Thursday, January 26, 2006

Villa Cafaggio: Farewell Stefano, Welcome La Vis

Stefano FarkasVilla Cafaggio is one of the historic estates of Chianti Classico, and as such has followed the region's fortunes both good and bad. When Paolo Farkas bought the property in 1967, there were a few hectares of coltura promiscua, the traditional mixture of vineyards, olive trees, and other crops (often cereals, between the rows of vines) planted by the tenant farmers who worked the land.

Mr. Farkas decided to plant 25 hectares of specialized vineyards, which, says his son Stefano, who helped oversee the project, were a mistake in retrospect: There was too much Trebbiano and Malvasia, the Sangiovese clones selected were overly productive, the rootstocks were too vigorous, and the planting density was too low. In short, high yields and low concentration.

They also had problems with storage: The cellar was just large enough to contain a single vintage, and as a result they sold just about everything to Piero Antinori, who bottled the wine. And so things continued until the horrid 1972 vintage, when prices began to drop and buyers stopped buying; Stefano simply says, "a crisis ensued." He somehow managed to guide the winery through the difficult decade that followed -- his father was more an artist than an administrator -- and in the process transformed Villa Cafaggio into one of the finest wineries in Chianti Classico.

The pursuit of quality is not without cost, however, and Stefano would not have been able to make the improvements he did without the help of outside investors; in the end Casa Girelli, a winery in Trento that has also branched into wine marketing and is now a major negociant, took over Villa Cafaggio's finances while he continued to direct operations.

Casa Girelli has in turn have been bought out by La Vis, one of the historic quality-driven cooperatives of Trentino, and therefore Villa Cafaggio is now owned by La Vis, which has the financial muscle necessary to continue improving the vineyards -- 60 hectares by now -- and make necessary investments in the cellars.

In short, Villa Cafaggio's future is rosy, and Stefano Farkas has done a wonderful job guiding the winery to its current position. Having achieved this goal, however, he has decided it is time for a change of pace, and is leaving Villa Cafaggio for Portoferraio, on the Island of Elba, where he has bought 7 hectares of land and plans to try his hand at making white wines.

I was honored to be invited to his farewell tasting, which was held at Villa Cafaggio in on November 23, 2005. Consulting enologist Stefano Chioccioli, who has been working with Villa Cafaggio since 1998, commented the wines as they were poured.

The wines, tasted November 23, 2005

Villa Cafaggio's WinesChianti Classico DOCG 2002

Sangiovese in Purezza

Deep pigeon blood ruby with cherry rim. The bouquet is surprisingly rich considering the vintage's reputation, and quite young, with voluptuously rich cherry fruit -- they didn't make riserve or IGTs, so all came here -- supported by brambles and some graphite shavings. On the palate it's light, and sprightly, with bright cherry fruit supported by graphite acidity and brambly notes; it's quite graceful in a decidedly light key, and is one of the finest expressions of this vintage that I've tasted. It's very pleasant to drink, and though not something to set aside, will add great pleasure to a meal built around simple red meats, rich meat-based pasta dishes, or hearty vegetable soups, for example Tuscan ribollita.

2 stars

Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 1999

Sangiovese in Purezza, aged in barriques.

Deep pigeon blood ruby with black cherry rim. The bouquet is quite rich, and beginning to enter into maturity, with hints of balsam mingled into red berry fruit and some sea salt, with underlying spice and slight hints of green leather. Nice, and one of those wines you'll find yourself sniffing again and again. On the palate it's full and rich, with powerful cherry fruit supported by bright acidity and by tannins that have deft brambly overtones mingled with well integrated oak, and flow into a long clean berry fruit finish. Quite elegant, and will drink very well with grilled meats or stews, including game. It's ready, but will continue to develop for at least five more years. In short, if you have several bottles, set some aside.


