Fine White wines, Rosés and Sparklers from an Unexpected Corner of Italy

Beautiful vineyards and landscape of northern Piemonte.

In the last few years I have travelled extensively in Italy and have ben fortunate enough to explore a great many wine regions. Italy is a fascinating wine producing country and it’s not only full of world famous wines styles and grape varieties either. Everywhere you go there are constant surprises and new discoveries to be made.

I have travelled to Campania, Sicily, the Marche, Veneto, Friuli, Emilia-Romagna, Umbria, Trentino and the north of Piemonte, as well as the more famous regions of Tuscany and the south of Piemonte. In all of these places I have found wines that have really excited me.

All of these regions are full of wine, sometimes famous and often less well known. Even in the most prestigious regions such as Piemonte and Veneto you can find wines that have almost no presence on the export market and are appreciated almost solely at home.

Italy is most known for her red wines and Italians, like the Spanish, often hold white wine in very low esteem. I expect this view became fixed because Italy, like Spain, is on the whole a hot country in the summer when the grapes are growing. So in the past – before cold fermentation, modern knowhow and clean wineries – the white wines would have been somewhat ropey – especially when compared to the more full-flavoured red wines.

In my formative years Italy’s reputation for white wines – in the UK anyway – was based upon cheap Soave, Frascati, Verdicchio dei Castello di Jesi and Orvieto. However good those wines can be now – and they can be very good indeed – in the 1970s and 1980s they were often less than interesting. Usually based on the high yielding and rather bland Trebbiano, rather than the more interesting grape varieties that had made these wines famous in the first place, they slowly fell out of favour when compared to the competition coming from elsewhere, especially the New World.

It is interesting to note that Frascati was the wine that gave birth to the phrase that a wine ‘didn’t travel well’ and so you should only drink it where it was made. Like most of these white wines it was not regularly bottled until after the Second World War, so until the late 1940s – often much later – it was served by the carafe straight from the barrel or demijohn.

A vineyard in northern Piemonte.

This allowed another Italian white wine to force its way onto export markets and to enjoy success – Gavi. Coming from Piemonte and made from the quite acidic Cortese grape, Gavi – certainly when I first tasted it in the 1980s – seemed more distinguished and refined than those other white wines from Italy at the time. Gavi continues being successful to this day and what helped Gavi create a name for itself is surely the timing. It emerged later than the likes of Frascati, when wineries were already using modern techniques of being ultra clean, using stainless steel fermentation tanks and fermenting at low temperatures. Much of Europe had to play catch up you see as the new world, with less wine making tradition, had often gone the high tech route from the start.

It might be the downward spiral of sales or the example of Gavi, but Italian white wines have fought back and are today in a quite different place from where they were just 20 years ago. Indeed I would say that the white wines of Italy are some of the most exciting you will find from anywhere. This story by the way is repeated in Spain, Portugal and even the less well know corners of France.

Many things have changed how the white wines of Italy taste, but the most important, apart from clean wineries and cold fermentations, are carefully sited vineyards to make sure the grapes do not bake – this retains acidity. Lower yields ensure more concentration and so more flavour, while later picking also gives more flavour – as long as the vines are in a good place to retain freshness and balance.

So I have tasted my way through astonishingly good Vermentino from Sardinia, Verdicchio dei Castello di Jesi from the Marche, Lugana from Veneto and Lombardy, Soave from Veneto, Tai from the Colli Berici in Veneto, Fiano, Greco, Falanghina, Coda di Volpe and Caprettone from Campania, Carricante from Etna in Sicily as well as world class sparkling wines made by the Traditional Method from Trentino (Trento DOC), Lombardy (Franciacorta), Campania (Falanghina), Marche (Verdicchio dei Castello di Jesi ), Lugana and Piemonte (Gavi and some Nebbiolo sparkling too).

Which brings me on to my theme for today, the white, rosé and sparkling wines of northern Piemonte.

Piemonte’s fame almost all rests on the wines produced south of Turin, which is a great shame as there are wonderful wines made to the north in more Alpine conditions. Most of these wine making areas are actually older than the likes of Barolo and Barbaresco in the south and were much more famous in the past. For many reasons – I wrote about them here – the modern wine revolution passed these places by and so they have had a much harder job getting their wines onto the world stage.

