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Feature: Marchesi de Frescobaldi – Nawabs of Tuscany

Posted: Monday, 18 March 2013 12:55

Feature: Marchesi de Frescobaldi – Nawabs of Tuscany

Mar 18: If Marchesi de Frescobaldi, a family of noble men from Tuscany were in India, they would perhaps be the Nawabs of some erstwhile state, but this family of businessmen has been passionately in the wine business for 29 generations, having six Tuscan estates, writes Subhash Arora who visited all the four historical estates at Pomino, Nipozzano, Castiglioni and Castel Giocondo last month and feels the foundations for Super Tuscans were laid by their ancestor in 1855

Click For Large ViewIf India has had hundreds of small states where existed the nobility like Nawabs, Rajas and Maharajas, Italians had their own small States where the nobility was bestowed the titles of Barone, Conte, Marchese and Duca that could be passed from generation to generation. Thus the Frescobaldi family of Florence, with a history going back to 700 years has been given the title of Marchesi (plural for Marchese). Marchese Leonardo Frescobaldi is the President of the mother company, Marchesi de Frescobaldi.

Though known in India for their ubiquitous, easy drinking, value-for-money wines like Pater or Remole, there is also a sprinkling of presence of super premium wines like Ornellaia, Luce and Mormoreto which are produced at their wine estates but most wine drinkers hardly know the connection. They are all produced under the umbrella of Compagnia de Frescobaldi of which Marchese Leonardo Frescobaldi, one of the three brothers actively running the business, is the President. Marchese Ferdinando is the head of Ornellaia and Lamberto Frescobaldi, son of the elder brother Vittorio who has recently retired, is in charge of wine making and estates management and the Vice President of the enterprise.

Marchese Leonardo is a fascinating person and every time I meet him in Delhi I learn something new. On his several invitations, I decided to visit all four historic estates-Castello di Pomino, Castello di Nipozzano, Tenuta di Castiglioni-around Florence and Tenuta di Castel Giocondo in Montalcino (and the 17 year old venture, Luce della Vita) during my recent visit to Tuscany.

Marchese Leonardo Frescobaldi, as I was to find out during my visit, is addressed as ‘Marchese’ by one and all. I don’t know how his only child Dr. Diletta Frescobaldi whom I met in Florence many years ago and who is teaching currently in the USA, addresses him. Incidentally, the Compagnia also runs Frescobaldi wine bars at the Italian airports and restaurants in four cities including the latest venture in Miami, managed by his nephew.

Pomino - the Burgundy town of Tuscany

Click For Large ViewAbout 40 kms East from Florence, driving through the Chianti Rufina town Pontassieve and going beyond the turn off for Nipozzano, is the hamlet of Pomino where the Burgundy was replicated by one of the Frescobaldi ancestors, with their grapes, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Historically, Pomino was declared through a BANDO as one of the areas to grow Tuscan vines - beyond Chianti, Carmignano and Val d’Arno Sopra in 1716 by the Grand Duke, a member of the then ruling Medici family.

Vittorio degli Albizi, whose family had been banished by the Medicis, was living in Auxerre, in Burgundy when his father called him back to Italy. The young viticulturist by profession, he had learnt enology in France and realized that Pomino with its higher altitude of over 700 m, was cooler than the rest of the surrounding area. The soil was also conducive to making wines of Burgundy, so he planted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in 1855. Pinot Bianco was the existing white grape in the area so that was also a part of the blend in the white wine Pomino Bianco which is available in India but Pomino Benefizio Riserva, fermented in Oak barriques is a powerful wine with dominating oak that makes the wine age-worthy and has been adorning the small portfolio from this estate - a serious food wine as I discovered at the lunch with Marchese later in the day.

It was very interesting to see the grapes being crushed in the old wooden press by 3 people for Vin Santo, the dried Trebbiano. Malvasia and a small portion of a local variety were being pressed through a slow and cumbersome process as the winemaker Francesca explained but the end result would be the golden amber coloured meditation wine that would be the pride of the company. She also briefed me that Pomino has had its own DOC since 1983.

Castello di Nipozzano

Click For Large ViewThis is a celebrated property of the Frescobaldi family and is as historic as Tenuta Castiglioni that I visited later. The estate has beautiful undulating vineyards of Sangiovese and French varieties. The Castello was heavily bombarded by the Germans during the World War and bears plenty of scars despite the refurbishment. Nipozzano Riserva is being produced since 1864 when the Chianti appellation did not even exist. Montesodi is a selection of 100% Sangiovese to make single vineyard Montesodi Riserva, a Chianti Rufina since the territory is a part of the famous Chianti Rufina territory.

