I discovered Sant'Appiano, an estate in Barberino Val D'Elsa, in a roundabout way: Paolo Baracchino asked me to translate his notes from a vertical of Monteloro, the estate's 85-15% blend of Sangiovese and Colorino, and the wine sounded good. But I was working through my notes from the Tuscan Anteprime at the time, and let the matter rest. However, this April Valentina Paolini invited me to a Ferrari-Maserati meeting at Sant'Appiano.
An opportunity to look (longingly) at many Ferraris is something not to be missed, and after admiring the cars we had a fine lunch at the Osteria L'Antica Quercia, Sant'Appiano's restaurant (which included an excellent antipasto misto Toscano), and then there was a vertical of Monteloro. Which I enjoyed, so I arranged a second visit and drove over.
Sant'Appiano is both a medieval hamlet perched atop a hill overlooking much of the Valdelsa, with San Gimignano in the distance in one direction and Chianti Classico in another, and the estate, which Pierfrancesco Cappelli's grandfather Domenico bought from the Bordoni family in 1960. At the time it consisted of several poderi, or independent farms run by tenant farmers, and winemaking was a marginal aspect of the operation, which was dedicated primarily to seed crops. Though they still do grow wheat, and indeed have more hectares of fields than vineyards -- 120 in all, 17 planted to vine, 40 forested, and the remainder wheat fields and olive groves -- winemaking now plays a much more important role, with the cellars in the town of Sant'Appiano.
Pierfrancesco joined his grandfather on the farm in 1990. At the time Domenico also outsourced grapes, but in 1999 they decided to become independent, working only with what they grew themselves. Alas, he did not live to see the fruits of their labors -- he died in August -- but he left the farm in capable hands, and though Pierfrancesco confesses to having felt very nervous with that first vintage on his own, he needn't have. He had learned well.
The wines? We'll begin with the white, and finish with the vertical.
Sant'Appiano Cappelli Domenico Bianco di Toscana IGT 2008
This is a blend of Malvasia del Chianti, Trebbiano and Viognier, added to increase the aromatic complexity. It's pale brassy white with greenish reflections. The bouquet is delicate, with vinous accents mingled with minerality and some gunflint, also slight floral accents. On the palate it's light, and direct, with mineral acidity and some gunflint mingled with savory notes that flow into a clean savory finish. Simple, and direct, and will work well as a summer wine with quickly cooked lighter dishes, ranging from vegetarian pasta dishes through simple fish such as triglie alla livornese.
Sant'Appiano Secretum Rosè Toscana IGT 2008
This is the first vintage of this wine, which is a rosé from Sangiovese; the must rests on the skins for 4 hours, and then is pressed, chilled well and put in a tank where the solids settle, and then fermented with yeasts generally used for Chardonnay. It's onionskin-salmon with onionskin rim paling to pale yellow. The bouquet is rich, with sour berry fruit supported by some acidity and brambly accents, also dappled shade. On the palate it's fairly full, and lively, with bright brambly sour berry fruit supported by alcohol, greenish acidity, and some light, scrappy tannins that flow into a clean fresh brambly sour berry fruit finish. Quite pleasant, and will work very well with antipasti, for example mixed cold cuts and crostini, or with light pasta dishes (including meat sauces), and will be very nice at cookouts with grilled meats and such. Expect it to go quickly, and you will want a second bottle.
Sant'Appiano Secretum Rosé Toscana IGT 2009
This is a tank sample, and is a richer, lively pink more shifted towards ruby than onionskin, with white rim. The bouquet is muted -- it was just filtered -- though swishing brings up floral accents mingled with red berry fruit. Developing. On the palate it's bright, with rich raspberry cherry fruit supported by lively berry fruit acidity and smooth light tannins that flow into a slightly greenish sour berry fruit finish. It's less brambly than the 2008, has slightly richer softer fruit, and is also a little longer on the palate. It will be quite nice and will be worth seeking out.
