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Fire in the booze!

From Santorini to Soave, some of the world’s most interesting and talked-about wines come from vineyards planted on volcanic soils. It comes as no surprise that there’s been an explosion of interest in these ‘volcanic’ wines from sommeliers and wine merchants alike.

So what singles out these wines among all the others? Certainly the mineral-rich nature of volcanic soils plays a massive part, as does the finite-availability of wines from such specific sites. It’s true that vines grown on plain old clay or limestone can be world-beating, but you can find these soils in every wine-growing region of the world.

The ‘wow factor’ and story of behind volcanic wines shouldn’t be overlooked either. These vines grown on ancient soils really do take terroir to the next level with their mineral characters, fresh acidity, salinity and distinct longevity. The sight of green shoots and leaves emerging from the black volcanic soil is as ethereal as its gets in the vineyard.

According to Jamie Goode in his book The Science of Wine: From Vine to Glass, wines from volcanic soils are said to be riper, weightier, richer, and with texture and minerality that make them age worthy. Quite an attractive list of assets, but where do these characters come from?

Volcanic soils are rich in potassium, calcium, iron and magnesium, as well as other elements, which can contribute greatly to a wine’s mineral profile. Potassium-rich soils tend to produce wines with an almost almond-edged and savoury finish, while black volcanic soils enhance the citrus, peach and apricot aromas. They all enjoy a wonderful freshness.

Add to this the fact that volcanic rocks constitute high levels of macro-porosity in soils which allows water to be delivered to the roots of vines very slowly. This water-retaining property can be a lifesaver during a dry growing season when vines must rely on groundwater to survive.

The aspect of the volcano itself and the altitude at which many vineyards are planted also help to produce top quality fruit, as does the unflinching determination and attitude of generations of viticulturists who have risked eruptions to plant, tend and harvest vines. Simply put, these are very special sites, and they look awesome too.

Here’s a few volcanic suggestions from our portfolio.

Feudi di San Gregorio, Greco di Tufo, Campania, 2017:
“An aromatic and mineral wine showing flavours of peach, melon and citrus over a creamy texture.”

Ca’Rugate, Monte Fiorentine Soave Classico, Veneto, 2016:
“A beautifully layered wine with a rich flavour of ripe pineapple through to a fresh, mineral and lemon finish, full of flavour.”

Gaia Thalassitis Assyrtiko Santorini 2017:
“Explosive minerality with fresh lemon zest on the nose, crisp acidity on the palate and underlying floral notes. Refreshing with a crisp, mineral finish.”

Domaine Lavigne, Saumur Champigny Vieilles Vignes, Loire, 2016:
“A red Loire showing typical Cabernet Franc rhubarb and graphite character with a refreshing dryness on the finish.”

Chateau Grand Pré, Morgon, Beaujolais, 2016/2017:
“Rich, fleshy and balanced, with an appealing sauvage nose of green plums, chunky cherries and a hint of smokiness and spice.”

Basilisco, Teodosio Aglianico del Vulture, Basilicata, 2014:
“A full bodied and concentrated wine with aromas of soft fruit, plum and Morello cherry. Well balanced through to a dry, lingering finish.”

WOTM: Tenuta Ammiraglia, Alìe Rosé, Toscana 2017

Alìe Rosé, located in Magliano in the Maremma on the southern tip of Tuscany, the Ammiraglia estate boasts 150 hectares of vineyards that blanket gently rolling hills overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.

In a nutshell:

Aromas of white flowers, wild cherry and citrus peel, with
velvety peaks of minerality resulting in a dry and herbal
finish.

The producer:

The wines of Tenuta Ammiraglia represent the Frescobaldi’s expression of modern Tuscan wines: influenced and inspired by the Mediterranean sun, sea and coastal breezes. The modern Ammiraglia winery, designed by the architect Piero Sartogo, is reminiscent of the prow of a ship pointing towards the sea. Perfectly integrated amid the hills and covered with greenery, it combines the most recent technological innovations with respect for the land and surrounding nature. The wines of Tenuta Ammiraglia are distinguished by the freshness, minerality and richness of the fruit.

The wine:

The berries were carefully selected and immediately pressed without any maceration, capturing just a hint of the colour from the skins, resulting in the delicate rosé colour. The grapes were then fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel for three  months, retaining the purity of fruit and aromatic expression. The wine did not go through malolactic fermentation. The Syrah was blended with a touch of Vermentino and the wine spent one month in bottle, prior to release.