Click For Large ViewThe French grapes brought in by Albizi have had their roots also in Castello di Nipozzano where the Bordeaux grapes had taken roots in 1855. One of the main wines of the estates is Mormoreto.

Mormoreto di Nipozzano

If I were to rate his passion for a single wine of all the Estates of Frescobaldi, I would say Mormoreto is very dear to Leonardo’s heart, not only because our rendezvous was fixed at the Terrazzo, the center of the Mormoreto vineyards from where one can have a luxurious view of the vineyards. A part of the Castello di Nipozzano estate, he feels that Mormoreto truly defines the beauty of the Bordeaux varietals in this terrain, discovered by his forefathers in the mid 1800s when they introduced Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc for the first time in Italy, over 150 years before the concept of Super Tuscans.

It is a historic coincidence that the grapes were planted by Vittorio Degli Albizi in 1855, the year that the top Medoc wines of Bordeaux were classified into Five Growths. The experience has taught the family which parcels were best for which vine and with the harvest of 1983, Mormoreto was created 30 years ago. The vineyard in its present avatar has 20 hAs of land and was planted in 1976 at an elevation of 250-300m. Initially made from 90% Cabernet, the share has been going down gradually. Since 2004, it has more or less stabilized at 60% Cabernet, 25% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot, a typical blend of Top growths of Bordeaux.

Click For Large ViewAn interesting event brought a lot of confidence in this wine for Leonardo and his family. As he tells me, Wine Advocate had organised a blind tasting in New York in February last year, when two labels each of the 2007 vintage of top Tuscan wines Sassicaia and Mormoreto, were pitted against the same vintages of Napa - Opus One and Dominus. France was represented by Chateaux Mouton Rothschild and Haut Brion.

The results of the blind tasting by expert judges indicated that Mouton took the top spot, followed by Mormoreto in this competition. The big surprise was that at $60 in the US, it cost less than 1/10th of the top selection! A top Bordeaux wine made in the Italian terroir makes him talk very proudly of the wine.

Tenuta di Castiglioni

Click For Large ViewAfter a delicious lunch we drove off from Nipozzano cross-town to the historic estate Tenuta di Castiglioni in Val di Pesa, southwest of Florence, where the wine history of the Marchesi took roots around 700 years ago as the documented records indicate. The estate goes back even further to 1000 years ago. It has plantations of not only Sangiovese but also Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Tenuta Frescobaldi di Castiglioni, the signature wine of the winery with the same name, is a Cabernet Sauvignon Blend (50%) with Merlot (30%), Cabernet Franc (10%) and the balance 10% the local Chianti grape, Sangiovese. Giramonte is the top wine of the estate. Primarily using Merlot (90%) and the balance of Sangiovese, the 750-case production is from the gapes planted in 15 hAs of vineyards in 1993.

During his last visit to India, Leonardo told me that he had restored his private residence, Villa di Castiglioni. He showed me the beautiful house that he uses with his wife Cristiana as a country residence. A big size tasting room at the winery was indicative of the selected number of wine tourists visiting the oldest historical wine cellar of the estates.

Tenuta di Castelgiocondo and Luce della Vite

It was a great gesture on the part of Leonardo to invite me for lunch at Castelgiocondo and taste various Brunellos and the Super Tuscan Luce from the adjoining estate which was previously owned jointly with Robert Mondavi until Mondavi sold their stake to Constellation Brands in 2004. Since 2005 Luce is fully owned by Marchesi de Frescobaldi. Castelgiocondo is a prestigious Montalcino estate and perhaps after Banfi, is the second biggest family owned estate of the Brunello town.

Click For Large ViewCastelgiocondo produces Brunello - so does Luce, though in very small quantities. Leonardo explained that though both were a part of the Consorzio, they chose not to participate in Benvenuto Brunello – an annual event of tasting with over 150 global journalists for 2 days followed by a tasting with buyers, sommeliers and customers. ‘The space is too small, there is too much noise and we cannot properly welcome our guests. We invite visitors to come to our winery and taste with us at leisure,’ he says.