Sant'Appiano Chianti DOCG 2008
Sant'Appiano is Chianti tout court because they're in the area between the Chianti Colli Senesi and the Chianti Colli Fiorentini. This is 80% Sangiovese, and the remainder Canaiolo. Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is fairly rich, with cherry fruit supported by some brambly accents and hints of leather, and some spice from grapes. On the palate it's scrappy, with moderately intense berry fruit supported by leathery accents and bitter leaf tobacco, with some gunpowder too, and by tannins that have a fairly dry burr, and flow into a clean rather bitter finish with some graphite shaving accents. It's a hard, stony wine -- not quite hard as nails, but not soft, and needs another year to get its bearings; it's very much a food wine that will work quite well with rich pasta dishes, for example pasta with sugo alla Bolognese, or hearty stews. I wouldn't drink it by the glass. In short, it's about austerity, and keeps its distance.
Sant'Appiano Chianti DOCG 2009
The 2008 was the last vintage of Chainti with Canaiolo; Pierfrancesco knew that it wasn't the most approachable of wines, and (taking the advice of his sales representatives) decided to replace the Canaiolo with Merlot to make the wine more appealing to the general public. A tanks sample of the 2009 is deep cherry ruby with violet reflections -- there's more violet to it than in the 2008, and this is the Merlot. The bouquet is closed, because it had just been filtered when I visited, though swishing brings up berry fruit supported by some currants and deft gunflint acidity. On the palate it's ample and fairly smooth, with rich slightly sour cherry fruit supported by tannins that have a slight burr, but are very very young, and by deft sour berry fruit acidity that flows into a clean fresh berry fruit finish with some underlying bitterness. It's approachable, but displays considerable character too; the tannins aren't as polished as those of some wines with a healthy Merlot component, and it will be quite approachable in a food wine key. In short, though I generally don't approve of the addition of International varietals, here the ploy has worked, and well.
Sant'Appiano Chainti Superiore
This is Sangiovese in purezza. The 2004 is a selection from the older vineyards around Cottaccio, one of the estate's poderi. They are began to replant their vineyards in 1999 (and are planting some new vineyards), and with time the wine will come from the newer vineyards. Depending upon the vintage, this wine spends 8-10 months in barriques.
Sant'Appiano Cottaccio Chianti Superiore DOCG 2004
Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is dusky, with brooding berry fruit supported by slight balsamic savory notes and warmth, with deft slightly mineral acidity as well. Nice balance. and graceful in a fairly ethereal key. On the palate it's ample, with fairly rich berry fruit that has a decidedly mineral underpinning, supported by smooth tannins that have dusky pencil shaving bitterness, and flow into a clean mineral finish with pleasant savory accents. Quite nice, and will drink well with grilled meats or roasts; it's more particular than many Chianti wines, with the minerality that comes from the terrain providing a distinctive personality, and it's a wine that you will either like or not. I did.
Sant'Appiano Cottaccio Chianti Superiore DOCG 2005
Deep black almandine with black reflections and some almandine rims. The bouquet is fairly intense, with berry fruit supported by some brambly accents and slight balsamic acidity with underlying green leather. Pleasant, in a slightly brooding key, and this is in part the vintage, which was cooler and wetter than many. On the palate it's deft, with fairly rich bitter berry fruit supported by pencil shaving bitterness and smooth tannins that have a dusky bitter component, and flows into a clean fairly long bitter berry fruit finish. Pleasant in a cool weather key, the fruit has a brooding character to it that also draws from the minerality of the terrain. It's a nice expression of the vintage -- no attempt to compensate for the cooler vintage key -- and will work well with grilled meats or roasts.
Sant'Appiano Cottaccio Chianti Superiore DOCG 2006
Deep black almandine with black reflections and lively ruby rim. The bouquet is fresh, with sour red berry fruit supported by berry fruit acidity and some balsamic notes, also minerality and slight menthol. On the palate it's bright, with lively sour cherry fruit supported by fairly rich mineral acidity with some leathery accents, and by tannins that have a slight burr to them, and flow into a clean fairly tannic finish with underlying bitterness. Pleasant in a traditional key, and quite mineral, with fairly cheeky fruit; it will drink well with grilled meats or roasts, and is a wine to seek out if you like the style, which is fairly aggressive, with scrappy tannins that have considerable backbone. If you instead prefer smoother softer wines it won't work as well for you.
Sant'Appiano S'A IGT Toscana 2007
This is the first vintage of a Syrah, from a vineyard planted in 2000. It's impenetrable pyrope with cherry ruby rim. The bouquet is fairly rich, with jammy berry fruit laced with underbrush, earthy wet leaves, and spice. On the palate it's quite mineral, with moderate sour berry fruit supported by dusky gunflint minerality, leafy underbrush, and smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean dusky finish with dried leaves and leathery accents, also some minerality. It's a stony wine, minerality in a glass, and if you like the style you will enjoy it. But you have to like the style. In terms of accompaniments, succulent red meats will likely be the best bet.
