Archive for the ‘Tuscany’Category

Biserno wines burnish the potential of Cabernet Franc

Marchese Lodovico Antinori at Tenuta di Biserno wine dinner in Boston.

As a young man, the Marchese Lodovico Antinori (above) helped revolutionize Italian winemaking with his Bordeaux-blend powerhouse wines from Ornellaia. But he had more surprises in store. After selling Ornellaia, he became intrigued about the potential for Cabernet Franc in the region around Bolghieri. So he acquired a 99-year lease on land that had been growing wheat and olives in nearby Bibbona. Here, he and his brother Piero, established the Tenuta di Biserno estate (www.biserno.it/tenuta-di-biserno/).

The unique microclimate and mixture of clay and stony soils at the property let the brothers concentrate on different Bordeaux varietals than Lodovico had at Ornellaia. Between 2001 and 2005, the Tenuta di Biserno planted more than 120 acres. Cabernet Franc was the principal grape, but more than 10 percent of the vineyards contained Petit Verdot, the often silent sister of the Bordeaux grape family. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon—usually the dominant grapes in Bordeaux blends—made up the rest.

Patricia Harris and Lodovico Antinori discuss Tenuta di Biserno wines.

“My daughter Sophia was was born in 1999,” Lodovico Antinori explained last week at a dinner in Boston. “For my last project, I wanted her to have a high quality estate that she could continue.” We guess that people who hail from illustrious wine families think in generations and centuries. As Sophia enters college in England, Tenuta di Biserno is also maturing. It already ranks as one of the most remarkable wine estates in Tuscany, even though the wines are identified by only as Indicazione Geografica Tipica di Toscana, or “guaranteed Tuscan wine.” Tenuta di Biserno wines have too high a percentage of Cabernet Franc to be sold as Bolghieri DOC. But the Marchese is undaunted. The Biserno wines, he believes (and we concur) prove the potential of the Cabernet Franc grape to produce not just good wine, but great wine. As the years pass, Tenuta di Biserno could become one of the most remarkable producers in Italy.

Steak dinner at Grill 23 Tenuta di Biserno dinner.This wine dinner at Grill 23, one of Boston’s most illustrious steak houses, was a showcase for the winery. A classic three-course steak dinner paired 2012 and 2014 selections of Pino di Biserno with a Caesar salad, 2010 and 2012 selections of Biserno with a spectacular boneless ribeye, and the rare Lodovico 2011 with a selection of French, Swiss, and Italian cheeses. All the wines were opened four to five hours before dinner began. The Marchese hosted the dinner and introduced the wines as representatives from Kobrand, his importer and distributor, poured.

Pino di Biserno


Pino di Biserno Typically made from grapes from younger vines, Pino di Biserno is designed to be accessible and ready to drink when still young. The differences between the 2012 and 2014 were fascinating. The younger version was a typical Biserno blend with Cabernet Franc and Merlot taking the lead on the nose and the palate respectively. Big and juicy with intense blackcurrant and black cherry notes in the nose and warm spice flavors in the mouth, it is a model of accessibility. Of the two, the 2012 is more elegant and velvety than the 2014. It has just a hint of slightly green Cabernet Franc on the back of the palate. The Marchese noted that some of the top grapes that might have gone into Biserno were reserved for the Pino in 2012 to ensure that it would be a good vintage. Delicious with the pungent anchovy of the salad, it would be equally special with dark chocolate. List price at release is around $85.

Biserno


Biserno bottleThe flagship wine of the estate, Biserno is produced with grapes hand-selected on the sorting tables for optimal ripeness. It is a wine made principally from Cabernet Franc with varying degrees of the other Bordeaux grapes in the blend. Merlot is always present for a juicy body, and Cabernet Sauvignon content varies from year to year. Color in the glass is a deep ruby red. Once the wine opens up, the nose is dominated by blackberries, anise, and the toasty notes of freshly ground coffee. Tannins are considerable but well balanced and mature, with a strong backbone provided by ripe Petit Verdot. The 2010 was a classic Bordeaux-style wine from a nice, sunny year, and it is a perfectly balanced and powerful wine. The 2012 is already the more interesting wine with tremendous complexity from a very stressful early growing season with scant rain. Delicious with food, it’s also a wine for contemplative sipping. List price at release is around $180.