Serving suggestion:

The berries were carefully selected and immediately pressed without any maceration, capturing just a hint of the colour from the skins, resulting in the delicate rosé colour. The grapes were then fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel for three months, retaining the purity of fruit and aromatic expression. The wine did not go through malolactic fermentation. The Syrah was blended with a touch of Vermentino and the wine spent one month in bottle, prior to release.

 

Royal Ascot 2018: What to expect

Hallgarten recently became Official Wine Supplier to Ascot Racecourse, exclusively supplying all still wines to the world’s most famous racecourse.

The partnership will see Hallgarten supply wine across the site, including at Royal Ascot. Michelin-Starred chefs Simon Rogan, Philip Howard and Raymond Blanc OBE will all showcase a specially selected range of wines in their respective restaurants during the Royal Meeting.

Royal Ascot is one of the most iconic race meetings across the world – there’s nothing quite like it. From the Royal procession, to the style and fashion, to the strawberries and cream (and the racing of course), over 300,000 people are expected to attend.

There’s a lot to consider across the five day spectacle, we’ve taken a closer look at what you can expect.

At Royal Ascot’s award-winning, fifth-floor restaurant, On 5, with its extraordinary garden terrace offering panoramic views of the racecourse. What will Michelin starred Philip Howard be pouring with his signature menus…

White:

Tenuta Ammiraglia, Massovivo, Toscana, Vermentino 
A lovely, intense straw colour, which leads to an impressive bouquet of fragrant blossom and exotic fruits, along with a fascinating vein of earthy minerality which is classic of this area. Fresh, crisp and sapid, but well sustained by its structure, it has an intriguing hint of almond on the finish.

Swartland Winery, ‘Founders’, Swartland, Chenin Blanc
An expressive Chenin Blanc, showing vibrant aromas of ripe passion fruit, guava and pineapple, underpinned by refreshing citrus notes. Well balanced with a full, fruity palate and a refreshing minerality on the finish.

Rosé:

Gérard Bertrand ‘Gris Blanc’, Pays d’Oc
The palest of salmon pinks, this is a wonderfully pure, fresh flavoured wine, with vibrant fruit aromatics. The fruity characters are echoed on the palate, which has a lovely minerality and a zesty finish.

Red:

Saint Clair, ‘Origin’, Marlborough, Pinot Noir 
Aromas of sun-kissed dark berries, boysenberry and freshly picked blackberries, are interlaced with toasted wood notes and a hint of dark chocolate. The palate is full of sumptuous dark berries, layered with freshly ground coffee beans and dark chocolate. A hint of cinnamon spice leads into a savoury finish.

 

Raymond Blanc OBE returns as chef-in-residence to the sixth-floor Panoramic Restaurant, which offers one of the finest views across the track and down the straight mile. What will Raymond be pouring this year with his gastronomic menu…

 

White:

Domaine Tabordet ‘Laurier’, Pouilly-Fumé
A classic Pouilly Fumé showing minerality complemented by notes of exotic fruits, tangerine, pink grapefruit and spicy undertones. The palate is powerful and refreshing and delivers a long, flinty finish.

Rosé:

Château de l’Aumérade ‘Cuvée Marie Christine’ Rosé, Cru Classé Côtes de Provence
A lovely pale powder pink hue, with refreshing aromas of grapefruit leading to succulent peach and apricot on the palate. Fruit forward and full, with a hint of spice, this elegant rosé has a refreshing acidity and a long finish.

Red:

Domaine de la Ville Rouge ‘Inspiration’, Crozes-Hermitage 
Deep red, intense aromas of red fruits and black olives. Spicy and peppery notes with silky tannins. An elegant and silky textured wine.

 Sweet:

Château Suduiraut, Castelnau de Suduiraut, Sauternes
This elegantly rich wine shows orange peel and mineral notes on the nose. The palate is full bodied with almonds, spice, honey and candied fruits through to a lovely, lingering finish.

 

Chef Adam Handling, of The Frog E1 and Frog by Adam Handling in Covent Garden, makes his Royal Ascot debut in 2018 as he takes his role as ‘Chef in Residence’ of The Balmoral – a brand new Fine Dining restaurant within the Royal Enclosure.

