Capezzana is an extraordinary estate; it was initially mentioned in documents dating to 804, and has belonged to the Contini Bonaccossi family since the 1920s. The elder generation that purchased it were experienced travelers, familiar with French chateaus, and began setting aside a portion of each vintage to serve as an archive or historic memory in the 1930s, long before the idea had occurred to most anyone else in Italy. And the old Count's quick thought, to wall in a section of the cellars, with an entire vintage in cask and as many bottles as they could put in the hall in the time they had, just before the Germans made the villa their command post during the Second World War, allowed the archive to survive.
They have of course continued to add to the archive since then, and I have been fortunate enough to be invited to three extraordinary verticals: One, in 2002, that began with the 1931 vintage, another dedicated to Vinsanto, which began with the 1959 vintage, and once again this year, of reds, beginning with the 1937 vintage.
The two tastings of reds partially overlap, and I have decided to combine them, since my impressions from then and now may prove interesting; they show something of how wines evolve, going into and emerging from quiet phases, and also of how the tastes of an individual taster can change.
We'll begin with the introduction I wrote in 2002, which, with the exception of the appellation's total vineyard area, which has increased, is still current now, and then look at the reds, and at the end you will find my notes from the Vinsanto vertical.
So here we go:
Italy has many so-called lesser DOCs, and though this comes as no surprise -- there are, after all, hundreds of Italian appellations -- one might be surprised to discover one of the finest is in the heart of Tuscany, just a half hour's drive from Florence, and even more surprised to discover that it is much older than nay of the French appellations. But Carmignano is all this and more; Grand Duke Cosimo III De'Medici was, among other things, a keen appreciator of fine wines, and in 1716 issued an edict establishing the boundaries and production methods for what he considered to be the four best wine producing areas in Tuscany: The heart of Chianti Classico, a section of the Upper Valdarno not far from Arezzo, Pomino, and Carmignano. Of the four appellations, Carmignano stands out as the most distinctive, because it had Cabernet, locally known as uva franciosa, which is said to have been introduced by Caterina De'Medici, who was also Queen of France.
In the centuries following Cosimo's edict commentators often remarked on the quality of Carmignano's wine, but the region was simply too small (about a hundred hectares of vineyards) to attract the attention of a broad audience, and it therefore sank into obscurity, to the point that when the boundaries of the Chianti Montalbano area were set in the 1930s they included all of the old Carmignano zone. This didn't sit well with those whose vineyards were in what Cosimo had defined as Carmignano, and in the late 1960s, under the leadership of Capezzana's Conte Ugo Contini Bonaccossi, they began to push for the recognition of Carmignano, establishing a Congregazione (a Consorzio, in 1971) and lobbying hard to overcome the resistance of the Chianti Montalbano producers.
The new Carmignano DOC arrived in 1975, with a provision that allowed producers to relabel their wines from the 1969 vintage on as Carmignano, while DOCG status, retroactive to 1988, came in 1990. With respect to Chianti, Carmignano differs in that it has always contained a percentage of Cabernet (Either Franc or Sauvignon or both) in addition to the standard Tuscan varietals. Getting down to specifics, the Disciplinare calls for Sangiovese 45-70%; Canaiolo Nero 10-20%; Cabernet Franc and/or Cabernet Sauvignon 6-15%; Trebbiano Toscano, Canaiolo Bianco and Malvasia Bianca Lunga, max. 10%; other permitted grapes max. 15%.
I doubt anyone is still using white grapes, and many are shifting to just Cabernet and Sangiovese. The basic Carmignano must age two years prior to release, one of which in wood, and Carmignano Riserva must age three years, two of which in wood.
In recent years the DOCG has expanded some, from 100 hectares to about 135, and could reach 200, but it remains one of the smallest Italian appellations -- by comparison, the Brunello production zone is about 1400 hectares. The vineyards are draped over the steep, east-facing slopes of Monte Albano, and range from 250 and 400 meters in altitude. Though Carmignano is not far from the Chianti Classico region the growing cycle is more precocious, with the harvest generally occurring at least two weeks before the Chianti harvest (this can be very important if there are fall rains). The summer is also more temperate, with good day-night temperature shifts that help develop be wines' bouquets, and occasional thunderstorms during July and August that provide enough moisture to keep back the specter of drought, which instead often looms in Chianti. "In many ways," says Filippo Contini Bonaccossi, "our climate is reminiscent of Bolgheri's."
There are currently about a dozen producers; Tenuta di Capezzana is by far the largest, and also has an extraordinary (and beautiful) cellar, with bottles dating back to before the war. And therein lies a tale: the Villa di Capezzana is quite beautiful, and during the War the Germans commandeered it to use it as a command post. At the time the access to the bottaia, the part of the cellar where the casks were stored, was half-way down a dark narrow corridor, and the old Count and his estate manager were able to wall up the doorway before the Germans took possession. Though the Germans drank everything they could find, they never noticed the new patch of wall, and after the War the Count used the sale of the vintages that had been walled up to finance the reconstruction of the estate. He also set some aside for posterity, and the 1931 vintage that introduced this tasting came from that stock.
And now the wines, tasted in December 2002 and September 2010
Villa di Capezzana 1931 Tasted 2002 This is a table wine, and has been recorked (corks do have a lifespan). It's pale almandine garnet with Moroccan leather overtones. The bouquet is delicate and surprisingly alive, with dried roses and sour cherry aromas at the first sniff; there's nothing off or musty about it, and swishing brings up polished saddle leather as well, with some nose tingling acidity (a fellow taster says acetic acid), hints of sea salt, and dried orange peel that another fellow taster found moldy. Impressive, though it soon begins to shift, with the leather dampening, and gaining greenish notes and a certain sharpness. On the palate it is again surprisingly lively, with brisk acidity that supports sour cherry fruit and some bitter leathery notes; the tannins are smooth, and what one really notes as the primary structural element is the acidity, which leads into a fairly long finish with tart fruit overtones. This is my first experience with a wine that has passed the three-score-and-ten limit that is our allotted age, and I am impressed; it has held up extraordinarily well, and though it is clearly elderly it still has much to say. A score would be an academic exercise that means little in this case.
As one might expect, we discussed this wine at the lunch after the tasting, and everyone wondered how it had managed to carry though so well, especially considering the many years it spent in large wood, which can dry out fruit. Clearly perfect storage played a part, as did its acidity, but Filippo Contini Bonaccossi attributes much of the miracle to the vineyards, which were in part on native rootstocks, and all planted to very high densities, up to 8,000 vines per hectare -- since there was no mechanization there was no need to leave space for tractors, and the farmers aimed for quality rather than quantity. The low-density vineyards planted with mechanization in mind came in the 1960s and 70s. And by now we have come full circle, with high planting densities and low yields per plant.
Villa di Capezzana Carmignano 1937 Tasted 2010 This was recorked in the 1960s. Pale dusky almandine with brownish rim, and dusty tannins in the bottom of the glass. The bouquet is fairly intense, and clearly mature, with Moroccan leather mingled with underbrush and dried tobacco, also brambly dusky acidity and hints of dried flowers, also alcohol and some old dry leather, a fellow taster also mentions candle tallow of the sort one finds in a sacristy and hot coals. On the palate it's still with us, though faded, with tart sour acidity -- leather that brings to mind old, dried prunes supported by leathery acidity and by tannins that are still with us and have a dusty rather bitter burr, flowing into a fairly long sour finish with Moroccan leather bitterness. Quite interesting, and though it has faded, traces of the beauty it once displayed remain. Most impressive. As was the case with the 1931, a score would be meaningless. One thing: A fellow taster who was also present at the last tasting said, and I think he's right, that the 37 is slightly superior to the 31.
Villa di Capezzana Carmignano Riserva 1969 Tasted 2010 Deep brownish almandine with orange and Moroccan leather in the rim. The bouquet is intriguing, with smoky accents and abundant cold coffee mingled with sour prune and carob, with some hot coals as well, and as it opens wet leather and other tertiary aromas, including dried flowers, wet earth (almost marsh), and hints of Sichuan preserved vegetable, and as it opens further distinctly smoky notes. On the palate it's soft, and rather leathery, with moderate acidty, and tannins that have faded into duskiness, and the finish is decidedly smoky. There is also quite a bit of alcohol, which confers a degree of sweetness. By comparison with the 37 it is much weaker and more tired; I can't see it displaying what the 37 does in another 30 years. 1 star
Villa di Capezzana Carmignano Riserva 1969 Tasted 2002 They got new botti in 1969, a mixture of 24 and 33 hectoliter casks. Though the label says Riserva, it also says that the wine is a table wine (in English) -- this was a transitional vintage, with those subsequent to it being labeled Carmignano DOC. The wine is dark almandine with Moroccan leather overtones that shift to pale orange at the rim. The bouquet is distinctly more tired than that of the 31, which serves to reinforce the greatness of the 31 vintage; here we have some dried flowers and rather tired berry fruit that mingle with sea salt and warm saddle leather and hints of cold iron -- there's something grating about it. On the palate it's clearly elderly but full bodied, with moderately intense berry fruit that's supported by very smooth tannins; there are also sour overtones, and it all has a slightly musty edge that emerges in the finish as a mixture of wet paper and India ink. It is well past its prime, though one can still see hints of what it was -- perhaps not a great beauty, but certainly interesting. 1 star
Similar judgments in 2002 and 2010.
