Day two started with a quick breakfast in Montalcino before heading off to Chianti Classico.
Fèlsina Berardenga, Chianti Classico
This is a large estate, some 470 hectares, although vineyards cover a small percentage of that. It is located right on the southern border of Chianti Classico, and is therefore one of the warmest parts of the DOCG. The wines are typically bigger and more powerful. The reflective Giusseppe Mazzocolin was in charge here for over thirty years, and it was he who showed us around. His background was as a history teacher and he has a keen interest in the past and local traditions. Fèlsina was acquired by his father-in-law in 1966, who asked him to run the estate. He arrived in the late 1970’s.
The property has an ageless, tumbledown feel; there has been no attempt to prettify the interior or exterior, giving it a genuine character that I loved. The wines were pretty good too. Mazzocolin is a big fan of Sangiovese. ‘It has the purity, the freshness, the drinkability; never too sweet, never too easy to drink,’ he says. ‘I love the acidity. There is something very Italian about Sangiovese, and Nebbiolo and Aglianico. If you like acidity you will like Italian wines.’ He is not worried abut climate change. ‘Sangiovese is an adaptable grape and can take more heat. It remains true and unique. It always has its own intensity.’
Fèlsina is in the process of making safe an old house amongst the vineyards, once lived in by Benedictine monks. However, Mazzocolin does not want to restore it and start welcoming guests. ‘We are not hoteliers; no agritourismo here. People would come in their cars and drive everywhere.’ He says with a slight distaste.
The ‘I Sistri’ Chardonnay (€29.99) had a very attractive distinctive beeswax/honey character and excellent pure fruit; the Chianti Classico 2014 was an attractive light refreshing wine. We then tasted three single vineyard wines, Rancia, Fontalloro and Colonia, all very different in style, followed by several mature vintages of Fontalloro, a 2003 Chianti Classico and an excellent Vin Santo. The 2006 Fontalloro was wonderful elegant fresh and grippy, the 1998 corrupt and meaty, still retaining some savoury tannins. Both were excellent, as was the 2012 below.
Like many estates in Tuscany, Fèlsina make an olive oil. We had a fascinating tasting of four separate varieties before trying the final the final blend.
Fontalloro 2012, Chianti Classico Riserva, Fèlsina Berardenga
Quite delicious already, with an open-knit structure, soft ripe cherries and blackcurrants, refreshing on the palate and nice length. I cannot see it lasting as long as the two wines above, but very seductive now.
Isole e Olena, Chianti Classico
Paulo de Marchi is a cultural historian and self-confessed dreamer who also makes some of the finest, most elegant wines of Tuscany. His father bought the Isole e Olena estate just as Italy was about to go through a very turbulent period. Up until the 1960’s many farmers worked as share-croppers, farming a few hectares of forest, olive groves and vines, often interspersed, with a few animals wandering around too. A percentage of their crop went to the land owner, often an absentee. As Italy went through a post-war boom, huge numbers of agrarian workers deserted the country, seduced by the possibility of a better life working in the cities, as promised on newly arrived TV sets. In the two hamlets of Isole and Olena, de Marchi explains, there were 120 people, a priest and a school in 1956. By 1964, there were 14 people left. Di Marche has gradually renovated the entire estate over the last forty years. The wines are now amongst the finest in Tuscany. As David Gleave explained, although his vineyards are at roughly the same height as Fontodi nearby, they have a lightness due to the different aspect of most of the vineyards, and the winds that come in from the west. ‘With Sangiovese, you always have to balance acidity and tannins,’ says de Marchi. ‘I want ripeness but I want real freshness too.’ De Marchi was celebrating his 65th birthday the day we visited. His son Luca is currently working on another project in Piemonte, where de Marchi bought back the historic family estate. The results so far have been spectacularly good.
Paolo de Marchi
The Chianti Classico here is distinctive and very good. We tried the 2013 and 2014; I preferred the first. We then tried three vintages of his amazing Cepparello, a 100% Sangiovese Super Tuscan. The 2006 was exceptional, but the current 2012 and 2013 vintages showed real promise. I would love to have both in my cellar. The 2008 Syrah Collezione Privata was another star, as was the 2006 Vin Santo, a wine that sells out quickly every year.
Cepparello 2013 IGT Toscana
Still showing some new oak, but a beautiful silky-smooth wine with good acidity, a well-integrated tannic structure and delicious ripe dark cherry fruits. Lovely wine.
Lessona DOC 2010, Proprieta Sperino
Couldn’t leave this out, one of my favourite wines, from the far north of Italy, the original de Marchi family home region. Made from Nebbiolo, this is a stunning silky wine with delicate rosehips and red summer fruits.
Fontodi, Chianti Classico
The Manetti family bought Fontodi in the Panzano region of Chianti Classico in 1969. They had been running a terracotta factory in nearby Ferrone for centuries (and still do). Apparently Manetti moved the family here when the two sons were schoolboys. Giovanni Manetti describes it as a huge culture shock for him and his brother. They started out sharing the reponsiblities for the winery and the factory, but Giovanni eventually took over the wine side while his brother (who has a house on the estate) runs the terracotta business.
The amiable but driven Giovanni Masetti has increased the vineyards from 10 to 87 hectares, all located in the conca d’oro, a shell-shaped basin that has some of the best exposure and soils in the region. He is fully organic and part biodynamic – ‘without the preparations, but yes to the moon’, he says. “I like to do it and it works’. The Panzano area is trying to become the first official organic region in Italy; currently there are fifty producers growing organically. The major pest in recent years has been deer who eat the grapes. ‘I put a fence around the vineyard and saved 50 thousand bottles’, says Manetti with a smile.
The Fontodi wines are big and powerful, with excellent structure; they mature very well, and really should be aged for a few years. At home, I am working my way through a stash of 2006 and 2007 at the moment. We tasted a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Noir, but it was the Sangiovese wines that impressed most. As well as the Chianti below, there was the Vigna del Sorbo 2012, muscular yet somehow refined as well, with a good tannic structure, and the flagship Flaccianello della Pieve 2012, a wine with a big reputation, made from the oldest vines on the estate. This was a massive tight, foursquare wine, with a lovely fragrant nose, but will need a few years to reveal its true glory. Look out too for Dino, a wine fermented and aged in clay amphorae. As the other family business is terracotta tiles, Giovanni was in the perfect position to source all the amphorae! The wine is excellent with zippy strawberry fruits, good acidity and real length.
Chianti Classico 2013, Fontodi
Big, firm muscular ripe fruits; very good intensity and plenty of ripe tannins. Would benefit from a couple of years ageing, but an impressive wine.
Giovanni then took us off to eat at the other famous establishment in Panzano, Anitca Macelleria Cecchini run by the irrepressible ‘mad butcher of Panzano’, Dario Cecchini. This is part theatre (see YouTube) with a six course all meat dinner, and an experience to be remembered. Having eaten the best part of a Chianina steer (grown by Giovanni on the Fontodi estate), we finished up with Italian military liqueur and escaped to bed.