Classic Chianti Elegance
Castello di Volpaia
Located on one of the highest hilltops in the Chianti Classico region, Volpaia is a walled village built in the 11th Century on the Florence-Siena border. One of the best preserved villages of its period, Volpaia, or foxes lair in English, still retains sections of its walls and two of its original six towers along with other buildings, including the Renaissance Church of Sant’Eufrosino, which became a national monument in 1981. Various families, who have owned the village throughout the centuries, dedicated themselves to maintaining its ancient buildings and layout.
In 1966, Raffaello Stianti, a printer and bookbinder, purchased the Volpaia estate, including two-thirds of the village, and then gave it to his daughter Giovannella as a wedding gift when she married Carlo Mascheroni in 1972. The couple decided to begin wine production and carefully converted historical buildings in ways that would not alter external structures. They were the first in the Chianti Classico region to use temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks for fermentation. Over the last 35 years, the family has replanted most of the vineyards, which now consist of 114 organically farmed acres and 40 acres of olive trees. Ricardo Cotteralla is their well-known consulting winemaker. The entire estate is 914 acres, including the cultivated areas, the village, villas, woods, and forests. Over 10,000 visitors are welcomed at this historic site each year, some to attend the cooking school while most enjoy the winery, the tasting room, restaurant, art gallery, and the ancient streets overlooking and even older panorama of the region’s hills and valleys.
Today, Federica and Nicolò, the children of Giovannella and Carlo, participate in the business. In 2007, the Stianti Mascheroni family purchased the 52-acre Prelius property in the Maremma region near the Tyrrhenian Sea. Federica manages these organically farmed vineyards, planted with Vermentino, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. The vineyards are located on a hilltop along what was once the shore of ancient Lake Prelius. Today, only a small portion of the lake exists as part of a national park and winter home for migratory birds.
Located in the northwestern corner of the Chianti region, the Poggiotondo family estate is now directed by Alberto Antonini and consists of 123 acres of vines and 2,000 olive trees. Before managing the family estate, Alberto trained as a winemaker at top universities in the world, including University of Florence, Bordeaux University, and University of California, Davis. He has also had winemaking experience with Tuscan leaders such as Frescobaldi, Col d’Orcia, and Antinori. At his own estate, he has committed himself to cutting edge agriculture and is farming with organic methods and ultimately bio-dynamic farming as soon as possible. This natural progression gained credence after the family saw that its wines were showing an increasing sense of place that represents Chianti in its most elevated and expressive form.
Italian Wines of the Month
Poggiotondo – 2010 Rosso Toscana
Soft and approachable, this modern Tuscan blend combines Sangiovese for structure, Merlot for suppleness, and Syrah for juiciness. Made from estate organically grown grapes, the wine shows wild red fruit character and a hint of spiciness in the nose and on the palate. The balance between fruit flavors, acid, and smooth tannin texture is a pleasure. Serve at cool room temperature.
Poggiotondo – 2011 Bianco Toscana
The 2011 Bianco is an aromatic wine with yellow fruit notes on the palate, refreshing acidity, and lasting minerality. The varietals form a harmonious blend with Vermentino imparting freshness and elegance, Ansonica adding complexity and structure, and Malvasia providing intense aromatics. The style is without oak barrel influence to maximize freshness and varietal aromas. Serve chilled.
Castello di Volpaia – 2008 Chianti Classico Riserva
Harvested from organically farmed estate vineyards, the fruit for this wine is 100% Sangiovese. Antonio Galloni, writing for Wine Advocate, describes it as “…a beautiful, precise wine laced with sweet dark cherries, menthol, tobacco, minerals, and spices. It shows gorgeous clarity and precision in a highly appealing, mid-weight style.” For two years in a row, Italian wine guide Gambero Rosso has given the wine its highest Tre Bicchieri (Three Glasses) award. Serve at cool room temperature.
Castello di Volpaia – 2007 Indue Toscana
At Volpaia, in the heart of Chianti Classico, Sangiovese is grown at 1800 feet above sea level, producing fresh and elegant wines. At Prelius in the Maremma, Cabernet Sauvignon is grown just two miles from the Mediterranean and 150 feet above sea level, producing supple and fruity wines. The blend of these two grape varieties, organically grown at both properties, has created a wine with complexity and balance, elegance and finesse. Wine Spectator awarded the wine 90 points. Serve at cool room temperature.
Castello di Volpaia – 2007 Coltassala Chianti Classico Riserva
Made from 95% Sangiovese and 5% Mammolo, the grapes were organically harvested from estate vineyards that are from 20 to 25 years old. Complex and layered, the Coltassala was aged for 18 months in new French oak barrels, yet the wine is balanced with ample fruit flavors, sweet tobacco notes, and smooth tannins. Wine guide Gambero Rosso remarks that Castello di Volpaia wines are “all proof of a general level with few equals in Tuscany.” Both Antonio Galloni, writing for Wine Advocate, and James Suckling gave the wine 90 points.
Castello di Volpaia – 2003 Balifico
Organically farmed at an elevation of about 1500 feet, Castello di Volapaia vineyards are some of the highest in the region. The Balifico vineyard is located just east of the estate’s Coltassala vineyard. The wine is a blend of 65% Sangiovese and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and has been aged for 18 months in French Allier oak barrels. The color of the Balifico is dense and dark, and the nose displays aromas of blackberry and blueberry with hints of smoke and cinnamon. The wine has big rich flavors but is smooth with a long finish. Generally, Castello di Volpaia wines have conspicuous and intense aromas as does this wine. Enjoy the aromas before you taste. Wine Advocate and Wine Enthusiast both gave the Balifico 90 points.
Italian Region of the Month
The name Toscana comes from the Latin Tuscia, which the Romans called the area to honor 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 that 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 grape 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 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 among 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.