Wine map of Piemonte – click for a larger view. Non watermarked, high resolution versions are available for a fee.

I loved a wide array of the red wines from these fascinating outposts in northern Piemonte and wrote about them here, but the area produces some pretty exciting whites and sparkling wines too, most of them made from a grape variety that was totally new to me – Erbaluce (pronounced Urr-ba-luch-eh). Rather fascinatingly Nebbiolo also gets a look in for the rosé wines, both still and sparkling.

This intriguing grape is indigenous to Piemonte and doesn’t seem to grow anywhere else. The most ‘famous’ wine made from it is Caluso DOCG – often known as Erbaluce di Caluso – and they must be 100% Erbaluce, as must the whites of the nearby Canavese DOC, Coste della Sesia DOC and Colline Novaresi DOC. It is known as a high acid grape and certainly the best examples for me where the ones that retained refreshing acidity.

The wines

 

Tenuta Sella.

2014 Doranda
DOC Coste della Sesia

 

I was very taken by the wines at Tenuta Sella. It is a beautiful estate in Lessona, although they have vineyards in Bramaterra too – and has a long history going back to 1671 and have always been owned by the same family. Until the unification of Italy Piemonte and Sardinia constituted a single country called the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Sella family, which had married into the Mosca family, also owned Sella & Mosca one of the most prestigious wine estates in Sardinia.

 

This is 100% Erbaluce, grown in estate vineyards in Lessona and Bramaterra, both of which are DOCs for red wines only, which is why this is labelled as Coste della Sesia. Some vintages from a wider source of vineyards are labelled a DOC Piemonte.
I enjoyed this wine, it was aromatic, fresh and floral with a rich, pithy note too. The palate was quite rich and creamy because of skin contact and and lees ageing. It was nicely balanced with juicy grapefruit and more succulent peach flavours. A good introduction to Erbaluce but with less overt acidity than many – 89/100 points.

 

Vineyards at Tenute Sella.

2015 Majoli Rosato
DOC Coste della Sesia

 

This rosé is pure Nebbiolo and from 45 year old vines, old vines helps give depth and concentration to the wine. The vineyards are in the two ‘Cru’ appellations, Lessona (95%) and Bramaterra (5%), which is why the wine is labelled Coste della Sesia, as that is the wider area. The Bramaterra component is made by bleeding some juice off their red wine while it is fermenting. The Lessona component gets 36 hours cold soak pre fermentation to help extract flavours and complexity and is then direct pressed. The wine has malolactic fermentation and has a 6 month ageing on the lees in tank.
This has real Nebbiolo character on the nose, with earthy and rose petal notes, blood orange, cranberry and spice too. The palate is quite full, with some weight and intensity and texture – those lees? It is also very tasty with lots of rich red fruit, that twist of bitter orange, some spice and a good fresh acidity and minerality making it lively. This is a fine rosé and it would go with all manner of dishes from salads and fish to veal and pasta dishes – 92/100 points.

 

2015 (no vintage on the label as it is not a DOC or DOCG wine) Clementina Brut Rosato
Vino Spumante

 

This is 100% Nebbiolo from their estate vineyards in Bramaterra and it was my first sparkling Nebbiolo ever. It is made sparkling by the Charmat, or tank method  – known locally as the Martinotti Lungo method – in order to emphasis freshness and downplay Nebbiolo’s hard tannins.

 

The first thing that hits you about this wine is the beautiful colour. It is vibrant and a little orange as befitting a wine called Clementina! The nose is bright, scented, floral and fruity while the palate is fresh, lively, fruity – strawberry and cherry – and a little creamy too. A delicious and very unusual take on Nebbiolo – 90/100 points.

 

The view north from Nervi’s vineyards.

2015 Nervi Bianca
Vitivinicola Nervi
DOCG Erbaluce di Caluso

 

I loved visiting Nervi. They are one of the 2 main producers in Gattinara, a DOCG that should be much, much more famous than it is. Their wines were really impressive, they were very gracious hosts and their cellars were a joy to see.

