All posts filed under: Tuscany

Sea change in Maremma: a dinner with Podere Sapaio Bolgheri DOC

Let’s be upfront, there have been a few Sassicaia wannabes when it comes to Bolgheri DOC: ambitious wines made with high extraction, high alcohol and a high use of new oak – and lashings of Merlot. Although, only established in 1999, Podere Sapaio could not be mistaken as just another one of these wines.  Attending a dinner hosted by Walter Speller, and tasting through a vertical of Podere Sapaio’s past vintages, I tasted a winery that has been allowed to develop and experiment rather than be another cookie-cutter super Tuscan. Before we turn to their main wines – Volpolo and Sapaio – here is a wild card wine to give you an insight of the owner’s open philosophy. Not many wineries in this area are experimenting with orange wines made of Ansonica (Inzolia) and aged in amphora.  But back to the main story – the reds. Bolgheri DOC is a relatively new region, coming to prominence in the 1990s on the back of a string of excellent Sassacaia releases, and wineries piled into the area to take …

Enter the Jewellery Box: Brunello di Montalcino Subzones

From 1869, up until the end of World War II, there was only one ‘brunello’ in Montalcino and that was Biondi-Santi’s brunello. In the space of 57 years they produced only four vintages (1888, 1891, 1925, 1945). For the lucky ones, life was simple and the choice was made for you. Today, the wine market is complex and more accessible than ever. With so much information at our fingertips, everything has become easier. Everything, that is, except choosing: the number of producers of Brunello di Montalcino DOCG has grown exponentially. In 1960, it was 11 producers; in 2012, it was 258.  Is there a way to help the wine buyer understand a region with so much growth but little organisation? The pros and cons of subzones were recently debated at a Symposium of nine Brunello di Montalcino producers held at 67 Pall Mall in London. Brought together by Walter Speller, who explained to the producers, as much as the audience of trade and press, “These are top class producers, bringing it forward… sometimes you need to rock the …

Rosso di Montalcino 2013: Don’t call me baby!

  I’ve never liked the term “baby Brunello” when describing Rosso di Montalcino. It has its own DOC, and the better ones are considered separate wines from the more expensive Brunello. A few of them have every right to say as they do in Dirty Dancing, Nobody puts baby in the corner! Recently I went to Tuscany. When I got to Montalcino, I stocked up on as much Rosso di Montalcino 2013 as I could carry to the car. The Brunello Consorzio consider it a 4-star vintage for the Brunello di Montalcino. That’s not yet on the market. But what about the Rosso – and can the Rosso di Montalcino give us an idea of what it will taste like? Four bottles, in particular, stood out. Read full article here >   

4 bottles of Rosso di Montalcino 2013 (and where to eat in Montalcino)

Even though it had been raining when we left Siena only thirty minutes ago, the strong heat in Montalcino burned away all the water until very quickly there was steam rising from the road. The grapes had a good drenching and now had a moment to ripen under the intense sun. I took my coat off and walked over to the other side of town, which was mostly in shadow. Like most of this renaissance landscape, for the vineyards on the hillside it is about light and shade. The vineyards follow down from the top of the hill from all sides, each face the sun from sunrise to sunset in their own way. Just from the change in weather from drenched to heat, it is easy to see how the grapes love this weather. When there is an exceptional vintage pronounced by the Consorzio it is worth taking notice. The recent release of the 2010 vintage is one of these exceptional vintages where perfect conditions were met across most of the vineyards – north, south, east and west. But how was …

After the rain: time out in Tuscany, part 1

Where next?  That’s the big question when you are on the road. Before I could answer, I had to go back to where I feel truly nourished on all levels. Earlier this year I left my job. Then I had a severe flu. Time for a change of scenery. We booked the cheapest ticket – to Bologna – and hired a silver Fiat Panda at the airport. This was not just some Under the Tuscan Sun schtick. All my life and work has been about taste and smell. When I don’t feel good, everything tastes bland – I seem to need flavour like a photographer needs light. On the road to Tuscany, avoiding the main roads, we stopped off at a worker’s bar for lunch and a carafe of wine. On the first day, the taste of the simple pasta with tomato sauce had tears well up in my eyes. It was then I realised how much I needed to be here. Driving along the autostrade with the windows down after an oversized lunch – pasta and ragu, a meat dish and then one course too many – the …