Villa di Capezzana Carmignano Riserva 1975 Tasted 2002 Almandine with Moroccan leather overtones and an orange rim. The bouquet is intriguing and unusual, with chestnut honey and walnut skins on the initial sniff, which opens to reveal warmth, some spice, and sea salt with swishing, though the chestnuts continue to predominate. On the palate it's more delicate than one might have expected from the nose, with moderately intense, fairly sour cherry fruit that's supported by velvety tannins that have a hint of steel to them, and lead into a clean fruit-laced finish with a dark, brambly India ink and cedar underpinning that's fairly persistent. Though it has clearly passed its peak it's very much alive, and will work nicely with a hearty roast or flavorful grilled meats, including lamb chops, or a rich stew. 2 stars
Villa di Capezzana Carmignano Riserva 1979 Tasted 2010 Almandine with black reflections and orange rim. Obviously a mature wine, but displays a certain vibrancy. The bouquet is dusky, with Moroccan leather and spice mingled with wet underbrush, carob and some prunes, also dried leather and some dried flowers with an appealing underlying tartness that keeps it on its toes. A fellow taster mentions marzipan, which I don't sense. Rather sour acidity that I find fairly graceful. On the palate it's full, and though mature well with us, with prune fruit supported by sweetish accents and clean sweet tannins, while the acidity is rather mineral, and flows into a clean leathery finish. It's graceful, and fully mature, a wine that has developed as far as it will and is in a holding pattern. At a high elevation; it has a lot to say and is quite pleasing to converse with, though you do have to like mature wines. If you prefer greater youth it won't work as well for you. 2 stars
Villa di Capezzana Carmignano Riserva 1979 Tasted 2002 Black almandine ruby with Moroccan leather rim. The bouquet is clearly elderly, but not unpleasant, with dried flowers and sea salt that mingle with saddle leather and brambly nose-tingling spice; there's also some sour cherry fruit underlying it all, and, with time, intriguing chestnut honey and walnut rinds emerge strongly. On the palate it's full, and rather dusty, with fairly rich plum cherry fruit supported by smooth tannins that have a bitter spike to them and quite a bit of dust, which flows over the tongue and carries into a clean plum-laced finish with some bitter underbrush that emerges with time. It's pleasing, and to be frank I wouldn't have guessed it was quite this old; it's also opulent in an odd way, bringing to mind a luxury car of the 50s: Big, flashy, and a touch soft. This said, it will drink nicely with succulent, not too fatty meats, for example rare roast beef. 2 stars
I was surprised here, as I remembered liking the 1979 in 2002 less than my notes would indicate. The vintage was not universally liked in 2010, and indeed one colleague said it was the wine he liked least.
Villa di Capezzana Carmignano Riserva 1985 Tasted 2010 Deep almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is fairly intense,with ith leathery accents and leaf tobacco mingled with sea salt and spice, also some prunes and carob. Quite fresh and very much alive; as it opens some smoky embers also emerge. On the palate it's rich, with powerful rather smoky prune fruit supported by savory leathery acidity and smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean rather smoky finish that's short through with leather. Quick to write, but graceful and a great pleasure to drink. 90-92
Villa di Capezzana Carmignano Riserva 1985 Tasted 2002 Black almandine ruby with black overtones and orange towards the rim. The bouquet is disappointing; considering the reputation of the vintage I had expected more: There are some floral notes overlain by India ink, bitterness, and something that brings chrome to mind, but it's muted. The palate reflects the nose; it's medium bodied with moderate cherry and plum fruit supported by tannins that have a flat cedary feel to them, and lack the richness of those of the older wines. The finish is bitter and plum laced, with dark shadowy overtones. As I said, I had expected more. 1 star
A big disparity here. What happened? Wine, like people, evolves and develops, and in 2002 it was likely in a quiescent phase, which it has since emerged from.
From my 2002 notes: The 1990s were a period of many changes for Capezzana. The most important was, probably, the arrival of Stefano Chioccioli as consulting enologist in the latter part of the decade; he brought many innovations, and also gave the wines a distinctly more modern richness of bouquet and fruit, while greatly increasing their approachability as well. If, before his arrival, the wines tended towards austerity, they have now become coquettish, bringing to mind a pretty young lady who attracts our attention by flipping open her fan, and fans herself as she catches our eyes with hers.
Among the changes: 1) They began green harvesting (removing some bunches of grapes before they begin to ripen so the vine can devote all of its energy to a smaller number of grapes, which will be of much better quality) in the mid-1990s. This is a major shift, and is especially important in weak vintages. Without green harvesting, for example, the 2002 vintage, born of a cold, wet summer, would have been a total loss for many Tuscan producers, including Capezzana.
2) Until 1998 they aged their Carmignano exclusively in large wood. In 1999 they began to use tonneaux (500 liter casks) as well.
3) Since 1988 they have based the harvest on polyphenolic ripeness rather than grape sugar content. As a result the skins have more to contribute, resulting in richer wines with more substance; the downside is that the grapes also have higher sugar contents, and the wines consequently tend to be more alcoholic.
4) They eliminated Canaiolo from their Carmignano. The major complementary grape is Cabernet Sauvignon, while there's no Cabernet Franc.
Villa di Capezzana Carmignano Riserva 1990 Tasted 2010 Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and almandine rim -- it's beginning to look a little younger. The bouquet is intense and elegant, with sour berry fruit laced with carob and mentholated spice, also hot embers and abundant leaf tobacco with slight cedar. Nice balance and very much, vibrantly alive. On the palate it's full and rich, with powerful cherry fruit laced with some plums, and supported by deft acidity that balances without overshadowing, and by tannins that have dusky slightly greenish embery tones, and flow into a clean dusky carob and berry fruit finish. A beautiful wine that has a lot to say now, but that will continue to develop for a time yet -- In other words, it you're healthy and have two bottles, keep one a little longer. One of those wines that makes suffering though quarts of plonk worthwhile. Very, very nice. 94-5
Villa di Capezzana Carmignano Riserva 1990 Tasted 2002 Black almandine ruby with black reflections tending towards Moroccan leather at the rim. The bouquet is delicate, with dried roses and berry fruit, in particular sour cherry, with some warm leather and spice, which mingle with slight sea salt and hints of bell pepper. It's rather graceful, though I would have expected more richness given the reputation of the vintage. On the palate it's medium bodied, and again not quite what I might have expected; the fruit's moderately intense but generic berry, and the tannins that support it separate from it, giving an impression of an open space that resolves into bitter oak-laced pencil shaving overtones that persist into the finish. To be frank, it gives the impression of having been overoaked, and now that the fruit has begun to fade the oak comes to the fore, especially in the finish. It is still quite drinkable, but gives the impression of having slipped. 1 star
Another big disparity, and to be frank I think I was overlay harsh on the vintage in 2002. This time, it was the wine I and the colleague who was discomfited by the 1979 liked best.
Villa di Capezzana Carmignano Riserva 1995 Tasted 2010 Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is moderately intense, with sour cherry fruit supported by some leather and leaf tobacco, and by some almost brambly acidity. It's quite fresh, and -- as I recall -- from a vintage that was good but not exceptional; this said, it has held up very well on the nose. On the palate it's dusky, with moderately intense sour cherry fruit supported by brambly acidity and tannins that have a dusky burr and flow into a tart tannic finish with dusky bitter underpinning. It's quite pleasant, though not a wine to drink far from the table because the tannins have a dry sour burr to them that will be a great help to a steak but distracts on its own. With time, alas, it settles, and of the wines in the vertical is the one that suffered exposure to the air the most, developing a decidedly waxy nose and settling some on the palate too. This can happen with older wines, which may hold steady in the glass, but may also evolve very quickly. Given its development, scores upon pouring and after time would be so different as to make little sense. However, a fellow taster liked this wine best of all.