White:

Gérard Bertrand ‘Terroir’ Picpoul de Pinet
A complex nose, full of citrus and floral notes combined with white peach, exotic fruit and a hint of pineapple. The palate is rich with zesty fruit and a livewire acidity which keeps your taste buds tingling. The finish is long and well rounded.

Rosé:

Saint Clair,’Origin’, Marlborough, Pinot Gris Rosé
Pale salmon in colour, a refreshing rosé with lifted aromas of sun-ripened strawberry, whipped cream and spiced pear. Beautifully balanced and finely structured on the palate with creamy fruit flavours of raspberries and strawberries leading to a hint of spice on the finish.

Red:

Gérard Bertrand ‘Naturalys’, Pays d’Oc, Syrah
A deep colour, with shimmering hints of violet. Generous nose, packed with red fruit and spice. Supple, aromatic and impeccably elegant on the palate, with refined tannins and lively fruit flavours offset by subtle herbaceous aromas.

Sweet:

Quady Winery, ‘Essensia’, California, Orange Muscat
Vibrant orange in colour, this wine delivers luscious sweet oranges and apricots on the palate. The bittersweet orange marmalade notes balance well with the zesty citric acidity.

 

What else to expect by numbers…

56,000
bottles of Champagne

80,000
cups of tea

21,000
jugs of Pimm’s

7,000
rumps of English lamb

3,000
kilos of beef sirloin

3,500
fresh lobsters

 

Winemaker profile: Stefano Chiarlo

For generations, the iconic Chiarlo family has produced some of Piedmont’s truly great wines and winemakers. Stefano Chiarlo, Michele Chiarlo’s current Oenologist and Vineyard Manager, runs the winery alongside his parents and brother.

Founded by Stefano’s father, Michele Chiarlo in 1956, the family owns 60 hectares of vineyards and produces single varietal wines from indigenous grape varieties. The winery remains in the town where Michele was born and the family are proud to represent this area, where Michele is a leading figure in the Piedmont wine industry.

Following time spent studying Oenology at the Enological School in Alba, and after a period of National Service following his graduation, Stefano joined Michele Chiarlo in 1991.

Initially working as Assistant to Oenologist, Roberto Bezzato, Stefano was responsible for managing the vineyard and the vinification of Gavi, a hugely important wine for Chiarlo and Piedmont. Following seven years learning the trade at the winery, Stefano became chief winemaker in 1999 (a very good vintage for Nebbiolo based wines).

His winemaking philosophy centres on creating wines which are elegant, with subtle use of oak and respect for the varietal and terroir.

Away from the winery and vineyard Stefano, along with his father and brother, is a keen Torino football supporter. He also enjoys skiing, visiting good pubs and is a lover of the sea.

We are proud to list 14 wines created under Stefano’s watchful eye at Michele Chiarlo in our portfolio, from the iconic Barolos, to the pioneering Barberas, the immensely important Gavis and the delicious Moscatos. For more information on any of these wines, visit our website.

Castello Pomino Winemaker’s Dinner

On Halloween we went to the Ristorante Frescobaldi, London, for a dinner hosted by Castello Pomino winemaker, Livia Le Divelec, who guided us through the unusual and exciting wines of Pomino’s mountain environment and the unique history of the estate where Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were planted for the first time in Italy in 1855.

Pomino boasts an environment unique inTuscany: a perfectly-balanced ecosystem of vineyards, fir forest, chestnut trees, and olive groves. The estate covers 1,458 hectares lying along the wooded slopes of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines, with 108 hectares in vineyards, at elevations ranging from 300 to 750 metres.

Ristorante Frescobaldi London is the first standalone restaurant and bar in the UK from the famed Frescobaldi family of Tuscany.

Canapés

A selection of canapes, paired with  Leonia Brut 2012, Metodo Tradizionale Millesimato

The wine had an initial aroma of intense bread crust and patisserie, which gave way to a fresh bouquet of spring flowers with citrusy hints, before ending with spiced nutmeg and thyme leaves.

The sparkly starter was a perfect tipple to pair with the canapés of traditional Tuscan meats, fish and cheese.

Antipasti

Sea bass tartar with artichoke and fresh salad leaves, paired with Castello Pomino 2016, Pomino Bianco d.o.c.

2016 Bianco had an intensely flowery, frangipant and jasmine nose, mixed with fruitier notes of apricot and quince. In the glass it releases exotic scents of tropical fruit and fresh cardamom.