 

This is 100% Erbaluce with modern handling, cold fermentation in stainless steel with no malolactic fermentation and a little lees ageing. 
This was bright, fresh, zesty and pure with a little touch of miner laity, or salinity. A fresh, lively, modern dry white wine that is very appealing – 88/100 points.

 

The view south across Nervi’s vineyards.

2014 (no vintage on the label as it is not a DOC or DOCG wine) Jefferson 1787 Nebiule Rosato Brut Spumante
Vitivinicola Nervi
Vino Spumante di Qualità

 

A Traditional Method sparkling Nebbiolo this time. It is a pale rosé with 4 hours skin contact to give the colour, zero dosage (so very dry) and 9 months ageing on the lees. This was the last bottle left of the first vintage and the wine was proclaimed by Gambero Rosso to be the best sparkling wine in Italy! The DOCG Gattinara does nor permit sparkling wines, so it is simply labelled as Vino Spumante di Qualità.

 

The wine is named in honour of Thomas Jefferson who travelled extensively in Europe while serving as Minister (Ambassador) to France. He was a great wine lover who spent a lot of time and effort trying to grow vitas vinegar grapes at his Monticello estate in Virginia. He wrote glowingly of Nebbiolo, or Nebiule as it was then known, saying ‘there is a red wine of Nebiule which is very singular. It is about as sweet as the silky Madeira, as astringent on the palate a Bordeaux and as brisk (sparkling) as Champagne’. Which just goes to show that Nebbiolo has changed beyond all recognition in a little over 200 years!

 

This is a lovely orangey, wild salmon colour with a touch of rose petal. The aromas are also rose petal with cherry and raspberry notes. The palate has a softness of ripe strawberry, cherry and raspberry together with thrilling, lively acidity and a fine mousse. There is also something very taut and lean about it, like Champagne, with a touch of minerality, something savoury and balsamic and a long, crisp finish. This is a very fine sparkling wine – 94/100 points.

 

Alberto Arlunno in his vineyards.

NV Mia Ida Brut Rosato
Vino Spumante

 

I loved visiting this family owned estate in Ghemme. Alberto Arlunno, who took over the running of the estate from his father in 1993, was a charming host and their wines were very good indeed – especially their Ghemme made from Nebbiolo, which was an area that I had only ever heard of before, not tasted.

 

This is a sparkling Nebbiolo, again made by the Charmat method and named after Alberto’s mother Ida.
Again the colour was spectacular, it looked like an Aperol Spritz! The aromas were fruity and lively with a little cherry and raspberry, while the palate had loads of flavour. Soft red fruit, raspberry and strawberry, mingled with blood orange and cherry, so giving a delicious richness and lovely bright, balancing acidity. A really nice, drinkable sparkling rosé – 89/100 points.

 

Masere and pergolas.

2015 Anima Erbaluce di Caluso
DOCG Erbaluce di Caluso

 

I was impressed by La Masera which is a new winery founded by a group of friends in 2005. Today they farm 5 hectares within the Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG zone. They grow Barbera, Freisa, Vespolina, Neretto and Nebbiolo, but focus on Erbaluce in dry, sparkling and sweet, passito, styles. Their name comes from the Masere which are the thick stone walls between each vineyard.

 

This is 100% Erbaluce, grown in the rocky morainic hills of Canavese at 250 metres above sea level, hand harvested, cold fermented at 16˚C and aged 6 months on the lees in stainless steel tanks.
This was the first Erbaluce that made me really sit up and take notice. It is very modern and very bright. It has a very fresh nose that is slightly leesy with rich citrus, green apple and light floral notes.

 

The palate is bright, lively and fresh with brisk, lively acidity and lightly herbal, savoury and nutty. There is purity here, with a little saline on the finish.
Straightforward, but well made and very drinkable with thrilling acidity. A very nicely made and versatile dry white wine that would have broad appeal, especially with Sauvignon drinkers – 89/100 points.

2014 Macaria Erbaluce di Caluso
DOCG Erbaluce di Caluso

 

Anima’s big brother, this is 100% Erbaluce macerated on the skins and part fermented in stainless steel and then half way through the ferment 70% of the wine is transferred to oak barrels. Lees stirring takes place on both components – the 70% in oak barrels and the 30% in stainless steel tanks – and it is aged for 7 months on the lees before blending.