Villa di Capezzana Carmignano Riserva 1995 Tasted 2002 Deep pigeon blood ruby with some hints of brick in the rim. The bouquet is very different from those of the previous vintages, with some stewed cherries that mingle with slight vanilla, hints of bell pepper, iron, and pronounced pencil shavings. Nicely balanced, and considerably more opulent. On the palate it's full bodied and fairly rich, with fairly intense cherry and plum fruit supported by chalky tannins that though smooth do have a slight splintery feel to them that carries through into the finish, where pencil shavings and lead also emerge. It's interesting, and clearly entering its prime, though it's also a wine that doesn't attempt to make a Statement; as a result it won't stand out as much as some at a tasting, but it will work well with foods, in particular succulent, not too fatty roasts or stews. 2 stars
Villa di Capezzana Carmignano 1999 Tasted 2010 Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and almandine in the rim; it's distinctly darker that the earlier vintages, and the subsequent vintages are all this dark -- with this vintage they began using smaller wood. The bouquet is fairly intense, with prune and carob fruit supported by dusky embers and some smoky acidity, with pleasing savory notes as well. Quite interesting to sniff. On the palate it's ample and smooth, and more polished than the older vintages, with fairly rich cherry fruit supported by moderate acidity, and savory accents, and by smooth sweet tannins that have a slight dusky burr and flow into a clean tannins laced berry fruit finish. Quite pleasant, displaying considerable finesse, and is still climbing; it will drink very well with grilled meats or stews now, and continue to evolve for another decade at least before it reaches its plateau. 90
Villa di Capezzana Carmignano 1999 Tasted 2002 Stefano Chioccioli played an important role in this vintage, and it shows in the wine's considerably more intense impenetrable violet ruby color, which carries through to black cherry ruby in the rim. The bouquet is frankly underage, with a huge spike of vanilla that has slight bitter cedar cocoa overtones and almost completely overshadows the fruit, which is cherry for the most part. Layered concentration with the rash exuberance of a child, and we'll have to wait to see if finesse enters the picture too. On the palate it's medium bodied tending towards full and quite rich, with powerful cherry plum fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins that have slight pencil shaving overtones, a gift from the Cabernet, and lead into a clean berry fruit finish that gains definition from a bitter tannic underpinning that reveal its youth in the form of pronounced cedary notes. It's very young, and though drinkable now will show better in 1-2 years; expect it to drink well through 2008. This said, it also reveals a remarkable stylistic departure with respect to the older wines; it's much more approachable, to the point that the word seductive comes to mind, but is also much more direct -- it's up front, like a sex kitten starlet on a sitcom, and what you see is what you get. Pleasing, no doubt about it, but there isn't as much depth as there was in some of the earlier vintages. So it's a wine to enjoy with friends around a table (as opposed to a meditative experience), with drier roasts or light stews. 2 stars
Villa di Capezzana Carmignano 2000 Tasted 2002 This was a hot summer, and the grapes that were exposed directly to the sun while still on the vine were dried to raisins by the harvest. The wine is impenetrable pyrope ruby with cherry ruby rim. The bouquet is intense, and powerfully wood-laced, with a rush of vanilla mingled with berry fruit that brings a cupcake to mind. An exuberant starlet. On the palate it's full bodied and quite rich, with powerful plum and black currant fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins that have some splintery overtones and hints of pencil shavings; it flows into a clean berry fruit finish with a marked cedary tannic underpinning. It's rich, and seductive, though a bit more unstrapped than the 1999; it will work very well with drier roasts or delicate stews, and will hold nicely for at least 5 years. Like the 1999, it's more direct than the earlier vintages, and more accessible. In other words, a wine to enjoy with friends, rather than something to meditate over. 2 stars
Villa di Capezzana Carmignano DOCG 2001 Tasted 2010 Deep black almandine ruby, close to being poured ink. The bouquet is elegant, with savory cherry plum fruit supported by deft acidity and by hints of wood smoke and slight vegetal notes. Beautifully balanced and still fairly young. On the palate it's rich, full, and languid; with respect to the earlier vintages there is a greater smoothness to the tannins, and a more rich pulpiness to the fruit; this said, the fruit is rich cherry plum, with some greenish vegetal accents that provide further depth and complexity, while the tannins are smooth and dusky with slight bitter notes, and the acidity is clean and slightly brambly. Very pleasant, and ahs a great deal to say; it is wonderful to drink now, though I almost wish I could give it more time, 10 years at least. 93-5
Villa di Capezzana Carmignano DOCG 2006 Tasted 2010 Impenetrable pyrope with black cherry rim. The bouquet is young, and this is to be expected, with considerable spice -- almost sandalwood -- mingled with cherry fruit and slight vegetal accents; it's graceful and much more fruit forward than the older vintages, and this is also an effect of Stefano Chioccioli's being the consulting enologist. On the palate it's ample and very smooth, with rich cherry fruit with slight greenish accents supported by dusky tannins that have slight quinine bitterness and flow into a clean fairly rich berry fruit finish. It's extremely elegant now, an approachable wine that crooks a finger and says, "come hither," and those who do will be happy they did. I wonder, however, at its longevity. The 1985 is most impressive at age 25; I wonder if this will match it. 88
Villa di Capezzana Carmignano DOCG 2007 Tasted 2010 Impenetrable pyrope with black cherry rim. The bouquet is even younger, with violets and floral accents mingled with red berry fruit, sweetness, and mentholated spice. A babe, nice, and smiling, but still a babe. On the palate it's ample, with fairly rich berry fruit supported by moderate acidity, and by tannins that have a cedar-laced burr that has yet to fold in. It's still very young, and needs time, though it is cut from the same cloth as the 2006 -- and will I think follow the same path, though at a superior level -- it has more depth and verve than its older sibling. 90-92?
My overall impressions? What I wrote in 2002: Capezzana has tremendous potential, as is clearly shown by a number of the wines we tasted. The estate has also been inconsistent, not so much on a vintage-to-vintage basis as on a long term (decade) scale, with ups and downs that may be related to the economic fortunes of Carmignano's wines in general (they are the major Carmignano producer), and also likely reflect variations in vineyard and cellar technique, for example the low density high yield per vine "tractor vineyards" planted in the 60s and 70s, which certainly affected the quality of the wines. Now they are on an upswing, with new vineyards planted to high densities that allow low per-vine yields, and therefore result in greater richness and concentration, and also significant improvements in cellar technique that will allow the material from the vineyards to show its best. In short, the future looks bright, and Capezzana is definitely a winery to look out for.
Capezzana's Vinsanto: Another Extraordinary Vertical
This originally appeared in the print edition of the Italian Wine review, in about 2001:
One rarely gets to taste through 40 years of production, and this tasting was all the more valuable because Capezzana was quite willing to put the wines that haven't fared as well over the years on display too. The wines that had fared well were of course a delight, but the others were also interesting, in some cases giving an impression of graceful senility, and in others simply of having failed. There was also an impression, from tasting through the collected vintages, of a dip in the quality of the wines over the interval from the late 60s though the beginning of the 1980s, at which point things began to look up again.
As one might expect, there were changes in technique and goal over the interval covered by the wines. In the early years they harvested their grapes and then dried them for a couple of months, leaving the wine to then do as it would in the caratelli; the aim was not to produce a sensual after dinner delight, but rather a wine that one might also offer as an aperitif, in other words something that was a little drier and more acidic. These wines were, by comparison with those made from grapes that were dried more and pressed later, less long-lived, and only really kept well in exceptional vintages, for example the 1962. In the mid 1990s, on the other hand, they decided to aim for more concentrated, elegant wines, and decided to dry their grapes for longer and press them in January; the changes are apparent in the 1995 vintage..
