Day Three Tuscany
Selvapiana, Chianti Rufina
Rufina is the smallest zone within the Chianti region, with a mere 600 hectares of vines, just 4% of the total Chianti area. By comparison Chianti Classico has 10,000 hectares. Originally it was simply called Rufina and is one of the oldest defined wine regions, not just in Tuscany, but the world, having been mentioned in an edict by Grand Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici in 1716. The largest producer is Frescobaldi, the next-door neighbour of Selvapiana, who grow one third of the vines and bottle half the wine. Selvapiana has been owned by the Giuntini family since 1827. The estate covers 250 hectares, with 60 under vine. Francesco Giuntini, whose mother was an Antinori, did not father any children. When he put the property up for sale in the 1980’s, the estate manager’s son Frederico Masseti said he would like to buy it. In the end, Francesco adopted both Francesco and his sister, so both will eventually inherit the estate.
“Rufina’, says Frederico, ‘ is more northerly, more inland, with a cooler climate and a longer growing season. We get 800-900 milimetres of rain each year, and the temperature usually never rises above 32 degrees. Climate change is making viticulture more difficult for us; now you don’t get rain, you get floods!’.
I am a big fan of the Selvapiana Chianti Rufina; it is always light and refreshing with lively crunchy Sangiovese fruits. The 2014 is a classic of this style. We also tried the attractive unoaked cool climate white, a blend of Chardonnay and Petit Manseng, and the firm tannic Pomino 2011with its blackcurrant fruits. The stars were two vintages of the Bucerchiale, the first single vineyard wine produced in Tuscany. The 2012 seemed more forward and developed than the correct, firm tannic 2011; both are excellent wines, and in context, represent very good value for money. I have tasted a few excellent old bottles. We tried the lovely mature 1979 Chianti Riserva with lunch. Overall these are great wines, and well worth searching out.
Selvapiana makes the most distinctive peppery, green olive oil of all. Back in 1979 Francesco Giuntini said to David Gleave that ‘some people in Tuscany may make better wine than ours, but nobody makes better olive oil’. The 2015 is currently available in specialist shops (I bought mine in 64wine, Glasthule) and worth looking out for.
Bucerchiale 2011, Chianti Rufina Riserva, Selvapiana
A wonderfully expressive nose, a full intense palate of firm dark cherry fruits and a long dry finish. The quality of the fruit here is excellent. Keep for a decade or decant and drink now.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – the greenest, most peppery of all.
Capezzana can claim to be the oldest estate in Tuscany, with evidence that it was producing both olive oil and wine in 804 (not 1804 note!). They still do both today. As with many Tuscan estates, it was originally owned by a noble family from Florence (in this case the Medici) who used it as a country retreat and summer residence during the Middle Ages. In the 1920’s, the Contini Bonacossi family bought Capezzana from the Rothschild family and set about restoring the property. Hugo Bonacossi passed away in his nineties a few years ago, followed by his wife late last year. Both were driving forces behind the revival of both Capezzana and the Carmignano region generally.
It is now run by the seven children, each with an allotted task. In addition to the wine and oil, they run cookery courses, offer accommodation and now have a successful wine bar.
The estate is large, 650 hectares, mostly forest, but with 90 hectares of vines, and 150 hectares of olive trees. The Extra Virgin olive oil is excellent, and famously features in the recipe for cavolo nero in the River Café cookbook. It is available for sale in a number of wine shops and specialist food retailers.
The Barco Reale is one of my favourite wines, lively and refreshing with crunchy juicy blackcurrant fruit. The 2014, to be released very soon, is a classic of the style. The DOCG Carmignano Villa de Capezzana is the flagship, a blend of around 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, the remainder Sangiovese. It is deceptively easy to drink young, but does age very well. On our visit Bea opened up a bottle of 1931 that was delicious. I have bought a case or two of young Villa over the years, and I reckon 5 – 10 years depending on the vintage is best. It also seems to be one of those wines that everybody loves; anytime I have opened it for guests at dinner, they have been effusive in their praise. There is also a great Trebbiano (not words that often go together!), a single vineyard Trefiano (€49.00) and the IGT Ghiaie delta Furba, a blend of Cabernet, Syrah and Merlot (€48.99)
Barco Reale di Carmignano 2014
Lovely vivid pure blackcurrants and dark cherry fruits. Refreshing captivating wine.
Mats for drying grapes for Vin Santo.
Benedetta Contini Bonacossi – winemaker
Decanting the 1931
Villa di Capezzana 1931
The Dark Days of Chianti Classico
The mezzadria or sharecropping system of agriculture continued in much of Italy until the early 1960’s. This semi-subsistence form of farming was not conducive to the development of specialised viticulture. In the 1960’s and 1970’s Chianti and the other great wine regions of Tuscany went through a very dark period, as farm labourers departed in droves for the cities. The owners were left with large estates and nobody to run them. Paolo de Marchi of Isole e Olena has aerial photographs showing how so much land was abandoned and left to run to forest on his estate. Demand for quality wine was low, and many were forced to produce large quantities of inexpensive poor wine, often in the classic straw bound bottle (fiasco) that many of us remember from Italian restaurants around the world. ‘We come from an unbelievable situation’, says di Marchi, ‘the world was changing so quickly. Yields of 80 hectolitres per hectare were allowed, including 40% white grapes, and of course, you could legally add 15% of wine from the south.’ It took decades, and the determination of men such as Pierro Antinori and others, to restore the reputation of Chianti Classico. Classico is the original Chianti region; a huge swathe of surrounding land has been allowed to adopt the name, despite having inferior soils. Even Chianti Rufina was originally known simply as Rufina.
Today, thankfully, Chianti Classico and other regions of Tuscany are recognized as producing world-class wine. Most retain a distinctive character, largely down to the idiosyncratic Sangiovese grape, but also the varied soils and climate. It is also one of the most beautiful, picturesque regions I have visited. I imagine it must get very crowded in the summer, but a visit in the spring or autumn is not to be missed.
Tuscan Olive Oil
A word about olive oils. Many of the wine estates of Tuscany have traditionally produced olive oil. Encouraged by Liberty Wines, a number now use modern techniques to produce excellent Extra Virgin Olive Oil. New season olive oil is bottled in November or December, and can have an amazing flavour. Pour it on salads, vegetables, beans, bruschetta, or meats; anything in fact seems to taste better with a drop or two of good olive oil, and it is very good for you too. The fresh intensity of flavour lasts for about 4-6 months after vintage. Sadly the good stuff is very expensive, but it is worth it. I am completely addicted; a piece of sourdough toast drizzled with good olive oil and a sprinkle of Maldon salt is simple to make, but heavenly to eat.
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