Sant'Appiano S'A IGT Toscana 2008
Tank sample. Impenetrable pyrope with black cherry reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is closed, though swishing brings up some berry fruit with wet leaves and leafy acidity -- classic Syrah aromas. By comparison with the 2007 it is richer, and this is both the vintage and the greater maturity of the vineyard. On the palate it's fairly rich, with cherry fruit laced with underbrush and supported by underbrush acidity, and by fairly smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean dusky finish with underbrush and minerality. It's a distinct step up with respect to the 2007, and though it needs time - the bottle has yet to work its magic -- promises quite well.
And Now, The Vertical:
Monteloro started out in 1999 as an 85-15 Sangiovese-Colorino blend, fermented in an upright cask, aged in barriques for about a year, and in bottle for another year prior to release. Over the years they have adjusted the blend, adding 5% Merlot at the expense of Colorino in 2003 and 2004, and 5% Tintoretto, a traditional varietal, in 2005.
Sant'Appiano Monteloro Toscano IGT 1999
Deep black cherry ruby with almandine reflections and slightly orange ruby rim. The bouquet is intense, with berry and brandied cherry fruit laced with some balsam and slight leathery accents, and hints of burlap with some India ink as well, and minerality too, with hints of starch. On the palate it's rich, with powerful cherry fruit supported by minerality and deft mineral acidity with some wet bark accents, and by tannins that have a slightly savory burr and flow into a long clean rather dusky finish with underlying bitterness. Quite pleasant, and though mature has a long life ahead of it; the sad part is that there are just a few bottles left because Pierfrancesco, who didn't have many dealings with wine writers at the time, didn't think to set more aside when he made it. It's the sort of wine that will bring great joy to a table set with a porterhouse steak.
Sant'Appiano Monteloro Toscano IGT 2000
Deep black almandine with black reflections and cherry ruby rim fading to orange; there's a little less garnet than in the 99. The bouquet is moderately intense, with some jammy berry fruit supported by warmth and slight mentholated accents; it comes across as a bit softer than the 99. On the palate it's ample, with fairly rich jammy berry fruit supported by deft berry fruit acidity and by smooth tannins that have slight greenish brambly notes, and flow into a clean fairly sour finish. Pleasant, and a welcome surprise, because the wine isn't cooked -- something that happened with many 2000 vintage wines -- and also doesn't display signs of arrested ripening, another problem that afflicted the 2000 vintage in many cases. It's a wine that will drink nicely with succulent roasts, for example leg of lamb, and would also be nice with hearty stews.
Why the vines weathered the torrid 2000 August: Sant'Appiano's terrains are loose at the surface, but the substrate, calcareous tuffs, holds moisture well, which means that the vines are much less likely drought stress when it's hot and dry.
Sant'Appiano Monteloro Toscano IGT 2001
Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and almandine rim paling towards orange. The bouquet is fairly intense, and entering maturity, with leaf tobacco and savory acidity mingled with some spice and underlying berry fruit, savory notes, hints of quinine and India ink bitterness, also graphite shavings, and some burlap. Nice balance. On the palate it's medium bodied, and bright, with fairly rich rather balsamic savory berry fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean rather green leaf tobacco-graphite shaving bitterness finish with underlying savory notes that gradually take over as the other things fade. Pleasant, and pleasingly mature, with considerable depth and will drink well with grilled meats or roasts, especially things such as leg of lamb, and will be a very fine food wine. Because of the greenish accents of the tannins I wouldn't drink it by the glass, but with food, where it will shine very well. Something well worth seeking out, if you like wines that have a degree of aggressiveness and backbone.
Sant'Appiano Monteloro Toscano IGT 2002
Deep black almandine with bloack reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, and clearly from a cooler vintage, with dried leaves and bitterness mingled with some saddle leather and wet salty tea leaves mingled with hardwood ash. Pleasant, though very much in a lesser vintage key; by comparison with the 2001 it's considerably less fresh, and this is to be expected in a wine from the 2002 vintage, given the rains and cool temperatures. On the palate it's ample, with distinctly bitter accents supported by some savory berry fruit and decidedly brambly bitter acidity, and by tannins that are decidedly splintery and very bitter, flow into a clean bitter savory finish. It's quite typical of a cool vintage, but also displays a pleasing grace and will work well with foods, though I wouldn't drink it by the glass, It's something for wine lovers more than casual wine drinkers, and if you are interested in this sort of wine you will enjoy it. But you have to like the style. In short, for an informed consumer, and those who like this sort of wine will find it has much to say. I was quite favorably impressed.