The nose is attractive with nice herbal, oily creamy notes and a touch of olive oil and vanilla.

On the palate it has a good texture, that fresh lively acidity, savoury, herbal flavours, orange-like flavour and feel – like barrel aged Viura can have – together with a creamy quality. It has a long finish with apricot succulence making it an attractive and well balanced wine – 90/100 points.

The winery, vineyards and views at Antichi Vigneti di Cantalupo.

2011 Masilé Brut
DOCG Erbaluce di Caluso Spumante

 

I liked their white wines, but my favourite wine from La Masera was this sparkling Erbaluce. Interestingly the grapes were grown on a traditional pergola system, which is finding favour once again after having been seen as old fashioned for many decades. Long seen as hard to ripen, pergolas might just be perfect with the sunnier conditions as a consequence of global warming. They also allow for good movement of air to keep the fruit cool and healthy.

 

This is 100% Erbaluce cold fermented and then aged on the lees in a mixture of barrels and tanks for 6 months, with lees stirring. It is then bottled and undergoes the Traditional Method to become sparkling. Once fizzy it is aged for a further 36 months on the lees before disgorging giving it 48 months on lees in total.

 

Complex stuff with a great nose of apricots, brioche, rich pear and sweet spice. The pear carries through to the palate, dollops of honey and ginger and cooked fruit and brioche, flakey pastry . The lovely rich style is tempered by the fresh acidity and the delicate, persistent mouse. A triumph – 91/100 points.

 

2015 La Rustia
DOCG Erbaluce di Caluso

 

Another small producer, this estate has a much longer history having been founded n 1894. However at first it was a restaurant with wine being made just for the customers to drink with their food. Over time it was the wine that became famous and nowadays the Orsolani family focus almost solely on Erbaluce with a few black grapes too. They actually produce a Carema, which I assume is from bought in fruit as carom famously only has 2 producers, Ferrando and the Carema cooperative.

 

100%  Erbaluce grown on a pergola on south facing slopes at 350 metres above sea level, hand harvested and cold fermented and aged on the lees for 6 months.
This is aromatic and more steely and quite herbal and nettle-like in style. The palate has some softness and roundness that is attractive, while the acidity keeps it clean and fresh. Despite all the zing though it feels textured from lees ageing for 6 months. Again very drinkable and good, but a little richer in style – 90/100 points.

Vineyards in Ghemme.

2011 Cuvée Tradizione
DOCG Erbaluce di Caluso Spumante Gran Riserva

 

Another ambitious and delicious Erbaluce sparkler made by the Traditional Method. Partly barrel fermented and partly tank fermented the wine is aged for 48 months on the lees before disgorging. There is no dosage, or added sugar, but there is 3 grams per litre of residual sugar.

 

A bright nose of seashore, bread, flakey pastry together with dried lemon and light apple notes.
The palate delivers a lovely balance between richness – honey, nuts, dried fruit – and lemon / apple freshness and there is some nice minerality too – 91/100 points.

 

2009 Cuvée Tradizione 1968
DOCG Erbaluce di Caluso Spumante Gran Riserva

Gianluigi Orsolani is the winemaker at the family estate today, but it was his father Francesco who made the region’s first traditional method sparkling wine back in 1968. This wine is named for that first vintage and is aged on the lees for 60 months to give even more depth and complexity60 months on the lees. Again there is no dosage, just the sweetness of the ripe Erbaluce grapes.

A very intense and ripe wine with a lovely, lifted nose of pineapple cubes, toasted brioche, flakey pastry, nuts and caramel. The palate follows on with rich flavours of cooked orchard fruit – apple and peach – with more brioche, biscuit and nuts.  Full-flavoured and rich with a long finish – 92/100 points.

