Christmas treats – Brunello and Chianti

The swedish christmas dinner on Christmas Eve is a staunchly traditional meal with meatballs, sill (pickled herring), gravad lax and a lot of other must haves. And the traditional beverage is christmas beer (winter ales and lagers) and snaps.

And to be honest – that is not my cup of tea. So when Christmas Day arrived with lamb and a creamy potato gratin – I was more than happy to uncork two fantastic wines from central Italy – a magnum of Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva 1998 (my own) and a La Fiorita Brunello di Montalcino 2001 (courtesy of my sister-in-laws husband).

And what a relief it was to find them both in mint condition. Both wines similar and at the same time different.

The 1998 was the second vintage of Castello di Brolio after the Ricasoli-family restored this classic estate to it’s former glory. The wine was an effort to once again put Chianti Classico in focus after that the so called “super tuscans” had dominated the scene under most part of the 1980s and 1990s. But with the new legislation in place (1996) it was possible to do a Chianti Classico of the best local and interanational grapes (a minimum of 80 percent sangiovese and up to 20 percent of other red varieties like Canaiolo, Colorino, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot).

The Castello di Brolio 1998 is made with 100 percent sangiovese (the 97 and 98 were both monovarietals – but that was replaced with 10 years of experimentation and the 2007 was a blend of 80 percent sangiovese and 10 percent each of cabernet sauvignon and merlot).

The colour is still deep bordeaux-red with an orange maturity rim. The nose wonderfully opulent with dried fruits, cherries, spices and a hint of leather, almonds and chocolate. Sligthly oxidized complexity. In the mouth it feels round and mellow with a lovely fruit intensity and elements of cherries, dried fruits and herbs. The finish long and well balanced. Probably at it’s peak with a some tannins giving it a delicious lift. 

The Fattoria La Fiorita-estate is a new acquaintance – at least for me. It’s run by a well known oenologist, Roberto Cipresso, in Castelnuovo dell’Abate. The 2001 was of course a wonderful vintage that delivered classic wines. And the La Fiorita Riserva 2001 is no exception.

The colour lighter than the Castello di Brolio – more brick/orange red. The nose is quite similar but juicier and a bit more perfumed with cherries, dried fruits, leather and nuts (almonds). The taste is also quite mellow (although it is two years younger than the Brolio-wine) and fruit-driven with cherries, leather, herbs and chocolate. The finish long, lingering and wonderful with a sligthly oxidized tone that gives that extra compelxity.

Both wines were superb with the lamb!

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Fontodi’s Vigna del Sorbo Riserva 2007

In my last postI wrote about Ornellaia and Sassicaia. But it was not any of those two giants that impressed me the most at that tasting last week. At least not when both price and quality are considered.

Instead it was another iconic and “modern” favorite among tuscanys top reds that caught my attention. Fontodi’s Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo. Fontodi was among the first to make a 100 percent sangiovese when most Chianti still were diluted with a percentage of white grapes and the wine law even forbid the production of a sangiovese varietal.

That wine, Flaccianello della Pieve, caused quite a stir back in the 80s and 90s and still is one of Tuscanys best. Fontodis other cru Vigna del Sorbo made as a blend of sangiovese and cabernet (the cabernet was grafted on existing canaiolo and trebbiano rootstocks in the 70s) is no less impressive. Made from 90 percent sangiovese and 10 percent cabernet. And the wine usually spends som 16 to 24 months in french oak barriques (50 percent new).

And the 2007 is awesome. Still a bit closed and young but it will evolve to something great. The color is dark red and dense. On the nose I find dark cherries, cocoa powder, herbs, oak, nuts and leather. On the palate it hits us with a medium bodied, very concentrated taste of dark cherries, oak, tobacco and herbs. I also find elements of leather and vanilla. The aftertaste is long with firm tannins. Cellar for 3-5 years! 4,5/5 points.

Clash of the Titans – Ornellaia vs Sassicaia

Earlier this year I was at a tasting that in theory pitted Ornellaia against Sassicaia. 😉 I had tasted Ornellaia 2007 a few months earlier and were contemplating Sassicaia 2007 in the glass before me (as well as Le Serre Nouve dell’Ornellia and Guidalberto). And even though the two cult wines cost about the same Orneallia felt far better than it’s neigbhour.

Now I’m back after another tasting that really had the two alongside each other. And once again Tenuta dell’Ornellaia outshines Tenuta San Guido not only by a small fraction – in fact I felt that even Ornellaias second wine (at less than half the price) was at par with or even better than Sassicaia. How could that be?

