Nov 27: Sette is a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon that took a few years to stabilise in the composition and proportion of grapes in the blend. Fratelli Vineyards has been celebrating 10 years of its maiden harvest since 2009 and the Italian Director from Tuscany, Alessio Secci is in India taking the 4 vintages available-2009, 2010, the ubiquitous 2015 and not-yet-bottled 2017 to various cities for a vertical tasting, writes Subhash Arora who was invited to the Tasting Dinner at Le Cirque, Mumbai on 23 November
I remember discussing with Piero Masi, the winemaker since inception about the age-ability of 2009 Sette when I met him in the winery in 2011 and tasted Sette bottled only 2 days prior. Due to the shortage of barriques, half of it had been matured in wood while the other half kept in the stainless steel tank, reversing the order of steel/barrique after a few months. Piero felt that it would mature for over 5 years for sure. Those were early days and no producer was willing to stick the neck out on the ageing potential. I was also presented a bottle from the first barrel later and opened it a few years ago when it was fresh and lovely.
According to an Article in delWine in 2011, ‘It (Sette 2009) might need 2-3 years for showing off its best and will easily last for 5 years. It is supposed to have been in barriques for 12 months but due to the shortage of barriques the new lot of which was expected any day, Piero has done the next best thing-he had taken half the lot and pumped into the stainless steel tank while filling these same French barriques with the other half of the wine.’
Change of grapes and blend etc
Sette has undergone changes in terms of grapes and blends, fermentation and even ageing. Starting with cabernet (50%), Sangiovese (30%) and Merlot (20%) in its maiden vintage 2009, it increased Cabernet by 10% and reduced Merlot the same amount in 2010. It was standardized at the current blend of Sangiovese (60%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (40%).- a common sight in many Super Tuscans. In that sense, Fratelli was the first to introduce Indian Super Tuscan wine.
Alessio Secci, the active Italian partner who has been visiting different cities in India for the vertical tastings, says without flinching his eyes, ‘we always knew that Sangiovese would be our star grape in the blend. But in 2009 the Sangiovese vines were very young and did not give the best fruit yet. So we could not depend upon the majority of it in the blend to give us the best wine. Now the vines are over a decade old and we have moved to this blend.’
Another interesting thing I noticed is the yield that has been going up from 6 tons to 8 tons (an increase of 33%). In comparison there is a better oak/fruit balance now, which was quite apparent when comparing the taste of 2009/10 vs. 2015/17.
What really foxed me is that the fermentation period has been reduced from 20 days to 5-6 days though the temperature has been kept the same and rather high at 28-30° C. This seemed a bit odd and I did not shy away from posing the question to Alessio who has always been forthright in discussions. The secondary fermentation in red wine takes up to 2 weeks. Of course when the temperature of fermentation is as high as 28-30°C, the fermentation time does come down significantly, usually affecting the quality negatively.
He claims, ’Piero’s own findings and research he’s done over the years in understanding terroir and wine making is what has brought him to change his wine making patterns. So we won’t be answering anything which reveals our findings to others.’ He must have done something right because the wine is softer, fresher and more pleasant even when young perhaps because of lesser extraction of tannins.
Another point I don’t seem to comprehend is the reason for increasing the production level from 6,600 bottles in 2009 to 13,300 in 2010, to 40,000 in 2015 but a whopping 80,000 bottles in 2017. My reasoning is the production pattern which has been increasing at a pace to account for nil production in 2014 and 2016 and sales for future years. Therefore, wine is produced in a big batch to service the market needs for at least a couple of years or more.
Alessio disagrees and says, ‘our approach is to make it every year as long as we are able to maintain our quality standards. In fact 2014 and 2016 we skipped the production of Sette for quality reasons only.’ Only time will tell if they can sell 80,000 bottles in 2020. What if 2019/ 2020 turned out to be an excellent vintage too? I wonder if the demand is 80,000 bottles a year at a price tag of Rs. 2,000; Sette 2009 was released at Rs. 1650 in 2011.
Ageing of wines
It was very brave of Fratelli to stick their neck out to share with wine lovers how the wines have aged. The 2009/10 are not available in the market but were pulled out from their library to share with special customers, sommeliers and journalists. When we had discussed the longevity of Sette in 2011, we were all sure of it completing 5 years. The next window of testing was10 years and it was a good way of tasting 2009 during the 10th year to see how it evolved, along with the later vintages.
The 2009 seems to have peaked out in terms of pleasurable drinking. The aromas and fruit have definite balsamic notes though proteins seem to be intact and perhaps should maintain their status for the next couple of years implying one could still drink it in its aged version. The 2010 was still fresh but tannic and austere. The 2015 which has been the Sette workhorse for a couple of years is still drinking well with freshness underlying the fruit. It is a better balanced wine with not oak as predominant in the earlier versions. But 2017 was rather astounding, drinking pretty nicely even now with decanting. It seems to be the longest distance running horse from the Sette stable and it would be nice to see how it tastes in 2027, 2030 and even 2032-15 years from harvest.
The purpose of vertical tasting is not only to encourage storing Sette although once it is proven that it definitely ages well for 10 years, collectors would like to keep a few bottles in their cellar. Says Alessio, ‘ We are doing vertical tasting to highlight that Indian wines can be aged and what it means to age wine in the bottle as per tasting of 2017 and 2015. It doesn’t mean we are only encouraging for people to buy the wines and store them.’
All 4 vintages have alcohol of 13.5-14% by volume which is very good, considering most of Indian producers are making red wine at over 14%, some even touching 14.5%. Low alcohol is the need of time for health reasons and Sette seems to fit the bill.
A word about Le Cirque. It’s not for nothing that it has been winning awards consistently as the best wine destination and a fine dining restaurant. The service and the presentation were immaculate as was the food. I loved those beautiful red wine glasses!! Kudos.
If you have a decent wine cellar, it may be well worth buying Sette 2015 now and 2017 when it is released next year-it has been barely out of the barrels. But watch out for the storage laws- the decision makers have still not attending a vertical tasting to be convinced wine is an age-able product that gets better and more complex with time so each state has its own tight laws permitting only limited bottles in the house.
For earlier related Articles, visit:
Fratelli Vineyards: Wining Weekend with Winemaker PM
Top Ten Indian Wines for Cellaring
Fratelli Wines: Sette pe Satta
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