 

2012 Pietro Cassina Spumante Metodo Classico
Vitivinicola Pietro Cassina
Vino Spumante di Qualità

Pietro Cassina is a charming fellow who farms 6 hectares and makes lovely wines in a fabulous new winery in Lessona, another place that I had only heard of before this trip. As well as Nebbiolo, he grows some Erbaluce and makes this lovely traditional method sparkling wine from it. He ages it on the lees for 36 months. His reds are DOC Lessona or DOC Costa  della Sesia, neither of which permit sparkling wines, so his fizz is simply labelled as Vino Spumante di Qualità.

A lively gold colour with a rich, smoky, leesy, pastry, brioche nose. The palate is rich, biscuity and creamy with nutty and caramel flavours and a good cut of acidity. This is classy stuff indeed – 92/100 points.

 

2012 T
DOCG Erbaluce di Caluso

 

Cieck are another impressive producer that is relatively new. It was originally founded, in 1985, to produce sparkling wines, but they have branched out and today they farm 16 hectares of vines, mainly Erbaluce, but grow Nebbiolo and Barbara too.

 

This special cuvée is a selection of fruit from Cieck’s Misobolo Vineyard. Harvested late, in November, with skin contact for 36, then cold fermented and finally aged in untoasted Slavonian (Croatian) oak tonneau of 1500 litres for 8-10 months.
This remarkable wine has and rich, intense nose of ripe greengage together with something tropical, herbaceous and it’s slightly mealy and nutty too as well as having a waft of jasmine about it.

 

The palate has great concentration, super acidity that cuts through the fatty texture giving tension and a mineral feel. A delicious and great wine with a very long finish – 93/100 points.

Walking through vineyards in Gattinara.

2011 San Giorgio Brut
DOCG Erbaluce di Caluso

 

This was the original product of the estate and it is pretty good. The base wine is cold fermented and after the second fermentation in bottle – Traditional Method – the wine is aged for 36 months on the lees. 

 

Given the long lees ageing the nose is remarkably fresh and lively, with floral, jasmine and camomile too as well as biscuit, pastry and fresh naan bread.

 

The palate has lots of soft fruit and a cut of zesty acidity making it very balanced and refreshing too. A lovely aperitif wine – 88/100 points.

 

2010 Calliope Brut
DOCG Erbaluce di Caluso

 

Cieck’s most complex sparkler with some 35% of the base wine fermented in new oak barrels and aged on the lees for 9 months. This component is then blended with cold, stainless steel tank fermented wine and the second fermentation takes place after bottling – Traditional Method. After the second fermentation in bottle the  wine is aged for 36 months on the lees. 

 

This offers a really lovely nose of ripe citrus, lime, lemon together with richer leesy, pastry, biscuit and nutty notes.

 

The palate delivers rich cooked lemon, cooked apricot and apple together with more savoury spicy, wholemeal bread and pastry flavours. It has refreshing, brisk acidity and something that I have wondered about for a long time. A good friend of mine and perhaps the greatest taster that I have ever known once described a sparkling wine to me as having a ‘brittle mousse’. I have always struggled to understand the phrase, but liked it at the same time. I now understand what it means as this too has a brittle mousse. It feels like it will shatter in your mouth, which just makes the wine even more intriguing! Great stuff – 92/100 points.

Lake Viverone from Cellagrande.

 

2004 San Michele Brut Brut
DOC Erbaluce di Caluso – became DOCG in 2010

 

Set on the northern shore of Lake Viverone about as far north as you can get in the Caluso zone, Cellagrande farm a small estate and winemaker Fabrizio Ruzzon crafts their wines in the remains of a beautiful twelfth century convent. Only the church, bell tower and cellars remain and they are put to good use as the perfect place to age their sparkling wines.

 

This is 100% Erbaluce grown on south facing slopes dropping down to the north shore of Lake Viverone. Cold fermented then bottled and after the second fermentation the wine is aged on the lees for a minimum of 36 months, often much longer. This 2004 had only just been disgorged.

 

This was a deep golden colour with a wonderfully enticing nose of rich apples, apricots, pastry and spices. The palate was rich and creamy with cooked apples, a touch of pineapple, dry honey, caramel, biscuits and pastry all kept balanced by some lovely, bright, cleansing acidity. This is serious stuff and a real triumph – 93/100 points.

 

Vineyards in Ghemme.

