Tag Archives: Tuscany

Italy 2017 – Secondi – Bolgheri

12 Nov

 

That’s me striding with purpose (a raging thirst) into the town of Bolgheri

When we last met our intrepid traveller, he was sipping Vernaccia di San Gimignano and asking the universal traveller’s question, “What the hell are we going to do tomorrow?” Oh yeah, head to Bolgheri.

Day 2 – Bolgheri

The plan was to wander Bolgheri and then head to the beach at Marina di Bibboni. It was about a 50 minute drive from Volterra, Without a map or GPS – only 10 minutes longer. Yes, I’m the guy in the Fiat calmly driving the round-a-bouts twice. Did that ruin the day? Never. If you read my first instalment, you know that getting lost can be… not exactly fun, but interesting. Plus, it’s a character builder. First, I’ll tell you a little about Bolgheri as a wine DOC.

Guado al Tasso

DOC Bolgheri and DOC Bolgheri Superiore lie south of Livorno between the Tuscan hills and the coast, near the village of Bolgheri. The DOC isn’t big (1200 hectares – 40 members of the Bolgheri Consorzio) but it is mighty. Many of the first Super Tuscans came from Bolgheri with Sassicaia (first made as such in 1968) being the most famous. In fact there is a DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia which requires 80 % Cabernet Sauvignon, aging for 2 years, 18  months of which has to be in 225l barriques. Wow, that’s prescriptive!

The distinguishing thing about DOC Bolgheri red wines versus other Tuscan DOC’s/DOCG’s is the use of Bordeaux varieties (allowable % in brackets): Cabernet Sauvignon (0% – 100%), Merlot (0% – 100%), Cabernet Franc (0%-100%), Petit Verdot (0% – 30%) and Syrah (0% – 50%). they also continue to grow Sangiovese (0% – 50%). It’s hard to keep up but just think that most of these wines feature the Bordeaux Big 4 potentially supported by Sangiovese and Syrah. Of course, wineries can make wines somewhat outside these restrictions but they’d be IGT Toscana wines not DOC Bolgheri. Confused? Bolgheri labels that you might know include Guado al Tasso, Tenuta San Guido, Satta, Le Macchiole, Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Podere Grattamacco, Campo all Sughera, Poggio al Tesoro, Gaja Ca’Marcanda, and the list goes on.

There is still a wee bit of controversy about the use of traditional ‘Bordeaux’ grapes instead of autochthonous (wine geek speak for ‘indigenous’) grapes in Italy – Sangiovese, Trebbiano, Barbera, etc. While I agree that there already is enough Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in this world, there are two compelling reasons that I’m a ‘yeah’ to Bordeaux in Tuscany: 1) the wine is really, really good; 2) everywhere else does it, so why dis Bolgheri. And did I mention, it’s really good?

Sassicaia

Although reservations to visit may, in fact, be needed in many wine regions in the world, reservations really are the exception. When we were in Napa, you needed reservations for Duckhorn, Quintessa, and Caymus, for example. But many other wineries accommodated you as a walk-in. Similarly in Niagara, Languedoc, and much of Tuscany. These wineries have adequate tasting rooms and sell much of their stuff from the cellar door. Well, Bolgheri don’t roll like that, baby. I guess Tenuta San Guido doesn’t want a busload of seniors from Goderich, Ontario working their way through a case of Sassicaia one taste at a time. Then buying a few sachets of lavender and staggering out to the bus.

In this environment, the one casualty of playing it ‘by ear’, other than a poor rendition of Smoke On The Water, is that you might not be able to taste at some wineries. Hell, you might not even get in through the automated gate. We did have a reservation at Le Macchiole but it cratered. So, we wandered around anyway – dropped in to Guado al Tasso, Relais il Beserno (unbelievable place), Tenuta San Guido – nice chats but nary a drop of wine. I was getting thirsty. In my Lonely Planet it talked about a wine bar in the little town of Bolgheri where you can taste just about anything that comes from Bolgheri. As if. So, we wandered into the town and found the sign below out front of Enoteca Tognoni! Seriously?

You are reading that right, wine peeps. Ornellaia and Sassicaia by the glass! And, you can get tasters of it too – 5cl or 10cl. Friends, there is a bit of a downside to having this type of selection and, in Italian, that downside is called il conto.

