Quality virtual time spent tasting with Querciabella

A few years back I made my first visit to Querciabella, in September 2017, to be exact. Their position in Ruffoli east of the Greve hamlet and the eponymous river is one of the most distinct and perhaps least travelled of Greve’s frazioni. With stunning views towards the Val di Greve, the Colle di Panzano and the amphitheatre of Lamole, Ruffoli carries its very own perspective, one that is unlike any other perch where the Classico are made in Chianti. Several weeks ago I caught up with Querciabella’s n groot winemaker Manfred Ing for a virtual session, replete with a ten-deep taste through of his (and their) lekker wines.

Ruffoli, Greve in Chiani

Related – A river runs through Greve

The Ruffoli hill may not qualify for Chianti Classico’s newly minted UGA (Ùnita Geografiche Aggiuntive), but make no mistake. Ruffoli is the definition of a communal sub-zone in requiem of introspective investigation for its distinct soils, elevation, singularities and peculiarities. It is, as I have said before, “the Chianti Classico poster child for seeing the vineyards through the trees.” Along with Jurji Fiore’s Poggio Scalette and Il Tagliato by Marco e Elena Kupfer there forms a special bond for Ruffoli’s combination of elevation, thick forests and conglomerate soils that have been excavated from beneath those heavy woods. If Querciabella’s decisive resource and secret weapon are vineyard holdings in two other Classico communes, those being Radda and Gaiole, Ruffoli remains the epicentre and the wines can be imagined as residing at the rooftop and pinnacle of Chianti Classico.

Querciabella was founded in 1974 by Giuseppe (Pepito) Castiglioni. His son Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni, investor and entrepreneur, converted the estate to organic viticulture in 1988, making Querciabella one of the first wineries in Italy to employ this practice. In 2000 Sebastiano introduced a 100 per cent plant‑based approach to biodynamics that forbids the use of animal products in both the vineyards and in the cellars. The Chianti Classico estate that means “beautiful oak” has always been one that lives for today while always imagining and thinking about tomorrow. The wines arguably act as the most Bourguignons of any in the territory whilst always and unequivocally speaking for the land that gives them life.

In April of this year I asked Ing to assess the damage caused by uncharacteristic mid-Spring frosts. His response: “Unfortunately the cold weather that swiped through Tuscany on the April 6th and 7th caused us some frost damage, having hit especially those vineyards which were ahead in their development. Our team lead by Dales is still assessing the damage and it’s early to say how the affected vineyards will recuperate. We will know better in the coming weeks as the vines develop. In Chianti Classico, where our vineyard holdings are spread in different locations and altitude, isolated pockets of lower lying vineyards were affected, especially those around and below our cellar in Ruffoli. At a first glance, it appears that the frost bite hit some of the early budding Chardonnay and the young Sangiovese vines that were first out the blocks. Most of the higher altitude vineyards buds haven’t fully burst yet, so we are fortunate and remain hopeful. In Maremma, temperatures dipped to record lows in some areas, especially in the early hours of April 8th. The Sangiovese vines had an early start this year so were particularly exposed. Vines are an extraordinary plants which are known for bouncing back. At this stage we can only wait and see. It’s already clear, though, that we are among many other producers concerned about losing some crop to frost damage.”

It remains to be seen how pandemic and travel will play out over these next several weeks but I have every intention of climbing the Ruffoli hill this coming September (or anytime such an endeavour is possible) to see Manfred and team for a walk in the vineyards and a sit-down to taste more from their most excellent portfolio; Vineyard Operations Manager & Master Beekeeper Catiuscia Minori, Agronomist Chiara Capecci, Agronomist & Technical Director Dales D’Alessandro, Direct Sales & Visits Coordinator Daniela Krystyna Cappuccio, Head of Marketing and Communications Emilia Marinig, Global Sales Director Giorgio Fragiacomo, Winemaker Guido De Santi, Winemaking Director Luca Currado, Agronomist & Operations Manager Marco Torriti, CEO & Domestic Sales Director Roberto Lasorte, Marketing Assistant Manager Valentina Bertoli and of course Owner and Honorary Chairman Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni. In the meantime here are the 10 wines we tasted and discussed back on May 31, 2021.

