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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Tuesday, March 2 2010. 12:47

Tuscan Marathon 2010 : White is All Right

Tuscan Marathon 2010 as Conte John Salvi MW describes the 1000-wine Ante Prima tasting organised by the Consortia of San Gimignano, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino last month is a 4-part series only an expert with decades of experience can illustrate. We start with San Gimignano which would make every Tuscan-wine lover agree that White is All right !

Photo By:: Adil Arora

San Gimignano- City of Towers

 A flight from Bordeaux, to Florence airport, an hour’s drive through the beautiful Tuscan countryside and we arrived at our hotel, Albergo La Cisterna, in a 12th century castle in the ‘city of towers’- there were once 72 of them but now only 14 still stand.  Today there are a mere 7,000 inhabitants but it still has 23 restaurants! Facing the magnificent Piazza della Cisterna on one side and rolling countryside, mountains and vineyards on the other it has a spectacular views.  The hotel adjoins the Piazza Duomo with its massive cathedral and violently steep steps.

Before long, after being warmly greeted by the president of the Consorzio, Letizia Cesani, we were whisked off to the intimate Sala Leggeri where we were treated, in dialectic Italian without translation, to  an improvised comedy show based on the imagined lifestyles of a couple of members of the audience, one of them being her.

Dinner that followed in the Sala Del Teatrino Leggeri was welcome.  My wife and I were seated at the table of honour with Letizia, the Vice president of the Consorzio (an oenologist with the Tenute Guicciardini Strozzi), the Mayor of the town, Prince Strozzi and other dignitaries. 

Five chefs from different restaurants including a famous ice cream maker, Sergio Dondoli   had been gathered to give us a feast of local specialities. We tasted a dozen white Vernaccia di san Gimignano, 3 reds and a wonderful 1997 Vin Santo Signano IGT from Azienda Agricola di Biagini Manrico. Sadly the superb food was served cold.  We returned to our hotel just 200 yards away as the cathedral clock struck midnight.

Breakfast next morning was taken in the hotel Sala Panoramica and what a panorama!  We all stood spellbound at the windows gazing at the view in the brilliant sunshine in a cloudless blue sky.  After breakfast we walked over to the Palazzo Communale and installed ourselves in the indescribably beautiful, historical and magnificent 14th century Sala Dante. 

This has to be one of the great moments of the entire trip.  Sala Dante is so beautiful that one can sit and gaze at its walls and ceilings for hours on end.  Here, from 10.30 – 13.30, we had a tasting of 6 Pouilly-Fuissé and 6 Vernaccia, which we tasted, analysed and discussed exhaustively and in the minutest detail.  We learned a great deal about different philosophies, wine making techniques, personal likes and dislikes, soil management, oenological practices, vinification, etc. 

We also learnt that fine Vernaccia can age extremely well and need not always be drunk young – a fact that seems little known.  It was a fascinating exercise and San Gimignano is to be congratulated on its broad mindedness and courage in importing the 3 fine Pouilly Fuissé producers.  Would that more wine producing areas might follow suit!

The tasting was followed by the perfect buffet lunch in the same room as last night.  Though very antipathetic to buffets, I enjoyed this one immensely.  New and exciting dishes kept appearing and the miracle ice cream man had prepared a zabaglione ice cream with Vin Santo – splendiferous!

Now came the major tasting, in the Museo di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea de Grada, of the Anteprimi de Vernaccia 2009.  38 wineries showed their wares from the 81 members of the Consorzio.  Each producer stood behind his table in front of contemporary paintings and art works.  I tasted most of them and enjoyed enlightening discussions with the growers. 

I also tasted the wines of the 3 Pouilly Fuissé producers – Domaine Guffens-Heynen, Château des Rontets (an Italian who had married the French lady owner) and Domaine Valette, whose proprietor Philippe Valette had very strong views about soil regeneration.  One grower showed an interesting, well aged Sauvignon!

Vintage 2009 and weather conditions

I wish to stress very clearly indeed that when I talk about the weather conditions, the ripening and the vintage- here and later on in this article, it is impossible to be specific.  Conditions vary hugely from place to place according to height, soil, rootstocks, microclimates, etc.  I have had to base myself on a particular place or grower, but other growers and places, even very close by, would most certainly have significant and considerable differences.  Were I to try and cover them all this article would turn into a book.  Please therefore accept the information as general and not specific.  Nonetheless, it does resume the conditions with honesty and accuracy.

The 2009 vintage can be qualified as good to very good.  There was enough rain during the winter for the water table to be filled, but perhaps not quite enough cold weather.  Budding took place end March/begin April with adequate weather but some rain.  Temperatures were normal for the period until end June. 

Flowering was at the beginning of June in dry weather and there was no shatter or “millerandage”.  Colour change (invayatura) was a little early since July and August were very hot – indeed somewhat TOO hot.  Since the Vernaccia is a very vigorous grape the heat actually helped to control the vigour. Despite its vigour, it is a late ripening grape and is often picked AFTER the Chardonnay and the Red Grapes. 

Some growers went through the vineyards 3 times for the picking (3 tris).  Relatively high acidity helps the ageing potential.  Picking dates that I was given for Vernaccia varied from 7th September to 1st October (Signano 7/9, Lucia 1/10.  Calcinaie picked its Chardonnay end August, 3 weeks before its Vernaccia).  Day and night temperatures varied by as much as 15°-20°C, which was good for the development of flavour and bouquet compounds. 

Personally I believe that Vernaccia is a grape, like Riesling and Sauvignon, that does not take kindly to oak, although I had to admit that there were exceptions and a couple of wines with 6 months in new oak had totally absorbed it and showed perfectly.  Nonetheless, the varietal character of Vernaccia comes through better without it.  Many told me that to make the finest wines there should be a touch of over-ripeness in the Vernaccia.

The pips are big but the skins are very thin and fine.  The ideal alcoholic strength is about 13°.  Good minerality is a strong and attractive feature in top quality Vernaccia.  The harvest took place under good conditions and the 4 days of September rain were useful rather than the reverse.  Bottling started at the beginning of February, wines kept only in stainless steel being the first (Panizzi 1/02).

Feeling that I had worked hard and well, I retired for a cappuccino and a siesta in my lovely room with the view and was ready for my hosts and for dinner at eight.  Tonight was a private dinner with Lucia Migliorini, Vice President of the Consorzio, and with Marco Galeazzo, Director of Melini Chianti.  We went to one of the few restaurants open on a Monday and enjoyed truffled potato soup and Bistecca Fiorentina with vintages of Machiavelli and Melini wines, which are about to be put on the market.  An enjoyable, comfortable and pleasurable off-duty evening.

Silvia Beni and Elisabetta Borgonovi deserve the very greatest praise for their wonderful organisation of this whole event and their outstanding graciousness and hospitality on behalf of the Consorzio della Denominazione San Gimignano.

John Salvi MW


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