The inside of Enoteca Tognoni is crazy cluttered with wine bottles, stacks of half-opened wine cases and amongst all that, tables to sit, taste, and eat if you wish. It’s atmospheric. I’ll give it that. Service was exceptional. We had a very knowledgeable woman who took time to give us a selection that fit our palate, pocketbook, and understanding. She stood by us and explained each wine – who, what, particularities, vintage, etc.

A chaotic but thrilling wall of wine at Enoteca Tognoni. Glad I don’t have to do inventory

Here’s the thing. Is it expensive? Yeah. But, will I ever have another chance to taste these wines together? Probably not. So forget il conto and taste! One flight tasted out like this –  2012 Arnione €35 from Campo alla Sughera. Made from 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, and 20% Petit Verdot – powerful, balanced and still early in its development. This carried the day for me. I know that the Merlot here was just one of many players but it shone through – cherry and mint. Smooth tannins, deep wine. Loved, loved this wine! The 2013 Castello Bolgheri €50 is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot. It was strictly cellar material – fruit hiding behind tannin and acid. Nonetheless, it was powerful stuff which seems to be the theme here. I wish that I could figure out where it might end up. The last of this flight 2013 Aldone €48 from Terre dei Marchesato is all Merlot. It did have a real Pomerol feel to it. Dusty, tannic and needing a load of time in the cellar. It opened a bit over time. Well, 30 minutes. Another wine worth mentioning – 2011 Cont’Ugo €35 – 100% Merlot from Guado al Tasso (Antinori). And for the Cabernet Franc fiends out there, I tasted Le Macchiole’s 2013 Paleo Rosso €70 – 100% Cab Franc. Stunning! Still hiding out a bit but what a wine. These may all seem a bit on the expensive side but significantly cheaper than comparable Napa Bordeaux stuff.

The flight above-mentioned

So, what did the Sassicaia by the glass cost? €40 is all. A tasting of 5cl (1.7 oz.) was  €14. If you have to ask on the Ornallaia, you can’t afford it. I’ve had them both before – snobbish yawn. So, stuck to wines new to me.

Did we get to the beach? We did. This wine stained wretch snoozed in the shade (wonder why I was sleepy) and my Mediterranean companion soaked up the sun. And, then it was back to Volterra. We went a different way. By design? Not really. We just kept heading to Volterra by road sign and then visually. Hard to miss Volterra when you’re anywhere within 40 kilometres. Then back to Podere San Lorenzo for nibbles and wine.

Spring-fed pool/pond at Podere San Lorenzo

I learned something in Bolgheri. I rail against big wines that are too oaked, too thick, too fruit forward, and/or just too much. And yet, I loved the wines that I tasted in Bolgheri and they weren’t shy, subtle, restrained efforts. They weren’t blockbusting behemoths (quoting Parker here) either. Likewise the wines that I love from Priorat – they too are largish. I may have to just admit that the issue of size isn’t as important to me as I let on sometimes. Maybe, “Size doesn’t matter,” he says, always the contrarian. Thoughts?

Cheers.

Bill

 

Italy 2017 – Prima Parte – Volterra, Volpaia

3 Nov

We did a bit of a wander in Italy in September that had all sorts of little bits but also some wine. I’ll deliver the wine highlights in instalments. This is the first.

When we travel, we self tour. By that I mean that we don’t do ‘escorted tours’. We pencil a few things but that’s it. We get up in the morning and decide what we’re going to do. We drive ourselves, book all the stuff we need, including: flights; trains; accommodations; wine visits. So, I plan big time. I spend hours on-line checking out TripAdvisor, individual web sites, flight information, prices – taking a sip of wine, he goes on – Lonely Planet recos (love Lonely Planet but why is it?… Lonely, that is?), talk to everyone I know that has been where we are headed, and print out every relevant document that we might need; all inserted into a nifty blue plastic folder.

Last time we went to Italy, I left the folder at home (well-crafted story here). That time we arrived at Pearson without any flight information, hotel information, car rental information, receipts for things already paid for. We were essentially flying blind, pardon the pun. But, it all worked out. Lesson: you don’t need half the stuff you think you need for travelling. I found out all I need is your passport, a credit card, that damn smartphone, a fantastic memory for details, an understanding partner, and some other stuff that I can’t remember right now. But nonetheless, this time I left with full folder.

Fast forward to Florence airport – Aeroporto di Firenze-Peretola. Have you been? It’s a bit of a “site under development” right now. I’m sure when they’ve finished the updates and improvements, it will be great. As we left the baggage claim area, we wandered around in circles for a while until we came to what looked like it might be a security zone, We couldn’t figure out where the way out was. We finally corralled a security guy – “Dove è l’uscita?”and he pointed at  a very large sign over a set of automatic doors that read: Way Out. You know, the doors that people were streaming out of. Umm, that simple, eh? I guess the lesson is – it’s OK to be a follower.