Felt quite real to be talking Ruffoli, Greve, Maremma, Gaiole and Radda with Tuscany’s groot South African winemaker @bottleofgrapes ~ A virtual session with @querciabella maintains the ties that bind with @chianticlassico

Querciabella Mongrana 2019, Marermma Toscana DOC (13653, $23.95)

From 31 hectares south of Grosseto, divided into two re-planted parcels purchased in 1998-1999 near to Alberese, a village and frazione of the commune. Wines are crushed and fermented in Maremma and then transferred to Greve just before or just after malo takes place. The style comes from cement and stainless steel, of fruit purity kept intact and a coastal influence developing some muscle. Picked ahead of Chianti Classico with harvest always beginning two to two and a half weeks ahead of Greve. So much Tuscan coastal bushy and dusty herbology, of fennel and rosemary primarily. Managed by Agronomist & Operations Manager Marco Torriti and team who are responsible for this 50-25-25, sangiovese led blend with cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Drink this by the glass everywhere you go, matching the pasta shape on the bottle, if you are so inclined, wherever possible. Mongrana goes as does L, Maquis shrubland ingrained into an easy drinking, fun, juicy and exuberant blend. Will never mess with any course, nor wine that comes before or after. Has been labelled DOC Maremma since 2017. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico DOCG 2018 (728816, $45.95)

Remains 100 per cent sangiovese, as it has been since 2012, as a three-commune collection; Ruffoli in Greve (40 per cent), on the Volpaia side and across the valley to Radda (20) and San Polo in Rosso from Gaiole (20), across the ravine from Ama. The totality of the Gaiole fruit is raised on Alberese, the Radda in schisty Galestro and Ruffoli, well Ruffoli is really about elevation. A no extremities vintage following a very cold winter and no climate spikes save for the early August heat. The Querciabella richness is foiled but also optimized by a three-part mineral harmony that does not so much cut but adds three district notes to the wine. The epiphany may or not begin with this 2018 but the textural perception has undergone a transformational alteration, now in defence against the drying effect of sangiovese’s tannin. The winemaking team has moved forward from the experimental stage into a full-on working contract with Piedmontese cappello sommerso, keeping the cap submerged for extended periods (up to 45 days). The high elevation fruit is particularly promising, forging true connectivity with the process. You get it completely, intuit the polish and this Annata just melts straight into inherit structure, again with thanks for a portion that has settled early. The wheel is constantly turning for Querciabella’s wines. Stupendo. Drink 2022-2032.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2017 ($79.95)

Riserva, like most Riservas in Chianti Classico is usually more serious, often blended with cabernet sauvignon and/or merlot, subjected to more wood. Since 2011 Querciabella’s has been 100 per cent sangiovese but still a three commune (Greve, Radda and Gaiole) cuvée, a vibrant varietal wine, lush as it needs to be and what stands apart is its simple purity. The picking decisions are made throughout the season, not just at harvest and certain blocks are given the attention of dramatic foreshadowing. Riserva by Querciabella is a wine of evolution, including monthly tastings along the way (with 20 per cent new wood involved). Riserva is a factor of a trajectory, of sangiovese that is always rising, gaining character, fortitude and fruit in vessel that winemaker Manfred Ing knows in his heart is meant for Riserva. The tannins tell the story, croccante is how he describes or the flavour and texture he looks for, in my mind like crunchy and caramelized almonds and dried wild strawberries of a concentrated yet developing sweetness. A wine to age, surely, though not quite like ’16, but do sleep on this because the efficacy, youthful binding and wound intensity show the promise of great ability. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Turpino 2017, IGT Toscana ($59.95)