Primi piatti 

Rabbit tortelli with winter tomatoes and olive taggiasche, paired with Pomino Pinot Nero 2015, Pomino d.o.c.

An explosion of fruity aromas with a prevelance of cherries and blackberries mixed with cinnamon, cloves and notes of tobacco an coffee.

Secondi 

Turbot with topinambur pumpkin and crispy artickhokes, paired with Pomino Benefizio Riserva 2015 & 1997 vintages, Pomino Bianco d.o.c.    

(On the left) The 2017 Benefizio is a barrique aged white, elegant and distinctive with a rich array of aromas and flavours such as apple, pineapple, citrus and honey.

(On the right) The 1997 Benefizio was a unique experience, a deeper amber colour yet retaining its acidity and freshness superbly. The bottle ageing had developed the honey notes, baked apple and hazelnut.

Dolce 

Pear strudel and hot custard cream, paired with Vinsanto di Pomino 2008, Castello Pomino, Pomino Vinsanto d.o.c.

To finish a sweet delight, on the nose; spicy notes of vanilla and nutmeg. The palate was enveloped by elegant softness, while the finish brings back memories of toasted hazelnuts and walnuts.

WOTM: Poderi Parpinello, Vermentino di Sardinia DOC Ala Blanca 2016

In a nutshell:

The Poderi Parpinello, Vermentino di Sardinia DOC ‘Ala Blanca’ 2016 is a wine that is full of flavour of ripe tropical fruit, lime and pineapple coulis with a spicy finish.

The producer

The Parpinello family have run this 30 hectare estate and winery with dedication and passion for three generations. Giampaolo Parpinello and his son Paolo strive to reflect the Sardinian terroir and reveal the typicity of the wines. The vineyard is situated on a gentle slope between Alghero and Sassari in the North West of the island. In order to reflect this typicity, modern winemaking technology is successfully combined with traditional farming methods, resulting in high quality wines with intense aromas and flavours, evocative of the terroir from which they originate.

The wine

The wine was traditionally vinified with a temperature controlled maceration and fermentation at 15°C. No wood was used during vinification in order to preserve the varietal characteristics of the Vermentino grape, whilst also expressing the elements of terroir from which it hails.

The tasting note:

Elegant and fine aromas of ripe tropical fruits, with an intriguing hint of bitter almonds and a lovely spicy finish.

WOTM: San Marzano ‘Tramari’ Primitivo Rosé Salento IGP 2016

Summer is almost upon us and so it’s time to crack out the nectar of summer – rosé. To celebrate the start of the warmer months, our Wine of the Month is a 100% Primitivo wine from San Marzano.

In a nutshell:

Made from the Primitivo grape, this is a very appealing pale and tangy rosé with aromas of roses and wild strawberries against a creamy background of Mediterranean spice.

The Producer:

In 1962, 19 vine growers from San Marzano, whose families had farmed the land for generations, combined their efforts to establish ‘Cantine San Marzano’. Through the decades this cooperative has grown significantly, attracting over 1200 vine growers, using modern and technologically advanced vinification techniques to produce elegant wines, while paying homage to the ancient Apulian wine traditions. Nowadays, the fusion of time honoured tradition and passion, with contemporary techniques, enables this winery to produce wines with distinctive varietal and regional characteristics, which distinctly reflect the local terroir.

The Wine:

A skin contact maceration took place for several hours, followed by a partial drawing off the must. Fermentation took place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, preserving the aromatics and the fruit characteristics of the Primitivo variety. Ageing then continued in stainless steel to retain the freshness. This is a very modern wine, made from the Primitivo grape variety, which is an uncommon characteristic for a Salento wine.

Tasting note:

A softly coloured rosé with intense aromas of wild cherries and raspberries, combined with an attractive hint of Mediterranean maquis -the local aromatic shrubland. Elegantly styled and slightly off-dry, with a refreshing finish.

Ca’Rugate at the tre bicchieri tasting

Today we are part of the great and the good in the plush surroundings of the Church House Conference Centre at Dean’s Yard in Westminster – which is an interesting place to be during a General Election campaign.

We’re here for the annual Gambero Rosso tre bicchieri tasting and I’m showing off the award-winners from our wonderful Ca’Rugate winery. Based in Brognoligo di Monteforte in the heart of the Soave Classico region, Ca’Rugate is one of my all-time favourite producers. We started working with them about four years ago (we couldn’t believe our luck!) and since then it has been a real thrill to introduce their wines to our customers. They made their name with their amazing selection of Soave wines (check out their history of tre bicchieri awards), but in recent times they have won just as many awards for their Valpolicella wines.

