Friday, May 27, 2005

A Vertical of Castello di Bossi's Il Girolamo IGT Toscano

GirolamoCastello di Bossi draws its name from the Bosso tree, an unusual evergreen whose limbs drape like those of a Lebanese Cedar, and whose needles are fleshy, rather like those of plants that grow in arid regions. Medieval maps of the area show groves of bossi, which were used to make strongboxes that were kept in the watchtower -- la Torre dei Bossi. In the 1450s the Ricasoli family, lords of nearby Castello Brolio, had the Torre dei Bossi burned down; when the owners rebuilt it they included the foundations of the 11th century tower in their new castle, which is a classic fairly squat square structure with a central courtyard. We don't know what, if anything, the Ricasoli family did about the bosso groves, though they are now gone -- there is one surviving tree, in the park just outside the castle walls, and Marco Bacci says he keeps close watch over it; despite a lightning bolt a few years ago it is growing well.

Marco and his family bought Castello di Bossi in 1982, from people who had supplied grapes to Antinori, and therefore had planted the vineyards with the assistance of Giacomo Tachis, Antinori's chief enologist. The Bosso TreeIn addition to Sangiovese, Marco found both Cabernet and Merlot, which he thinks were probably illegal when they were planted in the late 60s -- he says his family wasn't sure what the grapes were at the time, but realized that the vineyard that turned out to be Merlot ripened sooner than the others. His family used it as a blending wine for their Chianti Classico Riserva.

In 1997 they had more than they needed -- about 15 extra barrels -- and decided to try bottling it separately as Girolamo, a single vineyard IGT Toscana Rosso. It caused a sensation, so in 1998 they made it again, just a thousand bottles this time, and then again in 1999. Fermentation takes place at about 30 degrees C, and is followed by a long maceration on the skins, 30 days in 1999, to extract as much as possible. The wine goes into French barriques for the malolactic fermentation, and then matures for 15 months. Production volume continues to vary from vintage to vintage, and is in any case limited to better vintages. There will be no 2002 Girolamo (or any other Castello di Bossi wine).

The Wines:

Castello Bossi EntranceGirolamo IGT Toscano 1997
Deep black pigeon blood ruby with some almandine in the rim. The bouquet is powerful, and heady, with a rush of freshly crushed black currants supported by peppery spice and deft vinous overtones, with some mineral and slight green leather. Very nice to sniff. On the palate it's full, rich, and smooth, with intense black currant fruit supported by ample, sweet rather dry tannins that flow into a long dry berry laced finish. Great depth and balance, and it will drink very well with flavorful drier dark meats, for example stewed or roasted game birds. Assuming you don't decide to drink it far from the table. In terms of its evolution, it's youthfully mature, and will give great pleasure now, though one could also hold it for another decade or more.

Girolamo IGT Toscano 1998
Deep pigeon blood ruby with black reflections and some garnet in the rim. The bouquet is full, and rich, with powerful crushed black currant fruit mingled with slight bramble and hints of underbrush, and some underlying alcohol as well. On the palate it's full, with fairly intense black currant fruit supported by sample sweet tannins and some slightly brambly acidity that gives the wine direction, and leads into a long black currant finish that ends with smoky bitterness. It's not as rich as the 97, but does display a very pleasing brightness, and will drink quite well with succulent red meats. In terms of its evolution, it's not as well fleshed as the 97, and therefore seems a little further along. In any case, it's still quite young, and though one could drink it now with a roast, if I had a couple of bottles I'd set one aside for 5-8 years.

Girolamo IGT Toscano 1999
Impenetrable pyrope ruby with black ruby rim. Poured ink. The bouquet is quite young, with brambles mingled with crushed black currants and slight graphite; it's quick to write but there's a lot going on and one could sniff it at length. Great finesse. On the palate it's full, and rich, with powerful black currant fruit supported by ample smooth sweet tannins that are extremely refined, and flow into a clean long black currant fruit finish with some smoky bitterness. By comparison with the earlier vintages it's smoother and less acidic (though it doesn't have the cloying softness that some associate with Merlot), and shows greater balance; it's also still quite young and I would give it another 3-5 years to get its bearings, because it is nice now but at the beginning of a long climb.