Capezzana Vinsanto di Carmignano 1959 Tawny amber with white rim. Rich bouquet with caramel, dried fruit, all shot through with the bitterness of bitter almonds and walnut skins. Also rancio; brings to mind a dry sherry in a way. On the palate it's full and rich, with an initial attack that's fairly sweet, with apricot and honey, which fades quickly through dried fruit into bitter almond skins with an overlying slightly salty tartness, while the nut skins lurk in the background to provide a counterpoint; the finish goes on and on. Interesting, and remarkably lively considering its age, though it's more of a wine for an intellectual than something that will enthuse lovers of young voluptuous Vinsanti. 2 stars
Capezzana Vinsanto di Carmignano 1962 Tawny amber that's more brilliant than the 59; in swirling it in the glass it also appears thicker. The bouquet is frankly impressive, with honey and bitter almonds that mingle with dried fruit, in particular figs. One would never guess it's entering human middle age. On the palate it's rich, full, and sweet, with a concentrate of dried apricot that slowly dissolves over the tongue, accompanied by the tongue-tingling tartness that dried apricots can have, and leads into a long finish that's more of the same, slowly fading. Harmonious and very impressive, it's the sort of wine that one would want to break out with close friends far from the table. People say that Vinsanto can be immortal in good vintages, and this is the proof. 90
Capezzana Vinsanto di Carmignano 1969 Tawny amber that's less charged than the 62 despite being almost a decade younger; the rim is pale, with very slight green overtones. The bouquet is, by comparison with the 62, a little more along, and there's a certain underlying dark bitterness that may be cork-related (this is a danger with older wines). In any case, sniffing though it there's bitter almond flower that mingles with sea salt, dried leather, and rancio, producing an effect slightly reminiscent of dry sherry. On the palate it's flagging, with some sweetness and slightly salty bitter walnuts that lead into a finish that's more of the same, with bitter vapors rising up into the back of the nose; the overall impression is that it's beyond the pale. No star
We all wondered about this, and opened the second bottle: It's slightly different; and not quite as brilliant, which makes it a little lighter in color, and doesn't have the bitterness in the bouquet; as a result the rancio is more pronounced, with oatmeal and hints of raisins, as are the salty notes that shine through the slight sugars present. On the palate it's a little sweeter, with tenuous dried apricot fruit coming up, and then fading to reveal bitter black walnut skins that mingle with sweetness and some sea salt. Again, a wine that has given what it will give and is coasting down hill at this point, but quite different from the other bottle. No star
Capezzana Vinsanto di Carmignano 1971 The wine is tawny amber and there is some sediment in the bottom of the glass. The bouquet is frankly evolved, with hints of oatmeal and yeasty bread dough, pronounced rancio, dryness, and walnut skins, with very slight hints of Sichuan preserved vegetable. Of the wines tasted so far it most closely resembles dry sherry (the vegetable aside), with no hints of sweetness at all. On the palate it's simply there, a fairly thick liquid that does coat the lips with something resembling a buttery texture, but with little flavor, leading into walnut skins and sea salt in the finish, which is fairly long. Considering the renown of the 1971 vintage, I would have expected considerably more from the wine. A disappointment. No star
Capezzana Vinsanto di Carmignano 1977 The wine is slightly cloudy brownish amber with green highlights; of the group it's the darkest and the cloudiest. The bouquet is evolved, with sea salt and rancio, and quite penetrating; it also brings to mind a wet chestnut barrel stave. On the palate it's frankly unpleasant, with bitter salty overtones and no sweetness at all; wines, like people, can sour as they age and this one has. No star
Capezzana Vinsanto di Carmignano 1979 Tawny gold with white rim. The bouquet is dry, with considerable rancio, bringing to mind a dry sherry though there are some sugars in the background, and hints of dried apricot and walnut skins, together with old cypress wood and some medicinal overtones. On the palate it's more disappointing, with all the sugars fermented out, leaving salty walnut meats and an underlying bitterness; the finish is fairly short, though some almond aromas do rise up into the nose. A frankly unexciting wine, and one wonders that happened during the interval between 1969 and 1979; by comparison with the 1959 and to a much greater degree the 1962 these wines are dead and gone. No star
Capezzana Vinsanto di Carmignano 1981 Slightly cloudy amber, with some sediment. The bouquet is more interesting than the 79, though no where near the level of the 62, with some dried fruit, in particular apricot, laced with sea salt and bitter almond, and underlying oatmeal, with a little honey peeking in from around the edges; the effect is interesting, and also suggest airiness. On the palate it's moderately full with some sweetness, though not too much, which is supports rather tired apricots and considerable tongue-tingling tartness that flows into a finish that brings a sweet dry sherry to mind, if such a thing were possible, and continues on at fair length, with sea salt and bitterness emerging as the other sensations fade. A wine that has paid its dues and is bowing out, but that has held better than those of the 70s; if one looks hard one can imagine what it must have been like a decade ago. No star
Capezzana Vinsanto di Carmignano 1983 Tawny amber with highlights that are approaching golden. The bouquet is somewhat more evolved than the color would lead one to think, with sea salt, oatmeal, and a little rubber cement mingling with apricots, some honey, and bitter almond; though it's interesting the overall impression is one of dryness. On the palate it is instead fairly sweet (we're not in the presence of crystalline honey here), with some but not too much dried fruit, primarily apricots, which become stronger as the sweetness fades into the finish, which is rather delicate, with the tartness of the apricots providing definition. Pleasing, though not exceptional, it's a wine that is obviously in the downward part of the curve, but is nice to drink, and one can imagine what it once was. An intellectual exercise of the sort a wine lover will enjoy, but it's not something to seek out and give as a gift. 1 star
With the 1985 vintage they switched to half-liter bottles.
Capezzana Vinsanto di Carmignano 1985 Tawny amber with white rim, and a little sediment in the bottom of the glass. The bouquet is elegant, with a mixture of dried apricots and figs and underlying honey, with slight sage that one doesn't normally associate with a young vinsanto, but that can come out in an older wine and works nicely. Pleasing to sniff and invites more sniffing. On the palate it's more what one expects of a vinsanto, with full sweet sugars supported by pleasing dried apricots and bitter almonds that provide definition; the finish is clean, with some sweetness balanced by walnut skins, and rather long. There's a lot going on here, though again it's not the sensual wine that lovers of the voluptuous style will enjoy. But if you like somewhat more intellectual Vinsanti with some depth, you will like it. 2 stars
Capezzana Vinsanto di Carmignano 1986 Light tawny amber. The bouquet is pleasing, and rather airy, with honey that mingles with dried figs and slight oatmeal with brown sugar overtones. Delicate; invites a second and then a third sniff. On the palate it's rich and reflects the nose, with dried apricot fruit supported by chestnut honey and bitter almonds with a few sweet almonds thrown in; there's also a little almond butter to coat the lips, and a clean dried apricot finish with some walnut overtones that goes on and on. A delightful wine of the kind that you will want to open with friends, far from the table. 90
Capezzana Vinsanto di Carmignano 1990 Tawny amber with golden highlights, and a little sediment in the bottom of the glass. The bouquet is rich, with rancio mingling with oatmeal and brown sugar, and supported by honey and dried apricots. On the palate it's quite fresh, full and sweet; though there is dried apricot fruit supported by lively acidity that provides tartness and warmth, which leads into a long dried apricot finish with some butter to coat the lips, it comes across as rather lumbering: There isn't as much definition as I might have expected, and this may be because the vintage produced extraordinarily rich grapes whose richness overshadowed their nuances. In short, not what one would call sensual, but rather slightly muscle bound. Worth seeking out to enjoy with friends in any case. 2 stars
Capezzana Vinsanto di Carmignano DOC Riserva 1995 Tawny gold amber with golden highlights. The bouquet is rich, and quite different from the earlier vintages, with a mixture of honeysuckle and dried apricots that brings Aphrodite to mind, supported by pleasing sugars and citrus skins, primarily tangerine, that add a sensual touch, as if one were needed; with more swishing some sea salt and nut skins also emerge to add complexity. On the palate it's rich and sensual, with a very sweet initial attack in which honey is supported by peach and apricot fruit, and flows into a clean finish where almonds also emerge, while almond butter coats the tongue, and the sweetness slowly fades. It's very good and quite immediate, like a luscious starlet in a revealing dress, and therefore the initial impression is one of "Wow!" However, there isn't as much underlying complexity as one would expect from a vinsanto (and in this it brings a passito to mind in a way), and I wonder how it will evolve with time. If it goes well it will go very well, but we will have to wait and see. As it is, it's, not a wine to meditate over, but rather to enjoy with friends or give as a gift and be assured of success. 90
La Scolca is one of Gavi's historic wineries, and on the international stage it is probably the best known Gavi producer. However, it does not belong to the Gavi Consorzio, and therefore, after tasting at the Consorzio last year, Carlo Macchi and I drove over to the estate in the afternoon, for what I thought would be a quick presentation. It turned out to be much more, several hours pleasantly spent conversing while we worked though many wines, including some truly impressive older vintages, and after we had finished taking notes (scroll down) we continued to sip and talk.