Sweet Wines

Given how important sweet wines were in the past – they were the most sought after wines in ancient times and the middle ages because they kept whereas other wines did not – this may well be the oldest wine style from Piemonte. Sweet wines made from dried grapes, to get rid of water and so increase the proportion of sugar have been made all over the Mediterranean world since the beginning of civilisation.

 

2007 Alladium Passito
DOC Erbaluce di Caluso Passito

 

For this wine they select the best bunches of ripest Erbaluce fruit on the estate and then dry them in ventilated rooms on special racks. The dry conditions stop the grapes from going mouldy. After crushing the juice is fermented and the finished wine is aged for 3 years in oak barrels.
A light dessert wine with honey, orange, fig, orange peel and a touch of oak spice and tea on the nose. The palate is full and rounded with a soft viscous texture, caramelised orange, cooked apricot, a little treacle and cinder toffee. A very attractive wine, fresh and delightfully drinkable rather than complex – 88/100 points.

 

2009 Sulé Passito
DOC Erbaluce di Caluso Passito

 

This passito – a sweet wine made from dried grapes –  wine is fermented in oak barrels and then aged in those barrels on the lees for 3 more years.

 

A richer style with a caramel colour and aromas of creme brûlée, burnt sugar, caramelised orange, coffee and sweet spice. The palate is intense and figgy, almost like a an Australian Liqueur Muscat with buttery toffee, molasses, coffee, dried orange, caramel and cinnamon. It is viscous, silky and mouth-filling and has a long finish – 90/100 points.

 

I was very impressed with these white wines and sparklers from northern Piemonte. I went expecting to taste red wines made from Nebbiolo and although there were plenty of those that were very good indeed, I also enjoyed these whites and sparkling wines. Which just goes to show what an excellent wine region it is.

 

So you see, Italy can always surprise you, even astonish you, with wonderful whites and sparkling wines from places where you least expect them. This can be from regions that you have never heard of and grape varieties that you have never even heard mentioned before. Personally I think that is a good thing as it means the world of wine is even more exciting than we thought and it gives us even more good reasons to keep an open mind and and to try everything.

 

Try them if you get the chance and let us know what you thought of them.

Wine of the Week – a stylish Italian sparker

I have recently returned from a fascinating trip to the Soave region of Italy. It is a very beautiful and tranquil area centred on the wonderful city of Verona. There were many wines that impressed me and many experiences that stood out and I will write in more detail soon.

The beautiful landscape of Colli Berici just to the south of Lessini Durello.

However one group of wines did surprise me. The sparklers. This is because I simply had no experience of them. In the UK only one Italian sparkling wine seems to be important – Prosecco – and while it is dominant even in Italy, there is so much more.

Everywhere I have been in Italy recently there have been excellent quality sparkling wines. Sparkling Falanghina in Campania, sparkling Carricante on Sicily, Verdicchio in the Marche, sparkling Lugana in the Veneto and Lombardy, Franciacorta in Lombardy, Nebbiolo – both white and rosé – in Piemonte, Chardonnay in Trento DOC and many other I am sure. So I was excited to find yet one more – I find that life is always better with a bit of fizz.

Prosecco of course can be made over a very wide area, principally in the Veneto region, but also outside in Friuli, while most of these other sparkling wines are produced in much smaller regions and mainly using the traditional method.

Whilst touring around Soave though I was made much more aware of another sparkling wine from Veneto that has a great deal to offer.

Wine map of northern Italy. Lessini Durello is immediately to the north of Soave and Colli Berici – click for a larger view.

DOC Lessini Durello is a smallish PDO just to the north of Soave in the Monti Lessini, which is a lovely area that forms part of the prealps. Somewhat confusingly the grape they grow here is actually called Durella – the wine must contain at least 15% of this and can also include Chardonnay, Garganega, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero.

Riserva wines must be made sparkling by the traditional method followed by 36 months ageing on the lees, while standard – non Reserve – examples is only made by the tank – or Charmat – method, so the second fermentation, which produces the CO2 that makes the wine sparkling, takes place in a tank before the wine is bottled.