Hopped in our little rental and sped to Volterra. Did the full trip sans maps and GPS. That’s right – no road maps for 2 weeks. An adventure every time we set out. Some times a What a great adventure! and others a Oh shit another adventure!

Volterra

Volterra is a walled town that is not a big tourist draw. I’m not sure why because we visited “must see” San Gimignano, which is almost next door, and it wasn’t any more beautiful, interesting or historical. In fact San Gimignano was a pain in the ass tourist-wise. Flooded with bus tours and picture takers. Selfies? Ya think?

Laneway in to Podere San Lorenzo

Arrived at our agriturismo – Podere San Lorenzo (picture above) – a beautiful smallish place with fantastic staff, food, quarters, environs just outside of Volterra. Highly recommend it. Remember how I studiously plan, check, re-check, etc. Well, we arrived at Podere San Lorenzo and met Simona, a wonderful woman who checked her register and said, “I’m sorry but we don’t have Dufton here.” There was a time when I would have become apoplectic, shit myself, and demanded to see the manager (perhaps not in that order).

But, despite the 20 hours lack of sleep and general travel angst, I quietly and slowly rifled through my folder and triumphantly pulled out an email that I had exchanged with them with confirmation of the 6 nights’ stay. I would be vindicated! After Simona reviewed the email, she slowly pointed to the dates that I had confirmed therein. They were the same dates when we were going to be in Sicily – starting 6 days hence. I had mistakenly booked two places a thousand kilometres and a 90 minute flight apart for the same 5 days later in the month!

Guess what? I was fine with it (not completely true). At least The Director didn’t have to bring out the defibrillator. But Simona checked through their bookings and said that she would move someone else later in the week and we could have an apartment as promised for the 6 days. Phew. I needed a glass of wine right then. Hmmm, what pairs with sheepish?

Of the 6 days in Volterra, only two were dedicated wine days – which isn’t nearly enough.

Wine Day One – Chianti Classico.

Chianti Map courtesy of http://www.italianwine.com

Wine regions are somewhat economically and politically devised and regulated (if you want to get a history on this, the book Wine Politics by Tyler Colman is a great read). And primarily for these reasons, there are several Chianti zones that you’ll see on labels. The most common ones are Chianti Classico which is roughly the original 1716 Chianti zone. The others are Chianti Rufina (elegant and ageworthy), Chianti Colli Senesi (value and fun), and Colli Florentini, among a few others.

The Classico zone began around the towns of Radda, Gaiole, and Castellina, with Greve added later. The towns of Radda, Gaiole and Castellina have the suffix ‘in Chianti’ added to their names now. Want to hear about the varietal restrictions, label nomenclature, regulated vineyard practices, required vineyard uniform, grooming restrictions, secret handshake, etc.? No?

Castellina in Chianti

Where was I? Oh yeah – a day in Chianti. We trekked to Castellina in Chianti. Remember – no maps or GPS – so only two times turning around. OK, three times. But no harm – no foul. On these explores, I am inclined to be definitive. So, when I think that we are lost – there’s no telling me otherwise. We are ‘absolutely’ on the wrong road. I mean absolutely! I want to turn around right then. And, if I think we are on the right road, I drive for miles before I can conceive that we are heading in the wrong direction. The good news? I know me and have come to grips with my fallibility. Just you don’t mention it.

2013 Brancaia Chianti Classico Riserva

Castellina in Chianti – a pretty village on the top of a hill looking out over a spectacular valley strewn with vines and olive trees. A cool little spot with loads of noshing, shopping, and sipping opportunities. There is a neat wine shop in Via delle Volte, a tunnel that runs under the village wall just as you enter from the car park. The shop specializes in Chianti Classico and Super Tuscans. They had a wide selection of tasting opportunities (they had a large WineKeeper dispenser) – Brancaia Il Blu, Veneroso, Oreno to name a few that I sipped. It was early but it’s never too early, yeah? I picked up a bottle of 2013 Brancaia Chianti Classico Riserva €21 just in case. Love Brancaia and this wine didn’t disappoint. Although drinking well now – could use another three or so years. For those of us in Ontario, there is the 2015 Brancaia Chianti Classico #519173 $24.95 a Chianti from Radda worthy of your consideration.