Today I am showing the Monte Fiorentine Soave Classico 2015, the Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2015 and the Punta Tolotti Black Label Amarone 2012.

Award-winners to the left of me, award-winners to the right of me, but punters are queueing up at my table – and it’s definitely not because of my good looks. Word has got out and everyone wants to taste the Soave. It lives up to its reputation, caressing and undressing the palate with a seductive allure of hazelnuts and cream, cut through with a water-on-pebbles minerality. My job is sooo easy when the wine is as good as this.

But just as gratifying is the reaction to the reds. One particular wine “counsellor” becomes my best pal by bringing over client after client to taste the ravishing and voluptuous Amarone, surrendering themselves to the heady concoction of blueberries, blackberries, cherries and spicy oak. The tasters look at me in awe. Nothing to do with me, I tell them; it’s all the work of Michele Tessari and his team.

The Ripasso is equally well received. It is the subtle touch of sweetness on the finish which lingers on the palate which causes everyone to pause, stop, gaze into a faraway space and reflect on the beauty of what is in their mouth. The senses surrender.  It is the way the taster looks at you as if to say; “Thank you” which brings the smile to your face.

It was at the beginning of the 20th century that Amedeo Tessari, Michele’s great grandfather, first sensed the quality of the land and began making wine. Amedeo, a modest man,  would probably have felt out of place among the finery of Dean’s Yard. But his legacy lives on.

The wines continue to beguile.

 

Try something natural… Ancilla Lugana, 1909, 2015

In a nutshell:

Produced without the addition of sulphur, this wine has a super ripe pear and white peach character, textured with a very long and saline finish.

The wine:

The grapes were destemmed and lightly pressed, followed by a cold maceration on the skins. A slow fermentation took place in steel casks at a low temperature. The wine was aged on its fine lees, in stainless steel casks for five months, then saw further bottle ageing for one month, prior to release.

Tasting note:

52391-1909_hdIntense aromas of grapefruit and citrus fruits are combined with intriguing undertones of jasmine and elderflower. These sensations come to fruition and linger deliciously on the palate, harmoniously balanced with notable body and the discovery of unsuspected warmth.

Try it with:

A food loving wine, this accompanies antipasti, bruschetta, risotto and grilled white fish with a twist of lemon.

The producer:

Ancilla Lugana is located on the shores of Lake Garda in North East Italy. The estate comprises two vineyards: La Ghidina, located in Lugana di Sirmoine, the heart of the production area of some of the most elegant whites in Italy, and Cadellora, situated in Villa franca di Verona. It is run by Luisella Benedetti, the third generation of women to run this estate, having inherited the farm from her mother, who inherited in turn from her mother, named Ancilla.

Ancilla was an extraordinary, energetic woman, who worked the fields and got up at 3am every day make her wine producing dream come true. Following in the footsteps of her grandmother, with the passion for the land in her blood, Luisella Benedetti gave up her career in finance and took over the family business in the early 2000’s.

With a hands-on approach, Luisella is involved in every aspect of winemaking and viticulture. The lifelong commitment of her grandmother and mother is a passion now shared by Luisella, which is clear to see in this exciting and pure collection of Lugana wines.

A Tuscan tour of frescobaldi and the Defender of Sangiovese

Five-fifteen in the morning; a freezing black December day; Gatwick Airport. And, honestly, it’s like Piccadilly Circus. Where are all these people going?

For us, groggy and caffeine-craving, this is the incongruous launching pad for our visit to some of the finest estates in Tuscany: to the rarefied air of Pomino; to the grandeur of Castello Nipozzano; to Montespertoli’s Tenuta Castiglione, where it all began; and finally, to the fortress of Castelgiocondi in the deep south. The common theme, of course, is that they are all owned by the Frescobaldi family. Which guarantees that they benefit from unparalleled investment, care, and the collected wisdom of 700 years of experience. For some, that would be enough. But the Frescobaldi’s do not want to rely on the past, glorious though it is. The diversity of their estates (the greatest under one ownership), each representing a pinnacle of terroir fulfilment, and the restless search for excellence; these are the axioms of their yearning.

