Posts Tagged Isole e Olena

Day Two in Tuscany

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.

Felsina Berardenga

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.’

Giusseppe Mazzocolin

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.

Vin Santo

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.


To Try:

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.


To Try:

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.


Giovanni Manetti

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.


To Try:

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.

Dario Cecchini

Tuscan Health Food


Italian Military Rations

Posted in: Blog

Leave a Comment (0) →

A Few Days in Tuscany – Day One

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.

Mixed Olive trees and vines at Poggio al Tesoro

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.

To Try:
‘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.

To Try:
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.

Andrea Costanti

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.

To Try:
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.


Posted in: Blog

Leave a Comment (0) →

Staff Party

One of the disadvantages of being self-employed is you don’t get to go to work parties; or maybe that is a benefit? Feeling slightly sorry for myself, I invited Joe Breen, a friend and my predecessor in the Irish Times wine column, around for our own staff party – lunch in my house. As we were eating a small roast of lamb followed by some cheese, I decided to open two Cabernets. Both were magnificent, and we spent a very happy afternoon righting the wrongs of the world over two delicious and very different wines.


Ch. Léoville-Barton 1996, St. Julien

Ch. Léoville-Barton has always been one of my favourite wines of Bordeaux. The Barton family have remained true to the traditional more elegant style of claret, resisting the temptation to bump up the ripeness, alcohol and new oak to please some sectors of the market. They have also been restrained in their pricing; both Langoa and Léoville-Barton remain relative bargains when compared to their peers. The result is beautifully made restrained wines at affordable prices.

I have tasted the 1996 Léoville a number of times with mixed results. A few bottles have been distinctly barnyardy, but others were much better. This was one of the best bottles. Fully mature, with a wonderful fragrance and elegant blackcurrant, mint and cigar box. Classic St. Julien. Good length and still very much all there. It did not fade at all over three hours. A real treat.

Isole e Olena Collezione Privata Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 IGT Toscana

Isole e Olena is one of the greatest producers of Chianti Classico. Paulo di Marche also makes a few excellent varietal wines, including this Cabernet. It was an excellent wine, certainly superior to most of the rival Cabernet-based ‘super-Tuscans’ that I have tasted over the years.

A puppy when tasted alongside the Léoville-Barton, but this is a magnificent wine. Tight and tannic with masses of firm ripe dark berry fruits (and a healthy 14.5% alcohol) this needed the lamb to provide a foil for the tannins. It opened out beautifully over the course of a few hours.

Posted in: Blog

Leave a Comment (0) →