First commercial vintage was 2010 when at the time it was 50-50 Maremma and Greve. Since 2015 it identifies as 100 per cent Tuscan coast with more barrel exercise and power than Mongrana, now a cuvée of approximately 12,000 bottles. “Turpino,” as in a character from Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni’s favourite poem, like his son Orlando (and also for the names Mongrana and Palafreno). Frost was a major problem in 2017, followed by heat, no rain and vines that just went crazy. Small pickings were done in the first week of September and then the rain came. The vines dropped in alcohol potential by a degree but the vines were tired and so the fruit could not hang in there like it could (better so) in Ruffoli. A blend of 40 per cent each cabernet franc and syrah with (20) merlot. Spiciness but not in a traditionally Tuscan syrah (Cortona) way and so the franc is to thank for the pique, sharpness and pointed directive of this ripe wine agitative of pricks and sway. In the end this is truly Tuscan coast, carrying the dried and bushy herbs but with an extended olive branch, muscular arm and structured savour. Only 10,000 bottles were made of this succulent, strange bedfellows (for Tuscany) red wine. House wine, Querciabella style. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Camartina 2016, IGT Toscana

The first vintage for Camartina was 1981, originally mostly sangiovese, then in and around 2001-2003 turning towards becoming mostly cabernet sauvignon. Now at 70 per cent with (30) sangiovese since that 2003. With the most spectacular vintage in pocket the possibility and even more so the probability from 2016 is endless. A Vino da Tavola concept that has evolved to make for the most mature, wise and complex IGT from Ruffoli hillsides, but this vintage shows a special energy, liveliness and vim from acidity that gives the wine, regardless of grape varieties, so much youth and life. Another one of nature’s and Greve’s mysterious constants. So Querciabella, of pinpointed DNA. vibrancy and length. Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Palafreno 2016, IGT Toscana ($214.95)

Since 2004 has always been 100 per cent merlot, before that being a 50-50 sangiovese and merlot joint. Has to be an ideal vintage for Sebastiano and Manfred to bottle this idealistic wine because it has to, must smell like Tuscany and Ruffoli. Places home to poetic settings which suggest inner meaning and invisible connections. With that essence of 2016, of high priority acidity, sapidity and vibrancy in mind, this drinks so well and truth is shows how merlot has been domesticated upon the Ruffoli hill. The vines average 20 years of age, with some vines nearly at 30, planted in 1995 and/or 1996. Sweet, verdant and grippy tannins with a little bit of grit are surely involved. This will show off some swarthy secondary character and essenza di tartufo in 10 years time. Only 3,000 bottles are made. Drink 2021-2031.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico DOCG 1998 (728816, Price at release: $31.95)

Twenty plus years later and not by any means over the hill. Drinking with captured and preserved youth from a vintage that was passed over for being one to not give any sort of great attention or consideration. Fermented in 225L (some new wood) barrels, some big tanks, picked later than most Chianti Classico of the time and would not have been pure sangiovese. You can feel the botrytis induced blood orange and saffron from a vintage with pioggia, pioggio, pioggia, a.k.a. so much rain. Also liquorice, bokser pod and a smell of wet tar. Really textural Classico, holding firm and strong, with a few years of interest and more complexity developing potential left to seek out. Charm begets pleasure which leads to unadulterated enjoyment. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 1999

The 1999 was the last (original) Riserva produced until it was again resurrected in 2011 and what’s so cool about this vintage is how it was held to some early esteem, though paling in comparison to that “vintage of the century” that was 1997. Underestimated over the last 20 years, drinking so beautifully now, with frutta di bosca, tertiary tartufo and fungi. Just doesn’t strike as a fully mature adult reminiscing about the way things used to be but more like a wine with an outlook for more promise, good times and adventures still ahead. If you are still holding onto ‘99s from this part of Toscana you will be very pleased. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Batàr 2018, Toscana IGT ($149.95)

