Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Wines from the Valdarno

Of the four Tuscan wine producing areas Grand Duke Cosimo III De'Medici recognized in 1716, three are still producing wines eagerly sought out by connoisseurs: Chianti Classico, Carmignano (Cosimo introduced the Cabernet that distinguishes Carmignano from Chianti to the area), and Chianti Rufina, which Cosimo identified as Pomino (the present Pomino, a blend of French and Italian varietals, was developed in the 1850s by Vittorio degli Albizi).

The fourth, the Upper Valdarno towards Arezzo, has instead faded into obscurity; there are lots of vineyards, which for the most part yield lackluster reds for local consumption. The situation is changing, however: New people are buying into the area, and established producers have begun to realize that if they want to continue to make wine they have to improve quality. The Comune of San Giovanni Valdarno recently organized a tasting of six wines that provides a good snapshot of the situation: The wines ranged from the last wine made from an old vineyard before replanting, though a wine made with what had matured best in a newly planted vineyard, and on through a couple of wines made from vineyards that aren't fully mature yet, but are beginning to show their potential.

Varietals, you wonder? Given the area's lack of tradition in producing quality wines, the producers feel freer to experiment than they might in areas with better established traditions, and many are planting a number of different varietals to see which will work best with their land. As one might expect, the major Italian varietal is Sangiovese, but many are also working with French varietals, in particular the ubiquitous Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, though there is also Syrah and Petit Verdot, among others. To be honest, I'd prefer to see more work with Italian varietals, but that is the winemaker's call, not mine.

The Wines:

Fattoria Petrolo Torrione 2003 IGT
This is a Sangiovese in Purezza; it's deep pyrope ruby with violet reflections and eggplant purple rim. Youth in a glass. The bouquet is rich, and quite fresh, with an abundance of violets mingled with red berry fruit, in particular chewy black cherries and black currants, laced with spice and hints of graphite. Nicely balanced, and fairly sweet, a characteristic attributable to the heat of the vintage. On the palate it's quite young, and still a bit disjointed, with a rush of ripe cherry and forest berry fruit supported by tannins that are smooth but have a pronounced bitter cedar burr derived from wood, and flow into a long slightly bitter finish. It's very young now and will improve greatly over the next three to five years; if you must drink it now drink it with succulent rare red meats; a thick porterhouse or rare roast beef would be about right.
2 stars

Tenuta il Borro Il Borro IGT 2003
This is 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Syrah. It's lively cherry ruby with bright rim tending towards red almandine ruby. The bouquet is fairly intense, and reveals a certain youth of the vineyards, which are (we were told) about 5 years old; there's fairly rich berry fruit mingled with violets of youth and considerable spice derived from wood; a fellow journalists mentions cloves and cardamom, and he is right, and there is also smoke and hardwood ash. On the palate it's full, with powerful red berry fruit -- primarily black currants, mingled with bell pepper and hints of underbrush; though it is rich, it also has a lightness to it that is again a result of the youth of the vines. The tannins also reflect this youth, with a degree of lightness in the grape component that will fade in future vintages, and a consequent cedary accent that is the wood stepping in (well) to take up the slack; the finish is long, with brandied fruit notes that had been at mid sip emerging. Quite deft, and an impressive result from very young vines; it will work well with succulent red meats.
2 stars

Tenuta Setteponti Crognolo 2002 IGT
90% Sangiovese plus other varietals
Dark black cherry ruby with some almandine in the rim. The nose is very different from the first two, with a savory vegetal sharpness mingled with underbrush and some underlying animal tang; there's also some smoke, and hints of fruit. It gives an impression of thinness coupled with lack of ripeness, and of wood stepping in to take the place of fruit, something that would be possible given the rains of the 2002 vintage. On the palate it's fairly light, and quite acidic, with moderately intense sour cherry fruit that has some lemony overtones, and is supported by light slightly splintery tannins that flow into a warm rather bitter acidic finish. It's an aggressive wine, and a child of the vintage, and given its character will drink quite well with fairly fatty cuts of meat, either off the grill or roasted.
1 star

Fattoria di Presciano Greti IGT 1999
This is a Sangiovese; it's impenetrable black cherry ruby with cherry ruby rim. The bouquet is a bit musty, with a fair amount of acidity and some grassy vegetal notes; there isn't much fruit at the outset, though the must does fade as it opens, revealing sour cherry and raspberry fruit, and some peppery spice On the palate it's medium bodied and frankly acidic, with moderate sour cherry fruit supported by tongue-curling dusty brambly tannins that lead into a bitter finish; it's not clean, and in particular has a musty bitterness I associate with overly old wood. The winery changed hands in 1999 and this was the wine they made from the old vineyards, one would presume with what they found; The wines that will come when the new vineyards they have planted begin production, and are vinified using (one assumes) new equipment will bear little resemblance to this wine.

Azienda Agricola Poggio Molina Le Caldie IGT 2001
Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sangiovese; it's impenetrable pyrope with purple eggplant rim; given its age it looks surprisingly young. The bouquet is vegetal, with iodine and graphite shavings; there isn't much fruit. This is their first vintage -- Merlot is 80% in this wine because it was the readiest vine -- and to be honest, it feels like a first wine; the vines are not yet mature enough to give much depth. On the palate it's full, and smooth, with moderate black currant fruit that's fairly sour, and is strongly overshadowed by bitter iodine and cedar tannins that flow into a fairly long bitter herbal finish. A babe, but from the vineyard standpoint; the vines need more time, and to pass judgment upon them or upon their winery on the basis of this wine would be to do them a disservice.

Tenuta Vitereta Villa Bernetti IGT 2001
This is a Cabernet Sauvignon; it's deep pyrope ruby with black cherry rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, and distinctly vegetal, with grilled bell peppers mingled with spice, sea salt, and tangy acidity, and supported by underlying black currant fruit and hardwood ash. On the palate it's fairly full, and surprisingly acidic, with sour black currants mingled with slightly green black berries, and greenish tannins that flow into a long vegetal finish with underlying bitterness. It seems unripe, which is a surprise given the richness of most of the wines produced in 2001. It's not off -- no problems per se -- but is simply greener and more acidic than I would have expected. Perhaps very young vines? It will, in any case, drink well with succulent to fatty grilled meats or roasts.
75 (1 star)

Final Analysis? The area is in a state of flux, but has a lot going for it, and will bear watching in the future.

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