Castelnuovo Berardenga, February 2019
Simplicity. Just like today’s weather, blue and crisp. “Simplicity is the best thing in life,” tells Castell’In Villa’s kinben proprietor Principessa Coralia Pignatelli della Leonessa. “Simplicity is freedom.” The sangiovese grown, fermented and bottled on her Castelnuovo Berardenga farm are surely one of the purest, most transparent and site-specific in the entirety of Chianti Classico. Il costante sangiovese di Castell’In Villa. Constant, inalterable, steadfast and true.
The Castelnuovo Berardenga farm is littered with shells from an ancient ocean and it is the Principessa’s honesty that helps to explain the estate style and the results in not just her wines, but as a way to also look at those of other producers in the territory. “Here at Castell’In Villa there is every (Chianti Classico) soil type and rock imaginable and also what’s left behind from that ocean of many millennium. This is the part I enjoy the most. To make wines from the fields. Which really comes through in the mineral of the Annata. The wood of the Riserva covers it up just a touch, though when the wood goes down I feel the sense of the earth.”
Just a shade more than 20 kilometres east from Siena and due south of San Felice is where you can find Castell’in Villa, a medieval hamlet dating back to the 1200’s at which time it was a borgo within the borders of Sienese control. The medieval stone tower is the home of the Principessa, who bought the estate with her Greek husband in 1968. The estate covers a particularly wooded area for Castelnuovo Berardenga of 298 hectares of which 54 are planted to vineyards and 32 for olive groves. Within the woodland the hunting ground teems with hare, pheasants and wild boar. The vineyards comprise eight highly distinct sites to which the diversity of the greater territorial countryside is reflected, both in soil types and microclimates.
The two essential wines produced are Chianti Classico DOCG and Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG. Two other reds are made, the IGTs Santacroce and Poggio delle Rose. A very small amount of traditional Vin Santo is also produced as well as a Grappa from the residue of the estates vendemmia. There are no trends or fashions followed here. As for the category of Gran Selezione, this is what the Principessa has to say, “It’s a good intentional and commercial decision. The Consorzio should have the courage to distinguish the producer on the bottle.”
No visit to the estate is truly complete without experiencing Chef Massimo Di Fulvio’s attention to local detail, especially for the cervo and the cinghiale in exceptional and essential dishes that celebrate the hunt and the harvest. Castell’in Villa’s restaurant is not to be missed.
I had the honour and il più grande piacere to visit with Principessa Coralia Pignatelli della Leonessa twice in three months, first in November 2018 and then again this past February. On both occasions the days were perfect, the wines showing with full fruit capability and the meals were inextricably woven into the fabric of these wines. These are what I tasted and how I have assessed them in the context of grape, maker and place.
One hundred per cent sangiovese, sapid and salty, wound internally tart and so in command of its reasoning and seasoning. Good morning sangiovese sunshine, wake up and smell the cherries, le fragole and also the mineral salts in their assimilated liquid form. Mezzo perfecto. It’s Rosato after all. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted February 2019
Immediate amore for the aromatics and the lack of supposition, for how this 100 per cent sangiovese is naturally careful, subtly handsome and respectfully direct. Lean but without angles or sharp, pointed edges, nor overtly weighted down in tang. Floral notes are stated in grace and like all of the Principessa’s wines from these Castelnuovo Berardenga vineyards, the singularity of restraint for power and and purity is duly recognized. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted November 2018 and February 2019 castellinvilla #castellinvilla
The warmth is quite special in spite of a troubling vintage and is felt through the conduit of fruit eight years on having gained a dried leather cherry hyperbole. I am reminded immediately of the particular acidity in these wines. Set on a tonal scale upon the highest but always out of finesse and in control. Life has really just begun for this youthful sangiovese gathered around and about the 50 hectares of Castell’in Villa vineyards. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted February 2019