Lodovico


Lodovico from Tenuta di BisernoWith only about 6,000 bottles per vintage, Lodovico is the jewel of the Biserno estate. It is made entirely from Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot from a single small individual parcel—and only in years with optimal harvest. The 2011 Lodovico in current release comes from a spectacular season that concluded with a warm and dry September. Cabernet Franc makes up 90 percent of the blend, and the wine is evidence that this parent of Cabernet Sauvignon can hold its own with its more prestigious offspring. In the Upper Maremma, Cabernet Franc ripens more completely than it does in Bordeaux, producing not only fully ripe sugars but also optimally ripe tannins. In the right hands, it produces great wines of resonant power and elegant sophistication. For the record, Tenuta di Biserno’s winemaker is Helena Lindberg, while Lodovico’s long-time collaborator, Michel Rolland, serves as consultant.

This Lodovico 2011 reminds us of a champion thoroughbred racehorse. It is silky and muscular, with beautiful deep violet tones in the glass. It possesses striking grace, poise, and barely restrained power. The tannin structure is very refined, letting the blackcurrant and spice notes come forward in lockstep. The finish goes on forever. The 2011, the Marchese says, finally represents the maturity of the vineyard. It is a great wine with a long, long future. List price for the 2011 is $500.

09

06 2017

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano re-emphasizes terroir

bottle top of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Judging by the wines from the nine producers who visited Boston, Montepulciano winemakers have returned to native Tuscan blending grapes. DOCG rules permit up to 30 percent non-Sangiovese grapes in Vino Nobile. In truth, more than half the wines I tasted were more than 90 percent Sangiovese. And those producers blending in other grapes have largely stopped using Merlot. Instead, they opt for Canaiolo (which softens the acidity of Sangiovese), Colorino (which provides color and structure), and Mammolo (which gives a velvety violet note).

Since each producer presented three to five wines between the technical tasting and a dinner, my full tasting notes would be overkill here. Suffice it to say that Montepulciano superstars Boscarelli (poderiboscarelli.com), Dei (cantinedei.com), and Poliziano (www.carlettipoliziano.com)—along with Antinori-owned La Braccesca—continue to define modern Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Each presented a Rosso di Montepulciano with the spicy, fresh strawberry notes of young, unoaked Sangiovese, a voluptuous Vino Nobile with overtones of prunes and mulberries, and a muscular Riserva that added tobacco and leather notes to the full fruit.

But two less heralded producers surprised me with wines that showed greater fruit concentration and sharply defined flavor profiles that seemed to vault them into another category altogether.

Looking over Montemercurio vineyards to Montepulciano

Montemercurio fulfills founder’s vision

Operated by three young Anselmi brothers (aged 28, 30, and 33), Montemercurio (montemercurio.com) sits in the northern sector of the region. The aerial view above looks back toward town over the winery’s vineyards. It is the model of romantic Tuscan wine country. The first three hectares of vineyards were planted by grandfather Damo in the early 1960s, and they represent a field blend of mostly Sangiovese with some other Tuscan grapes (including a bit of Barbera). Another seven hectares have been added in the decades since, including some vineyards of white varietals for making Vin Santo.

Damo Anselmi passed on after the harvest in 2006. The family established the winery the following year and named its flagship wine after the founder. It is treated as an elite wine from the outset. The oldest vineyards are hand-picked, and destemmed and sorted by hand before being placed in small open vats for spontaneous fermentation. The skins remain for a minimum of 18 days to a maximum of 28 days, depending on the harvest. Racked off the skins, the wine is transferred to 1,000 liter Slavonian oak casks for two years. It is coarsely filtered but not clarified before bottling. It continues to age at least a year in bottle before release.