Seeing Rosso: the economic and social impact of changing Rosso di Montalcino

Why? I keep asking myself, Why? I am seeing the news coming in from the Brunello Consorzio and it is exasperating! Why this constant push by the Consorzio to change the Rosso di Montalcino blend when most producers have clearly said no. Why is the decision that was scuppered in February back on the agenda in the first weeks of September, during vintage? When the Brunello Consorzio reconvene again, during stressful vintage time (Sept 7), they will be there to talk about changing the laws for Rosso di Montalcino to include international varieties. Why change a clear and unique product, from one tiny town in Tuscany, to make it more generic? What is tabled by the Consorzio are two or three different versions of Rosso di Montalcino which will all have different names: Rosso di Montalcino, Rosso di Montalcino Sangiovese and Rosso di Montalcino Sangiovese Superiore. In other words, there is a move towards segmentation in this one little wine, which in layman’s terms, is a baby Brunello.

Funhouse of Mirrors in Chianti Classico

Chianti Classico is a funhouse of mirrors where Sangiovese enters different rooms and finds certain flavours are emphasized and others shrunk until there is a confusion about where you are and what you are supposed to be tasting. Someone cries, “Get me out of here!” and you rush back out, full of adrenaline, back into the big wine circus. Then you find Castello della Paneretta: Chianti Classico clearly mirrored by Sangiovese brilliance. The only surprise is it never shouts about the fact it shares the same small valley as Paolo di Marchi’s Isole e Olena, a place well-known for Sangiovese radiance. This is the same area in Chianti Classico where Paolo di Marchi went on his adventure with international varieties and hurriedly came home to Sangiovese. No, this wine is reassuringly unsurprising. Both Castello di Paneretta and Isole e Olena share the same iron kiss, prosciutto taste and cinnamon tannins. The 90% Sangiovese Castello di Paneretta is a humble wine – too humble, in fact; you may even miss it on the shelf – yet has a …

The Super-Tuscan Snafu: Considering James Suckling’s list of Top 12 Tuscan wines from over 10 years ago.

When learning Italian, I have been told many times the most beautiful accent to learn is from Siena in Tuscany because Tuscans are the poets of Italy.   The language of wine in Tuscany is also very rich, with a long tradition of culture and history with interesting local idiosyncrasies, yet the recent past, dominated by James Suckling, Wine Spectator and their lists of Super-Tuscans, has left many in Tuscany not singing but mumbling.   Before I go any further, let’s get this out of the way. James Suckling was not the person to coin the word “Super-Tuscan”. It was used in a book co-authored by Nicholas Belfrage and Jancis Robinson called “Life beyond Lambrusco” (1985). It’s a common misconception in the wine trade, perhaps driven by James Suckling’s enthusiasm of Super-Tuscans during his time at Wine Spectator.   On his website, Suckling recently published his 12 Most Collectible Tuscan Wines from over ten years ago (Question: How many of these wines are NOT made from “international” varieties? Answer at the end of this post …

Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino to be sold? Rumours from Montalcino

Rumours from the hills of Montalcino today is Colle Massari is acquiring Piero Palmucci’s Poggio di Sotto. An elderly gentleman with no offspring interested in taking over the vineyard, it could soon be in the hands of Claudio Tipa, winemakers from Maremma, part of the family who are also patrons of Alinghi team in the America’s Cup. The tiny 8ha of vineyard (12 ha in total) produce some of the most mystical and benchmark expressions of Brunello in Montalcino. To say this a favourite wine of mine is an understatement. Not only is the flavour burned in my memory as perfect expression of Sangiovese in Montalcino, and I use it as a complete reference point, but it was also

Leap into Luxury: Super-Tuscan 2007 Messorio from Le Macchiole

Some Super-Tuscans scream luxury but the 2007 Messorio from Le Macchiole is a quiet wine that opens before you as you taste it, to give the feeling of falling forward into space: like a confident step from a plane into silent velvety dark below, the fruit billows outwards on the palate like a slow-glide on a silk parachute. Afterwards the tongue is literally left frozen in shock from

Leap into Luxury: Super-Tuscan 2007 Messorio from Le Macchiole

Some Super-Tuscans scream luxury but the 2007 Messorio from Le Macchiole is a quiet wine that opens before you as you taste it, to give the feeling of falling forward into space: like a confident step from a plane into silent velvet-dark below, the fruit billows outwards on the palate like a slow-glide on a silk parachute. Afterwards the tongue is literally left frozen in shock from hundreds of tiny pin-pricks of acidity, which may sound bad, but tasting at this very young stage (en primeur/anteprima), it is only the tingle of expectation for a profound experience in the long-term.   The 2007 is considered a “tropical vintage” in Tuscany, which may explain the richness in the fruit, but this Merlot from Bolgheri has all the hallmarks of developing well and is completely and smoothly in balance. I long to see this wine, or any