A joint between pinot blanc and chardonnay, whole bunch pressed, with furthered finer attention to detail, picked early in the morning and a decreased amount of new oak over the last 10 years. Now at about 20 per cent and less bâtonnage as well, keeping the strings tight and the backbone straight in the wine. “We don’t need to worry about getting richness in our wines,” tells Manfred Ing, and yes, the creaminess is automatic. There’s more bite to Batàr now, along with focus and precision, with an intention to allow for five (minimum) years ahead for energy to develop, flesh to increase and textural richness to become something naturally orchestrated over time. Batàr is a wine that defies flamboyance, deflates extroversion and muffles the most exultant cry. It knows what it is and what’s up. Terrific vintage for this singular, dual-focused and one goal achieved Querciabella bianco. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Batàr 2017, Toscana IGT ($149.95)

The effect of 2017 on white grapes meant a 40 per cent reduction in quantity and chardonnay surely suffered. Certainly true at 350m (south-facing) but also at 600m (on sandstone soils) where it thrives. The pinot bianco faces north so it did well in the season. The flinty reduction comes from the high elevation vineyard and you really notice it more in 2017, but also a fruit sweetness, like biting into a perfectly ripe apple, and also a peach. You still need to exercise patience with this wine because what it really shows you is how this particular cuvée will morph, oscillate and change, for sure and at least in its first five years. Definitely buttery, rich and creamy but let’s not sit on those laurels for too long because herbs, sapidity and a new kind of vim and vigour are just around the corner. A concentrated effort and one with many tricks up its Ruffoli sleeve. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted May 2021

Good to go!

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Don’t you, forget about IGT

San Francesco, Il Molino di Grace

Multiple visits to Tuscany over the past 36 months and more specifically to Chianti Classico have meant that nearly a thousand sangiovese have been opened for tasting opportunities. The tours have also acted to allow for benefactor moments, to present table wines made in part or in whole that either do not or have been chosen to not qualify for DOCG appellative status. These cases are purely opportunistic, in the name of IGT Toscana (and other typical geographical notations) for the purpose of impressing the merits from well-maturing vines of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, blends with sangiovese and other solo sangiovese wines of Chianti Classico producers.

The Galestro of Isole e Olena, Barberino Val d’Elsa

The idea of the IGT practice goes back four-plus decades, to a time when Bordeaux grape varieties began to infiltrate and populate Chianti Classico soils. So much of what was planted through the 90s remains and because only 20 per cent of a Chianti Classico can be filled by grapes other than sangiovese, in many cases it is the “international” varieties that fill in and those grapes still need to go somewhere. It is also a consideration that Chianti Classico aged in new oak barrels is a scarcity these days and so those vessels need to be used for something so ecco, it is IGT, big, small, super or baby that gets the nod.

Fontodi vineyards in the Conco d’oro, Panzano

In the mid to late 1970s Tuscany there developed a quick ascent of the Super-Tuscan, wines that eventually came to be called “IGT” as a by-product of a perfect bureaucratic storm. The micro-nationalistic wave of Denominazione di Origine Controllata (e Garantita) served Italy’s elite producers both a blessing and a curse because on one hand it afforded wines the highest level of (Italian) classification while on the other it added unbending restrictions on how those wines could be made. The rule breaking table reds thus became symbols of resistance, wines that told governments and consortiums where to go and in effect led to an eventuality of response, of a sweeping, money-grabbing movement across that region’s wine-producing territories.

Paolo de Marchi and Cepparello 1995

It was nigh twenty years later that authorities got wise to the situation and so Goria’s 1992 Law 164 was created, thus giving birth to the IGT designation. New monies began to line the government’s pockets. So much for rebellion though twenty years was plenty of time to establish and set up a group of famous wines for life.

The main reason for moving away from the appellation was the restrictive law that said you couldn’t make wine labeled as Chianti Classico if it contained 100 per cent sangiovese grapes. Later examples included Monteraponi when Michele Braganti changed from DOCG to IGT in 2012 because at 12.5 per cent alcohol it did not qualify for Chianti Classico and so it had to be Toscana Rosso. The great first wave began as Chianti Classico producers began to dismiss appellative laws by de-classifying their 100 per cent sangiovese. Fontodi’s Flaccianello delle Pieve and Isole e Olena’s Cepparello are two of the more famous examples. Outside the Classico territory and in other Tuscan lands there were others many consider to be the most rogue and famous of them all. Tenuta San Guido’s 1968 Sassicaia, Antinori’s 1971 Tignanello, 1986 Masseto and Ornellaia, first produced in 1985. But in 2019 the push for Chianti Classico’s Gran Selezione category to become a 100 per cent sangiovese appellative wine has sparked not only new debate but also great speculation. Will those once rebellious producers return their top wines and in many cases, single-vineyard sangiovese back to the appellation? Along with Flaccianello delle Pieve and Cepparello, the list of possible returnees might also include the following:

  • Badia a Coltibuono – Sangioveto
  • Carobbio – Leone
  • Castello di Querceto – Le Corte
  • Castello di Rampola – Sangiovese di S. Lucia
  • Fattoria Montecchio – Priscus
  • Il Molino Di Grace Gratius
  • Monteraponi – Baron’Ugo
  • Montevertine – Le Pergola Torte
  • Podere Campriano – 80 (Ottonta)
  • Podere La Cappella – Corbezzolo
  • Principe Corsini Le Corti – ZAC
  • Valdellecorti – Extra
  • Vignavecchia – Raddese

San Marcellino Vineyard, Monti in Chianti

In February of 2019 I tasted 21 assorted IGT wines, from Rosato to Bianco to Rosso. I’ve also added three others tasted a year ago that had not yet made it to print. These are my notes on that 24 strong, eclectic and impressive lot.

Rocca Di Montegrossi Rosato 2018, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Rosato from sangiovese raised from Chianti Classico galestro soils found in Monti in Chianti and only 30 minutes time through press. A 100 per cent sangiovese stunner with absolutely no excess, no onion skin, no oxidation, from all estate vineyards, including San Marcellino’s grapes that once would have been green harvested. Texture, sapidity and character are written down and expressed as a scientific problem out of which complexity sets all to high. One of Tuscany’s great Rosatos, made with great purpose, structure and food friendly to say the least. So good. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted twice, February and April 2019

Lunch at Le Fonti

Le Fonti Di Panzano La Lepre Delle Fonti 2017, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Antipasti wine, house wine, smells like good salumi. The Lepre tank is all the juice from the vineyard blocks where the ripening isn’t perfect and also some pressed juice not used in Chianti Classico. Theoretically from “de-classifed” grapes but in good vintages it could very well be Chianti Classico from a quality standpoint, though wouldn’t qualify because it’s made with 30 per cent merlot. A top notch vintage for Le Lepre, juicy, somewhat tannic and finishing with seed-noted beneficial bitters. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted February 2019

Le Fonti Di Panzano La Lepre Delle Fonti 2014, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Three years forward and the (70 per cent) sangiovese aromatics are eerily similar to the fresher and very forward 2017. Perhaps more salumi and certainly finnochio pronounced. Holding well with tannins resolved and this from the challenging 2014 vintage though truth be told it was the right one, of structure to carry a “second wine” like this forward. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted February 2019

Vicky Scmitt-Vitali and Guido Vitali, Le Fonti in Panzano

Le Fonti Di Panzano Merlot 2016, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

From vineyards planted in 1998 and 2000, this is the second vintage of the varietal hugger, with Le Fonti aromatics stronger than grape. It’s one year in barrel so in the baby Super Tuscan mold, fruity, juicy, lower in acidity and pretty much crushable. Easy and very proper. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted February 2019

Le Fonti Di Panzano Fontissimo 2015, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Certainly crafted from an easier, less stressful vintage and the blend is about 55-60 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 35 merlot and 10-15 sangiovese. Still those Le Fonti aromatics, of salumi and fennel, but here also pepper, graphite, Cassis and chocolate. Very Tuscan so makes sense in such a vintage for the reference to be Toscana as opposed to the frazione within frazioni called Alta Valle della Greve. Very grippy meeting the expected liqueur elixir and black cherry meeting black currant. Acidity is quite fine, purposed and integrated. Impressed by the length. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted February 2019

