Thursday, September 03, 2009

Querceto di Castellina's Podalirio: A Moving Target

There are two kinds of verticals, one that I call classic, and the other moving target.

The classic vertical is a series of vintages of a given wine that has been made the same way for years, or even generations. Differences from vintage to vintage are attributable to seasonal variations, and the older vintages, in addition to providing the excitement (or even religious experience) that can come with maturity, give an indication of what one can expect from younger vintages whose seasons were similar. As such, classic verticals are especially important for wine collectors and others who buy and age wines, either for personal enjoyment or for profit.

The moving target vertical is instead dedicated to a wine that is still developing: either because the wine was introduced only recently, or because the winery has decided to embark on a new course. There can be considerable technical differences from vintage to vintage, for example a mixture of barriques and botti one year and all one or the other (or even tonneaux) the next, or differences in varietal composition, and what one observes is how the winemaker adjusts the various factors to produce the wine he or she wants to make.

We have an excellent example of the latter here: The Di Battista family purchased Querceto di Castellina, an elegant country villa in the townships of Castellina and Radda in Chianti, in 1945. It was a country estate, a place to escape the heat of the city, and though they did make wine, what they or the tenant farmers didn't drink personally was sold in bulk. The farmers abandoned the land in the 1970s, and they rented out the vineyards; in 1981 Jacopo di Battista's father, who was an architect, restructured the villa, while they rented the vineyards to Ruffino.

In 1998 Jacopo Di Battista decided to oversee production personally, and enlisted the assistance of Gioia Cresti, a young enologist whose wines were attracting considerable attention. They now have 11.5 hectares of vineyards, mostly of Sangiovese planted to high densities (6,000 vines per hectare), and though their potential production is 70,000 bottles, they produce about 40,000 and sell the rest.

Their top wine is Podalirio IGT Merlot, a wine they now make with the best of the small amount of Merlot they have, fermenting it in steel and aging it in barriques for 18 months, followed by another year in bottle prior to release. It hasn't always been Merlot, however: since the Merlot vineyard was still too young in 1999, the first vintage was made with the best of the older Sangiovese on the estate. By 2000 the vineyard was producing, and the wine was 15% Merlot. In 2001 it was 20%, in 2003 50%, in 2004 100%. In other words, a moving target:

Podalirio IGT Toscana 1999
Mostly older vines, a Sangiovese in purezza. Deep almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. Dusky looking, and vibrant. The bouquet is quite young yet, with bright sour berry fruit supported by sour brambly accents and a fair amount of wet leafy underbrush as well as deft alcohol and some green leather, also spice. Pleasant and zesty. On the palate it's full, with bright sour cherry fruit supported by smooth sweet cherry plum acidity, and by smooth sweet tannins with a slight cedary underpinning that flows into a long clean bright berry fruit finish. Quite pleasant; it will drink very well with succulent roasts or hearty stews, and also has the wherewithal to age nicely for another 5-8 years, and perhaps more. A nice, bright, rather voluptuous expression of Sangiovese, with a tight muscular underpinning. A fellow taster found it austere (while liking it very much), and you may too, but I instead found it to be rather curvy.

Podalirio IGT Toscana 2000
85 % Sangiovese, 15 % Merlot. Deep almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is powerful, and a distinct departure from the 99; the Merlot makes its presence felt in the timber of the fruit, which has warm cassis overtones; the vintage also contributes, with alcohol and a slight dryness derived from the August heat; this said, getting down to specifics the bouquet is rich, with cherry plum berry fruit supported by slightly more marked cedar, with an underpinning of cassis and greenish mentholated spice. On the palate it's full and rich, with warm sweetish berry fruit supported by fairly brisk sour berry fruit acidity that has some greenish accents, and by tannins that reveal a certain smoothness that comes from the Merlot, and flow into a clean bright fairly savory berry fruit finish. Very different from the 99, in a cheekier brighter key; it somehow brings to mind a pretty girl batting her eyes.

Podalirio IGT Toscana 2001
80% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot. Deeper poured pyrope ink with black cherry rim. The bouquet is powerful, with deft mentholated cedar at the first swish, supported by savory accents, berry fruit, some wood smoke, and underlying black currant and slight sandalwood, with hints of white truffle as well, supported by alcohol. Complex in a fairly charged key, and does reflect the richness of 2001 nicely. On the palate it's ample and very smooth, with rich slightly sour black currant fruit supported by some tart cherry acidity, and by very smooth sweet tannins -- the Merlot is overshadowing the Sangiovese, and the wine is pleasant in a rather seductive international key; powerfully fruit driven, and if you like the style you will enjoy it very much.

