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Throwback Thursday: Sangiovese in Symphony

Digging through our old posts, I stumbled on something I wrote two years ago after a visit to Tuscany while I was working in our Aberdeen store. One of the great pleasures of the wine trade is the rare opportunity to visit the people and places where vinous magic happens, so in the honour of #throwbackthursday, I thought I’d share it!

I put a question to some friends of mine recently: If you could only drink wine from one country in the world, what would that be?

As questions go, for those of us who hold our hands up and freely admit to being wine geeks, it’s a little bit like asking a parent to choose between their children; the world of wine is huge. Given that I had asked the question, I had thought about my answer for some time: Italy; no other country has such a history and array of varieties, nor a tradition of crafting wines to go with food. So when I was offered the chance to travel to Tuscany and visit some of the winemakers responsible, how could I pass up such an opportunity?

Our guides and boon companions for this very educational experience were Ruth and Sergio from Enotria. We arrived in Pisa to a somewhat drizzly sky, loading into our hire cars and setting off through the Tuscan hills to our first destination where we would be spending the night, at Fonterutoli.

Locanda di Fonterutoli

The Mazzei family who own Fonterutoli have been producing wines from the region since 1435, indeed, the first documentation that refers to Chianti wines specifically requested their wine, so where better to begin? The present winery is a new installation, designed by one of the present generation who has eschewed the wine trade in favour of architecture. Their cellar has a rather unique feature: an exposed cave wall with an underground spring. This combination of subterranean depth and flowing water serves to provide natural temperature control and humidity.

Castello Fonterutoli

Though we tasted a great many of their wines, including a delicious Morellino di Scansano, one of the stand-outs was their 2010 Chianti Classico. 2010 was set to be a difficult vintage for Chianti, yet is now being hailed as one of the finest since 2007, where the best producers have crafted classically fresh Chianti wines. Fonterutoli have excelled, crafting a wine with dense black cherry with classic smoky fruit, giving way to layers of sandalwood and oak, before leaving fresh red fruits on the finish; a truly elegant, classic wine.

Dinner was served after our tasting, featuring hand-made pasta with local ragu, and one of the most delicious, perfectly cooked steaks that has ever passed my (very appreciative) lips. Each course was paired to the wines, from their Maremma Vermentino, Rosé, and Classico to the top-quality Castello Chianti Classico, underscoring the point that Tuscan wines perform a virtuoso performance with good food.

Fonterutoli View

After breakfast, we set off for a Majestic stalwart: Poliziano, nearby famed Montepulciano. Frederico Caletti’s father founded Poliziano in 1961, naming it for the 15th Century poet who hailed from Montepulciano and had been a tutor to the famed Medici family of Firenze. Alongside their flagship Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and excellent Rosso di Montepulciano they produce a Chianti exclusively for Majestic in the UK.

More Sangiovese at Poliziano

Like Fonterutoli, Poliziano have also invested in vineyard sites in Maremma to include a Morellino di Scansano to their range, the Lohsa, which has featured previously as a parcel in the Majestic range. Their Chianti is soft, with approachable tannins, crunchy acidity and plenty of juicy cherry and red fruit. The 2010 Rosso di Montepulciano exhibited the best traits of the vintage, with bright cherry fruit, plum and damson, fine tannins and a seam of fresh acidity. Tasting the 2009 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was an exercise in everything that gives Sangiovese its name; it translates as Blood of Jove, better known from the Roman pantheon as Jupiter. Ruby to garnet in the glass, black cherry and strawberry integrated with spice, toast and oak; a masterclass in silken power and freshness.

Poliziano

After a late lunch of Antipasti, hand-made pasta and a Ragu Toscana, we left with thanks still on our lips, and continued our expedition onwards to Montalcino where we would be spending the night at Il Poggione. Our tour was to be given by the present generation winemaker, Alessandro Bindocci, and we could not have asked for a better host. Il Poggione was founded in 1890, when the Florentine Franceschi family purchased the land, and it has been under their ownership since. Production is modest, only 600,000 bottles, of which 200,000 are their flagship Brunello di Montalcino.

Clouds over Il Poggione

Our tasting was conducted over dinner, all of which was made from produce from their farm, from the wines to the wild boar ragu, to the olive oil pressed only the day before we arrived and the grappa that finished off the meal. (and finished us!) By almost unanimous agreement, the Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2004 was crowned the top wine of the night, with some sympathy for those who declared preference for the Brunello di Montalcino 2006. If dinner the previous night had underscored the point, this meal used calligraphy and fine strokes to make it yet again. Tuscan wine and food are peerless in their partnership.

Fiendishly Sexy Brunello

Our grappa-soaked heads were somewhat tender, but not so much that we could not appreciate the final winery on our tour. A return to Chianti took us to Cecchi, which proved a fascinating counterpoint to the wineries whose productions were very modest by comparison; Cecchi are a relative giant, yet for what some might unfairly call a ‘commercial’ wine (their Morellino di Scansano, for example, is a production of over a million bottles annually), the quality was gratifyingly high. Where the other wineries we had visited exhibited features specific to their microclimates and local terroirs, Cecchi show Tuscany as a whole.

Over the course of barely three days, we had tasted Chianti, Morellino di Scansano, Vermentino, Moscato, Vinsanto, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino, Super Tuscans and more besides. While Sangiovese was, undoubtedly, the leading light of our experience, it was amazing to discover that even in wines where none was present, there was characteristic cherry-smoke present in the red wines that called it to mind. It is this element which, with characteristic freshness, reveals a true wine of Tuscan terroir.

Vine at Poggione

My thanks, and those of my colleagues, go to all of those at Fonterutoli, Poliziano, Il Poggione and Cecchi who were our gracious hosts and looked after us so kindly; special thanks in particular to Enotria for organising the visit. It was a tremendous experience, and I would recommend a visit to any of these wineries should you have reason to find yourself in Tuscany.

You can browse our selection of Italian wine online here.  For some real Tuscan treats, including the latest releases, you can visit our friends at Lay & Wheeler here.

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