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Delhi Wine Club
Three Red Aces of Tuscany

Posted: Saturday, 24 March 2012 10:08

Three Red Aces of Tuscany

March 24 : In the game of poker it could have been a full house, a straight flush or even five of a kind if Carmignano had sent their invitation in time but with the remaining four areas of Tuscany-San Gimignano, Chianti Classico, Montepulciano and Montalcino, it was a full house though it could be declared either as two pairs or four of a kind, writes John Salvi MW who writes of the three Red aces in the concluding part of the Anti Prima-Tuscan Tasting 2012, giving a rare insight into the 2011 vintage.

Chianti Classico

At Stazione Leopolda, there were 292 wines to taste from 2011 to 2001- Classico and Riserva.  Chianti   Classico was the next card in my poker hand of five!  This Black Rooster Consortium today represents 90% of the whole denomination’s production.  This year they claim an historic turning point as the Consortium becomes legal guardian and overseer of both the Chianti Classico denomination and trademark, which have become a collective asset.  “75% of the production is now exported” said Giuseppe Liberatore, Consortium Director.  “The USA is the number one market of the 175,000 acre area containing 18,000 acres planted with Chianti Classico grapes and 25,000 with olive trees. In 2011 production was 280,000 hectolitres (7,396,817 gallons).  The consortium has 570 members of which350 are bottlers”.

Perfected Tasting

The tasting system is well oiled, perfected with time and runs very smoothly.  One sits at a table with 8 glasses and a list of all the wines.  Each one is named and numbered.  You note the numbers of the wines you wish to taste on a piece of paper, give it to one of the attendant sommeliers and he/she brings the appropriate bottles and pours into your glasses.

Normally one can taste about 50 wines in a morning and a similar number in the afternoon.  However today I was invited, with my wife, to a lunch in the Corsini Palace with Prince Corsini for the launch of his new wine.  The wine was named ZAC after his great aunt, sister of his grandfather Tommaso, who has already given his name to another of the Prince’s wines.  This was a fine, full bodied IGT Toscana Rosso from his property Le Corti in San Casciano, Val di Pesa.  Just 1,800 bottles were produced for this first vintage.  During a magnificent lunch,  It accompanied a magnificent three star Michelin lunch catered by the famous Enoteca Pinchiorri.   Zac is a great wine, which I hope to see soon on the shelves of British Wine Merchants.

The Tough 2011 Vintage

The following day we tasted with the producers and were able to taste several wines from the 2011 vintage. An extremely difficult vintage indeed, but the Consortium claims to have got it right.  A warm, rainy end to a very wet winter opened up to a warm, wet spring with temperatures touching 30°C on occasions.  The warmth continued until late May and early June.  Late June and early July were then very hot and speeded up development.  Then came the torrid heat from 15th August for around 10 days, with temperatures rising to 42°C and hot winds drying everything out.

Many vineyards suffered badly, particularly on low ground or where scorched by winds.  Young vines and vines with shallow roots suffered worst. Those on clay soil and in high places fared better. Some grapes shrivelled and some dried out completely.  However large differences in temperature between night and day were good for the development of flavour compounds.  Canopy management was vital and insufficient foliage or too much de-leafing led to grape burn. Some rain brought relief in late September and plumped up the grapes that were still unpicked and healthy, but too late for the low lying and valley vineyards.  A very perceptive comment was “those who followed the protocol suffered the most”.

Growers reportedly harvested at different times – some as early as 15th August and some as late as 20th October.  Most had to wait; despite high must weights polyphenols were unripe. Marco Pallanti, Consortium President, said rather surprisingly, “From the standpoint of the health of the grapes the weather was excellent, nearly perfect, and the grapes arriving in September, at least a week early and often more, showed exceptional health, especially the Sangiovese, which was very high in sugar content”.  In spite of this exotic claim he could not deny it was a very small crop!  We will see whether his claim of fine acidities and “crunchy” tannins is born out as the wines develop. My judgement is that they are not as elegant as the 2010s, which is proving to be a great vintage.  The 2009s are opulent and rich and have a touch of the New World style about them.

The Nobile Montepulciano

Discussions with some producers and we were off to the 4th card in the poker hand – Montepulciano.  This year, instead of being lodged in the hotel outside town we were housed in smaller groups in Agri-turismos.

After being transferred to a smaller vehicle to navigate the small, winding and still snow covered roads, I was delivered to Cavalierino, a simply delightful, rustic, biological farm and lodging house, where they breed Cinta Senese pigs weighing 200 kilos and Chianino Beef cattle.  They also produce and sell every imaginable kind of vegetable and cereal in bottles and jars.  We had broken loose from the group who dined with the Consorzio Del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano in the Fortezza. This year’s tasting at Fortezza was the 2009 Nobile and Riserva 2008.

They also showed their Rosso di Montepulciano DOC and some delicious Vin Santo.  Federico Carletti, President of the Consorzio, and Andrea Rossi, Mayor of Montepulciano received us warmly.  Here both the systems used in Florence were used in parallel. The live presentation of the 2011 vintage by oenologist Mauro Monicchiwas was disappointingly uninformative but I was able to acquire an informative USB.

We were 159 journalists invading the small town of Montepulciano and were all fascinated by the “green wine economy” that is being developed to reduce the carbon footprint; by the Art linked to Vino Nobile, particularly in the shape of the great Caravaggio painting “Portrait of a Gentleman”; by the “Divinorchestra”, the orchestra that plays music on wine producing implements and their motto “when music plays wine”.

Growers, very wisely, and not only here but in each region, are wary of showing their new, unfinished wines to journalists as they fear that they may be misunderstood, being still raw and primary.  I understand this fear as a number of our press colleagues regretfully have limited knowledge.  As an oenologist I like to think that I am able to understand them and to discern their potential; 11 of the 34 participating growers had me taste the 2011 vintage.

