The Castles & Abbeys of Toscana
Castello di Meleto
The Castello di Meleto estate is named after its massive castle that rises in the heart of the Chianti Classico district, not far from the boundary between the ancient Republics of Siena and Florence, about one kilometer from Gaiole in Chianti. Originally, the castle belonged to the Benedettini Monks of the Coltibuono Abbey but later in 1269 fell to the Raineri di Ricasoli family, who sold it in 1968, together with the surrounding 1,000 hectares, to the current owner Societa Viticola Toscana. Over centuries, the Ricasoli family enlarged and improved the structure, which today exhibits its massive 15th Century fortifications with an imposing cylindrical tower. The castle also contains elegantly furnished and decorated rooms and an incomparable 18th Century little theater. One hundred and eighty hectares are planted to vineyards, mostly Sangiovese but also Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, and other international varieties. And enologist by training and former owner of Badia a Coltibuono, Roberto Stucchi Prinetti manages the wine estate.
Inhabited since the Etruscan period, the Camigliano estate at the southern end of Montalcino was a lively center in the Middle Ages, and remains of the fired brick stones of that period can be found near the ancient walls of the castle, set on the top of a hill, surrounded by woodland and vineyards. The Ghezzi family bought the property in 1957, including 530 hectares, 90 of which are planted to vineyards. The winery is divided into two buildings. The older one is located underneath the master house, and at least part of it was built at the same time as the old boundary-walls, around 1250 and 1280. It was redeveloped around the year 600 and again around the year 700 and hasn’t been altered since. The cellar was built according to local tradition, facing north with vaulted stone ceilings that ensure cool temperatures, where vintage wines are stored. During the 1980s, a new cellar, half-buried in the ground, was built beside the old one, covering an area of 3,000 square meters, where most of the wine-making takes place. The new cellar is fully equipped with modern technology.
Founded in 1970, this small winery in Castelnuovo dell’ Abate, was built by Bruno Fabbri, who’s passion for viniculture has given it a genuine soul and authenticity, even in its name. ’Le Presi’ is the local dialect term used to describe the method of terracing vineyards in this area. Since 1998, Bruno Fabbri’s son Gianni has run the family winery with the same approach as his father; one of professionalism, dedication, and care. Their estate vineyards, ideally exposed and each unique in its terroir, stretch for four hectares in the valley of the romantic Sant’Antimo Abbey, whose charm envelopes this amazing area. Harvesting is done totally by hand and the vineyards are managed organically. Scrupulous selection of the grapes produces wines of the highest quality. Le Presi’s impressive, ancient aging cellar is located on one of the narrow medieval streets of the village. There, the wines age under the careful and expert supervision of Gianni and Bruno. Their signature wines are Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino, and a Brunello Riserva made only in the best vintages. These wines, produced with great passion and in small quantities, are distinguished and elegant, with rich, complex structure, and perfect balance. They all have great ageing potential.
Fattoria San Lorenzo
Since Toscana produces few white wines, we went to the organic and biodynamic vineyards at Fattoria San Lorenzo in neighboring Le Marche for our Artisan Series white selection. At San Lorenzo, Grandfather Enrico Crognaletti, both an excellent winemaker and barrel maker, used to pick the trees, from which he made barrels for his wines. Today, the current managers of Fattoria San Lorenzo are his grandson Natalino Crognaletti and his mother Vera Biondini, who took over from Natalino’s father Gino and now oversee approximately 35 hectares of land between their estate vineyards and those that they rent. The vineyards are located in Montecarotto, in the nearby towns of Ostra, Ostra Vetere, and Corinaldo. The production includes seven different wines, three whites and four reds, and consists of approximately 8,500 cases per year. Winemaker and owner Natalino Crognaletti relies on the collaboration of oenologist Hartmann Dona` and cultivates all of the vineyards with either organic or biodynamic practices.
Italian Wines of the Month
Castello di Meleto – 2007 Rosso Toscano
Ruby red in color, this Castello di Meleto 2007 Rosso is 80% Sangiovese and 20% Merlot from estate vineyards. The wine offers fruity aromas with hints of cherry, typical of Sangiovese, and has well balanced fruit flavors, refreshing acid, and smooth tannins. Serve at cool room temperature with holiday faire from mushroom risotto to roasted meats.
Fattoria San Lorenzo – 2009 Verdicchio, Vigna di Gino
The grapes for this San Lorenzo Verdicchio were harvested from the organic vineyard, Vigna di Gino, at Castelli di Jesi near Montecarotto, located in the Le Marche region. This Verdicchio is surprisingly round and fruity for a wine that is known more often for its acid zing and green flavors as its name implies, verde or “green” in English. Light straw in color, the wine has fine, intense, fruit and floral aromas and flavors, and perfectly accompanies appetizers, first courses, and simple braised fish and poultry dishes. Serve chilled.
