When the Italians and the French Cooperate…
Rocca di Frassinello
Except for Bolgheri in the north and Morellino di Scansano in the south, the Maremma region, stretching along Toscana’s coast line, was in large part wild woodland until Tuscan wineries and others began to develop the area with vineyards, beginning about 20 years ago. Perhaps the most notable project in the region is the Rocca di Frassinello wine estate, the result of a partnership between Paolo Panerai, owner of the prestigious Castellare di Castellina estate in Chianti Classico, and Eric de Rothschild of the famous Domaines Barons de Rothschild-Lafite in France. In 1999, the partners purchased the first part of a 500-hectares property, which occupies a natural amphitheater with a lake at its center below the Terminuzzo hill, facing the village of Giuncarico in Central Maremma. They found that soils there had many of the same geological characteristics as those in Chianti and Montalcino but with an average temperature, which is five to six degrees higher and where grapes ripen three to four weeks earlier than they would in Chianti and Montalcino. Currently, 80 hectares are planted to vines out of a potential 250 plantable hectares.
The agreement between Castellare and Domaines Baron de Rothschild was to blend Castellare’s experience with Sangiovese, the prince of Tuscan grapes, with Lafite’s experience with the noble Bordeaux varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. The result was the creation of four wines, produced under the supervision of Alessandro Cellai, winemaker at Castellare, and Christian le Sommer, enologist for many of the Baron de Rothschild estates worldwide. All four wines are labeled Maremma Toscana IGT. Completed in 2007, the winery was designed by top Italian architect Renzo Piano, the man behind the Pompidou Center in Paris and the renovated Morgan Library in New York. Piano conceived a winery of overwhelming simplicity with a revolutionary division of spaces to facilitate the vinification process. Already, the Rocca di Frassinello blend of Sangioveto, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon has received Gambero Rosso’s highest Tre Bicchierri award for the 2005, 2006, and 2008 vintages, and the Baffo Nero, entirely Merlot, received the award in 2007. Considering the magnificence of the site and the level of expertise guiding its development, the estate could be destined for greatness.
Fattoria del Cerro
Located in Toscana’s Montepulciano appellation, Fattoria del Cerro was first developed by the Baiocchi family in 1922. Today the 601-hectares property cultivates 167 hectares of vineyards, mainly in the Argiano area, and is officially registered for the production of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The winery was instrumental in the renaissance of Vino Nobile and is one of the top producers of the wine, having received Gambero Rosso’s coveted Tre Bicchierri award multiple times, especially for its single vineyard Vino Nobile, Antica Chiusina, but lately also for its main production Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Well known enologist Ricardo Coterella is now responsible for making the wines.
Azienda Paolo Bruni
Morelino di Scansano, a clone of Sangiovese, has been the principal red in Maremma, but today vineyards are just as likely to be planted with international varieties as they are with native Italian grapes. Paolo Bruni established his wine estate in the Maremma in 1974, and brothers Marco and Moreno Bruni now run the business, crafting mostly the classic wines of the region, Morelino di Scansano and Vermentino.
Italian Wines of the Month
Fattoria del Cerro – 2008 Rosso di Montepulciano
This aromatic Rosso is 80% Prugnolo Gentile, a clone of Sangiovese, and a 20% combination of Canaiolo Nero and Mammolo. Its fruity aroma shows touches of wild black cherry and violets with a slight vanilla undertone. Aged for six months in Slavonian oak casks, the flavor is warm, balanced, and elegant. Serve at cool room temperature with main courses of roasted meats or stuffed pasta.
Paolo Bruni – 2010 Vermentino Plinio
Having named the wine Plinio, the Bruni family honors the memory of the great Roman naturalist, Pliny the Elder (23 AD -79 AD). Many other Italian vintners have done the same. This golden Vermentino includes 15% Sauvignon Blanc and has an intense fruity perfume that is typical of both grape varieties. On the palate, the wine is fresh and balanced with a good finish. Serve chilled with appetizers and light first courses.
Fattoria del Cerro – 2007 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
This Vino Nobile has vivid ruby color and good concentration. Its intense aromas show fruity notes, including wild black cherry, violet, and vanilla. The wine is 90% Prugnolo Gentile, a particular clone of Sangiovese, and 10% Canaiolo Nero and Mammolo. Aged for two years, 70% of the wine remained in larger Slavonian oak casks and 30% in smaller French oak barrels. On the palate, the wine is balanced with fruit, discrete tannins, and acid. Decant and serve at cool room temperature with ravioli with meat and mushroom sauces, roasted meats, and medium to aged cheeses.
Rocca di Frassinello – 2007 Poggio alla Guardia
A wine with outstanding personality, the Poggio alla Guardia is a blend of 45% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15% Sangiovese. With pronounced cassis and spice on the nose, the palate is beautifully balanced with delicious fruit, lively tannins, and bright acid. Medium b
Fattoria del Cerro – 2004 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Antica Cuisina
From its earliest origins, Montepulciano was linked with wine, as is indicated by a red-figure cylix wine cup that was made in the Chiusi area and found in 1868 along with numerous bronze objects in an ancient Etruscan tomb in the area. Grapes for this fine Vino Nobile were harvested from the Antica Cuisina vineyard, known for the extraordinary quality of its fruit. The wine is 90% Prugnolo Gentile and 10% Colorino, aged for 18 months in French oak barrels. The aromas are typical of Vino Nobile with hints of violet, wild black cherry, wild berries, and touches of spice with a slight vanilla finish. The flavor is full, enveloping, and elegant with a long finish.
Rocca di Frassinello – 2006 Rocca di Frassinello
Winner of Gambero Rosso’s coveted Tre Bicchierri award, the 2006 Rocca di Frassinello is a blend of 60% Sangioveto, 20% Merlot, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine shows intense ruby red color, and on the palate is silky with lots of floral flavors that are typical of Sangiovese, along with hints of red berries, cherries, and elegant notes of vanilla and milk chocolate. Aged for 14 months in Allier oak barrels, the wine is medium-bodied and balanced with fine tannins. Serve at cool room temperature with your most elegant holiday meals.
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.