New Italian Wine range at Marks & Spencer

“What is it? Why does he have to shout? Why!” The Queen turned to say to noone in particular at the G20 Conference in 2009. The collective groan could be heard all the way from Italy after President Berlusconi shouted across The Throne Room in Buckingham Palace to introduce himself to the new US President Obbammmmaaa. Which brings me to the Marks & Spencer Spring Tasting. One word came to me while walking away:

Letters from Montalcino: appeals on proposed changes to Rosso di Montalcino

The Brunello di Montalcio producers are meeting to vote and decide whether to change the law: to allow Rosso di Montalcino to become a blended wine, like other wines in Tuscany, (and in other parts of the world) or to remain as 100% Sangiovese. What do producers see as the problem with changing Rosso di Montalcino from 100% Sangiovese to 85% Sangiovese? A few days ago one of the bigger producers wrote an open letter to the consortium from one of the larger producers, Mastrojanni owned by Francesco and Andrea Illy (yes, the same Illy as the coffee): 

Changes in Rosso di Montalcino DOC race ahead

The red colour of Italian cars is not just any red. It comes from a long history of rules, mostly developed between the World Wars, when car racing began. Different countries were assigned different colours: blue for French cars, white for German cars and, of course, British cars were racing green. Red was assigned for Italian race cars and now, the red colour of Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Ferrari is instantly recognisable as a “race red” (or Rosso Corsa). All these rules have a history, which gain sense from the time, but most people today know what is meant by Ferrari Red. Just as with Italian car colours, and a lot of things in Italy, Italian wines have many rules. So it is worth considering what the proposed changes in the rules mean, especially when on the 15th December, the 15 board members proposed to change Rosso di Montalcino from 100% to 85% guaranteed Sangiovese. Currently the law stands: Brunello di Montalcino must be 100% Sangiovese and aged for 4 years (Riserva for 5 years) …

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG vs European Union

Some headache! The morning after the party to celebrate 30 years of DOCG status in the ancient Tuscan town of Montepulciano, winemakers were making their way to Brussels to confront the European Union’s decision to change Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG to simple “Montepulciano”. What’s the problem? Montepulciano has 6 syllables already, that is enough for a name isn’t it? And isn’t Montepulciano just a cheap red wine found in most supermarkets for around £5? What’s the problem with shortening it? The problem is this: say Montepulciano and most people think Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, the cheap and cheerful red Montepulciano grape from the next state, Abruzzo. Not the Sangiovese wine from Tuscany, Vino Nobile. Change the name from Vino Nobile to just “Montepulciano” and suddenly the wine is something else for most people asking for it. Already there is enough confusion between these two very distinct styles because they share the word in the name: Montepulciano. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG was one of the first regions in Italy to receive DOCG status in1980, next to …

Lunch with the Marchesi de Frescobaldi at new Harrods Wine Department

Being a family with a well-recorded ancient past must not always be pleasant, but at least, like old photos or tear-stained letters, the evidence does not require many words. True, such things as archives, documentaries, and the love and rejection which is called fashion can cause trouble over the years. And it definitely has for the Frescobaldi family at one time or another in its 700 year history. But avoiding disaster in the long-term requires a checklist as short as that for any winemaker: soil, weather, location. Looking at my notes from lunch with the Marchesi Leonardo Frescobaldi and his family, I notice most of the day’s talk concerned the “expression of the soil”. The Marchesi posed a very simple question before tasting the four wines: “What was the message received from the soil?”. The line-up: 2007 Mormoreto, 2007 Haut Brion, 2007 Cos d’Estournel and 2007 Opus One. All Cabernet-based. The Marchesi de Frescobaldi inherited Bordeaux grapes from their grandfather Vittorio in the mid-19th century. Historical facts slip into conversation as easily as tossing a few coins …

What is “vino da meditazione”?

