The François family has owned Castello di Querceto for generations, and were among the first to realize that in order to survive and prosper they had to produce quality, not quantity. To do this one has to get to know one's land, and in 1973 Alessandro François decided to try producing a cru, or single-vineyard wine. At the time this it was a revolutionary idea for Chianti, and the results were, frankly, eye-opening: The first vintage of the new wine (1978), which he called la Corte, was quite good.
So he decided to make more, and even though now the idea of making crus has passed from fashion in Tuscany, he continues, because he finds them to be the best way to highlight the nuances of the land.
Truth be told, La Corte wasn't a shot in the dark: Alessandro's grandfather Carlo, one of Chianti's pioneering winemakers, had vinified that particular vineyard separately 70 years previously. But it did confirm the validity of making crus.
Encouraged by La Corte's success, in 1985 Alessandro introduced Il Querciolaia, a 65-35 blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Next came Cignale, first produced in 1986, a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot.
And in 1988 Il Picchio a Chianti Classico Riserva made according to Barone Ricasoli's formula for wines to be aged: Sangiovese (92%) to provide power, and Canaiolo (8%) to temper Sangiovese's vigor.
And finally, after a period of reflection, in 1998 Alessandro introduced Il Sole di Alessandro, from a two-hectare vineyard planted with Cabernet Sauvignon on sandy terrains (an anomaly in the Valley of Dudda).
This year the fine 2004 vintage was released, and Alessandro took advantage of the fact to present flights of crus at Vinitaly. An opportunity too choice to pass up:
Castello di Querceto Il Picchio Chianti Classico Riserva 2004
A Picchio is a woodpecker, and refers to the birds in the woods around the vineyard. The wine, a blend of Sangiovese and Canaiolo based on Baron Ricasoli's formula for wines to be aged (no white grapes), is deep brick ruby with cherry rim. The bouquet is rich, with jammy berry fruit supported by warm cherries, some underbrush and savory accents. Very young, but nicely developed and displays considerable depth -- a wine to converse with. On the palate it's medium bodied and rich, with powerful berry fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins that have slight balsamic accents and flow into a clean fairly bitter finish. Quite nice in a fairly traditional key, and will drink very well with red meats. A porterhouse cut would be perfect.
Castello di Querceto La Corte Colli della Toscana Centrale IGT 2004
This is Sangiovese Grosso; it's a slightly deeper cherry ruby than the Picchio, and has an elegant bouquet with delicate red berry fruit supported by warmth and spice with clean cedar; the wood-fruit balance is quite nice, and it displays great depth. On the palate it's full, with deft red berry fruit supported by the clean bright slightly brambly citric acidity typical of Sangiovese and by tannins that are very smooth, and tightly woven, flowing into a clean fruit laced finish. Very nice, and though it's quite drinkable now and will bring considerable joy to a meal built around a roast, it will age well for a decade or more, and richly reward those with the patience to give it time.
Castello di Querceto Il Querciolaia Colli della Toscana Centrale IGT 2004
This is Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, a blend that was one of the most popular during the period that Supertuscans were attracting most of the attention bestowed to Tuscan winemaking. Considering the limitations imposed upon Chianti Classico at the time (among which 30% white grapes, including Trebbiano), that wine writers should find the Supertuscans more interesting is not a surprise. This one continues to be interesting, though it does have a slightly dated feel to it -- like opening a window onto the past, a past that one revisits with joy, but nonetheless another era. It's inky black cherry ruby with brick rim, and has a rich bouquet with red berry fruit supported by warmth and cedar, with hints of balsam, wet clay, and underbrush, and deft graphite shavings too. Quite a bit going on, and it brings to mind a lazy late summer afternoon to mind somehow. On the palate it's full, and rich, and still coming together, with clean savory berry fruit supported by tannins that have warm splintery accents and flow into a clean slightly bitter finish with lasting warmth. Quite nice, and will drink very well with steaks and other hearty grilled meats, but I found it a touch drier than I might have liked. In other words, a wine to accompany succulent foods, but not to sip far from the table.
Castello di Querceto Il Sole di Alessandro Colli della Toscana Centrale IGT 2004
This is Dr. François's most recent addition to the fold, and in keeping with current enological practices, it's a single varietal wine, made from Cabernet Sauvignon. Inky pigeon blood ruby with violet rim. The bouquet is elegant, with powerful forest berry fruit, in particular black currant fruit, supported by warmth, some leather, and hints of horse hair, while there are also underlying jammy accents. Quite nice, and a pleasure to sniff repeatedly. On the palate it's full, rich, and very smooth, with powerful red berry fruit supported by warmth, moderate acidity that provides direction, and smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean bright finish. It's quite elegant, in a slightly softer and more seductive key than the others.
Castello di Querceto Cignale Colli della Toscana Centrale IGT 2004
This is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, with 10% Merlot. It's impenetrable pigeon blood ruby with hints of almandine on the rim. The bouquet is deft, with clean slightly balsamic fruit -- forest berry fruit and black currant fruit -- with some underlying cedar and pencil shavings. Nice balance. On the palate it's full, and rich, and very smooth, with powerful berry fruit supported by moderate warmth and clean sweet tannins that have a cedary underpinning and flow into a clean warm finish. Pleasant, though a touch more marked by oak than I would have liked, at least in a tasting situation. The tannic underpinning will instead contribute nicely to succulent roasts or hearty stews, and it will age nicely for a decade and perhaps longer.
Bottom line? Beautiful wines, which are bound by a common tread, but are also very distinct from each other. I much enjoyed them.
Want to know more? Castello di Querceto's Site.
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