Girolamo IGT Toscano 2000
Impenetrable pyrope ruby with deep cherry ruby rim. The bouquet is powerful, and a step apart from the others, with rich black currant fruit of the sort you smell if you crush a bowl of fruit in your hands, bordering on overripe but not overstepping the boundary, with deft barest hints of balsam and cedar. Great depth, and a lot going on. On the palate it's full and rich, with powerful black currant fruit that's a touch sweet, with smooth sweet tannins that flow into a long graphite-laced black currant fruit finish. It's more a classic Merlot than the other wines, perhaps because the late summer heat brought greater ripeness and concentration of the grapes, and a greater softness to the tannins. I would give it another 3-5 years to develop, though it will drink well now with succulent, fairly dry roasts or stews (i.e. stewed game birds, or stewed furred game).

Girolamo IGT Toscano 2001
Impenetrable pyrope ruby with black reflections and deep cherry rim. The bouquet is very young, with deft black currant and forest berry fruit supported by clean cedar and some hints of vanilla. It's like looking in on a toddler whose parents are both beautiful, and though it was a shame to open it now it is very nice to sniff. On the palate it's full, and rich, with powerful black currant fruit that has slight animal overtones that add depth, and is supported by ample smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean long black currant finish. Most impressive, and well worth seeking out, though unless I were lucky enough to have several bottles I wouldn't open one before 2008, and would expect it to drink very well through 2015.

In summary, I liked the 97 very much though I found it a bit more rustic than the more recent vintages, and this isn't too surprising since they decided to bottle excess barrels on a whim. 98 was a transition year, and more recent vintages display greater concentration and depth, while also reflecting the vagaries of the vintage. By comparison with some of the other Tuscan Merlots, Bossi's is a little less varietal (with the exception of 2000) -- it's not quite as soft, nor quite as smooth as what one finds elsewhere, though it does display the opulence and fullness that I (at least) associate with fine Merlot. In terms of progression through the vertical, taking the characteristics of the vintages into account I found a distinct increase in finesse and elegance beginning with 1998.

For more information on Castello di Bossi, check their website.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Tasted at Vinitaly 2005:
Primo Volo 2001

Count Giordano's villa outside PadovaPrimo Volo is the brainchild of Count Giordano Emo Capodilista and Andrea Faccio, owners of the La Montecchia and Villa Giada wineries, respectively; the wine began as a blend of Merlot from near Padova (in the Veneto) and Barbera from Agliano Terme, outside Asti (in Piemonte).

The first vintage, 1998, was, says, Andrea, "a lark," but in 1999 they decided to do it seriously and began to attract the attention of the wine press. Then Andrea met Sergio Zingarelli, who produces Chianti Classico at Rocca delle Macie, on a plane, and Sergio asked if they wanted to add some Sangiovese to their blend. They said yes, and the result, which combines Merlot's softness with Barbera's lively acidity and Sangiovese's steely structure, is quite nice.

The 2001 vintage is deep pigeon blood ruby with ruby rim, and has an elegant bouquet with powerful black cherry and black currant fruit (the latter from Merlot) nicely balanced by spice and supported by considerable citric acidity (from the Barbera) that confers considerable life and brightness. Quite a bit going on. On the palate it reveals its youth to a greater degree; it's rich, with powerful red berry fruit, a mix of cherries and black currant fruit supported by deft acidity that gives good direction, and by sweet tannins that combine Merlot's softness with a clean peppery burr that's part oak and part Sangiovese's steel. The finish is long and pleasing. It's quite harmonious, and though one could drink it now with a fatty roast (I drank it with a pork rump roast -- a happy marriage indeed -- and a suckling pig would also be nice, as would be a succulent leg of lamb) or a flavorful stew, I'd give it another 3-5 years to develop.

The Primo Volo site

Tasted at Vinitaly 2005:
Villa Petriolo

Villa Petriolo is located in the township of Cerreto Guidi, a few miles north of the Arno River and a few miles southwest of the town of Vinci. As such it's down river from Florence, in an area long noted for olive groves, forests, and, especially, vineyards, which Emanuele Ripetti mentioned in 1833, saying they were "di eccelsa qualità," of superb quality. At the time much of the area belonged to the Alessandrini Family, which directed 13 poderi (farms) from Villa Petriolo, a property they had owned since at least 1574.

Family fortunes do change, however, and about 40 years ago Villa Petriolo was bought by Moreno Maestrelli, an industrialist who also loved the countryside and working with his hands. For him the estate was a country home and place to get away from it all, but 8 years ago his daughter Silvia decided to return the property to its roots, as it were, transforming it back into a working estate; after bringing back the facilities she turned her attention to the land, and planted her first Sangiovese vineyard in 2002. She has now been joined by her sister Simona, who handles press relations, tastings, and such, and by the enologist Attilio Pagli.