Currently Luce is being fermented in the common winery but a separate state-of-the-art cellar is being designed to separate processing of wines from Luce della Vite, both of which are being looked after his nephew Lamberto Frescobaldi who is also the winemaker.

Laudemio Olive Oil

A pleasant surprise was the taste of Laudemio extra virgin olive oil. Confirming my belief that Tuscan olive oil is more expensive but also perhaps the best olive oil in Italy (I am sure there would be dissenting voices: we have had excellent olive oil from Ravida and Lorenzo in Sicily during a wine and oil rendezvous in India in January this year; Ravida even claims it is sold in Harrods of London).

The oil was delicious and I took extra helpings unabashedly at the lunch with Leonardo at the Castello di Nipozzano and later at Castel Giocondo. Pleasing to the eye, the green coloured oil is a blend of Frantoio (70%), Moraiolo (20%) and Leccino (10%) olives and pressed to yield excellent quality oil made at their frantoio (olive press).  Selling at €14.50 for a 500 mL bottle at the winery shops, it is not exactly cheap, especially if you compare with the Indian Leonardo and Spanish Borges but the texture, colour, flavours and aromas of Laudemio were awesome.

Frescobaldi-the Super Tuscan producer

Click For Large ViewAs Leonardo was driving me back to Montalcino, I was thinking about the vast business empire of € 83 million that the Tuscany-dedicated Marchesi de Frescobaldi had created (Conti Attems in Friuli excepted-but that is a story for another time). My thoughts kept going back to Vittorio degli Albizi who was educated and trained in France and I felt had laid the foundation for the modern day Frescobaldi wine estates. His sister Leonia degli Albizi had been married off in the late nineteenth century to Angiolo Frescobaldi. Mormoreto vineyards had been given to Angiolo in dowry.

All the top wines of the various estates are interestingly made from the French varieties, thanks  to the influence of Vittorio Albizi. While DOC Pomino is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay is the mainstay of the estate with Benefizio Riserva as its top wine that reminds you of a premier Cru Burgundy.

The top wine of Nipozzano is Mormoreto – a Bordeaux blend. Tenuta Frescobaldi di Castiglioni is an IGT flagship wine of the oldest estate. In addition to Sangiovese, it uses Merlot and a bit of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Clearly Giramonte, the 80-100% Merlot from selected vineyards is the pride of the estate.

Tenuta di Ammiraglia in Maremma produces Ammiraglia which is 100% Shiraz made in Mediterranean climate. Castelgiocondo is primarily a producer of Brunello di Montalcino, yet it also produces Lamaione - a 100% Merlot from 12 hA of vineyards, which is its top wine.

Click For Large ViewThe adjoining estate of Luce della Vite produces a small quantity of Brunello di Montalcino but is famous for its Luce, a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot.

The term Super Tuscan was coined 50 years ago with the advent of Sassicaia and later Tignanello but the foundation was laid perhaps over 150 years ago by Marchesi Frescobaldi in 1855, during the year of Bordeaux Classification. And if there is one man that could be given the credit for laying the foundation for Super Tuscan wines, it ought to be the Tuscan agronomist Vittorio Albizi who introduced the French varieties.

In any case, if you love high quality wines with the Tuscan touch and typicity, Marchesi Frescobaldi has plenty to offer that you can’t refuse. Brindco imports a wide range of wines into India. For visual pleasure, visit their new website

Subhash Arora

For a related earlier article, please visit Star Interview: Return of Frescobaldi

Tags: Ornellaia, Chianti, Chianti Rufina, Super Tuscans, Medoc, Opus One, Dominus, Chateaux Mouton Rothschild, Haut Brion, Banfi, Brunello, Frescobaldi, Marchese Leonardo FrescobaldiVittorio Degli Albizi, Mormoreto 



Sidd Banerji Says:

Being inspired by you,your studies,reports and comments all these 3 years,I with my absolute little knowledge got into Chianti region of Tuscany and had an enormous experience of the core of Italian wine industry.Not only their skill,heritage and immense hard work but also had a very close look into their warmth and passion on wines.Additionally, what startled me was their acute sense of hospitality,batter no eye lid acceptance and assistance exhibited to me by individuals,organizations and producers involved in the wine industry.This report of Subhash takes me to a higher height of understanding,describing and reporting. My 3rd trip to Italian wine industry starting 4th April shall be enormously helped by the article.Regards,Subhash.

Posted @ March 21, 2013 10:44


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