We left Castellina in Chianti and drove to Radda in Chianti. It’s another village on the top of a hill overlooking vineyards and olive groves? It never gets boring though. The headquarters of Chianti Classico. Lunched in a road side cafe by the big cock. Oh stop it!

The Chianti Classico Symbol to be found on the neck band of most Chianti Classico and at this piazza in Radda

Volpaia

On to Volpaia. Ah, Volpaia. If you had to go to only one Chianti winery, this might be the most impressive yet unsullied one that you can find. I’m not saying that the bigger, grander spaces like Passignano or the spectacular Livernano aren’t impressive. This just seems less ‘designed’, if you know what I mean. Volpaia is a village, not far from Radda, that is solely owned by one family. The whole village has been turned into a winery, a very small agriturismo with bistro and cafe. There are only 15 permanent residents who are tasked with care taking mainly. The reason I chose Volpaia as a destination was that it’s hard to get here and my only experience with their wine. I had a near flawless bottle of 2010 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva a couple years ago and was eager to see the operation – why was this wine so superb? Now, I know. The hills around the village are farmed either by the family or contract families who have been supplying the Volpaia winery for 50+ years. Many labels are organic and in Italy, I’ve found, organic does make a positive difference.

One of the many small barrel rooms

We wandered around the village to the deconsecrated church cellar (full of barrels), the many prior residences with either barrels, olive presses, or stainless steel fermentation tanks, there’s a wine duct that runs throughout the village. It was reminiscent of Gratallops in Priorat where doors opened on to narrow streets to reveal full-blown winemaking operations under residences. It is pretty cool. Forget the castles, chateaux, reception centres, this is what I love about wine – you can fancy the peripherals up but it doesn’t replace solid vineyard management, established vineyards, and expert winemaking. Our guide was superb. Suffice to say that she was very knowledgeable and conversant in several languages. And, she had a definite fashion sense that permeates all of Italy in my experience. I’ll talk about that vibe when I post on our time in Firenze.

The wines?

2016 Bianco di Volpaia €8 A great start to a tasting. Crisp, mineral on the palate. Made from Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grown at 2,000 feet above sea level. Perfect early evening sipper.

2016 Prelius – Vermentino €8.50 A wine made from grapes grown near the coast in Bolgheri. Organic. Fresh, carrying the Vermentino fruitiness that we came to appreciate while in Italy. Solid wine for sipping and with fresh seafood.

Volpaia Library Wine Cellar

2015 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico €12.50 This is what we’re talking about. Pure Sangiovese fruit on the gargle and the medium finish. This is a fresh, pop and pour wine. From grapes grown 1,000 to 1,750 feet above sea level – perhaps some of the highest Sangiovese in Classico. At this price, it’s a steal.

2014 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva €20 This was my favourite wine of the whole tasting. Perhaps the vintage but I think that this is a well crafted Classico in a ‘classic’ style, if that makes sense. Aged for 24 months, the wine shows the effects of barrel aging in the leather and vanilla on the finish. Fruit supported by integrated tannins and a beautiful vein of acidity. Restrained and elegant. The 2010 vintage was Wine Spectator’s #21 wine in their Top 100 of 2014.

2013 Castello di Volpaia Balificio €36 This is a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet from older vines (circa 60 years). Although this was perhaps bigger in mouthfeel than the Riserva, it was a bit more reserved (pardon the pun). International in style, it seemed a bit out of place for me. It clearly was a well made Super Tuscan but, in the midst of this magical village, I preferred the more ‘naturally’ Tuscan reds. Perhaps back at home it would have shone.

2012 Vinsanto del Chianti Classico €21 375 ml Since The Director doesn’t drink reds, our guide offered her some of this sweet delicacy. It was almost Port-like – nutty, spicy. From their web site – “The healthiest and most beautiful bunchers (sic) of Malvasia and Trebbiano were harvested in October. They were then hung up to dry on rafters in our Vinsantaia, a huge attic where the grapes are dried and the vinsanto stored, so it is effected by all the changes in temperature. By February the sugar content was high enough to press the shrivelled grapes. The highly concentrated must was then left to ferment in small oak casks where it was allowed to mature for a full five years.” I liked it a lot in spite of myself.

We returned to our Volterra abode with a stash of wine and sat out on our terrace overlooking the landscape below with some young Pecorino, local cherry tomatoes, crackers, and some Vernaccia di San Gimignano. All in all, a great day.

Cheers.

Bill

http://wine.volpaia.com

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