Three days in Tuscany
Day one of a three day trip to Tuscany with David Gleave of Liberty Wines. I hadn’t been there for a few years, so it was great to refresh my knowledge and to wonder at the beauty of the area. Not surprisingly some superb food too, including seriously good extra virgin olive oil.
Poggio al Tesoro, Bolgheri
Poggio al Tesoro is based in Bolgheri, a one of the most sought-after strips of land in Tuscany. It includes two of the most famous wine names of Italy, Sassicaia and Ornellaia. Poggio al Tesoro belongs to the Allegrini family, very highly regarded producers in Valpolicella, who acquired it in 2001.This is the region that became famous for producing Cabernet Sauvignon (with Sassicaia) and then Merlot (with Ornellaia). Since then Cabernet Franc has also produced highly successful. Bolgheri is a relatively flat region close to the sea, which mitigates the climate. Further protection is provided by the mountains immediately behind.
The Poggio al Tesoro wines are rich and powerful but not without a certain elegance. I enjoyed them all, the reds having a very smooth sultry ripeness cloaked in suave new oak. However, the wine that stuck out was the white, a Vermentino. This is a grape variety that is widely grown in Corsica, Sardinia, and the south of France; in the right hands it can make very good textured wines with a lovely balance of acidity and rich fruit.
‘Solosole’ 2015, Vermentino IGT
Rich peach and pineapple fruits textured and long with a welcome acidic streak. Very good wine. We tried an older vintage over lunch which was excellent.
We then had an extremely pleasant lunch with winemaker Lorenzo Fortini, and his colleague Riccardo Fratton (pictured above) of San Palo, an estate in Montalcino that is also owned by the Allegrini family. Both are from the Veneto.
Classic Tuscan Antipasti – Liver, mushroom and tomato bruschetta (or crostini?) with plenty of good olive oil.
Pachiare – Tuscan pasta with ham, butter and cheese.
Then on to beans (delicious), salume, and pecorino with honey.
We then moved on to Montalcino, home to Brunello di Montalcino, one of the great wines of Italy. Strangely, it is only in the last few decades that the region has found fame, largely thanks to an American love affair with the wine. The wines vary greatly, but at their best combine the aroma, delicacy and freshness of Pinot Noir with some of the firm tannic structure of a Nebbiolo. Given its popularity and relative scarcity, Brunello is never going to be cheap. Expect to pay €40 for a Brunello and €150 for Brunello Riserva. Thankfully the junior Rosso di Montalcino can be very good n the right hands, and is also ready to drink much sooner. A good Brunello will age gracefully for many years, and really needs a decade to become approachable. I have been a bit dubious about the wines of this region in the past, but certainly these two estates produce some wonderful wines. Like much of Tuscany, it is a stunnigly beautiful and well worth visiting.
San Palo, Montalcino
In 2006, the Allegrini family bought two neighbouring estates in Montalcino. This is a small contiguous 16 hectare vineyard, with vines planted in 1990 and 2000. The winery, built in to the hill, is a small perfectly formed building, designed to be as eco-friendly as possible and full of ingenious features. We tasted three impressive structured Brunello di Montalcino, the 2009, 2010 and 2011, as well as a superb, massive Brunello Riserva 2010. More approachable in price and style is the Rosso di Montalcino below.
Rosso di Montalcino 2014, San Palo
A classic Sangiovese nose of dark cherries; lovely fresh dark fruits on the plate with good acidity, lingering nicely in the mouth.
Conti Costanti, Montalcino
In your dreams, this is the sort of estate you would love to own; a very small winery producing great wines, perched on top of a hill with amazing views, close to a medieval town. And there are some really great wines at Costanti; an irresistible combination of elegance and power.
The estate is run by the charming, modest and erudite Andrea Costanti. He inherited the estate at the age of 23 when his uncle died. The family arrived in the region in 1551, and were one of the very first to make wine in Montalcino. A geologist by training, Costanti is understandably keen on the soils. Montalcino, he explains, is a big lump of rock surrounded by clay (which is not great for growing vines). His soils, close to the village, have a lot of rocks – galestro- as in Chianti Classico. ‘There is no secret to the way we make the wine’, says Costanti, ‘the secret is all in the vineyard. We are a marriage between the soil of Chianti Classico and the climate of Maremma. Generally there is more acidity, less alcohol around the town of Montalcino, and more body and alcohol the further south you go.’
All of the Costanti wines were delicious, from the fragrant, elegant, Pinotesque Rosso di Montalcino 2014 (€35), the breathtaking but closed 2010 Brunello Riserva (€150) as well as the wine below. The 2015s we tasted from cask were utterly amazing. Costanti believes it is the best vintage since he started in 1983 (obviously beating the much hyped 2010 vintage),. Over dinner, we enjoyed the 2004, 2006 and 2007 Brunello Riserva, all with that same supreme elegance. The 2006 stood out for me.
Brunello di Montalcino 2011
A wonderful expressive nose, floral with hints of mushrooms, followed by an elegant, refined palate, still quite young, with ripe red fruits, some spice, and a dry finish. Lovely wine.