San Martino IGT 1993

This is a single vineyard wine, and is Sangiovese in Purezza

Elegant rich garnet ruby with some almandine in the rim. The bouquet is mature, with elegant, lacy balsamic notes mingled with tart berry fruit; a fellow taster says "very classic," and she's right. It's beautiful, and enveloping. On the palate it's rich and full, with bright sour slightly balsamic cherry fruit supported by tannins that though velvety also have a dusky Sangiovese burr, and flow into a long rather balsamic finish. A great delight to drink, and will work well with succulent red meats. Definitely ready.


San Martino IGT 1997

Considerably deeper pigeon blood ruby with black cherry rim; it looks much younger than it is, and this is the power of the 97 vintage at work. The bouquet is elegant in a powerful key, with rich cherry fruit laced with berry fruit jam, and deft underlying spice; it's quick to write but displays great harmony, and is a delight to swish in the glass. On the palate it's full and rich, with powerful cherry fruit that has slight sour accents, and is supported by full dusty tannins that leave a bitter trail across the tongue, blending with the acidity of the fruit as all fades. Quite nice, and will do marvelous things with a thick porterhouse steak or similar red meat. It's ready, though it has room to grow further; the tannins are a little bitter, and as a result I would drink it with foods rather than far from the table even in the future.

2 stars

San Martino IGT 1999

Deep pigeon blood ruby with black cherry rim. The bouquet is richer, and more elegant than that of the 97, with brighter red berry fruit and slight hints of berry fruit jam, mingled with some leaf tobacco and delicate cedar. Quite harmonious, and Stefano Chioccioli's touch is evident. On the palate it's full, but delicate too, with powerful red berry fruit -- a mix of cherries and some black currant fruit supported by clean tightly woven tannins that still display some youthful splinteriness;, and flow into a long clean finish. It's a distinct step up with respect to the 97, and still very young, though if I had a bottle I'd be tempted to open it now with a porterhouse steak. And be foolish thereby, because it will develop nicely over the next 3-5 years, and those blessed with more patience than me will be richly rewarded.


Cortaccio IGT 1993

This is a Cabernet Sauvignon grafted over Canaiolo, and is unfiltered.
Fairly deep slightly almandine ruby with cherry ruby rim. The bouquet is clean, rich, and mature, with balsamic notes and wet leaves mingled with black currant fruit and slight smoky bell pepper. Quite nice. On the palate it's full, and warm, with bright balsam-laced ripe black currant fruit supported by some vegetal notes typical of Cabernet, and by ample smooth sweet tannins. It's very much alive, with bright deft acidity that carries through into a long slightly sour cherry laced finish with tannic underpinning. Quite pleasant, and will drink very well with red meats. It's ready now.

2 stars

Cortaccio IGT 1997

Impenetrable pigeon blood ruby with deep black cherry rim. The bouquet is powerful, with rich berry fruit jam mingled with slight herbal notes and some sea salt, with underlying balsam and wood smoke. A lot going on, and it opens beautifully. On the palate it's rich and full, with powerful red berry fruit supported by sour bell pepper-laced tannins that have splintery overtones, and flow into a long clean splintery berry fruit finish. Quite nice, and will drink very well with hearty red meats, especially stews, game, and roasts.


Cortaccio IGT 1999

Impenetrable black cherry ruby with cherry rim; it's a little brighter than the 97 but cut from the same cloth. The bouquet is powerful, with forest berry fruit mingled with wood smoke and underlying stewed bell pepper tartness; there's a lot going on and it invites repeated sniffs. By comparison with the 99 San Martino it's a bit more powerful, and displays a bit less finesse. On the palate it's full and rich, with smoky tart red berry fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins -- smoother than those of the 97, and this is again Stefano's touch -- that flow into a long smoky finish. It's quite nice, and reflects the territory quite well, but is more strapping than the San Martino; to be frank I found myself preferring the former. Expect it to age well for 3-5 more years at least.


It was amemorable occasion, and I eagerly await the opportunity to taste Stefano's whites!