This year I stopped at their stand at Vinitaly -- as I do every year -- and they were mobbed, as always. Luisa Soldati asked me if I'd like to taste the wines at home, and I said yes, adding that I'd be happiest tasting them in the fall, after a few more months in bottle. They have come, and here they are:
The Sparkling Wines, First
La Scolca Rugré Vino Spumante Brut Lot 2799 This is non-vintage, and the back label says "Realizzato con 100% Uve a Bacca Bianca," Made from 100% white grapes." It's brassy yellow with a very slight greenish cast, and very intense perlage. The bouquet is vinous with some breadcrumbs and hints of savory gunflint mingled with white blossoms, and some brambly white berry fruit as well. Welcoming in a direct key. On the palate it's light, with tart sour white berry fruit that again has a brambly vegetal feel to it, supported by mineral acidity and peppery spice from the sparkle, which also confers a certain creaminess, and it flows into a clean savory mineral finish with underlying bitter accents. Pleasant, in a light rather direct key, and will work well as an aperitif or with creamy antipasti; one could also enjoy it with a meal built around fish, white meats, or creamy dishes shuch as risotto. In short, a pleasant, versatile sparkling wine. 2 stars
La Scolca Soldati La Scolca Metodo Classico Brut 2006 Lot 0040 Brassy yellow with brilliant brassy highlights and fine intense perlage. The bouquet is rich, with wet breadcrumbs mingled with the heather of a field in summer and deft gunflint supported by bitterness and some lemony citrus. Bracingly alive, and quite a bit going on. On the palate it's full and creamy, with powerful minerality supported by bitterness and peppery spice, while the sparkle provides creaminess, and there is underlying citric lemon blossom acidity that gives definition, and it all flows into a fairly bitter savory finish. It's more delicate than the Rugré, and one would expect this; though I had expected a little more power in the body that I found, and because of its delicacy it is more a wine to serve as an aperitif or with which to toast than it is a wine to drink with foods. 2 stars
La Scolca Soldati La Scolca Gavi Metodo Classico Brut DOCG 2002 Lot 0550 Brassy gold with golden highlights and fine fairly intense perlage. The bouquet is intense, with savory gunflint minerality mingled with greenish citrus and heather, and though it's quick to write it's also quite harmonious. On the palate it's deft, with considerable savory minerality supported by a fairly delicate sparkle, which confers both peppery spice and a pleasant creaminess, and by slight cedary accents that are a development of time, and provide pleasant depth. Very pleasant, in a delicate, mature key, and if you like the style, which revolves more around finesse than power, you will enjoy it very much. If you like sparkling wines with more pronounced acidities -- here minerality takes the fore -- it won't work as well for you, but I found myself nodding as I sipped it. 88-90
La Scolca Soldati La Scolca Vino Spumante Rosato Lot 1030 Non-vintage; it's onionskin with slight salmon pinkness, and intense perlage. The bouquet is fairly powerful, and rather bitter at first sniff, with heather and brambles supported by gunflint. Fairly riect, and bracing. On the palate it's direct, with moderately intense citrus fruit that has raspberry overtones and is supported by slight raspberry acidity and the sparkle, which is creamier than I expected from the nose, and flows into a clean rather bitter finish. Pleasant, in a direct key, and will drink nicely as an aperitif with creamy antipasti, and also work well with creamy dishes, ranging from risotto through creamy chicken or fish. In short, versatile, and this is what one wants of a wine of this kind. Expect it to go quickly. 2 stars
La Scolca Soldati La Scolca D'Antan Vino Spumate di Qualità Rosé 1998 Lot 0430; it was disgorged in the first quarter of 2010 Elegant salmon with intense, persistent perlage. The bouquet is powerful, with rather exotic spice, sandalwood with hints of cardamom, supporting deft minerality and slight savory notes; with underlying gunflint, hints of petroleum, and something that brings lace to mind. Quite harmonious. On the palate it's ample, with deft dusky minerality, seductive spice, and slight bitter red forest berry fruit supported pleasant savory notes, while the sparkle, which isn't too aggressive, provides a creamy, peppery counterpoint. It's as harmonious on the palate as it is on the nose, and frankly seductive in a delicate key that revolves more around finesse than power, and is one of those wines one hates to pour out at a tasting. If you like the style you will enjoy it very much. 90-92
And Next, the Still Wines La Scolca Cortegaia Vino da Tavola Bianco Lot 237043 Pale brassy white with brassy reflections and white rim. The bouquet is direct, and vinous, with some bitter minerality and slight savory notes. On the palate it's up front and direct, with lemony minerality supported by some gunflint bitterness and savory accents that flow into a clean slightly bitter mineral finish. A food wine that will work well with fish or vegetable based pasta dishes and risotti, and also with hearty vegetable soups. 1 star
La Scolca Villa Scolca Gavi 2009 Lot 049008 Pale brassy yellow with brassy reflections and white rim. The bouquet is bitter, with heather and some sour lemon mingled with slight greenish accents and underlying savory notes. On the palate it's fairly direct, with bitter minerality supported by clean savory accents and some, though not too much, acidity; the wine revolves more around minerality than acidity, and the finish is mineral, with slight savory accents. Quite direct, in a rather up front key, and will work well with creamy fish or vegetable based pasta dishes or risotti, and simple fish. 1 star
La Scolca Gavi di Gavi Bianco Secco DOCG 2009 The white label; Lot 200027 Pale brassy yellow with greenish highlights. The bouquet is fairly intense, with bitter greenish accents mingled with gunflint and supported by lemony acidity. Classic Cortese. On the palate it's medium bodied, with rich lemony fruit supported by savory mineral acidity that has some bitter accents, and flows into a clean sour mineral finish with underlying bitterness. Bracing and will drink quite well with grilled or roasted fish, and also has the backbone to stand up to white meats. Expect it to go quickly, and you may want a second bottle. Worth seeking out. 2 stars
La Scolca La Scolca Gavi dei Gavi 2009 The black Label; Lot L159038 Lively brassy white with greenish highlights and white rim. Looks young. The bouquet is powerful, and quite elegant, with savory lemony accents supported by some gunflint and clean spice from grapes. Quite a bit going on, and very young too. On the palate it's rich, with powerful minerality supported by gunflint and fairly intense mineral-laced lemony acidity; as was the case with the palate it's quite young, but has a lot to say and flows into a clean savory lemon-laced finish with underlying bitter minerality. Very nice, and will work very well now with roast or grilled fish, and there is a slight lusciousness to it (more than in some other vintages) that will make it a good bet with Chinese dishes, in particular Cantonese, though it has the backbone necessary for more pronounced schools including Hunan and Sichuan. A wine to enjoy now, or set aside, though perhaps not for quite as long as some other vintages. 91
La Scolca D'Antan Gavi 1995 Lot not apparent. Yes, this is a 1995. And it's being released now. It's a deep brassy yellow with golden reflections tending almost towards tawny apricot. The bouquet is intense, with minerality and gunflint mingled with leaf tobacco and underbrush, shot through with butterscotch sweetness that is from grapes, not wood. Very particular, but if you like aged whites you will find it fascinating. The palate is bright, with graceful slightly sour lemon acidity supporting lemony fruit and warmth that flow into a long warm savory finish with thick-skinned lemon overtones that last and last. Beautiful, rather lacy soft definition, and if you like the style, it's a wine to hold a long conversation with. Quite long. Though one could serve it with fish or white meats, I would rather simply talk to it. 92
La Scolca D'Antan Gavi 2000 Lot 2449 The 2000 is brassy yellow with brilliant brassy reflections -- considerably younger looking than the 1995. The bouquet is intense, and quite mineral, with bitter freshly struck gunflint that brings a hammer-strike to granite to mind, supported by savory accents and slight citrus. There's something brooding to it, and it's very much alive, inviting swish and sniff after swish and sniff. On the palate it's powerful, with considerable minerality and underlying gunflint bitterness supporting lemony fruit that's not quite as acidic as in some vintages -- August 2000 was very hot, knocking back acidities -- and flows into a clean slightly brambly greenish citric finish with underlying gunflint that (again) lasts and lasts. Most impressive, and if you like older whites it's a wine you should definitely seek out. 93
La Scolca Rosachiara Vino Rosato Lot 2390 Non vintage; the wine is pale salmon pink with brilliant salmon reflections. The bouquet is fresh and very young, with considerable strawberry fruit mingled with ripe yellow peaches and slight minty accents that keep it all from being cloying. It's summer fruit in a glass. On the palate, it's ample and smooth, with soft cherry raspberry fruit with slight peach sweetness and fruit notes that gains definition from peachy bitterness that resolves into peach nutmeats in the finish, which is fairly long. Not much acidity, and the direction comes primarily from the bitterness, which does a fine job. Quite simple, and quite direct, an ideal wine for a cookout, or lightly chilled with friends either on the patio or at poolside. Something to enjoy now, in a carefree occasion. Expect it to go quickly, and you will want a second bottle. 1 star
La Scolca Pinot Nero del Monferrato DOC Rosso Unlabeled, and (I think) an 08 Pale dusky brick ruby with black reflections and some brownish almandine in the rim. The bouquet is pleasant, and classic Pinot, with savory cherry and forest berry fruit supported by spice from the grapes, and some underlying savory minerality. Quite pleasant to sniff, in a fresh rather agile key. On the palate it's medium bodied, with rich cherry and forest berry fruit supported by dusky underbrush bitterness and savory notes, while the tannins are quite smooth, though they do display a slightly leafy burr as the fruit fades, and the finish is long and underbrush-laced. Quite pleasant, and will drink very well with simple grilled meats, light stews, or even roast beef cooked rare and sliced thick, and though its freshness is nice it will also age well for 3-5 years. La Scolca's claim to fame is (justly) Gavi, but they have nailed their red too. 88-90
Tasted at Vinitaly: La Scolca Pinot Nero Monferrato DOC Rosso 2007 The wine is a dusky almandine with white rim, and has a deft bouquet with tobacco mingled with savory accents and spice, and some, but not too much, nose-tingling cedar. On the palate it's deft, with clean bright mineral laced fruit supported by clean mineral acidity and by smooth sweet tannins that flow into a long leathery cherry fruit finish with tannic underpinning. Quite pleasant, and will drink very well with risotti or stewed white meats; it has a deftness and delicacy that will make it more problematic with substantial red meats, though I might be tempted to try roast beef cooked rare and thickly sliced. 88-90
What can I say? The wines really do speak for themselves, leaving me with the task of thanking the Soldati Family for sending them. They are well worth seeking out.
