Tenuta Caparzo has always struck me as somehow eternal; though a great many Brunello labels have appeared over the years, I cannot remember ever not seeing their rather distinctive label in wine shops. So I was somewhat surprised to receive an invitation to the celebrations for their 40th anniversary this fall.
Since they are best known for reds -- they are a Montalcino estate, after all -- I expected a Brunello vertical, but we began with Le Grance, a white, and that was another surprise.
Caparzo introduced the wine to show that Tuscany, which isn't known for its whites, is indeed capable of making an ageworthy white, and Vittorio Fiore oversaw the production of the first vintage in 1985.
It comes from a south-southeast sloping vineyard with clayey-sandy soils planted to Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Traminer. The respective percentages in the vineyard are 70, 20, and 10, while the percentages of the varietals in the wine vary from vintage to vintage, depending upon the productivity of the vines. The harvest is generally in late August or early September, picking everything together and basing themselves on the Chardonnay; by comparison with it the Sauvignon is usually slightly less ripe, thus conferring with more acidity, whereas the Traminer is a bit riper, and confers richness. The grapes cryomacerate for 48 hours, and then they take the free-run must and barrel ferment it for 10-12 days; fermentation is followed by 3-4 months of battonage, which is daily for the first 2 months and weekly for the remainder.
Tenuta Caparzo Le Grance IGT 2007 Charged brassy gold with brilliant brassy reflections. The bouquet is powerful and quite elegant, with rich white berry fruit laced with bitter butterscotch, gunflint, and lively mineral acidity; as it opens some gooseberry also emerges coupled with vanilla, but the Sauvignon is primarily contributing acidity and facets, not playing a primadonna. Quite charged and very intense, with some vegetal accents as well. A lot going on and a great deal of power. Impressive and quite young. On the palate it's ample and quite smooth, with languid minerality supported by slight bitterness and warm lemony acidity that flow into a clean savory finish with citric underpinning. Graceful, and has a lot to say in a surprisingly delicate key, given the power of the nose. It's a wine that will drink nicely now with flavorful fish, or creamy dishes, but that also has the wherewithal to age for a number of years. 90 Tenuta Caparzo Le Grance IGT 2002 Brassy gold with bright brassy reflections; it's a little less charged than the 2007. The bouquet is elegant, and quite savory, with spice and petroleum mingled with minerality and gunflint; beautiful harmony and a wine with many facets to plumb; it's one of those wines that continues to evolve in the glass. On the palate it's rich, with elegant minerality and considerable lemony fruit that has a slightly languid feel, and flows into a clean bright citric finish that gradually fades into cedary bitterness. It's defter than the 07, and also more agile because its acidity is higher, and is very pleasant; if you like older whites from cooler vintages you will enjoy it very much. 92 Tenuta Caparzo Le Grance IGT 1996 Lively brassy gold with brilliant brassy reflections. The bouquet is delightful, with minerality mingled with mineral and citric acidity, slight bramble, hints of petroleum, and many more facets. Extraordinary harmony and complexity; sniffing it is like listening to a Beethoven sonata, when the notes are playing and you suddenly realize you've stopped doing whatever you were doing and have been captured by the music. On the palate it's full, with rich bright lemony acidity that has some sour lemon accents, and pleasingly full mouthfeel, with slight dusky savory tannic bitterness, flowing into a clean fresh very long citric finish. It's a white of a kind one rarely finds in Tuscany, and that is nice to simply sit and talk with. Your friends won't think you're strange because they'll be talking with their glasses too. 93
Tenuta Caparzo Le Grance IGT 1993 Pale brassy yellow with brassy reflections and white rim. One wouldn't guess it's 17. The bouquet is rich, with white berry fruit and some gooseberry laced with honey -- it's sweeter than the younger wines, because 1993 was very hot until mid-September, resulting in considerable ripeness that knocked back the acidity-- with pleasant savory vegetal accents as well. It's not quite as elegant as the 96, but is very nice. On the palate it's ample and full, with honey laced lemony fruit supported by moderate savory minerality that flows into a fairly long lemon laced finish with slight savory bitterness on the one hand and some sweetness on the other; it's softer than the 96, and this is again a result of the hotter vintage. Quite elegant, and as I said of the color, I wouldn't have guessed it was 17. A very nice wine. 90
