“Get in the car” says Francesco Ricasoli. We oblige, quickly and without hesitation. Francesco slams it into gear and we’re off to see the vineyards. The wonderful vineyards of Ricasoli. Every corner of the grand Gaiole estate, 1,200 hectares of property that includes nearly 240 hectares of planted vines and 26 of olive groves. We take in all five major types of soils identified on the estate though truth be told there are at least 19 different combinations of terroir. Ricasoli is extremely proud of this highly variegated geography. As their custodian and the man in charge of perpetuating Chianti Classico’s longest standing legacy he treats his work and the honour with the greatest respect.
First we step out where harvest is taking place, along a 300m ridge line housing the ancient fluvial terrace. Located in the southernmost part of the estate, in the Arbia River valley. The origins are Pliocene-Pleistocene, of silty deposits, little skeletal structure, clay, poor in both chalk and organic matter. Monte Morello is at 390m south of Brolio Castle in the central part of the property, so representative of Chianti Classico. It’s calcareous clay soil, poor in organic matter and home to Colledilà vineyard, the “other side of the hill” Cru developed and realized from 15 years of estate terroir sangiovese research.
The marine deposit soils at 300 to 350m in the central part of the property, south of the calcareous clay soils are composed of Pliocene marine sediments, with sandy deposits and rocks smoothed by the action of the sea and clay at deeper levels. Marine fossils and lignite emerge from the soil. Macigno del Chianti is marked by draining sands and rocks, steep slopes at 460m and houses the merlot from the Casalferro vineyard. Scaglia Toscana at 450 to 500m is notable for its pink limestone and there it is sangiovese as the grape variety of choice.
“Delivering purity with deep respect to exceptional vineyards.” This is the manifesto at the centre of the Ricasoli universe. The wines made from 100 per cent sangiovese are the soil king agronomist Massimiliano Biagi’s favourites. The permutations are many but they are all rendered through tireless research conducted and perpetuated at the hands of Francesco Ricasoli’s 25 years of service. Twenty-five years of re-planting vineyards, investigating biotypes, isolating exceptional soils, plots and exposures.
The last time I paid a visit to Ricasoli and the Brolio castle was in 2016. At that time I wrote “the history of Chianti Classico, Tuscany and for that matter, Italian wine can’t be discussed or put into perspective without mention of Barone Ricasoli. That name has been linked to wine since 1141, when Brolio Castle passed into the hands of the Ricasoli family. The first 700 years of Tuscany’s most famous castle and the family aside, it is the work of Barone Bettino Ricasoli, Prime Minister, researcher, innovator and first marketing expert for the regions’ wines. Bettino is credited with having invented the Chianti formula in 1872. When I visited the Ricasoli family crypt in May (of 2016) I was struck by the fact that the Iron Baron passed away on my wife’s birthday. Then shivers travelled down my spine when I noticed a second Bettino Ricasoli shared a birthday with me.”
If Bettino Ricasoli was known as Il Barone di Ferro, “The Iron Baron,” how should we refer to Francesco? Show me a wine producer in Chianti Classico more attuned with the world today and I’ll be sure to have a word with the Barone about upping his game. Francesco Ricasoli is a modern-day Renaissance man and a magician as a social media wizard. The evidence is posted regularly and plain to see, in the quality and quantity of his content, the pulse with which he follows what matters, the clarity and focus of his photography and the timeliness of his actions. He’s an orator in solicitation of riveting dissertation and delivers on one helluva tour around his family’s estate. Most important of all he uses two ears and two eyes. He is a watcher and a listener. Here are the seven wines we worked through with Il Barone Dotato, “The Gifted Baron.”
Barone Ricaosli, Gaiole in Chianti
Comprised of 80 per cent chardonnay with sauvignon blanc. In the past it was a blend that included malvasia, going back as far as 1927. Some oak aging, no malolactic, the sauvignon blanc enters just at the final stage of the final blend, after the chardonnay has rested for 10 months in tonneaux. Direct, lean, mineral, composed and in no way strict as a Gaiole chardonnay. And yet here it is. Reduction comes back to bring it full circle. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted September 2018 ricasoli1141 francescoricasoli churchillcellars @ricasoli_1141 @imbibersreport @ricasoli1141 @imbibersreport
Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico DOCG 2016, Tuscany, Italy (3962, $23.95, WineAlign)
This is the next single-vineyard focused sangiovese in the Brolio portfolio and part of the new era, project and study intensification. Years of analysis, of soils and diversity of vineyards prepares us to look at various interpretations so that we may try to follow along and understand. This site is the marine deposit soil type with more presence of clay, richness of the organic earth and a big oak tree. And yet it’s a leaner expression, earthier, tannic and savoury. Not quite Alberese but the structure is chalkier, yet not in a purely calcareous way. Sharp, lifted and nearly explosive. Really needs time. Drink 2022-2030. Tasted September 2018
Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2015, Tuscany, Italy (942607, $59.95, WineAlign)
This is the flagship Chianti Classico established in 1997, always the man, the most important and expensive wine of the estate. It’s also the first to shun the Super Tuscan commodities, eschewed to establish a Chianti Classico at the top of the game. Pioneer for a place that was once and can forever be great, now travelling retroactively back to the future of fame. In this context it surely makes sense that it then moved forward into the Gran Selezione category going back to 2007, always priced near the top. This generous and mostly easy vintage brings together classic Brolio cherries and acidity with powerful, linear and soliciting 2015 tannins. Draws you in, ties you up and keeps you around for the long run. Drink 2021-2029. Tasted September 2018
Good to go!