I love reading wine tasting notes in Italian. I always want to sing it back. For example, What is a vino da meditazione? It’s an intriguing term often seen in Italian wine notes. It looks like the word “meditation”, but it’s not quite. Coined by famous Italian gastronome, Luigi Veronelli, meditazione is often used to describe sweet passito wines or red wines aged for a long time such as Barolo or Brunello di Montalcino. From my readings in Italian, a vino da meditazione can mean 1. Calm, sweet wine (without bubbles); 2. Important red wines; 3. Wines with a long vinification process from vine to bottle such as Brunello di Montalcino Riserva (at least 5 years in oak), Barolo Riserva (5 years) or Vin Santo (8 years in oak); 4. A way to drink these wines with an attitude of understanding its complexity:”Stop and slow down – this wine should be approached calmly, reflectively to understand its complexity and composition”.   Holy Wine A classic vino da meditazione is Vin Santo (holy wine), a Tuscan sweet wine, which became popular during the …

the blue wines of Tuscany

At first everything seemed fine, more than fine: from left to right, older terracotta-coloured wines from Chianti to the latest bright purple wines from the Tuscan coast of Maremma. The new 2006 Coevo sat in the middle: a perfectly balanced blend of two distinct regions, Chianti and Maremma. But then out came the Michelin-star Chef, Massimo Bottura, to introduce the food. Initially, I thought it was simply a good idea to have food with a Tuscan wine tasting, for Tuscan Sangiovese wines are often completed on the palate by food. But Massimo Bottura, from Osteria Francescana in Modena, a 2-Michelin star restaurant (Bottura himself is ranked number 6 in the world), was not here just to cook, he was here to interpret the ideas behind2006 Coevo wine through his food. Suddenly, the tasting shifted to a whole new level… Bottura’s ideas flew as thick as aged Balsamic yet as fast as a Ferrari (both also at home in Modena where Osteria Francescana is based). Bottura insisted, the modern chef needs to have their feet on earth and mind …

Changes in Rosso di Montalcino DOC race ahead

The red colour of Italian cars is not just any red. It comes from a long history of rules, mostly developed between the World Wars, from when car racing began. Different countries were assigned different colours: blue for French cars, white for German cars and, of course, British cars were racing green. Red was assigned for Italian race cars and now, the red colour of Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Ferrari is instantly recognisable as a “race red” (or Rosso Corsa). All these rules have a history, which gain sense from the time, but most people today know what is meant by Ferrari Red. Just as with Italian car colours, and a lot of things in Italy, Italian wines have many rules. So it is worth considering what the proposed changes in the rules mean, especially when on the 15th December, the 15 board members proposed to change Rosso di Montalcino from 100% to 85% guaranteed Sangiovese.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG vs European Union

Some headache! The morning after the party to celebrate 30 years of DOCG status in the ancient Tuscan town of Montepulciano, winemakers were making their way to Brussels to confront the European Union’s decision to change Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG to simple “Montepulciano”. What’s the problem? Montepulciano has 6 syllables already, that is enough for a name isn’t it? And isn’t Montepulciano just a cheap red wine found in most supermarkets for around £5? What’s the problem with shortening it? The problem is this: say Montepulciano and most people think

What is a ‘vino da meditazione’?

I love reading wine tasting notes in Italian. I always want to sing it back. For example, What is a vino da meditazione? It’s an intriguing term often seen in Italian wine notes. It looks like the word “meditation”, but it’s not quite. Coined by famous Italian gastronome, Luigi Veronelli, meditazione is often used to describe sweet passito wines or red wines aged for a long time such as Barolo or Brunello di Montalcino. From my Italian sources, a vino da meditazione can mean: 1. Calm, sweet wine (without bubbles); 2. Important red wines; 3. Wines with a long vinification process from vine to bottle such as Brunello di Montalcino Riserva (at least 5 years in oak), Barolo Riserva (5 years) or Vin Santo (8 years in oak); 4. A way to drink these wines with an attitude of understanding its complexity:”Stop and slow down – this wine should be approached calmly, reflectively to understand its complexity and composition”.   Holy Wine   A classic vino da meditazione is Vin Santo (holy wine), a Tuscan sweet …

the blue wines of Tuscany

At first everything seemed fine, more than fine: from left to right, older terracotta-coloured wines from Chianti to the latest bright purple wines from the Tuscan coast of Maremma. The new 2006 Coevo sat in the middle: a perfectly balanced blend of two distinct regions, Chianti and Maremma. But then out came the Michelin-star Chef, Massimo Bottura, to introduce the food.   Initially, I thought it was simply a good idea to have food with a Tuscan wine tasting, for Tuscan Sangiovese wines are often completed on the palate by food. But Massimo Bottura, from Osteria Francescana in Modena, a 2-Michelin star restaurant (Bottura himself is ranked number 6 in the world*), was not here just to cook, he was here to interpret the ideas behind 2006 Coevo wine through his food. Suddenly, the tasting shifted to a whole new level… Bottura’s ideas flew as thick as aged Balsamic yet as fast as a Ferrari (both also at home in Modena where Osteria Francescana is based). Bottura insisted, the modern chef needs to have their …