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.

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