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Tuscany Taste 2015: Carmignano- Father of Super Tuscan style wines

Posted: Thursday, 05 March 2015 12:08

Tuscany Taste 2015: Carmignano- Father of Super Tuscan style wines

March 05: The term Super Tuscan for one style of Tuscan wines was coined half a century ago, implying the use of foreign grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and the use of oak barriques, making Carmignano as the father of Super Tuscans according to the producers of this zone, a couple of whom I visited during my recent trip to Tuscany tasting wines from different appellations, writes Subhash Arora

Click For Large ViewIn XVI century Caterine de Medici married Enrico II king of France. During this period she imported and planted the cabernet grapes in Carmignano area. The historical name of Cabernet in Carmignano was "Uva Francesca’’ for the French origin of the grapes. The mix with Sangiovese and Cabernet was  prevalent even before the Cosimo III Bando ( a Decree by the ruling Medici Duke) was declared on 24th September 1716. Carmignano is therefore, the father of super Tuscan style,’ says Fabrizio Pratesi, President of the Consorzio of Carmignano with whom I spent a lot of time visiting his Pratesi winery and learning about Carmignano wines and the laws over dinner at the De Delfina Restaurant in Altisimo later in the evening.

According to information given to me in the Pomino winery of Marchesi Frescobaldi a couple of years ago and disseminated in delWine subsequently, 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.

The historical Carmignano

Click For Large ViewHistorically, Carmignano was declared through a BANDO (Decree) as one of the four areas to grow Tuscan vines – Pomino, Chianti, Carmignano and Val d’Arno Sopra in 1716 by the Grand Duke, a member of the then ruling Medici family. It had further defined the sub-zones like the wall of Barco Reale around River Furba (Dal Muro del Barco Reale presso Fiume Furba). Medici Carmignano doc was thus, ostensibly the first recognised appellation of the world. Due to the deteriorating economy post-war it was merged in 1930 with Chianti Montalbano DOC- Carmignano is on the slopes and foothills of the Montalbano Mountain.  In 1975, the Carmignano doc was once again given its independent recognition, followed by the docg in 1990 (w.e.f 1988). Some producers like Altisimo still produce Chianti Montalbano docg wines along with Carmignano docg.

I was able to visit the area finally last month on February 13, a day before the current edition of Tuscany Taste 2015, organised under the aegis of Toscana Promozione, started. This event included the showcasing of all the Consortiums of Tuscan wine producers, including Carmignano which for years sold its wines as Chianti but was able to form a separate docg zone now known as Carmignano docg.

Quest for Carmignano

Click For Large ViewMy desire to visit Carmignano was aroused many years ago by a Facebook Friend Enrico Pierazzuoli  who owns and runs La Farnete-a small winery and agriturismo in Carmignano with his brother Dario. Every year when I visited Florence for Chianti Classico Tasting, he would invite me to check out wines from Carmignano as well, claiming they were age-worthy and complex wines as good as my favourite Chianti Classico, coaxing me to visit the Carmignano stand at Vinitaly.

Concurrently, I had been approached in 2012 by Filippo Contini Bonacossi, courtesy the Italian embassy in Delhi, showing interest and requesting me to visit his family winery Tenuta Capezzana in Carmignano. Last year the Tuscany Tasting was expanded and besides participating in Buy Wine, this Consorzio was one of the several other Tuscan Associations that joined the one - day extended programme. I tasted all their wines and found substance in Enrico’s logic, deciding to make a visit soonest.

The catalyst was the lollypop given by Filippo’s sister Beatrice (Bea) Contini this year. She not only offered to drive me to Carmignano but also promised a vertical tasting that would include a 1931 Villa di Capezzana!! Could a Chianti-like wine survive from 1931??!! That would certainly evidence the age-ability of the wines, I figured and made up my mind to visit the zone in the morning of my arrival.

Tenuta di Capezzana

Located in the heart of Carmignano-30 kms North West of Florence, Capezzana is perhaps the biggest winery out of a total of 14 total wineries, 11 of which are the members of the Consortium of the docg Carmignano wines: Ambra, Artimino, Castelvecchio, Colline San Biagio, Capezzana, La Borriana, Le Farnete, Podere Allocco, Piaggia, Pratesi and Sassolo are the Carmignano Eleven as far as the Consorzio is concerned; this is perhaps the smallest DOCG appellation in Italy! The winery has been with the Contini Bonacossi family since the 1920s and being run by the siblings including Bea, Vittorio and Filippo.

Capezzana is a traditional style producer with annual sales of about 40,000 cases out of which 60% are exported to the USA, Japan,  Singapore, Hong Kong, Brazil, Canada, UK, Russia, Spain and India where FinewinesnMore has been importing their entry level Barco Real and Villa di Capezzana labels since 2013, thanks to the first visit of Craig Wedge 3 years ago under the Buy Wine programme when he met her niece and initiated the dialogue.

Click For Large ViewThe winery has 90 hA of land and some of the vineyards are 70 years old. Her father went to Chateau Lafite in 1975-76 to learn how they are recorking their long aging wines, says Bea. 60% of the crops are Sangiovese, 20% are Cabernet Sauvignon which does extremely well here. Balance is split into Trebbiano, Merlot, Syrah, and Canaiolo. They also make delicious Vin Santo with Trebbiano drying on the straw mats. The family has been working towards organic farming standards and expects to be officially organic in 2015.