Given the youth of the new vineyard it's obvious that they are now working with what they already had, and I enjoyed what I tasted at Vinitaly this spring. The wines:

Villa Petriolo Chianti 2004
Lot 05/02
Recently bottled, but with a well developed bouquet that has bright, abundant slightly sour cherry fruit and lots of violets, supported by savory overtones and heather. Bracing youth, which also reveals underbrush with more swishing, while the acidity holds it up. On the palate it's deft, and medium bodied, with rich sour cherry fruit that gains depth from some underbrush and direction from acidity, while the supporting tannins are ample, smooth, and sweet, and flow into a long peppery sour berry fruit finish. It will be quite nice with grilled meats or light stews, and you may want a second bottle.
2 stars

Fattoria di Petriolo Golpaia IGT Toscana 2001
Lot 03/02
Golpaia is a Sangiovese in purezza; the 2001 vintage is deep black almandine ruby with almandine rim, and has powerful bouquet with strong underbrush mingled with some spice and hints of hardwood ash, and underlying red berry fruit. There's something haunting about it. On the palate it's full and medium bodied, with powerful berry fruit supported by clean sweet tannins that flow into a fairly long clean finish. Pleasant, in an international key, and will drink well with succulent roasts or stews, and also has the wherewithal to age nicely for 5-8 years.
2 stars

Fattoria di Petriolo Golpaia IGT Toscana 2003
Lot 05/05
There was no 2002; this had just been bottled and is still closed, though swishing does bring up cedar mingled with spice, underbrush, chalk, and ground pepper. It needs time. On the palate it's medium bodied tending towards full, and fairly rich, with pleasant cherry and forest berry fruit supported by clean sweet tannins whose oaky component still sticks out; it needs at least a year to get its bearings, at which point it will be elegant in an international key that's fairly soft -- the heat of the summer reduced the acidity of the grapes -- and will work well with succulent roasted white meats, for example turkey with rich gravy or pork loin with sauces. Expect it to age nicely for 5-8 years.
2 stars

Fattoria di Petriolo Vin Santo del Chianti 1999
Amber with apricot reflections. The bouquet is powerful and fresh, with walnut skins and dried apricots mingling with some brown sugar (the moist variety) and hints of oatmeal. On the palate it's full, languid, and soft, with brown sugar sweetness and a degree of tannic support from walnut skins that flows into a clean butter-lipped finish that is quite persistent, and is kept from flagging by lingering dried apricot acidity. A little more dried fruit on the palate would have given it greater spark, but it is pleasant.
2 stars

In summary, Villa petriolo works well with what they have, and will bear watching in the future.

Contact info:
Villa Petriolo
Azienda Agricola Petriolo
Via di Petriolo, 7
50050 Cerreto Guidi (Firenze) Italia
PH +39-0571-509491
FAX +39-0571-509646

Friday, May 13, 2005

Farewell, Tocai Friulano

The word Tocai (Tokaji or Tokaj in Hungarian, and Tokay in English) refers to both a wine producing region in Eastern Hungary and to a number of different wines, the most important of which are Hungarian Tokaj, a sweet wine that Louis XIV called the "Wine of Kings and the King of Wines," the French Tokay d'Alsace, and the Italian Tocai Friulano, a dry white wine made from the Tocai Friulano varietal.

Though the Friulani have records showing that their Tocai vines are indigenous, and were transplanted to Hungary in the 1100s, the Hungarians have long argued that theirs is the original Tocai wine and that the other Tocais are usurpers riding upon their coat tails. In 1993 the European Union agreed with Hungary, decreeing that by 2006 other European producers had to abandon the use of the word Tocai on their labels; though the Friulani appealed the ruling repeatedly, citing their historic records, there has never been much question regarding the ultimate outcome of the contest, because the Tocaj region is in Hungary. And indeed, the EEU has now ruled that the word Tocai must go from Non-Hungarian labels in 2007.

This will be easy for the people in Alsace, whose wine is made from Pinot Grigio: They have already added the words Pinot Gris to their labels, and are now phasing out the word Tocai. It's more difficult for the Friulani whose wine is made from the Tocai grape, because they can't simply list their varietal. So what will happen?