Le Fonti Di Panzano Fontissimo 2014, IGT Alta Valle Della Greve, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Fontissimo is a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese. A wine made in Chianti Classico to break in new barrels and to express territory through the ulterior processes of grape blending and winemaking. Here is where Guido Vitali and Vicky-Schmitt Vitali can work on their chops and hone their craft. Hello 2014, vintage of stars and bars, vintage of ages and for those who are paying close attention. Also, welcome to the highly specific Alta Valle della Greve. There’s a commonality for sure that is found in this valley but there is also a simplicity and a sense of place within a place within a place. Easy drinking actually. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted February 2019

Iacopo Morganti, Il Molino di Grace

Il Molino Di Grace Gratius 2015, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Gratius is the Molino di Grace 100 per cent sangiovese table wine that resides with a dozen other territorial greats in that existentialist realm outside of the appellation. If and when it will become Chianti Classico DOCG remains to be seen but this 2015 sits on the side of tangy, tart and so bloody structured side and yes, the dominant notes are distinctly blood orange. Elongated and elastic it’s offers up a free and equitable look in the varietal mirror, productive in perfectly perpetual inertia, firm, grippy and motivated. Will come together in a few years time and drift ever so slowly for seven more. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted February 2019

Podere La Cappella Oriana 2015, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

“In my opinion it is young to drink,” shrugs Natascia Rosini. In fact it’s oft considered unusual to hold back white wines to drink, not just here but in Italy as a whole. Then again, who else makes vermentino from estate grapes in Chianti Classico. Salinity and sapidity reign in a shockingly good vermentino. Pear and herbal notes with richness that just put this over the top. Picked late at full maturity and kept in the cellar for two weeks (at four degrees) before pressing. Never failing San Donato vermentino. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted February 2019

Podere La Cappella Oriana 1997, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

The last time I was able to taste such a comparison was 2014 versus 1998, two under-appreciated cool and wet vintages. Now we look at warm years, 2015 and 1997, the latter at the time considered the greatest. Many sangiovese have failed and fallen but this vermentino, well, even if the colour and the nose are far evolved, the palate has plenty of life. Salinity and sapidity still rock and stone their way, with that marine wind from the sea rushing through, into the air and the soil of San Donato in Poggio. Hard to decide between this and ’98 because there is more flesh here (bringing a honeyed apricot), but sometimes lean is so nice. Such a special moment. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted February 2019

Podere La Cappella Corbezzolo 2013, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

From sangiovese planted in 1981 and 1982, a vineyard not certified as Chianti Classico so this wine can’t be called Gran Selezione. To say this is young and perhaps even being unaware of what it can be would be an understatement. It’s calm and powerful, elegant and ready to strike with force. Such identifiable, formidable, indestructible and yet malleable tannins. A mimic of the singular Colombino rock found only here in the territory, calcareous white stone both strong to build houses (and cellars) and schisty to break apart between your hands. Imagine how this will drink when it allows itself to break down in just the right way and at just the right time.  Last tasted February 2019

The Corbezzolo from vine and into bottle is 100 per cent sangiovese and in name “the fruit tree that produces a very tart berry for making jam.” This comes straight from the heart of the Rossini matter, out of the oldest vineyard planted in 1990-1991. It would be hard not too think on Podere La Cappella’s sangiovese as untethered to family, to meals and the kitchen’s hearth. The demi-glacé in Corbezzolo is deeper, richer, slower developing, of graceful, elegant and ethereal aromatics, even a bit exotic verging on quixotic. There is this far eastern temperament because the fruit seems to simmer with cool, jasmine-floral savour in a galestro clay pot. The acumen is variegated in the singular Corbezzolo concentration but this is not a factor of extract or density. Depth is sangiovese light, dancing from 2013, a gorgeous vintage that everyone will want a piece of. Drink 2020-2035.  Tasted February 2017

Podere La Cappella Cantico 2012, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