Enrico Orlando is a consulting enoligist who also has a small winery, Cà Richeta, which he named after his grandmother Enrichetta, who was widowed at a young age and raised a family while continuing the family tradition of making wine. He has about 4 hectares under vine, 2 1/2 planted to white varietals in Castiglione Tinella, which he uses to make passiti, and another 1 1/2 in the Comune of Diano D'Alba that are planted to reds, Nebbiolo for Nebbiolo D'Alba and Pinot Nero for Langhe DOC. Production of the reds is about 3000 bottles each. He ages the reds for 18-24 months in a mixture of barriques and tonneaux, and does not filter them.
He chose to send me a 2007 Nebbiolo D'Alba:
Enrico Orlando Crussi Nebbiolo D'Alba DOC 2007 Lot 2007 Pale dark cherry ruby with black brick reflections and hints of almandine in the rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, with savory cherry fruit supported by spice from grapes and slight greenish accents with hints of sea salt as well. Pleasant to sniff. On the palate it's fairly rich, with intense cherry fruit supported by bracing bitterness and sufficient acidity to keep it on its toes, while the tannins are still fresh and young, with a cedar-laced burr that flows into a clean bitter finish. Quote pleasant to drink, and will work very well with simple grilled or roasted meats, and also with hearty legume-based dishes -- Northern Piemonte's Panissa comes to mind, as do Fagiolata and Tuscany's Fagioli all'uccelletto. Expect the bottle to go quickly, and you may well want another. 2 stars
Bottom line: Another small, interesting Piemontese winery that is well worth looking out for. Want to know more? Their site.
Greve in Chianti's annual winefest is the second weekend in September, and it offers a nice opportunity to to stroll the stalls, taste and talk. Which I did, being told by several people that the decision to eliminate white grapes from the Chianti blend was a mistake, and that though they didn't want to go back to a mandatory 30% white grapes (in the vineyard, which means a higher percentage of white grapes in the wine if one has productive Trebbiano in the vineyard), they would like to include some white grapes in their zestier vino d'annata wines, because the white grapes do perk up the wine.
One even said there may be a change in the Disciplinare soon -- we shall see, though to be honest I'm not holding my breath. Nor are they; what they are instead doing is bottling light white-grape-including red quaffing wines as IGT wines, and I did enjoy them. Castellinuzza Castellinuzza is a small family-owned winery not far from Lamole, overlooking Greve; in the early 1960s Paolo Coccia's father Gino used his life's savings to purchase the land he had worked as a mezzadro, or tenant farmer, and now Paolo farms the land with his wife and daughters. Their vineyards are fairly high up, at an elevation of 500 M, which makes for good day-night temperature excursions, and they don't use wood -- Primarily cement, for fermentation and storage, and some steel too.
The Wines: Castellinuzza Rosso Toscano IGT 2008 This is the old blend, with some white grapes. It's pale ruby with cherry rim, and has a vinous, brambly bouquet with greenish vegetal accents and lively sour cherry fruit. Quite approachable. On the palate it's light, and zesty, with lively sour cherry fruit supported by tannins that have a warm savory bite and flow into a clean rather bitter finish. It's an excellent cookout wine that will also work well with meat-based pasta sauces, and could be nice with hearty bread based soups, such as ribollita. 2 stars
Castellinuzza Chianti Classico 2007 Rich ruby with deep black cherry reflections. The bouquet is fairly rich, with cherry fruit supported by dusky shadows and some vegetal accents. Pleasant, and zesty. On the palate it's medium bodied, with fairly rich bright cherry fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins. Graceful in a slightly scrappy tomboyish key, and will drink quite well with hearty pasta dishes or grilled meats. Expect it to go quickly, and you will want a second bottle. 88-90
Castellinuzza Chianti Classico 2006 Ruby with fairly bright reflections. The nose is duskier than that of the 2007, and more charged, with the fruit (red berry) a little riper; there are also some vegetal notes that evolve into yellow peach as the wine opens. By comparison, the 07 feels more nervous. On the palate it's medium bodied and quite smooth, with fresh zesty cherry fruit supported by clean bright sweet tannins. It's softer than the 07, and will work nicely with succulent, not too fatty red meats -- steak, as opposed to grilled lamb chops. 2 stars
Castellinuzza Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 Deep cherry ruby. The bouquet is a bit richer than that of the Chianti d'Annata, though cut from the same cloth, with berry fruit and some greenish vegetal accents mingled with spice from the grapes. Quite young, and with pleasant finesse. On the palate it's medium bodied and graceful, with rich sour cherry fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins that gain depth from savory accents and flow into a clean fresh finish. Quick to write, but nice, and will work quite well with red meats; though one could drink it now, it will age well for 5-8 years. 88-90
Castellinuzza e Piuca Castellinuzza e Piuca is another small winery in the town of Lamole, overlooking Greve. Giuliano Coccia and his sons farm a few hectares of Sangiovese and Canaiolo. The winemaking is traditional, and the wines are quite pleasant, displaying rich fruit but not the charged and rather off-putting exuberance one sometimes finds.
Castellinuzza e Piuca Toscana IGT 2009 This is the traditional blend, fermented in cement vats and then bottled. It's deep black cherry ruby with violet reflections and has a rich bouquet with lively cherry fruit supported by some greenish brambly notes and savory spice. Quite pleasant, displaying nice balance. On the palate it's rich, and smooth with powerful fruit with pleasant vinous accents supported by smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean rather bitter savory finish. Quite pleasant, and will work well with succulent not too fatty grilled meats -- the acidity is held slightly in check, which makes it more approachable by the glass, as does the ripeness of the fruit. Worth seeking out. 2 stars.
Castellinuzza e Piuca Chianti Classico 2008 Deep cherry ruby. Elegant nose, with rich ripe berry fruit supported by greenish accents and clean mentholated spice; there are also cool accents that bring dappled shade to mind. On the palate it's it's rich and very smooth, with powerful red berry and cherry fruit that gain defintion and depth from sour cherry acidity, while support comes from smooth sweet tannins that do have some greenish vegetal accents, and flow into a clean fresh finish. Very pleasant and eminently approachable; it will be beautiful with roasts or flavorful, not too fatty grilled meats. 90
La Camporena This is a new winery -- their first vintage was 2006. They have 7 hectares of vineyards, 6 1/2 Sangiovese, and the last half Merlot that they don't include in their Chianti, and are thinking about replanting, perhaps to Canaiolo. They do use oak, a mixture of barriques, tonneaux and botti.
La Camporena Chianti Classico 2006 The first vintage: It's deep cherry ruby with some almandine reflections, and has a fairly intense bouquet with slightly jammy cherry fruit supported by savory accents and some cedar. On the palate it's it's ample and soft, with smooth sweet tannins and dusky slightly jammy berry fruit that flows into a clean bitter finish with some greenish accents. It's fairly approachable, in a middle-of-the-road key; there isn't quite as much finesse as I might have liked, and the oak is apparent, at least far from the table. 1 star
La Camporena Chianti Classico 2007 Deep cherry ruby with cherry reflections. The nose is defter than that of the 06, with more brambly berry fruit and some mentholated vegetal accents; the oak doesn't stand out the way it did in the 06, and one has an impression of defter balance. On the palate it's more pleasant than the 06, with brambly berry fruit supported by greenish acidity and tannins that have a brambly Sangiovese burr. A very drinkable wine, that will work well with grilled meats, light stews, and simple roasts. 2 stars
La Camporena Chianti Classico 2008 Cherry ruby with cherry rim. The bouquet is fairly bright and decidedly greenish, with some cedar-leaf tobacco mingled with greenish forest berry fruit and cherries. Not as ripe as the 07, and this is vintage variation. On the palate it's neither as bright nor as rich as the 07 -- it's duskier, and gives an impression of being from a cooler vintage, with more brambly notes and acidity, and more tannic bite. It will drink well with succulent grilled meats or hearty legume-based dishes (ribollita and fagioli all'uccelleto, tomatoey beans with sausages, both come to mind), but isn't something to drink by the glass far from the table. 2 stars
La Camporena Chianti Classico Riserva 2006 Deeper cherry ruby with violet rim than the 2006 Chianti; it's close to poured ink. Powerful bouquet, with India ink bitterness and savory notes mingled with spice and bell pepper, slight berry fruit, and a fair amount of underbrush. On the palate it's full, smooth, and dusky, with cherry fruit supported by underbrush and fairly deft cedar, and by moderate cedar-laced acidity that flows into a clean slightly bitter finish. There's more depth than the 2006 Chianti Classico, but it is cut from the same cloth, and lacking in brightness. The 2007 vintage will be more interesting. 1 star
A general impression: They are starting out, but have chosen their path, and are following it; there is a distinct progression from 2006 onwards.
