It didn't take Gianni Nunziante long to realize, after buying Villa Vignamaggio, that winemakers were different from everyone else. "All they talked about is wine," he recalls. "I couldn't even get them to talk about soccer."
With time he was bitten by the bug too, and decided to make a wine that wasn't Sangiovese plus something. Rather, he wanted to make a completely unconventional wine, with different grapes, different vines (from France) and planted by different people. So he brought in French vineyard workers, who planted 5 hectares of vines in three days, working around the clock to do so.
When they planted them by machine, it caused a stir in the area because nobody did it that way then in Tuscany. The combination of the Bordeaux blend and Syrah is again unusual, but has worked quite well. The vineyard, which is planted to a density of 5000 vines per hectare, is by now 12 years old, and is coming into maturity; the hesitancy of the first years is becoming assurance. Merlot, 60% of the blend, holds things together, because it grows very well in the area, with considerable consistency. The remainder is Cabernet Franc and Syrah, in varying percentages.
The vinification is separate, and some of the aging is too; assembly happens after a year in wood, and they keep a few pure barriques in reserve to fine tune the final blend as necessary. Of the three, Merlot is the most continuous, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon, with Syrah that does better in very hot years, but is a touch thin skinned for less perfect vintages.
Over the years they have increased the concentration of the wines and worked on the tannin balance as well. The maturation of the vines has also had a major impact, because the different varietals respond differently to dryness or rain, especially when the vines are young and their roots are still undeveloped, and especially towards the harvest. In terms of wood, they use barriques, rotating over three years.
The reception of the wine has varied from region to region. The Germans and Swiss took to it immediately, whereas other markets, for example the United States, were initially much more hesitant. As a general rule it's seen as a Vignamaggio wine, and not considered Chianti or Tuscan.
Last thing: The name? Mr. Nunziante says he saw a bottle of Calvin Kline's Obsession perfume in New York, and the name just clicked.
The wines, tasted at Villa Vignamaggio:
Vignamaggio Wine Obsession IGT 1996 Deep black cherry ruby with some almandine in the rim. The bouquet is powerful, with elegant red berry fruit supported by underbrush and some spice that gains peppery notes with time, while deft sour currant acidity laced with vegetal notes provides definition. Elegant. On the palate it's medium bodied tending towards full, with rich berry fruit that gains direction from lively currant acidity and is supported by ample sweet tannins that flow into a clean slightly bitter finish, with lasting warmth and bright fruit. Quite pleasant, though fairly direct -- one can tell the vineyards are young; it will drink well with succulent red meats now, but also has the legs necessary to age well for many more years. A fellow tasted says esile (slender), though I'm not sure I agree. But it is direct. 2 stars
Vignamaggio Wine Obsession IGT 1997 Deep black cherry ruby with some almandine in the rim. The bouquet is powerful, with rich black currant fruit supported by some chalk dust and deft underbrush, with pleasant underlying nutmeg spice. Harmonious and nicely balanced, in a fairly direct way -- it brings to mind a well sculpted athlete. On the palate it's full, though not quite as rich as I might have expected from the nose; the fruit is full but a touch flat, and fairly direct, with powerful vegetal laced black current and forest berry supported by moderate acidity -- there's less than in the 96, though it is enough to give direction -- and by ample tightly woven smooth tannins that have slight bitter vegetal notes, and flow into a warm clean tannic finish. By comparison with the 96 it's larger and more settled; this is the vintage at work, and though it is nice it's not quite as deft as I might have liked. Rather, a touch muscle bound. 2 stars
Vignamaggio Wine Obsession IGT 1998 Deep pigeon blood ruby with black reflections and some almandine in the rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, with bright black currant fruit supported by moderate acidity, and by cedar and vanilla-laced spice with slight balsamic notes that are a bit more apparent than in the first two wines. On the palate it's full, and rather languid, with powerful black currant fruit that gains definition from deft acidity, and is supported by smooth sweet tannins smooth enough that they seem smaller than they are, which flow into a long clean black currant finish. Quite elegant, and displays considerably more finesse than the 97. 90
Vignamaggio Wine Obsession IGT 1999 Deep pigeon blood ruby with lively cherry ruby rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, with an initial rush of balsam-laced underbrush supported by pleasant spice, deft acidity, and vegetal-laced black currant fruit. Quite a bit going on, and it reveals greater complexity than the older wines; the vineyard is beginning to mature. On the palate it's full, with rich red berry fruit, a mixture of black currants and cherries with some green pepper acidity, supported by tannins that though smooth and sweet do have slight greenish notes, and flow into a long clean berry fruit finish that gains definition from acidity and bitter cedar. Elegant in a slightly more international key than the earlier wines, and quite fresh as well. It will drink very well with classic red meats. 91
Vignamaggio Wine Obsession IGT 2000 Deep black cherry ruby with bright ruby rim. The bouquet is powerful, and quite elegant, with a great rush of black currant fruit that is delicately supported by spice; it's quick to write but quite harmonious, and very pleasant to sniff. On the palate it's full, and rich, with deft black currant fruit that is quite fresh, and is supported by ample smooth sweet tightly woven tannins that flow into a clean black currant finish with underlying bitter graphite shavings. Quite elegant, and an extremely nice expression of the 2000 vintage, which is often overripe in Tuscany. Well worth seeking out, and it has many years ahead of it. 91
Vignamaggio Wine Obsession IGT 2001 Deep pigeon blood ruby with cherry rim. The bouquet is deft, with fairly intense underbrush mingled with berry fruit and some underlying cedar; harmonious and pleasant to sniff. On the palate it's full, with bright black currant fruit supported by deft strawberry acidity, and by clean slightly greenish tannins that have a delicate vegetal and cedar underpinning, and flows into a long clean finish with bright berry fruit that has some cedar laced tannic underpinning, and is supported by bright acidity. By comparison with the older wines it's younger, and has a richness that is a result of increasing maturity of the vines; one could drink it now, but it will age nicely for another 5-10 years, greatly rewarding those with patience. 90
Vignamaggio Wine Obsession IGT 2003 This is a prerelease barrel sample; it's deep pigeon blood ruby with ruby reflections and dark cherry rim. The bouquet is bright, with a great rush of black currant fruit supported by lively strawberry jam acidity, and pleasant underbrush as well. Impressive for a barrel sample. On the palate it's full, with rich jammy forest berry fruit that gains definition from ripe strawberry acidity and is supported by clean sweet tannins that are still young, and this is not a surprise. It's one of the finest Tuscan 2003 vintage wines I've tasted, with none of the softness and overripeness that are so common. It will be well worth seeking out.
They may not make the 2005. Still thinking about it.
As an overall impression, the wines display impressive continuity and balance, with the three varietals working together rather than striking out on their own, and joining forces, as it were, to counteract the effects climate. For example, whereas hot vintages all too often result in jammy notes and overripe fruit, here the Syrah steps in and mediates very well. There is an increase in complexity over the flight that is attributable to the increasing age of the vines, and also an increase in depth, which is not, fortunately, accompanied by an increase in weight; the wines display a delightful freshness that is a distinguishing characteristic of the flight, and if anything increases throughout it.
One important thing is that the wines from so-called lesser vintages stand out: I was much impressed by the 1998, which is in many cases overrated, and was also impressed by the wines of the 2000 and 2003 vintages, both of which were hot enough to be problematic in much of Tuscany.
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.