As always 100 per cent merlot with a grafting connection to chardonnay and American rootstock. The vintage is a savoury one for the thirty-plus year-old IGT. It’s a very Mediterranean sensation, of black olive and balsamico, hematic ooze and woodsy floor. It’s actually still quite closed or perhaps it’s entered a dumb or quiet phase but don’t be fooled; there is powerful restraint and it may pounce anytime. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted February 2019

Podere La Cappella Cantico 1999, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

A beautifully advanced merlot from vines that would have been 17 and 18 years-old at picking time. If you’ve got a truffle dog, take this wine and go truffling because this merlot is at the head of that aromatic game for the territory. Such a creamy merlot, with plenty of necessary acidity and the freshness of truffle. Merlot as tartufo incarnate. Truly. Delicious. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted February 2019

John Matta and John Szabo Vicchiomaggio

Castello Vicchiomaggio Ripa Delle Mandorle 2016, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Sangiovese (80 per cent) with cabernet sauvignon, all fruit and nothing but the fruit, plummy and with a nutty smokiness, but also manageable with simplicity from and for fruit. What works and gives from the basic and forthright IGT ideal. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted February 2019

Castello Vicchiomaggio Ripa Delle More 2016, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Sangiovese (50 per cent), cabernet sauvignon (30) and merlot (20), from “the hill of the blackberry.” A rich, purple flower aromatic, liquid chalky, deeply rendered red. Done up in a combination of new and pre-used barriques. There’s a salumi feel, a musky pancetta and a silky smooth mouthfeel. Nearing glycerin but staying its clay-mineral coarse. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted February 2019

Castello Vicchiomaggio Villa Vallemaggiore Poggio Re 2016, Maremma Toscana DOC Rosso, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

From cabernet sauvignon grown on sandy soils in the warmer maritime area near Grossetto. The grapes comes from “the hill of the king,” and the attributes are so bloody varietal obvious. Cassis, ribena, blackberry, savour and spice. Chocolate and rosemary, tarragon and cinnamon. Very expressive and with good elevated acidity. Quite the tannic beast. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted February 2019

Castello Vicchiomaggio FSM 2015, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

From a project that began in 1995, this is 100 per cent merlot of a small, 3,000 bottle lot. It’s hard to decide if it’s more varietal or more Toscana so let’s just say it straddles the two with perfect ease. Youthful, big and warm, very Mediterranean with gariga, black olive, rosemary and dusty notes. Silky smooth however and finishes in balsamic, viscous and reduced. High quality merlot to be sure, with fine tannic structure. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted February 2019

Amphora, Fattoria Montecchio

Fattoria Montecchio Priscus 2015, Toscana Rosso IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

The IGT is 100 per cent sangiovese of 1,200 bottles aged in 100 per cent terracotta amphora formed, forged and cured on the Montecchio property. Same must/juice as the Gran Selezione so the side by side comparison is the show. Winemaker Riccardo Nuti is interested in this investigation for family tradition, commercial continuity and passion project affirmation. Quick time on skins, fermented in terracotta tanks and racked into “amphora,” in this case elongated egg-shaped clay vessels for the next two plus years. The texture and the spice are higher, as is the volatility but the threshold is not in any danger of being breached. The tannins are more present, demanding and vivid. And I prefer them because they are just that more interesting. This is in fact a remarkable look at the relationship between grape, vessel, material, approach and place. Drink 2024-2033.  Tasted February 2019

Fattoria Montecchio Pietracupa 2016, Toscana Rosso IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

An IGT blend of sangiovese (60 per cent) and cabernet sauvignon with a percentage coming from San Donato in Poggio vineyards close by. Much deeper, bigger, broader and brooding as a blend with smooth silky consistency and fine silky tannins. Very oaky, completely mature and filled with the flavours that lie on the balsamic-chocolate-blackberry spectrum. Though the sangiovese character is lost it’s a real high-end charmer. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted February 2019

Fattoria Montecchio La Papesa 2015, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

