Toscana - The Heart of Italian Wine - Tasting Report 2019
I have visited all corners of the globe and no wine region beats Tuscany in terms of scenery, It is just drop-dead gorgeous. Tuscany is the heart of Italian wine and produces more top-scoring wines than any other region in Italy. However, as I have discovered many many times this year, within each region many different styles exist. Sangiovese is the grape of Tuscany, yet, takes on many different forms; from light and elegant, to muscular and bold, finishing with rich and powerful. These forms existed in Greve and Radda in Chianti along with Montalcino in southern Tuscany. Bolgheri is home of the Super Tuscans, and some of the highest-scoring wines in Italy come from Bolgheri. However unlike their neighbours, the wines are not made form Sangiovese, but from Bordeaux blends. Another side of Tuscany, which is explored in this report.
Recent vintages of Tuscany have been quite varied with a challenging 2014, yet a stellar 2015 and 2016. The 2014 vintage saw a mild summer and frequent hailstorms, yet some producers crafted some classic wines. The 2015 vintage was hailed by wine critics as one of the best that Tuscany has ever seen, with a hot and dry summer. The 2016 is promising to be even better, with less rain and a slightly cooler summer, the fruit produced is said to be even better.
With two classic vintages just released, I felt it was time to visit the heart of Italian wine and see just how good these vintages were. This report includes the wineries of Fontodi, Fattoria Vignavecchia, Fattoria di Montemaggio, Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona, Casanova di Neri and Ornellaia. Other wines have been included which were tasted as part of an independent tasting.
Fontodi located in Panzano, Chianti was my first stop. Fontodi has been in the Manetti family since 1968 and is both organic, sustainable and estate grown. Upon arriving at the winery, you are able to see over 90% of their vineyards within the Panzano valley. Over 95% of their vines are Sangiovese, however, they also produce a small amount of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Syrah. I walked around with Silvano Marcucci, who emphasized at Fontodi, it is all about quality and showing the best of their terroir. All wines are hand-harvested, use natural yeast and even produce their own fertilizer with their cows. Their focus is on Sangiovese, and they produce what I would refer to as rustic, terroir-driven, cellaring Sangiovese. Their wines perfectly showcase the Sangiovese grapes, though, those who can wait to pull the cork on their wines will be deeply rewarded. Their wines are best enjoyed after 7-8 years of cellaring, if drinking early, ensure a long decant.
Highlights included the Fontodi Syrah Case Via Colli della Toscana Centrale IGT 2009 (94 points), This has a full-body and rich palate, with overripe dark black fruit, liquorice, anise, vanilla, crushed stones and polished tannins. The finish was long and elegant. Along with the Fontodi Vigna del Sorbo 2015 (95 points), with a fruit-driven nose, and a palate which was rich and full, along with a wonderful purity of fruit, orange peel and anise with a rich finish. Finally the Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve 2015 (96 points), is a real stunner and shows the quality of what the Sangiovese grape is capable of. Aromas of violets, lavender, wild herbs, mushrooms and dark fruit which lead to a wonderfully velvety palate of rich sweet blackcurrant and cherries, nicely woven muscular yet polished tannins. Fontodi is a benchmark in Chianti, though these are not for early drinking, waiting is the secret for these wines.
Vignavecchia is located in the region of Radda in Chianti. It was founded by Odoardo Beccari in 1876, and so has a long history. The current owners date back four generations and is currently run by Orsola Beccari. The question though is how I came across this small family-run winery? I am always blind tasting and their basic Chianti Classico 2016 came in at a similar score to that of wine three times the price! I was automatically hooked and after a few late emails we set up a tasting. Those who are in search of excellent value to quality wines should look no further than Vignavecchia. Highlights included the Vignavecchia Tulipa Rosato Toscana 2018 (92 points), which was full of freshly cut strawberries, raspberries along with a clean and well-focused finish. The Vignavecchia Raddese Rosso di Toscana IGT 2014 (93 points), with good concentration, wonderful purity of fruit along with smooth elegant chalky tannins. Finally the Vignavecchia Chianti Classico Riserva 2015 (92 points), which was more structured compared to the CC, with more muscular tannins along with dark fruit, concentration yet with good freshness and bright acidity, a steal in terms of price. Vignavecchia is a family-owned winery which delivers top-quality Chianti at excellent prices, what else could you ask for?
Fattoria di Montemaggio
Getting to Montemaggio is a challenge, it involves driving for around 5km on gravel roads up and around the hills of Radda in Chianti, but it is worth the drive. Montemaggio means Big Mountain, and even though the vineyard does sit higher than most, I am not sure I would go as far as calling it a mountain! Valeria Zavadnikova and her team do a fantastic job in producing some higher altitude, drinkable and sense of place wines. When Valeria took over the winery 11 years ago, the first decision which was made was to hold back the wines. This was to allow for additional ageing and ensure that when they reached the market they were ready to drink. What this means in reality, is that most of their wines could be passed off as a higher classification (i.e. a Chianti Classico could be classified as a Chianti Classico Reserva). Yet, they keep this original designation, since they feel that is what this designation should taste like. I also appreciated how along with Ilaria Anichini, they focus on being organic, sustainable and eco-responsible. Their wines perfectly showcase their terroir and require little cellaring to be fully enjoyed.
Highlights include Montemaggio Chianti Classico Riserva 2011 (93 points), which showed good concentration of fruit along with freshness and bright acidity leading to a lean and clean finish. Also, the Montemaggio Quinta Essentia Toscana IGT 2013 (92 points), with a blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Sangiovese showed soft red fruit, spicy notes, black pepper and an elegant fresh finish. Finally, the Montemaggio Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2012 (93 points), with aromas of lavender, herbs, dried violets leading to a full and structured palate of prunes, figs along with fresh red fruits, the tannins were serious yet elegant. Fattoria di Montemaggio produces elegant wines which are ready to drink upon release as well as showing a fantastic expression of the higher altitude Radda region.