Castello di Meleto – 2004 Chianti Classico Riserva, Vigna Casi
This delicious wine is 85% Sangiovese and 15% Merlot from Meleto’s Vigna Casi vineyard. Aged for 18 months in large oak barrels, the wine continued to age for an additional six months in bottle before release from the winery. A deep purple-red that clings to the glass even after it empties, the wine has an intense bouquet with notes of brushwood berries and noble woods. No need to decant this wine, which is delicious right from the bottle and into the glass. Serve at room temperature with roasted meats and winter stews. The 2003 vintage won the highest Tre Bicchierri (Three Glasses) award from “Gambero Rosso,” the foremost Italian wine-rating journal.
Camigliano – 2007 Rosso di Montalcino
Brick red in color with aromas of ripe fruits, the Camigliano 2007 Rosso is 100% Sangiovese from estate vineyards. If it could be said that there was a bargain in Toscana, it would be the Rosso, the “little brother” of Brunello, which is made from the same Sangiovese Grosso clone as Brunello, but according to regulations, is aged for a lesser period. At least during certain vintages, the wines are almost comparable, but the Rosso is always less costly than Brunello. The Camigliano 2007 Rosso is well balanced with fruit, acid, and smooth tannins and rewards the drinker with a long finish. Serve with roasted meats, polenta with sausages, and risotto with dried mushrooms.
Camigliano – 2003 Brunello di Montalcino
With intense ruby color and garnet reflections, the Camigliano 2003 Brunello offers the palate an elegant, velvety taste. Aged for 24 months in French oak barrels and for a final two years in stainless steel vats and in bottle before release from the winery, this Brunello will improve over many years in bottle as the aromas develop and the tannins soften. But the wine is also delicious now, having aged in botle for more than seven years. Serve with game, roasted meats, and mature cheeses for your finest holiday meals.
Le Presi – 2003 Brunello di Montalcino
Deep ruby red with garnet hues, the Le Presi 2003 Brunello designs elegant purple legs in the glass. The bouquet is intense, clean, and elegant with vanilla and fruit overtones. On the palate, the wine is full, velvety, and intense, reminiscent of liquorice, chocolate, tobacco, and spice, all of which leads to a long finish. The wine is produced from the estate’s certified organic vineyards.
Italian Region of the Month
The name Toscana comes from the Latin Tuscia, which the Romans called the area in honor of the Etruscans, who developed an advanced civilization there before the Romans subjugated them. The Etruscans were wine makers and were probably responsible for draping vines over trees, a practice, which still exists. But the Romans preferred stronger southern wines, and the Etruscan wine trade faded until monks revived viticulture in the region. Wine became a daily beverage in the medieval cities of Florence, Siena, Pisa, Lucca, and Arezzo, and the Renaissance, which began in Florence, transported the wines of Toscana throughout Europe. In 1716, the Grand Duchy of Toscana created Europe’s first official wine zones, and toward the middle of the 18th century, the Grand Duke Cosimo III de’Medici imported 150 varieties to create a total of 211 in the region. But despite these advances, the French took the lead in fine wine in the 19th century while Tuscans went for quantity instead of quality. The world came to know Toscana principally for its mass-produced Chianti in fiasci, the straw-covered flasks.
But Chianti, the dominant force in Tuscan viticulture, diminished production and improved quality in 1984 when it was elevated to DOCG, one of 13 regions in the nation, which the government defines geographically in its system of laws, controlling origins and protecting names of wines of “particular reputation and worth.” In addition to DOCG, denominazione di origine controllata e garantita, the law specifies another 240 DOC regions, denominazione di origine controllata.
What Chianti has in common with the noble reds of Toscana is the grape variety Sangiovese. Although many clones of Sangiovese exist, the superior ones are some of the world’s noblest vines, such as Montalcino’s Brunello, Chianti’s Sangioveto, and Montepulciano’s Prugnolo Gentile. Among other fine Sangiovese based wines are Rosso di Montalcino, Vino Nobile, and Carmignano. But the renaissance of Tuscan wines also includes the “Super Tuscans” such as Sassicaia, which is 100% Cabernet and Antinori’s Sangiovese-Cabernet blend, Tignanello. Vernaccia de San Gimignano is the most prestigious white wine in Toscana, and Vin Santo is a highly prized dessert wine.