A varietal merlot of high level ripeness and while it’s a bit overripe and certainly extracted the acidity is supportive, balancing and results in something charming. The tannins are soft and comforting with zero astringency so yes, think of this as a great big San Donato hug. Figs in reduced balsamico are the prevailing flavours, with lots of dark but not bitter chocolate coming through with the finishing next level morbido feelings. As big as it may seem to some palates it’s actually quite easy to drink. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted February 2019

Monte Bernardi Tzingarella 2017, IGT Toscana Centrale, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

A Bordeaux blend from young vines in frost spots and high humidity places not really suitable for sangiovese. The blend is merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and canaiolo. So what is it? Well for one thing it’s the “daughter of the gypsy,” and then it’s a high acid, taste of place before anything else red blend. High tonality, ripe purple fruit and and a boatload of currants. No pyrazine, well perhaps just a bit. Low alcohol for such an animal, remarkably so and once again it’s a great matter of sapidity. Just a hit of chocolate late, as per the grapes which needed to have a say. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted February 2019

Monte Bernardi Tzingana 2015, IGT Toscana Centrale, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

The “Gypsy,” from the old Greek, or in Italian, gitano or tzigane. This gypsy is the old vine version, of 50 years, top grafted on a sangiovese/malvasia/canaiolo/trebbiano vineyard planted by the previous owner in the late 80s. It’s made from merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot (but no canaiolo) and also no sangiovese because tells Michael Schmelzer, there is no cannibalizing the Chianti Classico. This is deeper, richer, lower in acidity, still sapid but not as pronounced and higher in finishing chocolate. The wood needs a year more of integration. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted February 2019

Luca Martini di Cigala, San Giustro a Rentennano

San Giusto A Rentennano Percarlo 2013, IGT Toscana, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Percarlo IGT Toscana 2013 is the current vintage of the 100 per cent sangiovese that began in the 1980s when it was forbidden to label such a beast as Chianti Classico. “Percarlo is his identity so he will not come back,” insists Luca Martini di Cigala. Made from the smallest bunches and a selection of the best fruit, yet still from the same vineyards albeit blessed of more from tufo soil. Percarlo carries the same San Giusto richness and acidity working in silky tandem and the tannins are the most plush, which they’d have to be to match the high level of glycerin. Formidable and exceptionally refined sangiovese. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted February 2018

San Giusto A Rentennano Percarlo 2005, IGT Toscana, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Once again you would have no idea that any time may have passed, not just because the hue has yet to morph but because the aromatics and fresh gelée are one in the same, together as they have always been. The purity and exquisite texture also conspire for a sublime intertwine and then out of this comes the acidity, trailing like a comet. The tannins are still so strong and so the smoky spirit and intensity of variegated flavour persists, gets reprimanded and is held out for all to taste. Here the maximum coaxed from the grape is acceded above and exceeded beyond. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted February 2018

Poggio Scalette Il Carbonaione 2015, IGT Alta Valle Della Greve, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Il Carbonaione is from the finest sangiovese on the Ruffoli property, a Chianti Classico vineyard declassified, with vines as old as 90 years but in reality, not exactly 100 per cent sangiovese. Some post-phylloxera ungrafted vines and many co-planted with no record of origin perhaps or likely place mammolo, colorino, canaiolo, malvasia, trebbiano and even occhiorosso in five to ten per cent amongst clones of sangiovese. The nose is like the Chianti Classico magnified, reduced, compressed and elevated. The florals rival the Lamole but they are more into potpourri and the acidity is super, super fine. The only comparison might be in acidity like Luca’s San Giusto a Rentennano, with the sandy soil base and the saltiness but the tannins here are set upon broader shoulders. With much less stone worked in the soil you lose the chalky grain streak but gain this broader complexity. With such beckoning and burgeoning acidity the vinatge is put on a great pedestal and the possibility seriously exists for two decades of aging. Ruffoli’s 400-600m elevation, with a long growing season (sometimes seeing pick times up the second week of October) means the full and complete phenolic ripeness is wholly realized. Not to put too much stock in here but 13.5 per cent alcohol. Just sayin’. Drink 2020-2034.  Tasted February 2018

Good to go!

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San Francesco, Il Molino di Grace

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