Aromatic self-awareness always lends to self-control for the estate Annata, with fruit maintenance at the top of the vintage game. A very fine season was 2006, across Tuscany and certainly in Chianti Classico, ideal in Castelnuovo Berardenga. There is some black fruit here tipping towards and dipping into a pot of tartufo oil, some marinating black olives, porcini, carob, bokser and toasted almond. Or perhaps chestnut. Fruit so developed needs corresponding acidity and so it is always thankful to be a child the estate. The weight is fun and whimsical, with an earthiness that teases post-secondary to nearly ecumenical tertiary. Always a saltiness in amazing recall of an ancient ocean. Love the temperature it’s served, to mimic who this sangiovese must have always been, cool as a mid-February day, expressive of both sunshine and savour, remembering a beautiful summer in a good vintage. This actually gains youth as it opens, starting out with that truffling gait and finishing cool, minty and fresh. Drink 2018-2023. Tasted November 2018 and February 2019
A blend of parcels ”though we know more or less the fields from where they come,” says Principessa Coralia Pignatelli della Leonessa. Here we are introduced to the clarity and functionality of what Castell’in Villa has always purported to be, traditional while always moving in a forward direction of evolutionary necessity. There is no guessing game being played and the aromas are expressive of the property, in everything that grows, plus all that sits beneath and slowly rises to the surface of the fields. Flowers and rocks, together with grapes. It’s that simple really. Finesse and reality. Drink 2019-2028. Tasted February 2019
“Is this normal for you,” is the question with regards to older vintages sharing the stage with current releases. “I always come out late,” answers Principessa Coralia. “If sangiovese is good it needs time.” The 2011 perfume comes from a place of almost no frame of reference, save for these formidably ecological Castelnuovo Berardenga fields. It’s a wild cherry wrapped inside an enigma with a sense of humour. Sangiovese 100 per cent of its own edenic Findhorn. So in control and colourful, with exceptional length. Drink 2018-2026. Tasted November 2018
The bright perfume is elevated out of 2010 and brought to present day prominent, scintillant life. A sangiovese out of which the Principessa “feels the sense of the earth.” You somehow still feel the sweet naïveté of maceration, from a very promising now realized vintage of both fruit wealth and structure. Just a moment’s porcini breath characterizes the present, coming through to speak of a turning point and the next aromatic phase. Just a baby really. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted November 2018
The acidity is first in line, in charge and in control. This particular 2005 is THE food wine of the lot so far, begging for some fat and protein. There is some funghi umami on the nose and then some dried fruit, from a vintage providing all the necessary tools and also some formidable tannins. I expected a further evolved Riserva from 2005 and this turns presuppositions on their head. The nose is there but the palate and the structure have plans to wait it out. Drink 2020-2029. Tasted February 2019
Every memory of the summer that was 1995 in Chianti Classico is important, not the least of which are 17 days spent there and the terrible weather that followed the communes all summer long. Perhaps that is why this 23-plus year-old sangiovese has lingered into the most finessed and pleasure gathered state of grace. It’s an older bird to be sure and even not the cleanest example there is or was but its tertiary place is still marked by fine acidity and grippy tannin. Classic Castelnuovo sangiovese with dried porcini scattered amongst the leaves of autumn. Drink 2019-2020. Tasted February 2019. (The slight TCA in this example really means the wine is not rated)
From the hill parcel planted in 1990 to the old selezoine massale clones, from the original property, not the current “Chianti Classico” clones. “And there is a difference,” insists Principessa Coralia. Three or four years in grandi botti and older tonneaux so no, it’s not even close to ready. Yet the fcat that you don’t explicitly notice the tonneaux is its magic. A big and complex vintage with variability in temperature and precipitation but at the crucial moments it gave what was needed. There is a special presence about this sangiovese, because of the source but also how alive, bright-eyed and expressive it is. This pulses, vibrates and reverberates with ancient seabed salinity. No loss to finesse but more time will be required, to turn back time and back pages, for the true clarity and calm disposition to settle in. Extraordinary wine of restrained power and exceptional sangiovese. Has always been Riserva and “will never be Gran Selezione.” Drink 2021-2035. Tasted November 2018 and February 2019
An 80-20 gathering between cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese, in ode to the early May local celebrations of the cross. Certainly a matter of Cassis and sweet savour but the place speaks louder than the grapes. More of a barrel-scented and texture-affected red for Castell’in Villa, naturally because of the cabernet but also because the barrels have to start somewhere. It’s quite floral, certainly dusty and pretty much in its right place, in time. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted February 2019
Good to go!