Petra is an interesting winery: Vittorio Moretti, who also owns Bellavista and Contadi Castaldi in Franciacorta, and a company that builds wineries for others, wanted something that would be both technically advanced and a calling card to show prospective clients. So he and his daughter Francesca built back into a hill in San Lorenzo Alto (the township of Suvereto, south of Bolgheri), planning out a structure where just about everything would move by gravity, with little if any pumping involved. They also secured the services of a renowned architect, Mario Botta, and as a result the winery draws both wine lovers and architecture buffs.
The project began in 1997, while the winery buildings were dedicated in 2003, and they have about 85 hectares under vine. In terms of enologists, they have secured the services of Pascal Chatonnet, who hails from Bordeaux, and started out by studying the soil types to determine the potentials of the various parcels of land, and therefore which areas would contribute to which wines -- they make four: Petra, their flagship wine, Ebo, Quercegobbe, and Zingari, a second tier wine that gets all the grapes that don't go into the others.
In terms of style, these wines, which are all variations on the classic Bordeaux blend, are all quite international, and very approachable; given the context, the decision to secure Pascal Chatonnet's services makes very good sense. I tasted these wines shortly before Vinitaly, at a luncheon held in Florence's Ristorante Oliveiero, and came away favorably impressed; they all nicely complemented the foods they were served with. We began with:
Ebo Val di Cornia DOC Suvereto Rosso 2004 This is a 50-25-25 blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and is aged partially in steel and partially in small oak; elegant ruby and its bouquet is rich for a recently bottled wine, with black currant and cherry fruit supported by herbal accents and graphite shavings with underlying chalk and spice. On the palate it's full and rich, with powerful forest berry and black currant fruit supported by surprisingly smooth rich tannins that flow into rich clean finish with lively bitter graphite overtones. Quite nice in a powerful, fruit driven key, with the fruit gaining direction from tannin and acidity; it will drink very well with grilled meats or light stews in the short run, and as it smoothes with time with time will be nice by the glass as well. The Italian word that comes to mind is ammiccante, which means inviting of the come-hither sort. 2 stars
Then we had:
Quercegobbe IGT Toscana 2004 This is a Merlot; it's poured pyrope ink. The bouquet is deft, with black currant fruit that has greenish accents and hints of raw beef, iodine, and saffron, with some underlying acidity to provide direction. Nice balance and quite a bit to sniff. On the palate it's full, rich, and very smooth, with rich black currant fruit supported by bitter tannic acidity that comes through in the finish, which is long and bitter with cedar accents from wood. Young, and quite elegant in an international key; it's going to come into its own in the next year or so, and will hold nicely for at least 5-8 years, drinking very well with succulent, not too fatty meats. 2 stars
Petra IGT Toscana 2003 This is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot, and was the first vintage made in the new cellars. It's deep pigeon blood ruby with cherry rim, and has a fairly rich nose with black currant fruit underlain by brambly cedar laced with iodine sea salt, and graphite shavings; it does reveal the heat of the vintage, though to a lesser degree than many other Tuscan coastal wines. The palate is full, with bright berry fruit supported by considerable cedar-laced warmth, which flows into a warm cedar-laced finish. The heat of the vintage is much more evident here, in the tannic structure, which draws from wood in a way it wouldn't have to in a more balanced vintage, and in the relative lack of acidity, which decreases with high temperatures. It's a fine interpretation of a difficult vintage, and better than many, but can only go so far; it's not a sipping wine now, nor do I expect it to become one, but will drink well with rich meats. 1 star
As I said, interesting wines, and they have improved considerably since the first releases came out a few years ago -- the vineyards are beginning to mature, and now they have a place to work. In short, Petra has a great deal of potential, and if you like this clean, approachable international style, it will bear watching in the future.
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.