Sassicaia is by birthright the firstSuper Tuscan (you can hate it or love it – but for me the “name” or designation signifies an expermentation outside the old rigid DOC-rules that not just led to better wines but also started the Italian wine revolution). The whole thing of course grew out of proportion as american consumers wanted nothing but those superwines that Robert Parker and other influential wine writers gave raving (crazy?) reviews. It even went so far that producers had to de-classify their wine in order to be able to sell them.

But Sassicaia was first. It is a blend of mostly cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. The vineyards in Bolgheri were allegedly planted with cuttings from Château Lafite (but look at the commentary here below!). The first wine was produced in 1948 but the first commercial release came first 20 years later in 1968. Until then the wine was for private consumption. But soon after it’s public release it took some rather important wine critics by storm and more and more people started to realize how good the wines from the Tuscan coast (and in fact all over Tuscany) could be. Sassicaia set a new standard.

In 1971 Antinoris Tignanello followed with it’s blend of sangiovese and cabernet. Ornellaia, with vineyards just adjacent to Sassicaia, didn’t appear until 1985 (planted in 1981) but soon became an icon (as did it’s Merlot varietal Masseto).

But as times has went by it seems like Ornellaia has adapted itself well to the modern palate and still makes iconic wines. Yes the wines fall into the super-concentrated category but it doesn’t sacrifice elegance and balance for raw power. But what about Sassicaia? The wines are still elegant and really good – but are they great? They seem to lack the concentration of earlier vintages and in a blind tasting side by side with it’s neighbour it almost seems weak – like a third growth side by side with a premier cru.

After I now have had the opportunity to taste both the 2007 and 2008 vintages of both wines I have to say that Ornellaia today is by far the better wine. The wine has more fruit-concentration, more acids and tannins, more power but not in a “hit ya in the face kinda way” but with refinement and compelxity.

The same goes for both estates second wines Le Serre Nouve dell’Ornellaia and Guidalberto, both stunning wines but the former is much more concentrated and impressive. Why this is so I do not now – but here are my notes on the 2008 vintage!

Le Serre Nouve dell’Ornellaia 2008 (around €43 in Sweden)
Dark blue-red colour. A bit closed on the nose but I find dark berries, oak, grass and herbs. Medium bodied concentrated taste of dark berries (black currant and black berries) and with elements of liquorice and oak. Good tannins and long finish. 4/5p

Guidalberto 2008 (around €33)
Dark red colour. Also a bit closed with hints of dark berries, farm yard and oak. Young medium bodied and a bit acidic on the palate with cherries, tobacco and oak. Feels young. 3,5/5p 

Ornellaia 2008 (around €107)
Dark blue-red “blackish” colour. On the nose quite developed with warm spicy notes and elements of dark berries, vanilla, toasted oak, cherry and fudge. Full bodied superconcentrated and supertannic taste with loads of dark berries, new oak, vanilla and spices. Long young and complex aftertaste. Incredible concentration. 4,5/5p

Sassicaia 2008 (around €102)
Dark bordeaux red colour. Quite elegant nose with dark berries (black currant) and hints of pencil shavings, farm yard, cedar and herbs. Medium bodied concentrated and a bit acidic/astringent taste of dark berries, cedar wood, herbs and tobacco. Good concentration and good length in the finish. 4/5p

Wonders of Tuscany – Tenuta di Valgiano

Have you ever heard of Colline Lucchesi? No!? You are not alone! The vineyards on the hills of the small town Lucca in the norh-west of Tuscany may not be one of the most well known wine districts in Italy – but there are some truly amazing wines coming out of the DOC.

I recently tasted my first wine from Tenuta di Valgiano – an estate with 16 ha under vine that are run by Moreno Pietrini and Laura di Collobaino. The production is certified biodynamique and all wines are made in what they describe as a traditional way to reflect the terroir with a minimum of technological intervention.

In the cellar that means among other things a gravity-fed winery where fermentation takes place in small wooden vats with daily plunging. Maceration times can be anything between 6 and 18 days depending on which grapes we are talking about and where they have grown. The malo and maturation is done in french barriques (20 percent new oak) for 12 to 15 months and sulphur dioxide is used sparingly.

The Tenuta di Valgiano 2007 is a stunning wine – one of the best “supertuscans” or blends of indigenous and french varietys that I have tasted in a while. Gambero Rosso’s monumental guide to Italian Wines 2011 is equally impressed and writes:

“it’s breathtakingly authenticity and natural, tumultuous development. It is so rythmic and vibrant with endless flavour that it is simply not possible to describe in mere tasting notes”.

And I agree! The 2007 Tenuta di Valgiano is a blend of 60 percent sangiovese and 20 percent each of syrah and merlot. And it is an awesome power pack of dark berries, game, farm yard, spices, chocolate and oak. Complex and concentrated and yet well balanced with nuanced mineral flavours. It should develop wonderfully over the next 10 years or so.