We had a vertical tasting of the following wines of Villa di Capezzana which are generally 80% Sangiovese and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, the typical blend for the Carmignano doc wines.

Villa di Capezzana 2011- This wine will be released in the market this month only. It was characterised as a ruby red colour highly perfumed wine with red cherries and slight touch of balsamic. Although 2011 was a tough vintage it is an elegant wine with good balance and is crisp with high acidity. Alc 14.5%   Rating 89/100

Villa di Capezzana 2006- Slightly jammy aromas, black fruit and notes of licorice, 14% alc, better mouthfeel and fuller on the mouth, more powerful wine of different style- 91/100

Villa di Capezzana 1998-This was also a hot vintage and harvest was a couple of weeks earlier. Elegant, homogenous, long, slightly balsamic notes, good acidity, eucalyptus notes. Rating  91/100

Earlier vintages that we tasted had only 65-80% of Sangiovese, 10-15% of Cabernet, 5% Canaiolo and  and the balance 10% being the other allowed red varieties. It also appears that the bigger 25-40 hL oak barrels were used earlier with 24-30 months aging whereas in the newer vintages of 1998 and later, the 350 liter tonneaux are being used with 12-14 months of wood ageing.

Villa di Capezzana 1988- wine from a very dry vintage, it was a balanced, lively and very dry wine very low number 93/100

Villa di Capezzana 1979- balsamic notes, eucalyptus, aromas of old furniture made with wood, herbal notes. The wine is still quite vibrant. The wine would not go well with steaks as younger wines like 1998 but with matured cheeses, 95/100

Villa di Capezzana 1931- excellent condition, brilliant, young and vivacious. Flavour of Red cherries, balsamic, beeswax, 94/100

Lunch with more wines

Click For Large ViewOf course at the magnificent Lunch I could enjoy more of their wines; Trebbiano made from special clone and fermented in barrique. I really enjoyed Ghiaie della Furba IGT Toscana Rosso di Toscana,  launched by her father Ugo Contini Bonacossi in ’79. Made originally as Bordeaux blend, it has now some Syrah in it. Trefiano Riserva is another special Carmignano docg wine introduced by the winemaker brother Vittorio in the Trefiano estate nearby. The 2008 was excellent, full flavoured with silky tannins, well-structured and also with a long finish. The traditional end to the lunch was with Vin Santo di Carmignano 2008 Click For Large Viewdoc – very perfumed, dark amber wine with honey notes and zingy acidity and freshness on the palate.

Pratesi Winery

Click For Large ViewCapezzana is one of the biggest wineries which are historical and with decades of history-an interesting contrast with the boutique, newer winery owned by Fabrizio Pratesi, who is also currently the President of the Carmignano Consortium.  But as Fabrizio exclaims the Pratesi is in fact the fifth generation winemaker with his Great grandfather of his father buying this land in 1875 in La Locco, a very small locality having only 6-7 houses and selling wine in bulk.

Pratesi produces 10,000 cases of Carmignano docg and Il Circo Rosso docg, Barco Reale di Carmignano doc. He started in 2001, the Bordeaux Blended IGT wine Carmione highlighting the Cabernet Sauvignon which is 50% of the blend with Merlot being the second constituent at 40%, the balance 10% being Cabernet Franc.

Click For Large ViewThe success of a Super Tuscan from this area is evidenced in this wine introduced in 2001. It has already become an international success and joined the group of elites as a part of Wine Enthusiast Top 100 list, says Fabrizio. He is also proud of the fact that one local artist who used to come and quietly buy wines from him is so much in love with his wines that he offered to draw exclusive paintings that could then be used as labels as a barter. These labels are contemporary in style and make the bottles very attractive, especially for international markets.

Fabrizio started with 3000 bottles of Carmignano doc in 1983. In 1997 Fabrizio started expanding and built a new cellar and planted a vineyard too. In 1998, the production of the second wine, Barco Reale doc was started. In 2001 was the third label -Carmione igt Rosso Toscana. In  2006 he started with his 4th label – a Riserva with same blend as Carmignano -Il Circo Rosso dog Riserva Rosso (1990-became docg) with 70% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet and 10% Merlot-a rich, fragrant structured wine with silky tannins and long length.

Click For Large ViewHe has 8hA of his own vineyards and rents another 6hA for the production which is primarily Barco Reale (40,000 bottles) and Carmignano DOCG (20,000). He exports 50% of his production, rest is consumed within Italy.

To contact Pratesi, write to

Carmignano is a very small but historical wine production zone of Tuscany with a total of 1 million bottles of doc/docg wines out of which 200-250,000 are produced by Capezzana. Producers here believe strongly that Carmignano is the father of super Tuscans and that Cabernet has been a tradition here. They even consider Cabernet as autochthonous variety now. With the background and the diversity of wines this small zone has to offer, it is worth looking at these wines in one’s portfolio of Tuscan wines.

Subhash Arora

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Tags: Super Tuscan, Tuscan wines, Carmignan, Fabrizio Pratesi, Consorzio of Carmignano, Sassicaia, Tignanello , Vittorio Albizi, BANDO, Tuscany Taste 2015, Toscana Promozione, Capezzana, Villa di Capezzana, Tuscany


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