We continued with several vintages of Caparzo's Brunello La Casa
The original nucleus of Vigneto La Casa, 2.8 hectares planted to 2800 vines/hectare, was purchased in 1977. In 1986 they planted several more hectares to 4800 vines/hectare, which entered production in 1993, and in 2000 they replanted the original nucleus to a higher density as well. At present the entire vineyard is in production, with yields inferior to 70 quintals/hectare, which are fairly low. Tenuta Caparzo Brunello La Casa 1997 Fairly deep black almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, in a dusky key, with warm balsam-laced cherry fruit and hints of leaf tobacco with some underlying leather as well, and deft mineral acidity. Quite intense, and pleasant to sniff. On the palate it's bright, with lively sour cherry fruit supported by fairly intense sour cherry acidity, and by tannins that have a dusky burr and flow into a clean rather tannic finish; the fruit fades a little more quickly than I might have expected, flowing quickly into tannic bitterness. It's quite pleasant, but is more a food wine than a wine to sip far from the table now, because of the way the fruit fades into bitterness -- a bitterness that will work beautifully with a steak. If I had a case I would age some, but also drink some now. 2 stars
Tenuta Caparzo Brunello La Casa 1993 This was a somewhat weaker vintage -- it rained heavily for several weeks starting September 23 -- and the wine is deep almandine ruby with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is fairly rich, with brambly accents and leaf tobacco mingled with some minerality and some India ink. It's mature, and quite pleasant to sniff. On the palate it's full, with fairly rich cherry fruit supported by deft berry fruit acidity and smooth tannins that do have a heart of steel, and flow into a clean fairly rich sour cherry finish. It has held much better than the 97, and though one could age it further will drink very well now with a steak or roast, and if you like the style will drink nicely by the glass as well. Quite pleasant, and a pleasant surprise as well; given the vintage I had expected less. 92
Tenuta Caparzo Brunello La Casa 1985 Deep brownish almandine with black reflections and almandine rim paling to orange. The bouquet is elegant, and quite mature, with dusky Moroccan leather and some leaf tobacco supported by savory accents and sea salt. Beautiful balance and depth, a most impressive wine. On the palate it's full, and rich, with silky cherry fruit laced with hints of saddle leather and savory notes, and supported by smooth silky sweet tannins that flow into a clean savory finish. Tremendous depth and elegance, and an absolute delight to drink. As a fellow taster said, the wine was worth the journey. 94-5
Tenuta Caparzo Brunello La Casa 1979 The first vintage with barriques -- the wine was in them for a year -- followed by botti. The wine is deep almandine with black reflections and almandine rim paling to orange. The bouquet is mature, with balsamic warmth and savory accents supported by some leathery notes and savory sea salt, and also slight leaf tobacco. On the palate it's full, and savory, with fairly rich balsam laced berry fruit supported by savory notes and some balsamic acidity, while the tannins are fairly smooth, but do display a burr, and flow into a clean rather dusky savory finish with leathery balsamic overtones. It is fully mature, and though I doubt it will improve further it will hold for a few more years. 2 stars The Le Grance was an unexpected and pleasant surprise.
Of the Brunellos, both the 93 and the 85 were quite nice, and though I didn't expect the 93 to show as well as it did, I wasn't at all surprised by the 1985, because it comes from one of the sunniest falls I can remember, one beautiful day after another. The 97 was instead a bit of a let down; at the time it was haled as the vintage of the century, but with time the many of the wines that seemed then to show so much promise have turned out to be somewhat over the top, in a determined muscular sort of way in which finesse and elegance give way before brute force. This wasn't as obvious here as it has been in other 1997 wines I have tasted, but it was present, and isn't going to go away.
Many thanks to Tenuta Caparzo for an extremely interesting pair of verticals, and here's wishing them equal success in their next 40 years!
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.