A couple of hours later, Giuseppe Pariani, Frescobaldi’s affable Export Director, is gunning the car through Pontassieve. Robin Knapp, our Director of Regional Sales and I are hanging on. The road is winding and vertiginous. “Lamberto Frescobaldi always jokes that you need a passport to visit Pomino,” says Giuseppe.

castello-pomino
Castello Pomino

And it is a long way up. “We are now at around seven hundred metres, so it’s quite cold,” says Giuseppe. Cold but beautiful, we reflect, as a blanket of fog caresses the lower inclines of the Arno Valley, while a milky winter sun adds a gorgeous gloss to the sequoias, firs and chestnut trees of the higher slopes.

Francesca Pratesi, the winemaker (under Lamberto’s guidance), shows us around this beguiling estate. In his famous declaration of 1716, Cosimo de’ Medici identified Pomino as one of the four most highly prized territories of Tuscany for the production of wines, along with Chianti, Carmignano and Val d’Arno. Frescobaldi virtually own the denomination, with 98% of the production.

We spend most of our time in the drying room for Vin Santo – “the Rolls Royce of Pomino” – Leonardo Frescobaldi will later tell us. Francesca explains what she considers is the difference between a small barrique and a large cask: “The barrique is like an organ, a cask is like a drum.”

grapes-for-vin-santo-castello
Vin Santo drying room, Pomino

The Pomino Bianco (2015) is always one of my favourite wines, easy to appreciate, the Pinot Bianco evident, although it is the junior partner to Chardonnay. The real standout of the tasting, however, is the Benefizio 2015. I’ve often thought that the oak influence is a little top-heavy with this wine, but today it is beautifully balanced, the oak still evident (it will be better in one year) but with the layered and textured fruit developing nicely. A very good competitor to Meursault.

Vats, Castello Pomino
Vats, Castello Pomino

Burton Anderson wrote: “The wines of Chianti Rufina, the smallest zone in the hills above the Sieve river, produce some of the most grandiose Chianti. Rufina’s vineyards lie at a relatively high altitude which can be sensed in the rarefied bouquet and lingering elegance of well-aged wines, notably Selvapiana and Montesodi.”

Well, it is only a short ride down to Rufina and the castle of Nipozzano and on the way we stop to look at the Montesodi vineyards. Nipozzano commands a stunning position on the mountain slope overlooking the Arno valley. Built in the year 1000, this is the most celebrated and historic property of the Frescobaldi’s. During the Renaissance, Donatello and Michelozzo Michelozzi regularly purchased wine from the estate. It is said that an ancestor of the Frescobaldi family invested 1,000 florins in 1855 to begin the cultivation of varieties previously unknown in Tuscany such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Those magnificent vines now make Mormoreto, the wine which in many ways defines the estate.

Montesodi Vineyards, Castello Nipozzano
Montesodi Vineyards, Castello Nipozzano

Eleonora Marconi, the ebullient winemaker, proudly shows us round, in between overseeing exacting preparations for the Frescobaldi Christmas party (no pressure, then!) “Chianti from here in the Rufina area is characterised by complexity and elegance. The vineyard soils of the area are mostly marl and chalk and we are very high up.”

We taste the flagship wine, the Nipozzano Riserva (2014). Textbook Chianti: bitter cherry and plum, then pepper and dark chocolate. A hint of acidity gives away the elevation. Then we move on to a newish innovation, the Nipozzano Riserva Vecchie Viti. This is an important introduction for the Frescobaldi’s; it is an attempt to showcase a Chianti made the way it would have been made 50 years ago. It is sourced from 50 year old vines and made using methods which were common 50 years ago, such as being matured in large oak casks, rather than barrique.

Marquis Leonardo de’ Frescobaldi, dressed impeccably in what looks like Scottish tweed, joins us for lunch and explains their aims. “We want to remove the vanilla influence from the barriques by going back to our ancestors, going back to highlight more the wine’s personality. We want the delicacy and freshness to be more pronounced.”

castello-nippozzano-2
Castello Nipozzano

He then goes on to describe another innovation: the 2013 vintage of Mormoreto will be the first to include Sangiovese, joining the other more international varieties.  He proudly pours it for us. It is complex and dense, but lively, too. Coffee beans, blackberry and raspberry are evident. In the mouth it is persistent and well balanced and very long, with a touch of tobacco and cedar on the finish.

