At the beginning of February I was invited to a Vinsanto tasting at Badia a Coltibuono, which was extremely nice, and included a tasty meal cooked up by Guido Stucchi Prinetti, who has taken over the cooking classes his Mom -- Lorenza De'Medici -- used to hold for foreign visitors. A simple meal featuring, as the main course, an easy-to-do roast veal shank; he agreed to do a demonstration for me, and so I returned one snowy day in the beginning of March. Since the roasting time requires little supervision -- "during a class we put it in the oven and then I teach them how to do something else," says Guido -- I took advantage of the opportunity to taste through Badia a Coltibuono's wines.
They produce two lines of wine.
Coltibuono, which is made from outsourced grapes, and Badia a Coltibuono, which is made from estate grown grapes, following organic agricultural practices. As one might expect, the Coltibuono line is considerably higher volume, and for the most part what one might call vini da battaglia, in other words inexpensive wines to be set out and drunk. And they do drink quite well. The Badia a Coltibuono line is instead made to more exacting standards, and as a result its wines display greater complexity and depth.
Coltibuono Trappoline IGT Toscana 2004 Lot 006605 This is a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, and is pale brassy yellow with greenish reflections. The bouquet is rich, with powerful tropical fruit mingled with sage and bright apricots. Nice balance, and a deft expression of Sauvignon; the effect is inviting. On the palate it's medium bodied and bright, with lively mineral acidity that has grapefruit overtones and flows into a fairly long green apricot finish. It's very much on its toes, in an inviting sort of way, and will work well as an aperitif, with cheese or egg-based antipasti, and also has the body to work well with fattier fish or white meats. 2 stars
Coltibuono Cancelli Toscana IGT 2004 Lot 024405 This is a blend of Sangiovese and Syrah, and is deep pigeon blood ruby with ruby rim. The bouquet is bright, with floral accents -- violets mingling with underbrush and some alcohol, and underlying cherry and black currant fruit that has rich jammy overtones. On the palate it's medium bodied with rich berry fruit -- black cherries, blackberries and some currants -- supported by ample tannins that have a slightly dusky veneer and flow into a clean fruit laced finish with bitter overtones. Direct and approachable, an up fron wine that looks one in the eye without blinking. It will drink quite well with succulent red meats off the grill or light stews, and in a year will also be nice to drink with friends when the occasion doesn't beg concentration on the wine. While it has sufficient acidity to hold it up, there isn't quite enough for fattier meats or similar. But it will go quite fast in the proper setting, and you may wont a second bottle handy. 1 star
Coltibuono Cetamura Chianti 2004 Lot 018305 Lively pigeon blood ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is deft and young, with cherry blossoms and violets mingled with black cherry fruit and some forest berry fruit, with hints of acidity to keep it on its toes. Pleasant, and inviting. On the palate it's medium bodied tending towards light, with bright sour cherry fruit supported by lively sour cherry acidity and by moderately intense fairly smooth tannins that lead into a clean slightly bitter finish. It's quite direct, with an open-eyed simplicity -- nothing hidden -- and will drink well with simple pasta dishes, hearty legume-based soups, or burgers and such off the grill. A good every day wine that will go quickly, and you could find yourself needing a second bottle. Worth seeking out. 2 stars
Coltibuono Chianti Classico RS 2004 Lot 026505 Deep pigeon blood ruby with pyrope rim and black reflections. The bouquet is fairly intense, with berry fruit -- black currant and cherry -- supported by some bitter cedar, which increases with time, moderate acidity, and some graphite shavings; it's still young and will profit from a few months bottle age. On the palate it's medium bodied and quite smooth, with fairly rich cherry and forest berry fruit supported by moderate acidity and by ample sweet tannins that flow into a clean slightly bitter finish. It's quite approachable; the Italian word that comes to mind is ruffiano, which roughly translates as ingratiating in this context. In other words, it's a wine that draws one in, rather like a smooth talker, and as such it is quite effective; it's not long on depth or substance, but if you open a bottle with friends you will realize moments later that it is gone. Because of its relative lack of acidity it will drink best with succulent, not too fatty meats or light stews, and it will also be a good option when you want a glass not destined to be the focus of the event, far from the table. If you want greater depth or tradition it won't work for you, but if you just want to open a bottle without the event's becoming a religious experience, it's a good choice. 2 stars
Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2004 Lot 022705 Slightly darker pyrope ruby than the RS, and doesn't look quite as young. The bouquet is deft, with bright black cherry fruit supported by some underbrush and brambly acidity. It's brisker than the RS, and doesn't give the same impression of youthful smoothness. On the palate it's medium bodied with lively slightly sour cherry fruit supported by brisk acidity and by tannins that have a youthful bite to them, and flow into a long vinous finish. There's more to it than to the RS; it's scrappier in a tomboyish key, and I found it more interesting because there's much more evident interplay between acidity and fruit; it's quite young, but will drink well with succulent grilled meats or light stews, and also has the acidity and tannic structure to work well with fried meats and vegetables. Quite drinkable, and if you like this rather traditional style, with a degree of aggressiveness, you will enjoy it very much. Expect the bottle to go quickly, and I'd venture that even those who generally prefer smoother wines will enjoy it with their food. Well worth seeking out. 2 stars
Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 2001 Lot 1314 Deep pigeon blood ruby with some almandine in the rim. The bouquet is deft, with bright berry fruit supported by clean cedar, some hints of leaf tobacco, brambly acidity, and vinous warmth. Quite a bit going on and harmonious. On the palate it's full and fairly rich, with bright red berry fruit supported by ample tannins that have some youthful cedar to them that needs another year to work into the wine, and by deft mineral acidity that provides nice direction that carries through into a long tannic finish. Pleasant in a youthful traditional key, and will drink well now with a steak or roast, though it will improve markedly over the next 3-5 years, and be worth the wait. Worth seeking out if you like this style. 2 stars
Badia a Coltibuono Sangioveto di Toscana IGT 2001 Unlabeled prerelease sample Deep pigeon blood ruby with some garnet in the rim. The bouquet is still disjointed, with berry fruit on the one hand and bitter cedar on the other. Not quite a barrel sample, but it's obviously in the throws of youth and needs time; one can expect it to be rich and powerful when it comes together. On the palate it's also a babe, with rich berry fruit -- cherry and some forest berry fruit -- supported by moderate acidity and by tannins that still display youthful cedary notes; the finish is long and at present overshadowed by oak. It's a work in progress, like a canvas that has been blocked out enough to show the composition, but that still needs quite a few brush strokes to get there; it will, when ready (2-3 to be drinkable, and more for maturity) be quite elegant in a deft fairly modern key, and if you like the style you will like it very much. Too young to score.
NO STAR goes to wines that are correctly made but nothing to get excited about.
ONE STAR goes to wines that are good. TWO STARS go to wines that are very good to excellent. THREE STARS and a POINT SCORE (90-100) go to wines that are superb to extraordinary. And I will give pairing suggestions, which I consider much more important than the scores.