Podere Campriano Camrpiano is an Etruscan word that indicates a fertile spot, and this is why there are several wineries in Tuscany whose names include Campriano. This particular estate is small, with 3 hectares of vineyards planted primarily to Sangiovese, and since the terroirs vary considerably, they make three wines.
Podere Campriano Chianti Classico 2007 Deep cherry ruby with some almandine in the rim. The bouquet is fairly rich, and greenish, with berry fruit supported by leaf tobacco and spice. Nice balance and zesty. On the palate it's full, with rich lively sour berry fruit supported by brisk sour cherry acidity and by smooth tannins that have a warm burr and flow into a fairly long warm savory finish. Pleasant in a fairly aggressive key, and will work quite well with grilled meats or light stews. Worth seeking out. 2 stars
Podere Campriano Chianti Classico Riserva Le Balze di Montefioralle 2007 This is from a vineyard that had been abandoned, returning to woodland, and that they reclaimed. It's deep cherry ruby, and has a delicate bouquet that's quite particular and very savory, with hints of bt and greenish notes supporting berry fruit that again comes across as salty. Intriguing and particular; it revolves more around minerality and sea salt than ripeness. The palate is quite deft, with rich sour cherry fruit supported by smooth savory tannins that flow into a clean savory finish. Quite graceful and pleasant to drink, displaying great finesse in a lighter style that is worth seeking out if you like this sort of thing (and I do). 88-90
Podere Campriano Alta Valle della Greve IGT 2006 This is Sangiovese, from a 50-year-old vineyard, and is rich deep ruby with cherry rim. The bouquet is deft, with underbrush, savory notes, and spice; it's quite pleasant, with a lot going on, and displays considerable depth. On the palate it's full and rich with powerful sour cherry fruit supported by smooth dusky tannins and clean savory acidity that flow into a warm clean savory finish with underlying bitterness. Quite nice, and is one of those wines one can converse with, though I would be much more interested in opening a bottle with a porterhouse steak. 90-92
Ruchè is one of Piemonte's so-called lesser red wines, though once you have tasted it you never forget it: It is extraordinarily aromatic, rivaling the intensity of Brachetto on the nose, but dry. And therefore an absolute delight to sniff and swish in the glass. On the palate it tends to be light and fruity, with moderately intense tannins and fairly brambly acidity.
In addition to being a wine, Ruchè is a grape, grown exclusively in the Alto Monferrato (province of Asti), and more specifically in the Communes of Castagnole Monferrato, Grana, Montemagno, Portacomaro, Refrancore, Scurzolengo and Viarigi. Though its origin is not completely certain, it is said to have developed from a Burgundian grape introduced centuries ago by monks at the now abandoned Monastery of San Rocco.
Ruchè the wine is made from Ruchè grapes; the DOC regulations governing the appellation state that the wine must consist of at least 90% Ruchè, and can contain up to 10% Barbera or Brachetto, though they are not required. Minimum alcohol content is 12%, while minimum dry extract is 20 g/liter (Barbera del Monferrato's minimum extract, by comparison, is 25 g/liter).
Most of the Ruchè I have tasted was fermented and aged in steel, and is light and rather zesty. Some producers are also putting it into wood, which adds nuances, but also settles it somewhat. Since much of its charm revolves around its freshness and aromatics, it is in general a wine to be drunk young, though the folks at Scarpa offered me a 1996 Ruchè and I was pleasantly impressed.
In terms of wine and food pairings, Ruchè works quite well with mild cheese, stuffed pasta dishes (both meat and vegetable-based fillings), creamy pasta sauces and risotti, and light stews or roasts. Because of the lightness of the tannins and its aromatic richness it is also well suited more delicately flavored schools of Cinese cooking, for example Cantinese, and I would also be tempted to serve it with milder Indian dishes, because of the spicy aromatics of the nose. In particular, it could be quite nice with chicken cooked in a tandoor.
Montalbera is one of the older wineries in Castagnole Monferrato. They sent me the two wines below just before Vinitaly (and I have already posted the notes, but am reposting them here), and it was the quality of these wines that led me to decide to taste through Ruchè in Verona.
Montalbera La Tradizione Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG 2008 Pale ruby with white rim. The bouquet is powerful, with intense sugary raspberry fruit shot through with greenish sandalwood and haunting spice, and flowers, lots of purple and red flowers. Beautifully, intense, aromatic wine, and if you like this sort of rich fresh harmonious aromatic intensity it will impress you. On the palate it's fairly light, and dry, with rich floral laced berry fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins and by an underlying savory bitterness that provides counterpoint, and flow into a clean fresh finish with aromas that echo those of the nose. Very pleasant, though particular; if you like this kind of wine you will like it very much. If you of not you won't, and though this is an obvious comment, unless you are absolutely certain you don't I would give it a try. Because it is nice, and will work very well far from the table too. 88-90
Montalbera L'Accento di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG 2008 The bottle is a little heavier than that of La Tradione, and the wine is slightly darker, though still pale ruby. The bouquet is powerful, but not quite as explosive nor as floral as La Tradizione's; it displays cherry and raspberry fruit laced with sandalwood and some greenish accents as well. Pleasant to sniff and quite harmonious, and as it opens some berry fruit/raspberry acidity also emerges, providing direction and counterpoint to the sweetness that is present. On the palate it's medium bodied and quite rich, with powerful slightly bitter berry fruit supported by deft cherry acidity and tannins that have a rather languid feel to them, and flow into a clean rather bitter berry fruit finish. It' a little fuller and has slightly more depth than the Tradizionale, but is not quite as bright. A slightly different interpretation, but equally interesting. As with La Tradizionale, it's a wine that will work well by the glass with friends. And since it has a little more bite to it, I would consider it with cheeses and cheese based dishes, for example a simple, elegant risotto, and perhaps simple grilled meats that aren't too fatty. 2 stars
The Remainder, Almost All Tasted at Vinitaly:
Montalbera Roesus Vino Spumante Brut Metodo Martinetti Since it's a Vino da Tavola they can't state the vintage, but it's a 2008. Pale onionskin with fine onionskin perlage. The bouquet is bright, with sour berry fruit and wet underbrush mingled with some leafiness and brambles. On the palate it's bright, and though nominally brut is fairly sweet, with fairly rich bright berry fruit supported by lively acidity and clean bright sparkle that confers creaminess, while the sweetness provides roundness. Quite pleasant and will drink well as an aperitif or a tutto pasto, in the summer months, with grilled fish, and with grilled foods in general in the winter months. It will go quickly. 2 stars
Montalbera Grignè Grignolino D'Asti 2008 Pale onionskin almandine with brilliant ruby reflections. The bouquet is rich with brambly accents and some greenish notes supported by greenish acidity. Quite pleasant, and though far from Merlot & Co., has a lot to say. On the palate it's medium bodied, with lively sour berry fruit that displays quite a bit of acidity, and is supported by scrappy smooth slightly greenish tannins that flow into a fresh greenish finish. Quite pleasant, and will work very well with fattier dishes, from the Bagna Caoda of Piemontese convivial tradition to fattier fish, eel for example, and also with succulent fattier grilled meats; it will be good with fried meats or fish and vegetables too. It is particular, but if you like brash wines with lively acidities you will like it very much. One might mistake it for a rosé in the glass, but the acidity takes it to a very different place. 2 stars
Montalbera L'Accento Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato DOC 2009 Barrel sample Deep violet. The bouquet is extraordinarily rich for a barrel sample, with explosive floral accents, red blossoms mostly, with spice and some red berry fruit that gains depth from underlying greenish accents. Terrific depth and most impressive; they find it to be superior to the 2008 and I would agree. On the palate it's rich, with bright berry fruit that gains depth from sandalwood spice and roundness from some sweetness; the overall picture is very pleasant and decidedly voluptuous in an exotic key. In terms of food wine pairings, it will work well with white meats, and also with spicy dishes, for example Indian or Thai, moderately aged cheese, and also richly flavored cold cuts, and even fattier fish. In short, it's an eclectic wine that will work well in many situations that are difficult to pair wines with.