Podalirio IGT Toscana 2003
50-50 Sangiovese-Merlot. Poured pyrope ink. The nose is eye opening, with savory animal notes that bring to mind either prosciutto left out in the sun or perhaps a sweaty blonde, of the sort that I generally associate with a Sauvignon; with swishing the sweat diminishes (vanishing with time), but the meat remains, mingled with animal hair and sea salt, some cooked notes as well and underlying berry fruit. The hot, hot sun of the 2003 summer did something to it. On the palate it's ample, with warm cedar laced cocoa berry fruit supported by savory spice more than acidity, and by smooth sweet tannins that owe much of their substance to Merlot, and are very well polished, flowing into a cocoa-laced finish with some sweetish accents. It's heat struck, and a bit stunned; rather like a person stumbling about after a quick blow to the chin. Much weaker than the other wines.
1 star

Podalirio IGT Merlot Toscana 2004
Merlot in purezza. Impenetrable pyrope; poured ink. The bouquet is eye opening, with very powerful cassis supported by greenish spice that resolves into (lightly) grilled bell pepper with time, and some savory accents as well, laced with minerality. As it opens, oak, which was initially apparent, pulls back nicely. On the palate it's powerful, with fairly intense berry fruit supported by cedar and greenish vegetal bitterness supported by savory cassis acidity that flows into a bitter savory finish with some graphite shavings as well. My initial impression was that it was fairly oaky, but it opens well, and the fruit emerges, driving the oak into the background, where it plays a nice supporting role. It's obvious that they were refining their aim through the first wines of the flight, and it is interesting to watch them bracket the target. Here they are successful, and the wine is quite pleasant, in what is ultimately an approachable, fruit driven key.

Podalirio IGT Merlot Toscana 2005
Merlot Deep pigeon blood ruby with ruby reflections and black cherry rim. The bouquet is powerful, and frankly oaky, with sweet cedar and bitterness overshadowing most everything else. A whole lot of wood, and this is a common characteristic of the vintage one encounters elsewhere as well -- as the vintage was cool and wet, with the grapes ripening less, oak steps in to carry the show, though with swishing cassis does emerge, supported by cocoa -- again from oak, primarily. On the palate it's ample and rather bitter, with moderate cassis fruit supported by very polished tannins and some tannic bitterness, with lasting underlying cedar from the oak. Oak in spades, and I doubt the wine will ever completely digest it; it's like a hobbled horse that's trying to keep up with others that are not, and though it's a game attempt, it's not working.
1 star

Podalirio IGT Merlot Toscana 2006
Merlot Deep impenetrable black cherry with black rim. Poured ink. The bouquet is powerful, with vegetal laced cassis fruit supported by cedar and warmth. Rich in a charged, youthful fairly fruit driven key; there is some cedar that still stands out, but ample fruit to back it up. On the palate it's full and rich, with powerful, bright black currant fruit supported by some savory mineral acidity, dusky notes, and very smooth sweet tannins that draw from both Merlot and from oak, and flow into a clean savory bitter finish. It's pleasant, and fairly rich in a decidedly international key; it also needs another year, and perhaps two, to come together and integrate. Expect it to improve with time.
2 stars

Taken as a group the wines are a moving target, with differences each year, and if the 2006 is what it finally settles upon, it is a pleasant fairly international and quite approachable style. Incidentally, Podalirio is the local name for Iphiclides Podalirius, a pretty butterfly that flitters about the estate between April and September.

A couple of other wines form Querceto di Castellina:

Chianti Classico Riserva Vigneto Belvedere 2006
This is Sangiovese, with 15% Merlot, and spent 18 months in barriques followed by a year in bottle. It's deep black almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is intense, and in a way resembles the early Podalirios: There's rich berry fruit, a mixture of cherry and black currant, supported by spice and some vegetal accents, laced with a voluptuousness that has a firm muscular underpinning. On the palate it's full, with rich fairly sweet cherry cassis fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins and some deft, bright berry fruit acidity -- a mix of plum and mineral -- and by smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean bright cherry cassis finish with tannic underpinning and lasting graphite bitterness. It's full, rich, and very smooth, a decidedly voluptuous international interpretation of Chianti Classico, and also quite approachable; if you like the style you will enjoy it very much, and with will work very well with succulent red meats. If you're of more traditional bent but willing to approach it with an open mind, you will discover it has things to say. But it's more for the richer more fruit driven international enthusiast than lovers of traditional austerity. It will also develop nicely over the next 3-5 years.

Antiprima Chianti Classico 2007
This is primarily Sangiovese, with some Colorino and Merlot, and was just bottled. It's deep black cherry ruby with violet rim. The bouquet is a bit out of sorts, with berry fruit supported by spice and some iodine; it's obviously still shocked by the insult that is bottling, but in the space of 45 minutes is revealing menthol and some spice. On the palate it's bright, with fairly rich cherry fruit supported by moderate cedar laced tannins and warm mineral acidity that flows into a clean rather mineral finish. It's not quite a barrel sample, but close enough to being one that it's too young to score, though it will be approachable in a fairly rich fruit driven style, and one could confidently expect a bottle to go quickly.

For more information, check Querceto di Castellina's Site

1 comment:

Grant said...

Nice analyses. I'll start reading your blog. Thanks