Sant'Appiano Monteloro Toscano IGT 2003
Deep black almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is fairly rich, with warmth and alcohol mingled with warm slightly jammy cherry fruit supported by some greenish accents, and clean menthol and some cedar as well. Nice depth, and though it's from a hot vintage it's not cooked, and this is a very nice thing by comparison with many 2003 Tuscan wines. On the palate it's ample and comparatively soft, with fairly rich decidedly sour bitter mineral cherry fruit supported by dusky bitterness and moderate mineral acidity, and by tannins that are smoother and softer than those of the 2002, and flow into a decidedly bitter finish that settles into considerable dryness with leathery accents and continues at length. It's a nice expression of the vintage, and successful; they managed to avoid the overripeness that is so common in the 2003 vintage, and consequently the wine doesn't have that heaviness that so many 2003 vintage wines display. It will be quite nice with foods.
Sant'Appiano Monteloro Toscano IGT 2004
Deep black almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is intense, with jammy berry prune fruit supported by some menthol, slight sweetness, and by dusky greenish acidity, with a fair amount of vinous warmth as well. Much more powerful than the 2003. On the palate it's ample and rich, with powerful cherry plum fruit supported by graceful berry fruit acidity and by tannins that have fairly intense bitter graphite shaving accents that flow into a clean bitter graphite shaving finish with some brandied cherry accents and hints of licorice root and sea salt -- and a fair amount of alcohol too, that gives an impression of sweetness. It's powerful, and brooding, a wine that demands attention in a rather garrulous way at the outset, though it does settle as it opens, and that will drink quite well with rich meat dishes, ranging from stewed game through leg of lamb. It's particular, and if you like fairly aggressive slightly greenish wines you will enjoy it, but you have to like the style. We're far removed from the smoother softer Merlot-based international-style wines here. And I'm not complaining.
Sant'Appiano Monteloro Toscano IGT 2005
Deep black almandine ruby with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is fresh and rich, with bright jammy berry fruit laced with candied cherries and some bramble, with hay and prune fruit supported by some greenish vegetal spice, and hints of wet leather that add depth. Pleasant, and a step up from many wines of the 2005 vintage, which was overall cool and rainy. On the palate it's medium bodied, with rich slightly jammy berry fruit with underlying prunes supported by tannins that are fairly smooth, though they have slight dusky splintery accents, and by dusky acidity that flow into a clean fairly rich slight savory finish with some bitter pencil shaving overtones, that extends at length, gradually settling from prune cherry fruit to savory tannic notes. The finish is a little thin, and this is an effect of the 2005 vintage, which was cool and wet, and therefore has fruit that is less ripe, but is impressive and will drink quite well with grilled meats or hearty stews. It will also age nicely for 5-8 years.
Sant'Appiano Monteloro Toscano IGT 2006
This is a barrel sample. Deep black almandine with black reflections and some almandine in the irm. The bouquet is deft, with vinous accents and berry fruit supported by savory spice, and though it's obviously developing is promising. On the palate it's ample and rich, with elegant cherry prune fruit supported by moderately intense savory slightly balsamic mineral acidity and by smooth sweet tannins that are softer and more polished than those of some of the older vintages, and this is the 2006 vintage at work. It will be very pleasant, and worth seeking out, especially if your tastes are more traditional, though even a modernist will find things to smile over, especially if the wine is accompanied by a steak.
I enjoyed Sant'Appiano's wines. They provide excellent expressions of their terroir -- they are more mineral than fruit driven, and this is because of the soils -- and have quite a bit to say. Pierfrancesco and his collaborators, the agronomist Giovanni Capponi and the consulting enologist Marco Mazzarrini are doing a fine job.
Curious about Sant'Appiano? They have a nice site, which also includes a section devoted to the Osteria and their Agriturismo, which consists of 8 apartments in the hamlet, and would be an excellent base for exploring central Tuscany.