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Taste of Tuscany Wines

Posted: Wednesday, 05 June 2013 10:43

Taste of Tuscany Wines

June 05: Tuscany is on top of the wish-list of any Indian who loves to visit Italy, not only for its beautiful churches, palaces and edifices, flower-covered villas, rolling hills, fascinating history and culture but also gourmet food and wines that compete with the best in Italy and are world famous, writes Subhash for UpperCrust, the food, wine and goodlife magazine from Mumbai taking its readers through a wine journey looking beyond the bars and restaurants

Click For Large ViewWhen you think of wines from Tuscany, the mind races to Sassicaia, Solaia, Ornellaia and Brunello as brands. You will also feel you are in an area that produces cheap Chiantis sold in bottles with straw in the 1960s. But I also love top-ended Chianti Classico wines and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Tuscany, known for its indigenous grape varieties like Sangiovese, has also developed international grape varieties bringing out international flavours. Some of these wines have developed a stellar reputation. Whereas the first three wines mentioned above are made primarily with international grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blended with the indigenous Sangiovese grapes, majority of Tuscany focuses on wines made from a majority of indigenous grapes. Brunello (di Montalcino) is the top ended wine produced in Montalcino, using the Sangiovese grape known as Brunello. Chianti Classico and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, docg wines all, are produced from a minimum of 80% and 70% Sangiovese respectively.

There is nothing as exciting and enjoyable as tasting with small producers who are proud and passionate and openly share their expertise with wine aficionados. I have been privileged to be invited to a ‘trinity’ of these tastings annually at three venues to taste hundreds of wines from producers with an opportunity to interact with them and visit a few vineyards and wineries, as I did in February this year.

Tuscan Tasting Marathon

This is how I describe this tasting opportunity. There is a hectic programme for five days organised jointly by the respective consortia for a group of specialists across the globe. It started in Florence with Chianti Classico Collection where Chianti Classico wines from participating producers are poured in privacy with an option to taste with producers in another hall. The two-day event was followed by a similar one-day Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The ‘marathon’ culminated at Montalcino, where the king of Tuscan wines, Brunello di Montalcino was showcased for two days at Benvenuto Brunello following a similar pattern.

Tuscan wines are susceptible to variation in the weather every season, so the Vintage is important for the quality and wine characteristics. Every February the vintage to be released is tasted at an event called Anteprima. Tuscan docg wines have storage specifications and restrictions for release, for the producer, Brunello being aged for over 4 years before release.

Tasting Tuscany in three different cities

There were over 250 wines to taste-beautifully displayed, numbered and served individually. It is impossible to taste all but some taste over a hundred; I limit my tasting to about 60 wines a day. There are long dinners where one tastes and drinks over a dozen more! The tasting focused on the recently released 2011 vintage although there were wines available as far back as 2004 and barrel samples of 2012 to gauge the current vintage. 167 producers stood behind a table pouring their 2011s.This is my idea of heaven!

Click For Large ViewMontepulciano has a beautiful Fortress on the top of the city, with a magnificent view of the city. It has been refurbished and used for the annual tasting. In the afternoon I visited a winery and agriturismo, but not before a vertical tasting of 3 vintages of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, including a 1979. We tasted the recently released 2010 vintage from about 40 producers. A coach ride to Montalcino and the next two days we tasted 2008 vintage of the top Tuscan wine, Brunello from 135 producers at ‘Benvenuto’.

Although every wine connoisseur may not have an opportunity to taste 500 Tuscan wines in 5 days, there are other options while in Tuscany besides the restaurants:

Tasting at Agriturismos

One of the best ways to taste Tuscany is by staying at agriturismo (B&B places located on the vineyards). Owned by the producers, they are economical and one can feel the wine in the atmosphere. You may meet the producer who would share a glass of his wine in a convivial atmosphere. I visited Cavalierino, an organic winery and farm near Montepulciano, where not only is the wine organic, but the owner Aurelio Busani raises cattle and makes and sells food products made organically in the farm. He has a state-of-the-art winery and modern apartments in a complex destroyed partially by the German bombers during the War but now refurbished.

Tasting in the Wineries

Although you can visit the wineries staying at an agriturismo, you can arrange a visit to most Tuscan wineries; they are geared with staff trained to welcome visitors. One of the wineries I visited in Fiesole was Bibi Graetz, a small producer who also exports to India. He is a garagista fast becoming an international icon. Fiesole is a beautiful, hilly suburb of Florence, on the wish list for every visitor-even at the risk of not wanting to leave; several famous poets, painters and artists in the past came to visit but never went back. Bibi is also a painter who studied art in the Art Academy of Florence; his father is a sculptor. He designs labels from his own paintings.