Making changes to a venerable wine is unusual, but as Leonardo explains: “There is a difference between tradition and habit. Tradition means you build on the experience you have inherited and try to develop that within your time. Habit means you simply do what has always been done. We are for tradition; we are not for habit.”

The philosophy is borne out with Leonardo himself. Now in his seventies, he has adopted three titles, two official and one unofficial. As Honorary President, his chief duty is to provide advice and be a figurehead. He is also now family ambassador for the top Crus – Montesodi, Mormoreto, Pomino Benefizio, and Castiglione’s Giramonte. (I mishear his announcement and think for a minute he has been appointed Ambassador for Cool!)

Unofficially, however, he has given himself the title of Defender of Sangiovese. “At my age I have decided to defend my home grape. This is funny, because for many years within the family I was known as the great advocate for foreign varietals such a Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet franc. So now I am returning to my roots.

“While I am a great supporter of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, in the Kingdom of Nipozzano, Sangiovese is King. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the Kings in Castiglioni. Cabernet Franc will be the King in Bolgheri.”

Castiglioni Vineyard
Castiglioni Vineyard

I cannot help but be amused at this lovely man. A septuagenarian returning to his roots. Well, the search for excellence was never achieved by the pursuit of mediocrity.

But now we are running late for our appointment at Castiglione, so after lunch Giuseppe throws us round the Florence ring road. Robin and I hang on.

The property of the family since the 11th century, Castiglioni is the point of origin of wine production for the Frescobaldi’s. Documentation indicates that wines were being produced here as early as 1300. The estate extends along the ancient Via di Castiglioni, built by the Romans to unify northern Tuscany and Rome. The clayey soil means that Merlot predominates, but an important fact is that there are 80 different clones of Sangiovese being cultivated here. No doubt Leonardo is pleased.

The Tenuta Frescobaldi di Castiglioni 2014 – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese – is soft, oak-ish and rich, with a coffee beans, cocoa and blackberry nose. Tannins are firm but not harsh. Satisfying.

barriques-castiglioni

Then we come to the masterpiece. First introduced in 1999, Giramonte is a wine of great richness and intensity The 2012 is serious, dark and broody and shows notes of blueberries and plums. In the mouth it is dense, textured and powerful. This will be an epic wine.

We struggle back through the Florentine rush hour traffic, before eating at the Frescobaldi restaurant just opposite the Uffizi. Florence feels eerily quiet, considering it is two weeks before Christmas, and there is a haunting, soft mist hanging over the Arno. I cannot get it out of my head that Hannibal Lecter once lived in a palazzo here in Florence!

Ah well.

The next day Robin and I drive down to Montalcino. Except that, acting as navigator, I get lost and then Robin has to fling the car around some seriously steep slopes of the Val d’Orcia. I hang on.

The village of Castelgiocondo, southwest of Montalcino, overlooks the historic estate, which was one of the first four to begin producing Brunello di Montalcino in 1800. In actual fact, we will taste two different wines here. The first will be those of Castelgiocondo, but then we will also taste the wines of Luce della Vite.

Brunello di Montalcino
Brunello di Montalcino

To recap: Luce was launched in the early 1990s between Vittorio Frescobaldi and Robert Mondavi. Their common goal was to offer the world a truly exceptional wine, grown in Montalcino. Their sons, Lamberto and Tim, made the first vintages, blends of Sangiovese and Merlot, and the wine that was given the name Luce, as tribute to an element essential for the flourishing of every new being. The first two vintages, 1993 and 1994, were released together, in 1997, and with the 2004 vintage, the direction of Luce was entrusted solely to Lamberto Frescobaldi.

Teresa Giannelli, based at Castelgiocondo, shows us round. She explains that the new Luce winery will be completed in 2017. Meanwhile, of the 1,000 hectares that the family owns, 77 hectares are devoted to Luce and 242 hectares to Castelgiocondo. Lying at elevations ranging from 350 to 420 metres, the vineyards are some of the highest in Montalcino. The higher sections of the estate display galestro-rich, well-drained soils with little organic matter, ideal conditions for growing Sangiovese, while in the lower areas the soil exhibits more clay and sand, in which Merlot flourishes. The long, dry, sun-filled summers characteristic of this area, plus the vineyards’ south-facing exposure, guarantee the grapes a gradual and consistent ripening, which in turn yields wines of superb concentration and vigour.