Some producers will be giving their Tocai-based wines nomi di fantasia; for example, Radikon has settled upon Jacot, a palindrome of Tokaj. Others are instead pushing for a new regional name for Tocai-based wines, perhaps Friulano. We shall see.

More information? Craig Camp has posted an excellent article on Tocai, with a number of tasting notes, on Egullet.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

A Traditional
Chianti Classico Riserva:
La Fattoria La Ripa

Casella Postale n°1
50020 San Donato in Poggio (FI)
Tel. 055.807.2948

Fattoria La Ripa is an old, old Tuscan estate: In 1400 it belonged to Antonio Maria di Noldo Gherardini, Monna Lisa's father, who gave it to his daughter as part of her dowry when she married Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanobi del Giocondo and moved to Vignamaggio, where Leonardo is said to have painted her portrait. And it's nice to think of her as a little girl, walking the vineyards, and perhaps even picking some of the grapes, though as the future owner she wouldn't have had to do the heavy work.

The Fattoria was also important from a strategic standpoint, because it borders one of the highways connecting the Via Francigena, the major pilgrimage route to Rome, which followed the Val D'Elsa, with the Val di Pesa, which led to Florence, and therefore appears on the maps of the Guelph Captains who patrolled Florence's territory.

Moving much closer to the present, in 1968 the Fattoria, which now belongs to the Caramelli Family, began to bottle its wines and olive oil. It is now directed by Sandro Caramelli, an extremely personable engineer who lived and worked in a number of places before deciding to return to Italy and to the soil, as it were; his son Niccolò, who grew up at the Fattoria is technical co-director, while Marco Chellini is the estate's enologist.

We tasted a number of vintages of the Chianti Classico Riserva, and two more recent vintages of the basic Chianti Classico; as a general introduction one can say that stylistically the wines are quite traditional, with bright acidity and brambly tannins. No wood-induced smoothness, nor soft French varietals to tame Sangiovese's bite.

Tasting Notes | Fairs & Samples

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Tasted at Vintaly 2005:
Tommaso Bussola

Via Molino Turri, 30
37024 Negrar(VR)
Tel. 045.750.1740
Imported to the US by Rare Wines - Vieux Vins (CA)

I met Tommaso Bussola a number of years ago, when I visited him in the course my first in-depth visit to Valpolicella. He's affable, and very laid back, and I found his low tech system for drying the grapes destined to become Amarone and Recioto -- in a well-ventilated roofed shed -- quite refreshing after some of the high tech drying systems I'd seen in other cellars, which do to guarantee consistent results from year to year, but also remove one of the major elements that defines a Valpolicella vintage, namely the fall weather. By comparison, the air in Tommaso's shed was damp, because it was raining heavily outside, and he was worried about rot. Put simply, Tommaso takes what Nature dolls out, rolls with the punches, and works very well with what he has; the wines reflect not just the weather of the summer, but also what happened in the fall, which may be dry one year, resulting in quick drying of the grapes that favors the concentration of certain elements and certain transformations in the skins, and wetter the next, resulting in a slower drying that favors the concentration of other elements and other transformations in the skins, and perhaps a touch of Noble Rot (which he doesn't look for, but will accept if it happens).

The result of all this is that one never knows quite what to expect with one of Tommaso's wines, though one can be certain it will not disappoint.

Tasting Notes | Fairs & Samples

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Discoveries at Vinitaly 2005:
Az. Agr. Podere Casale

Via Creta - 29010 Vicobarone Ziano Piacentino (PC)
Tel. 0523.868302 - Fax 0523.840114

The wines of the Colli Piacentini were already known in Roman times (during a debate in the Senate, Cicero criticized the Piacentine native Lucius Calpurnius Piso for speaking too highly of them), were exported to France in the 1300s, and were singled out for praise by in the 16th century by Sante Lancerio, Pope Paul III's cellermaster.

Unfortunately, as is the case with so many other wine producing areas of Italy, in the more recent past the emphasis shifted in large part to high volume, lower quality wines aimed at local consumers. As a result the region's renown faded, but now producers are again beginning to emphasize quality, and there are some very nice wines to be found.

I stopped at the Azienda Agricola Podere Casale's booth at Vinitaly by chance -- saw a friend talking to the winemaker, so I sat down and asked to have what he was having -- and was pleasantly surprised. It was a Gutturnio, a wine that is a blend of 55-70% Barbera and 30-45% Croatina, a varietal that is locally known as Bonarda.

Tasting Notes | Fairs & Samples