At about $50 per bottle, this wine is a steal. The nose explodes with intense blackberry and blackcurrant aromas and just a hint of violets. More full-bodied than many Sangiovese wines, it has a luscious structure with fully ripe tannins. Open early to let it breathe, and set out a plate of roast boar.

Starting last fall, Montemercurio also makes a stupendous olive oil—grassy and brassy with just a touch of bitterness like a good southern Spanish oil.

Salcheto sets sustainability benchmark

Those clouds lying on the dormant winter vineyards of Salcheto (salcheto.it) provide the blanket of moisture that the tuff-clay soil holds for the growing season. For the rest of the year, the climate is dry and well-ventilated. Salcheto adds no sulfites during vinification and the entire operation has been biodynamic since 2009. (It is not Demeter-certified, but is one of a dozen Montepulciano producers certified as organic.) Salcheto takes sustainability two important steps further. It generates all its own power for the winer, and recycles and manages its own water supply.

Salcheto is relatively young. It was founded in 1984 and produced its first wine in 1990. Since 2003, it has been consolidated under the multinational Lavinia corporation but is still operated by former owner Michele Manelli, who has made the wines since 1997. The capital injection helped create a strikingly elegant winery and turned the 13th century farmhouse on the estate into a nine-bedroom B&B.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Salco from SalchetoAll that is just window dressing. The real story is the wine. Salcheto’s basic red, a Rosso di Montepulciano called “Obvius,” is a big, brash young wine. It is saucy and tart and full of fruit. Salcheto boasts that it is made with fruit and nothing else—no added yeasts or even water. It’s fermented in steel and sold after months in the bottle. It shows what biodynamic farming can accomplish with the grape—and it commands a high price for Rosso, about $13.

Salco sets a high standard

Salcheto tends to over-ripen its Sangiovese, even partially drying part of the harvest. They don’t take the practice to an extreme, so the wines have none of the cooked grape caramel of Amarone, for example. But the flavors, sugars, and acidity are all concentrated in the Vino Nobile wines. My favorite is made with grapes selected from the Salco vineyard, which is planted in an early-ripening clone. (The vines are tied up with willow branches. “Salice” in Italian, the willow is “Salco” in the local dialect.) Listing around $35 but projecting a cellar life of 12-15 years, this is a must for any serious lover of Sangiovese. The nose is full of fresh herbs, mint, and wildflowers. The taste is full-bodied fruit with overtones of blueberries and black raspberries. The finish is smooth and elegant.

Frescobaldi celebrates its Tuscan estates

Lamberto Frescobaldi
There’s poetry in the Frescobaldi soul, and I don’t just write that because I like so many of the family’s wines. Back in the 13th century, poet Dino Frescobaldi helped his exiled friend Dante Alighieri recover the first seven books of the Divine Comedy, enabling him to complete one of the great masterpieces of world literature. About that same time, the Frescobaldi family also started to focus on making wine in the Tuscan countryside. A couple of years ago, Lamberto Frescobaldi took over the leadership of the family business, and since he has a son at college in Rhode Island, the chief often passes through Boston. When he was here in March, we had a chance to sit down and taste some current releases and talk about new directions he’s taking the company.

Lamberto is a businessman with the soul of a poet and the skills of a winemaker. Since he took the helm, the Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi has quietly pivoted from emphasizing the 700 years of winemaking experience behind the entire portfolio to playing up the character of the six individual Tuscan estates that are part of the Frescobaldi Toscano branch of the family company. (They also produce Super Tuscans called Masseto and Ornallaia in Bolghieri, as well as Attems pinot grigios and sauvignon blancs in the sandy eastern hills of Friuli.)
Pomino Benefizio Riserva Frescobaldi The newest bottlings from the Tuscan vineyards play up the vineyard name over the Frescobaldi moniker.

