti Classico with wild berries, herbs and drops of fine liqueur, almost like Vin Santo but without sugar. Cigliano takes a certain road for 2014 and gets away with murder. This could have turned out hot and bothered but the balance is struck by chords of great acidity and tension. This pulls no sangiovese or vintage punches and is clearly the work of a rogue winemaker. Drink 2018-2023. Tasted February and September 2017 Villa del Cigliano #cigliano @VilladelCigliano
La Sala from Stefano Pirondi carries 10 per cent merlot in address of the sangiovese with some green tannin integrated into the black cherry. From sites up at 300m, a mix of Alberese and deep clay but almost all red clay in 2014. Not a very ripe CC, only five hectares (20,000 bottles) were vinified. Half and half stainless and large French wood, very spicy and quite red citrus, but on the dark side. I would give it a year to soften. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted September 2017 cantinalasala @ La Sala
From vineyards quite close to Florence (8 kms) this 100 per cent sangiovese has been organic since 2001. It now seems ripe for 2014, into the depth of steeping cherries, a touch hollow up the middle, but deep, rich and actually quite easy to drink. Last tasted September 2017.
From the most northern Chianti Classico vineyard located in the area of San Casciano in Val di Pesa, La Querce Seconda by Niccoló Bernabei is high-spirited, of tart to volatile brightest of bright red fruit with toasted fennel to nose. Quite a tart palate as well with furthered spirit and quite sweet tannin. This is old school but alive and vital. Will live this kind of life for a spell. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted February 2017 #laquerceseconda @LaQuerceSeconda laquerceseconda
Luiano’s Chianti Classico Riserva 2014 by Alessandro Palombo, is 95 per cent sangiovese with a touch of body-adding merlot. “For us Riserva has always been a cellar selection and a representation of Luiano’s three distinct sub-soils,” tells Palombo. This is a 2014 postcard in a nutshell, cool and deep, with some bretty and volatile nature though just a wonderful whisper. Done in bigger oak casks and recently bottled (well March of 2017), some cakiness is baked into the structure though filled in with binding mortar. It’s silky, supple and certainly a wine that will age into umami secondary character. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted September 2017 luianowine ale_luiano tre.amici.imports @
It’s a wise old story but the San Casciano 2014 from Massimo Becattelli is a beacon to reel us in towards a new Chianti Classico understanding. Named after his mother Mori this vino is very much alive, anything but memento mori, more like a reflection on immortality. The very small production is the work of a one man band with modest hands, only one hectare, planted by Massimo’s father 40 years ago. It has now been replanted with the clones of the old vineyard in June of 2015. This Annata is 80 per cent sangiovese, 12 canaiolo and eight colorino. There is soul, volatility, depth, intensity and finesse in what is a rustic but cultured ’14 with fruit and more fruit, but graced by this underlying Galestro feel. Only 287 bottles were made of Massimo’s “lavoro di passione.” Drink 2018-2022. Tasted September 2017 @az.agr.moriconcetta
Don Tommaso 2013 is named after Duccio Corsini’s father, was first made in 1994 and here contains 80 per cent sangiovese with 20 per cent merlot. The latter is meant for smoothing the angles, something that is also accomplished by aging in tonneaux and second passage barriques. Villa Le Corti – Principe Corsini’s Gran Selezione is a very silky smooth, deep black raspberry fruit forward wine with high acidity and green savour running through. Not from a cru originally, just the right grapes but over time narrowed down to three vineyards. Chocolate oozes all over the finish. “I do what I do with what I have, adding people,” says Duccio. Sounds like the Chianti Classico equivalent of climat. Drink 2018-2023. Tasted September 2017 villalecorti artisanal_wine_imports @
Good to Go!