He picked me up from Fiesole and drove me to the small castle his grandfather had bought on the hillside with a magnificent view of Florence. It doubles up as his winery and residence, with a city-facing portion rented out for wedding receptions and parties. He started out producing his own wines in 2000 with Testamatta, using Sangiovese grapes from 75-year old vines. He received rave reviews from Japanese journalists who proclaimed it as the future Petrús, making it extremely popular. At $100 a bottle it is expensive but has fine power of expression, good balance with immense aging potential.

Marchesi di Frescobaldi is a highly respected name in Italy and the wines sell well in India. Belonging to the nobility, Leonardo Frescobaldi heads the company with responsibilities divided amongst family members. It owns seven wine estates–Castello di Nipozzano and Tenuta di Castiglioni are extremely popular with tourists. Thanks to Leonardo’s magnanimous offer to personally show me around, I decided to visit Pomino, Castel Giocondo and Luce delle Vite (making Super-Tuscan wines) as well. He makes good quality full-flavoured, concentrated Chianti wines in large numbers.

If I were to rate his passion for one wine, Mormoreto would be closest to Leonardo’s heart. We met at the Mormoreto vineyards after my visit to Pomino where I had tasted their Burgundian style of Chardonnay wines. A part of the Castello di Nipozzano estate, it offers a beautiful view of the vineyards. ‘Marchese’ says 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 birth of Super Tuscans. The wine tasted better when he told me that the 2008 vintage had secured a second place in a blind competition of six top wines where Bordeaux First Growth costing over ten times as much, won the top honours.

I also visited Castel Giocondo winery in Montalcino as Leonardo drove in from Florence to taste different vintages of Brunello di Montalcino. We also tasted Super Tuscan wines from the neighbouring estate Luce and visited the almost ready state-of-the art winery. Luce was a joint project with Robert Mondavi earlier but bought back after Mondavi was sold to Constellation in 2004.

Click For Large ViewAngelo Gaja is the prince of Piedmont who put Barbaresco on the world map. His name evokes emotional response as an iconic, artisan producer of top class wines. He also owns two wineries in Tuscany-one of them in Montalcino, Pieve di Santa Restituta. His daughter Gaia Gaja is also a good friend who is always there during the Benvenuto Brunello which I attend regularly. We tasted six superb Brunellos with her over lunch. Made from Brunello grapes (a clone of Sangiovese) from single vineyards, thus maintaining their individual personality, these wines are elegant, balanced and have an excellent structure. These collectible wines should age for 20-30 years or more.

Tasting at Vinitaly

Tasting at a wine show like Vinitaly has no parallel. The atmosphere is eclectic with diverse wines from different regions and countries available for tasting. The Tuscan pavilion alone can keep you busy and tipsy with most producers willing to uncork even their special bottles for the right-profiled persons. The stands are attractively designed; competing to draw attention of visitors who have a vast choice of 9 such pavilions! This is a time to visit old friends and taste with them. It’s a ritual to taste when you meet them-imagine them tasting with every client they meet! Of course, they spit out every drop of what they sip.

Consortiums like Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Montalcino, present wines of their members to the visiting public. You can taste as many as you like in complete privacy. Hand over your preference to the sommelier assigned to your table and voila - the fun begins. But remember always to spit out. Even when you do, a few drops normally manage to go inside. At the end of the day you could be floating even with sipping and spitting.

Click For Large ViewOne needs to make appointments for such tastings-you might manage a time slot at the Show but it is advisable to confirm before Vinitaly begins. There are also guided tastings which are educational and help you learn about wine with experts. I did manage to taste a few Chianti Classicos and my favourite Brunellos.

My advice to budding wine connoisseurs - you must visit Vinitaly at least once in your lifetime. If you are smart, you could get the daily entrance charges of €50 waived off. But don’t be disappointed if no hotels are available within 30 kms. of Verona, seat of Vinitaly.

Subhash Arora




Natan Says:

Its just not Brunello...its everything from Italian to French to high end US wines...and few seem to get that it will be a while bofere things return to even a level near where we were...eventually wine lovers will "inch" up the price ladder but those wonderful brunellos very well might be truly aged by that point..for those who tell you that by the end of next year things will be better kindly suggest for them to take another course in economics. Many wine producers around the whole will need to take a new approach (for better or for worse).

Posted @ June 24, 2013 13:57


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