Castelgiocondo Barrels
Castelgiocondo Barrels

Vineyard management practices follow the canons of sustainable agriculture, which favours organic practices that ensure the vine’s health and balance. “We do not wish to assault the customer with Organic credentials just for the sake of it. They simply need to know that we are involved in the honest toiling of the soil,” she explains.

We taste an epic selection of wines during a lunch of broccoli flan, spinach lasagne and wild boar.

The Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino 2011 is looking stunning: ravishing, seductive, soft and silky, a touch of vanilla pod, red and black cherries. Powerful but not over-assertive.

Although we do not taste the Ripe al Convento Brunello, sourced from a single vineyard lying at 350-450 metres’ elevation, Teresa explains that from the 2015 vintage this will be biodynamic.

We then turn to the Luce wines, with Teresa telling us that demand for the old vintages is really booming.

The Lucente 2015 has a luscious, silky feel, with masses of sweet fruit and a hint of desiccated coconut. Hugely attractive.

Then onto the last wine before we dash for the plane, the Luce 2013. Immediate thoughts: God, this is a serious wine! Structured, complex, lots of different nuances – raspberries, dark cherries, floral notes. On the palate it has magnificent balance and great acidity. It is serious but not overpowering. A beautiful wine, in keeping with its heritage.

Unfortunately, after this seduction of the senses, it is a mad dash over to Grosseto and then along the E80 up to Pisa. We just make the plane, thanks to my incompetence.

Sitting on the runway, I think about the visit and about the Frescobaldi’s, especially Leonardo, my new Kind of Cool. Yes, it is important that we emphasise their continuing commitment to producing wines which best express the terroir from their extraordinarily-sited vineyards. But there is no denying that another factor comes into play here, which is this: when you buy one of these great wines, you gain access to an exclusive club, one which has stood the test of time for seven centuries; you become a keeper of the flame, an involuntary ambassador, an endorser of a cultural import and social obligation that remains as strong now since it did in the time of the Renaissance.

You become part of the history of wine.

grapes-for-vin-santo-2-cast

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

 

I have always been captivated by snow and mountains so when I heard a Spanish wine producer describe his wines as ‘mountain wines’ it was a phrase that immediately seized my imagination.

 

Mountain wines might not have quite the same following as natural wines or be as talked about as cool-climate wines, but for me they have incredible appeal and not just because I’m gripped by mountain fever. They can offer something over and above a cool climate wine.

 

The voice for mountain wines is Cervim (the Centre for Research, Environmental Sustainability and Advancement of Mountain Viticulture) who campaign to safeguard the viticulture landscape and cultural interest of mountain wine growers. They even have a competition, now in its 21st edition but it is yet to breakthrough into the mainstream, at least here in the UK.

 

Talk to most winemakers and you’ll find out they almost all aspire to make wines that speak of where they come from. This is because wine is a product of its environment, not only the climate and soil but also the people, the history and culture of the territory. Wines have traditionally evolved along with the cuisine of a region in line with the populations’ tastes. One could argue that a region’s wines are so interlinked with the regional dishes, matching them is not just a safe bet but an experience. In the same way mountain wines can offer an emotional connection with winter dishes.

 

In mountain regions the grapes ripen and accumulate flavour slowly, they have high acidity giving freshness and they tend to be complex as well as very often mineral and extremely food friendly.

 

Mountain wines benefit from zero pollution (pollution can disrupt photosynthesis and injure leaves, roots and soil, thus affecting the fruit). There can also be benefits from the more intense ultraviolet rays at high altitude. The UV rays encourage the vine to activate defence mechanisms against the sun and the grape’s skin thickens to protect its seed. The thicker skins have more antioxidants, tannins, sugars and polyphenols giving the wines more colour and structure.  The ultra-clean air and fresh water from the snow melt sets up the vine for the growing season ahead, while the cooler, longer growing season is ultimately allows the fruit to reach optimum maturity.

 

On top of the natural benefits you could also argue there is a human benefit, and having lived in the Italian Alps for two winters, I would tend to agree. Making wine in the mountains at such challenging heights, gradients and weather conditions requires a desire to succeed. The tenacity necessary to live and make wine in remote mountain areas guarantees a product made with resilience and a huge desire to succeed.

 

The benefits of snow on vines

  • A thick snow layer protects vines from frost damage during the hard winter months
  • Slow and steady melting, allows water to penetrate the soil, fundamental for the first vine development stages
  • Snowmelt seeps deeply into the soil irrigating even the most deep-seated roots