So it goes!
The wine tasting season, 2022, finally kicked off down here last night with a lovely line up from Tuscany and a little, and very good indeed, vino bianco from the north of Italy, Piedmont & Friuli.
It really could not have been better timing for me as I have just finished, over the last week-end, dear old Nick Belfrage’s ‘Life Beyond Lambrusco‘. Do you remember it? It used to be on the reading list for those taking the WSET and MW examinations, back in the day. So, the book was published in 1985 and there is no hint or mention whatsoever of any of the wines we enjoyed last night, except one that is, Herr Jermann. So the book is from 37 years ago now and as Nick pointed out then “There can no longer be any doubt that Italian wine has set sail on a new course, and for the rest of us is merely a question of how long we will cling to our old images and prejudices before waking up, or being woken up to the new situation”. If only one could go back 35+years and turn up at a tasting with a bottle of today’s ‘Super Toscano’ and see what a bombshell it would have made back then. Almost unimaginable, and yes I know that in the 1970s and 1980s we already had Tignanello, Sassicaia & cousins to contend with but they where so marginal and not on the scene at all so as to mention them by name, let alone the use of the now common phrase Super Tuscan Wine. The Wine Trade who used fax, even telex then and with a huge amount of courage would even think to dabble in that non Clarety world. Like yours truly. Prices then where pretty similar to the top wines from other countries, and who would then anyway choose to drink something from Tuscany, no track record, for the same money as a Bordeaux Cru Classe. Nobody of course!
First into bat, and no Wu-flu here, was a 2015 Alteni di Brassica, Langhe from Gaja.
A lovely note & creamy expression here, from my least favorite grape Sauvignon Blanc. I am told that this is the only white wine in Angelo Gaja’s line up that does not complete malolactic fermentation. The bouquet is exuberant and bright with green notes of salvia, wild oregano and white pepper. Those sharper tones are followed by bright layers of tropical fruit and zesty citrus. Drying mineral notes made this the wine of the night for one Oriental lady present at the doo.
Next up to the crease, from the same stable was Gaja’s ‘Gaia & Rey’, Langhe 2015.
Named after Angelo’s daughter (Gaia) and Grand mother (Rey), and I know that you did not know that until now, that is.
Burgundy straw like with aromas of white flowers and depth, with expressive notes of green apple, pear and stony minerality. This wine is super complex with firm texture, full body, yet with vibrant acidity. Soft and beautifully integrated wood to keep this a charmer for some years to come. Wow!
One of my all time favorites was then poured from Oslavia (Gorzia) Gravner’s Ribolla 2009, Venezia Giulia.
If you have not been to visit chez Gravner yet, please do put it on your list of wine places to visit before you kick the bucket. His Ribolla Gialla here is one of greatest & weirdest wines ever made. And to see at first hand how they make the wine is already mind blowing enough to put you on the real, natural wine path. If you can imagine a Montrachet, blended with Ch.d’Yquem and finished off with a local grape Ribolla, or even a Verduzzo then you have this wine. Extreeeemly complex, very long indeed but finishes clean and let’s one ponder on for more. My wine of the evening! without a doubt.
Next up was a wonderful bottle of 2017 ‘Where Dreams have no end’, Jermann (Friuli).
It just seemed to evaporate in-front of my eyes. This is the only Italian wine family mentioned in the Belfrage book. The Jermann family being one of a handful in the Friuli to make the new style of Italian wine mentioned in Life Beyond Lambrusco. This is made of 100% noble Chardonnay and aged in 300 liter French barrels for nearly a year and no more. Unctious, Friulian to the core and puts my dream life back on course for a new (ad)venture to Italy. Anyone coming with me? I will organize everything, except your flights.
Coming back to earth, the reds followed with a new on me here, Poggio Al Tesoro 2017 ‘Sondraia’, Bolgheri that would appear to be the first vintage from a Marilisa Allegrini, yes she is from that famous family in the Veneto known for their fabulous Valpolicellas, and now down on the Tuscan coast. Who can resist eh! To be honest with you it was the most unlike Tuscan wine of the evening but then again if your family has been making wine successfully in the Veneto for the last 500 years what would you expect.
Sondraia is a 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and a 10% smidgeon of Cabernet Franc blend and leaves us with some clove, bark and dark walnut ripe fruit. It is a rich wine, succulent and cherry plum like. It’s very drinkable of course, if not just a little stemmy on the finish. I like that, and very Valpolly-wally in style a la Toscana!
Then we where treated to the more local mafia style on the reds though not a new name on the block at all, Ludovico Antinori (aka: Masseto), but his new (well new since 2013 that is) Biserno Bibbona 2014 from Livorno turned up in spades in sexiness. Considering this wine comes in between two extraordinary vintages (2013 & 2015), 2014 finds its place as a pretty weak vintage. The weather was very wet and there was a significant lack of sunshine. Yes, this is possible in Italy and even in Tuscany. As a consequence, there are producers that decided not to bottle a Superiore wine in 2014. Some who filled bottles, made a disputable decision. Still there are some pretty good wines, but not what I would describe as really great. Biserno decided to fill a small quantity of 6.000 bottles, just what was left at the end of the sorting table. And the result is all but bad. It has a lovely Tuscan spicy nose showing off a dominating acidity. On the palate the wine shows a surprising roundness, a lovely texture and an unbelievable fine fruit. Yes, it does lack persistence, lacking complexity but leaves us with and a long finish and a very good introduction to Biserno. Bravo Ludovico!
Heading back inland we go to my favourate of Tuscan villages, Panzano, and drank some 2010 Flaccianello from Fontodi. My goodness this was a good wine and it should also take your breath away a little. This is a seriously beautiful Sangiovese-based wine with the kind of intensity and aromatic purity you only experience every 499 wines or so. There’s a lot to say here. First, the wine’s beautiful appearance shows dark garnet colors with highlights of ruby and purple gemstone. The bouquet delivers a steady and seductive evolution with dark cherry, chocolate, spice, tobacco and sweet almond all seamlessly balanced one against the other. Its texture and inner fabric is rich, velvety and firm. A classique!
We finished with a pair of Tignanello’s side by side, 2011 and 2015 vintages, and as you probably know the vineyards that make up Tignanello are lying between Greve and Pesa. The 2011 was the red of the evening for the tasters, not for me tho’, Flaccianello 2010 was way ahead. As you know Antinori likes to blend at least 25% Cabernet Sauvignon in with the Sangiovese here. Of course it’s a graceful and complex Chianti. They have been pouring it since 1975, so we can definitely call it one of the original Super Tuscans. These days they manage to bottle around 300.000 bottles. The 2015 had fantastic aromas of dark berries, sandalwood and Spanish cedar. Full bodied, an incredible spin of polished tannins and bright acidity. Incredible depth. Powerful and structured. Obviously a great Tignanello, from a great Tuscan vintage!
2011 however for me was very closed, short and mature. Please don’t get me wrong, it was a good bottle, but with no real interest except showing some tired old style Chianti that other vintages of this wine do not represent at all. Lacking in Tig-character! I could blame Bo-Jo for this as I know he likes to drink Tis has he calls it, with Pizza on a friday night with his missus & the nippers.
“There are two eras in Tuscan wine-making: before Tachis and after Tachis” N.Belfrage MW