Since we were conversing as well as tasting, we kept to just four bottles. The first was my favorite Italian chardonnay, Pomino Benefizio Riserva 2013. The Pomino estate in the northeast corner of Tuscany is high in the hills. The family has been growing chardonnay here since 1855, first winning a gold medal at the Paris Exhibition in 1878. Since 1973, the estate has been making this barrel-fermented white from a single vineyard at 700 meters. For an Italian wine, it’s very Burgundian—rich and luscious with very gentle French oak. It is a truly voluptuous white that makes a perfect pairing with intensely flavored fish, strong aged cheese, and light veal dishes. It retails around $43.

Frescobaldi Montesodi Although Castelo di Nipozzano is well within the Chianti district, the Montesodi 2012 wine is technically a Tuscan IGT because it is made from nothing but Sangiovese grown in the limestone and clay soil of the Montesodi vineyard at 400 meters. Starting with the 2012 vintage, the wine spends 18 months aging in large (30hl) French and Austrian oak casks. This bottle had been opened about two hours before we sat down, so the aeration had taken the edge off its young tannins without taking anything away from the complex nose. This is possibly the purest example of northern Tuscan sangiovese on the market. It displays strong notes of tart cherries, brick, and a bit of oregano and thyme. Although usually drunk at a meal with red meats, Montesodi would be spectacular with roast chicken–or even better, roast duck or pheasant. Retail is about $43.

Frescobaldi Giramonte 2012 Tenuta de Castiglioni is the oldest of the Frescobaldi estates, but the impressive Giramonte cru—a merlot wine with some sangiovese—has only been made since 1999. It’s a synthesis of flavors that the Frescobaldi winemakers pioneered when they started planting Bordeaux varietals in Tuscany in the 1850s. When I drink Giramonte, I feel like I’m getting both the full lushness of a ripe merlot (a hint of mint and mushroom) with the spice and leather of good sangiovese. We drank an old-style Giramonte 2009, which had an 88 percent merlot content. Lamberto explained that they pick the merlot in three stages, starting when it has only 10-10.5 degrees of sugar. The remaining grapes are allowed to mature more slowly. It’s a silky, complicated red that drinks nicely with red meats—or after-dinner philosophy. The 2009 is still in the market at around $108-$120, though the 2012 is available at about the same price.

Frescobaldi Mormoreto 2012 We finally capped off our tasting with Mormoreto, a Bordeaux-style blend from the Nipozzano estate. The Mormoreto vineyard was planted in 1976 with Frescobaldi vines of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, and petit verdot first established here in the 1850s. The vineyard is showing great maturity, and the 2012 is truly opulent—with a strong hint of black cherries, blackberries, and respberries. The scorching heat of the 2012 summer was clearly well-balanced by cool nights, as the wine has intense aromatics. The wine spent two years in small oak casks before bottling, and vanilla notes are still pronounced until it’s well-aerated. A large, full wine with all the chest-beating power of a Bordeaux blend, Mormoreto has a lot more finesse than many of Super Tuscans. I know by experience that the elegance becomes more pronounced after a few extra years of cellaring. Retail is around $65.

16

04 2016

Last taste of summer in Tuscany

burrata tomato I just returned from touring vineyards in the Morellino di Scansano DOCG district in southwest Tuscany, and once in a while I had to stop to eat. One of the most memorable meals was at Trattoria Verdiana (Ponticello di Montemerano on the road between Scansano and Montemerano, tel: [011-34] 0564-602-576). It’s open nightly except Wednesday, and uses the produce from a 10,000 square meter garden as the basis for the menu. There, as here in New England, the growing season is coming to a close. So I was surprised and delighted when the amuse-bouche pictured above appeared in front of me. It’s a grape tomato (upside down) cut in half, filled with a dab of creamy burrata and a tiny basil leaf. The whole composition was then drizzled in a great local olive oil. It summed up summer in a bite.

16

10 2013
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