Carmignano – the first supertuscan (Il Sasso 2004)

So you think that Tenuta San Guidos Sassicaia was the first supertuscan? Think again! The producers in Carmignano has been using french/international varietys (mainly cabernet sauvignon) for centuries. And the wines are awesome!

Carmignano might not be as well known as neighbouring Chianti or Brunello di Montalcino. But the district deserves a place in the limelight – and the wines can truly be called the first supertuscans!

Okay it was not until 1975 they got the go ahead to officially use cabernet in their DOC-wines! But the winegrowers had been blending sangiovese with cabernet since the 18th century. And the result was and is stunning wines that combine sangioveses perfumed cherry flavours with cabernets great tanninstructured dark berries.

In Sweden we seldom see bottles of Carmignano in our wine and spirits monopoly – Systembolaget. But Piaggias modern classic Il Sasso do pop up from time to time. It is a wine that usually get fantastic reviews in Gambero Rossos Italian Wines. And it is a blend of mostly sangiovese with cabernet sauvignon & cabernet franc, merlot and sometimes canaiolo. It gets 15 months on french oak and another six months in bottle prior release.

I bought a handful of 2004s a few years back and I have been sampling it occasionally. And this past weekend I opened another bottle. And it was fantastic.

Deep dark red in colour with an orange/brick-tinged rim. Big aromas on the nose with dark cherries, dark berries, chocolate, oak/vanilla and crème brûlée. The wine is still powerfull on the palate with a mediumbodied structure. The cabernet shines through with quite firm tannins and loads of dark berries (cherries, blackberries, blackcurrants). Hints of chocolate, crème brûlée, herbs and vanilla. Long focused finish with great tannins that are beginning to soften. Drink now or keep up to 10 years!

Poggio San Polo – Brunello at it’s best!

Brunello di Montalcino can be sublime. For many people it is sangioveses best expression – more powerful and with more of character than the wines from neighbouring Chianti to the north.

But Brunello can also be a bit of a disapointment. All too often the wines are too oxidized, too tannic and too dry for their own good and lacking the fruit intensity to match the tannins. The wines of the past also needed ages of cellaring – but it was also those same wines that built up the reputation of Brunello as a vin de gard that could match some of the worlds greatest wines.

The interest in Brunello has been massive the last decade or so. But you need only to turn the clock back to 1980, the year of DOCG nomination, and there were few vino aficionados outside Italy had heard of or tasted any of the wines. In fact – Brunello used to be one of the poorest wine regions i Tuscany!

The DOCG certainly ended that. American winelovers were quick to take the district to their hearts and that interest had a sky-rocketing effect on the prices. But all is not good. In 2008 a scandal hit Brunello. The scandal is known variously as Brunelloppoli in Italy and is usually referred to as Brunellogate in english speaking countries. It involved high profile winerys and producers who were accused of sweetening the sangiovese juice with international varietys. All in the aim to make Brunello wines more accessible for modern winelovers.

Happily it all ended with a vote among the producers on if they should change the DOCG-rules to allow for international varietys as cabernet, merlot and syrah. But a clear majority voted for the rules to stay unchanged – and only 4 percent wanted a modernization.

Personally I couldn’t be happier with that result. The producers in Brunello already got the means and oppurtunity to make blend of sangiovese and international varietys and label the wines as IGT Tuscany/Toscana. They do not need to do those wines under the Brunello denomination. They can, and should, continue to do outstanding sangiovese wines that are a true expression of their origin and terroir!

Poggio San Polo was to my knowledge never implicated in Brunellogate. The winery has produced outstandig sangiovese for some time and has gone from strength to strength since the 1997 vintage (a vintage that for me epitomizes and is the true beginning of modern Italian winemaking).  As late as 2007 it was bought by Veneto-veterans Allegrini (who also invested in Poggio al Tesoro in Bolgheri).

I bought a couple of bottles of Poggio San Polo 2001 a few years back and this past weekend i opened the last one – and it was gorgeous.

The grapes are sourced from San Polo and Menteluc in Montalcino. The malolactic fermentation takes place in french barriques and the wine get a total of 24 months on oak. After that it is aged another 6 months in bottle.

The colour – dark ruby. Still a bit closed on the nose with hints of cocoa powder, dried fruits, game and dark cherries. The taste is still powerful, medium bodied, velvety and concentrated. Loads of dark cherries, cocoa-chocolate, game an herbs (rosemary and thyme). Good acidity and still quite firm tannins that are enveloped by soft and delicious fruit. Drink now or age for another 3-5 years. 4,5/5 points!