Montalbera L'Accento Ruché Passito IGT 2007 This is from "uve stramature," extremely overripe grapes, and is an elegant almandine with dusky brick accents and orange rim. The bouquet is powerful and enticing though not as floral as that of the vino d'Annata; it's rich and sweet with nutmeg spice and berry fruit that's rather voluptuous and is laced with sweetness too, bringing a Moscato di Scanzo to mind though it's sweeter and more fruit driven, with richer floral accents. Beautiful spice too, nutmeg and peppery heat, which a fellow taster describes as gunpowder. On the palate it's full, rich, and sweet, with elegant cherry fruit supported by some mentholated accents and by smooth sweet tannins that flow into a fairly long clean spicy finish with considerable warmth. A little more length would have been nice -- I found it more interesting on the nose than the palate -- but it is pleasant, and will work quite well with friends far from the table, or with spicy foods if you decide to serve it at table. 2 stars
Montalbera L'Impronta Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato DOC 2008 This went briefly into oak. Pale brick with black reflections and white rim. The bouquet is moderately intense, with floral accents that aren't as strong as those of the Accento, but more powerful spice, and as it opens it is graceful. Just not as explosive, and as it opens further some red berry fruit emerges, very ripe, almost candied cherries. On the palate it's quite different, with moderate berry fruit supported by warmth and tannins that have a warm savory oak-laced burr and flow into a fairly long slightly oaky finish. It needs time to reabsorb the oak, and when it does it will be pleasant. However, it won't be as fresh as the unoaked wines, and to be frank I fail to understand why Ruché needs oak. 2 stars
Bava Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato DOC 2009 Dusky ruby with pale rim. The bouquet is moderately intense, with a combination of red berry fruit and floral accents with some sandalwood and some sea salt. Nice balance, though not as rich as some. On the palate it's bright, and medium bodied, with rich red berry fruit supported by lively acidity and some sweetness with sandalwood spice that carry through into the finish, which is long, warm, and slightly greenish. Quite pleasant and very approachable in a direct key, it will be a nice match with spicy meats. 2 stars
Luca Ferraris Bric D'Bianc Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato DOC 2009 Tank sample The vineyards once belonged to the Bianc Family (hence Bric d'Bianc), and are exposed to the northeast; the wine ages in steel. Pale ruby with cherry rim. The bouquet is quite rich, with powerful berry fruit supported by floral accents and considerable slightly mentholated nutmeg and spice. Great depth and once could sniff, and sniff again. Many facets. On the palate it's bright, with fairly rich berry fruit supported by lively acidity and tannins that are a little brisker than some, laying down a warm berry fruit burr and flowing into a fairly long warm finish. Pleasant and approachable, by comparison with some of the other Ruché wines it is more of a food wine and will work well with spiced -- not sweet -- grilled meats or stews, and will also be a good bet with oriental dishes. Not so good by the glass due to the dryness of the tannins. 2 stars
Luca Ferraris Ruché Opera Prima per il Fondatore Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato DOC 2008 Deep brick ruby with cherry rim. The bouquet is intense, with fairly rich spice and savory accents mingled with wood smoke and sea salt, while the grapes contribute fairly intense berry fruit but have less floral freshness. On the palate it's ample and quite smooth with rich cherry fruit supported by bright acidity and smooth sweet tannins that have some -- but not excessive -- cedary accents and flow into a graceful finish. It's quite pleasant, more on the palate than the nose, and displays considerable grace. It's atypical of Ruché both on the nose, which is much more mature and less floral than one normally expects, and on the palate, which displays considerable -- almost unexpected even -- finesse. It's a niche wine at present (this is the first vintage) but does interesting things to say and traces a rather different and new (at least for me) path for Ruché. I await future vintages with considerable curiosity. 2 stars
Luca Ferraris Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato DOC 2009 Just bottled; it's rich ruby with lively reflections and has an extremely elegant bouquet with rich floral accents mingled with sweetness and some red berry fruit with a pleasant underpinning of nutmeg and ace, though what really strikes are the floral accents. Most impressive. On the palate it's ample and very smooth, with rich flowery red berry fruit supported by bright acidity, and by smooth sweet tannins that flow into a long finish in which greenish floral accents reemerge. Beautiful, and would be very nice to sip with friends on a summer evening, as the heat fades and the shadows lengthen. One of those wines one hates to pour out at a tasting. 90
Cossetti Clemente Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato DOC 2007 Deep cherry ruby with black reflections. The bouquet is quite rich, in a slightly more mature key with berry fruit more than floral accents laced with sandalwood and nutmeg spice. Nice depth and complexity. On the palate it's medium bodied, and very smooth, with spicy berry fruit supported by moderate acidity and very smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean slightly dusky finish. It's no longer in the fresh throws of youth, but is by no means tired, and displays considerable depth, answering the question of how well Ruché will age. Quite well in the short term. 2 stars
Cossetti Clemente Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato DOC 2009 With this vintage they tried a brief period of cryomaceration (chilling the must to inhibit fermentation and keeping it on the skins to increase extraction) prior to fermentation. The wine is bright purple violet, youth in a glass. The bouquet is quite rich, with beautiful floral accents mingled with some berry fruit but to a greater degree spice -- nutmeg and cloves, and also hints of rock sugar that add depth. On the palate it's quite pleasant, with rich prune-laced berry fruit supported by mineral acidity and deft sandalwood-laced tannins that flow into a clean fairly long sweet fruit laced finish. Quite pleasant, and the cryomaceration does add to the wine's depth and complexity; it had quite a bit to say. 90
Da Capo Majoli Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato DOC 2008 Dusky pale brick ruby with black reflections and brick rim. The bouquet is fresh and intense with berry fruit supported by deft floral accents and some spice, in particular nutmeg and mace. Nice depth and quite elegant, and as it opens greenish accents also emerge, blending into the fruit. On the palate it's a bit drier than the nose led me to expect, with moderately rich berry fruit supported by tannins that have leafy overtones and flow into a clean dry finish. The palate's not as fresh as I had hoped, and this makes the wine less interesting. 1 star
Cantina Sociale Portacomaro Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato DOC 2008 Rich cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, with bright sweet berry fruit more than floral accents supported by peppery sandalwood spice. Nice depth and fairly intense, though it is also a bit nose-tingling. On the palate it's ample and quite smooth with moderately intense sour berry fruit supported by sweet tannins and berry fruit acidity laced with sandalwood warmth that goes on at length. Fairly direct, and pleasant, though the nose isn't as rich as some others, with more fruit and fewer floral accents. Because of the tannins and the acidity it is more of a food wine than a sipping wine, and will work well with rich spiced dishes; I would be tempted by ribs with bbq sauce or similar. 1 star
Gatti Pierfrancesco Caresona Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato DOC 2009 Deep violet with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is intense and very fine, with rich floral accents laced with sandalwood and some cumin seed, a spice I hadn't noted in other Ruché wines, which adds depth. Also a fair amount of alcohol. Quite complex, with many facets to discover. On the palate it's medium bodied and quite rich, with elegant berry fruit laced with violets and red blossoms, and supported by a mix of berry fruit acidity and sweet tannins that flow into a very clean floral finish with warmth, berry fruit and some sandalwood that emerges in the finish to balance the warmth. Very nice and has a great deal to say; the warmth is such that I wouldn't drink it alone but rather with foods, and spicy stews (e.g. goulash) come to mind, as do grilled meats. 90-91
Dezzani Montio Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato DOC 2006 This is first aged in steel, and then in bottle for 2 years prior to release. It's brick red with black reflections, and onionskin in the rim. The bouquet is considerably more mature than those of some other Ruché wines, with greenish accents and green leather and leaf tobacco supported by some spice. Older and feels it. On the palate it's fairly bright, with bright sour berry fruit supported by clean acidity and sweet tannins that flow into a clean finish. The palate is richer and more interesting than the nose, and has more to say. The nose instead has a tired feel to it, and lacks the rich floral accents that make Ruché so interesting. I'm certain that it was much more interesting last year, and this is a pity. 1 star
La Mondianese Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato DOC 2007 Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections. The bouquet is intense, with dusky floral accents supported by sandalwood and some savory acidity, with underlying red berry fruit. On the palate it's medium bodied and very smooth, with moderately intense berry fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins and moderate acidity that resolves into warmth, while the floral accents and sandalwood reemerge in the finish. Pleasant and will drink well with cheese based dishes or light stews, and will also be a good bet with oriental dishes. Has quite a bit to say and is worth seeking out. 2 stars
Scarpa's vineyards are outside the Ruchè appellation, and they consequently label their Ruchè Monferrato Rosso DOC.
Scarpa Briccorosa Rouchet Monferrato Rosso DOC 2007 Elegant, lively ruby with brilliant reflections and black highlights, cherry rim paling to orange. The bouquet is absolutely classic, with rich floral accents supported by sandalwood spice and jammy berry fruit with some underlying yellow peach jam, and hints of menthol as well, It's a moving target and very pleasant to sniff. On the palate it's ample and rich, with powerful red berry fruit supported by sandalwood spice and clean rich berry fruit acidity, and by smooth sweet tannins that flow into a bright spicy berry fruit finish with rich floral accents. Very pleasant and will drink quite well with cheeses and cheese dishes, also with friends far from the table. 88-90
Scarpa also have a 1996, which was bottled as a vino da tavola: With respect to the 2007 it's a duskier black almandine with black reflections. the bouquet is interesting, with rich mentholated spice supported by some sandalwood and hints of cloves, but what really comes out is the menthol. Very interesting. On the palate it's full, with rich slightly smoky berry fruit supported by menthol spice, some rather dusty sandalwood, and fairly bright cedary acidity that is the grape and not wood; with more sniffing dried orange peel emerges in both nose and finish. Quite interesting and though it doesn't have the freshness of the 2007 it is very much alive, and impressively so. Quite pleasant.
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.