Vintage of 2011

7.5 million bottles of Vino Nobile DOCG and 2.4 million of Rosso di Montepulciano DOC were produced in 2011.  The vintage here was as complicated as in other regions of Tuscany, but some growers said that their vineyards suffered less than in Chianti Classico as there is more clay, more canopy and often better exposition. I think this is open to question! Winter was fairly cold with constant rain and some heavy snowfalls giving plenty of water.  Bud-break was on time in early April.

Temperatures soaring as high as 30°C during the first 10 days of April allied to the well irrigated soil, boosted growth and development.

Flowering and fruit-setting took place rapidly end May.  On 20th June temperatures rose to summer levels, but some rain late June and early July averted stress.  Development was steady and véraison protracted (mid-July – mid-August) albeit slightly early.  The second half of July was particularly cool with some 60mm of rain.  Balance having been re-established, things looked great until mid-august.  Sparse, good-sized bunches and healthy, active foliage.  From 20th August dramatic heat arrived for some 10 days, with temperatures topping 40°C in places.  Burning, scorching, shrivel, wind evaporation and other vegetation problems assailed the vineyards (charmingly described by Montepulciano as heat-related flaws), particularly those facing south-west, and a lot of drying out took place.

After this heat spell normal conditions returned and the vintage took place under pleasant enough conditions.  Maturation had to be very carefully monitored, ripening was very heterogeneous and that of sugars and acidities had to be balanced against that of the phenolics.

The crop was small-as elsewhere, tannins were good, smooth and relatively ripe, and for the most part acidities held up well.

Colours were intense and alcohol levels were high.  My one real worry is that they may have limited ageing potential.  It was awarded 4 stars (5 in 2006 and 2007) and a green bolla which one might translate as a “green ticket” for the administration “sistema”- meaning eco-friendly, clean energy, sustainable green economy and public cooperation as well as energy conservation.

Older vintages were served blind at lunch- to compare with bottles and magnums of the same wine of the same vintage.  We were able to assess the different degree of maturity in the different sized bottles. Interestingly the results were quite conclusive.  Magnums showed just slightly younger than the bottles, but the half bottles felt considerably older.  I fell in love with the 1990 vintage.

Montalcino- the fifth card

My wife and I we were lodged in the Dei Capitani hotel in the heart of the town, with magnificent views over the countryside.  We had dinner at Tenuta Il Poggione, owned by Leopoldo Franceschi and managed by Count Francesco Marone Cinzano, owner of Col d’Orcia. Once again the 1990 was perhaps the greatest wine of the evening, but the 2006 will probably rival it in time.  The 1990 is at its peak now; the 2006 needs another 10-15 years.

Grand Tasting

And so to the grand tasting of that fifth and final card began. The odd man out –‘Benvenuto Brunello’ by the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino- vast, huge, massive; mammoth tasting in the Chiostro Museo di Montalcino and Giardini Palazzo Pieri. There are 208 producer/bottlers and Brunello DOCG has 2,100 hectares of vines.  It is made only with Sangiovese, known locally as Brunello.  Rosso di Montalcino, Moscadello di Montalcino and Sant’Antimo are also produced.

The system of tasting here was identical to Montepulciano with 140 producers showcasing their wines. Not many 2011s were available to taste but I sampled them all and discussed with the growers. What is true about Chianti and Montalcino holds roughly true also for Brunello, of course with climatic and soil differences.

Candace Máté and Pablo Harri of Ferrero shared precious information. Pablo said the main problem was in fact more wind than the sun during the period of excessive heat in August.  It acted exactly like a hair-dryer and was blowing on occasions at 42°C.  Further south in Tuscany, in Maremma, it was even more severe due to the concentration caused by the hot wind drying out the grapes.  This produced very high alcoholic strengths and in some cases the yeasts were unable to finish the fermentation.  Many yeasts die at over 16° of alcohol and stuck fermentation is a nightmare.  Acidities tended to be low and I was told that “anybody who says that they did not acidify is a liar”. Wines on the whole as yet not ready to taste, but are immensely rich and bordering on the Amarone style.   Here some growers picked up to 3 weeks earlier than usual.  Balance was the problem because the sugars were ample but the phenolic compounds were not fully ripe until the second half of September.  De-leafing and green pruning had to be kept to a minimum to avoid burn or over-concentration, although the rather cold weather at the end of July encouraged some people to do the former.

The Consorzio had laid out a lunch to match the tasting – ginormous!!

This was held in the Palazzo Arcivescovite. We feasted on infinite Italian tapas, pasta dishes, risottos, four soups, charcuterie, cheeses, a whole room full of different desserts and a multitude of wines.  However NO SEATS!  Luckily I had my seat stick and was able to sit comfortably to the jealousy of all present.

The Gala Dinner in the evening was a massive affair- catered by Ristorante Silene.  The quantity of pre-dinner hors d’oeuvres made the lunch look like a snack.  It would have fed half of Italy!.  There were pasta and rice dishes of every description.  The dinner that followed was gargantuan, formal and impressive.  Course followed course and wine followed wine.  For us it was a fine curtain call. But between my wife and I, we had tasted over 160 wines and I had tasted every 2011 available.  We also missed the judgement giving the 2011 vintage 4 stars out of a possible 5.

Complimenti Consorzii

All of the 4 Consorzii are to be congratulated on well organised programmes and wonderfully generous hospitality.  This is one of the great wine events of the vinous calendar and I would hate to miss it- can’t wait for 2013!

John Salvi, Master of Wine

For earlier article please click


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