I tasted quite a few of these wines and was impressed. The only problem being that thy do not generally seem to make it to export markets. So I was very excited to taste one that does and have made it my Wine of the Week.

Settecento33 Brut
Cantina di Soave 
DOC Lessini Durello
Veneto
Italy

I loved visiting the Cantina di Soave, they are the big cooperative producer in the area, but make some superb wines. 

There is nothing too fancy about how this wine is made, it’s just very technical, clean and precise and that is pretty much how the wine tastes. It is made from 100% Durella.

One of the beautiful buildings belonging to the Cantina di Soave.

Everything about it is clean and fresh. The nose is floral and citrussy while the palate is pure and lively with a bracing acidity that makes the wine lively and refreshing. It feels more taut and classic than most Prosecco which gives it a feel of elegance and finesse. This is a very attractive easy drinking and versatile sparkling wine. It makes a great aperitif, goes well with light dishes, pesto and tortellini with sage and butter – 88/100 points.

Available in the UK for £10.00 per bottle from:
Oddbins.

So you see, Italian fizz does not have to be Prosecco!

Castello di Brolio – the resurgence of a great Chianti estate

I seem to have become a bit obsessed by Italian wine of late and there is nothing wrong with that. The country has a great deal to offer, hundreds of indigenous grape varieties, dozens of wine producing areas, every imaginable style – some uniquely Italian – and everything from  honest, everyday wine to some of the grandest fine wine producers in the world.

In the last couple of years I have enjoyed many trips to Italy and tasted many good – and great – wines. However recently I was invited to a wonderful wine dinner and tasting in London as a guest of Baron Francesco Ricasoli, one of the grandest Italian producers of them all.

Brolio Castle and some of its vines.

The Ricasoli family are very old and emerged as feudal lords from Lombardy in the times of Charlemagne. They settled in Tuscany in the area now known as Chianti – perhaps it was then too as the name is thought to be that of an Etruscan family – more specifically what is now the Chianti Classico. The family took ownership of Brolio Castle in 1141 and have been there ever since, which makes them officially the oldest winery in Italy  – quite an achievement when you consider that the castle marked the border between Florence and Siena. I found it extraordinary to be having dinner and chatting away with a man whose direct ancestors would have had dealings with the Medici family and be involved in the intrigue and violent politics of Florence in the Renaissance.

From a wine point of view though his most important ancestor, in modern times anyway, was Bettino Ricasoli, 2nd Baron Ricasoli. Born in 1809, Bettino eventually became the Tuscan Minister of the Interior and was instrumental in pushing for the union of Tuscany with the Kingdom of Sardinia (Piemonte) that took place in 1860 and established the Kingdom of Italy. He went on to serve two terms as Prime Minister of the newly unified Italy.

As if that was not enough for one lifetime, Bettino also made an enormous contribution to the history of Chianti.

Wine map of Tuscany showing the location of Brolio Castle – click for a larger view.

The wine had been around for centuries, indeed Henry VIII was known to drink it, but originally it was only made in the area called the Chianti Hills just to the north of Siena. Indeed the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III de’Medici, issued an edict creating the boundaries of the region which today broadly correspond with those of modern Chianti Classico. Brolio is at the heart of this region, in Gaiole in Chianti some 10 km north east of Siena.

The idea of what constituted a Chianti wine seemed to be somewhat fluid in those days. Indeed there is some evidence, as with Rioja, that it was a white wine in the past. It was not until Bettino had finished his stint as Prime Minister that he was able to bring some clarity to what Chianti actually was. He had worked very hard at restoring the Brolio estate, replanting and experimenting with what grape varieties really suited the land and making the best expression of Chianti that he thought possible. In the end he settled on a blend of three grapes, Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Malvasia, or Sangioveto, Canajuolo and Malvagia as they were known back then and sometimes still are locally.

Just as an aside, in those days it was normal to grow lots of grapes together, to pick them together and to vinify them together too as a field blend. Such wines that included white grapes were much paler and lighter than most red wines of today. I was fortunate enough to taste a wine made in this fashion at Thomas Jefferson’s estate in Monticello, Virginia and it was a real eye opener to wines of the past.

So after decades of research and winemaking Bettino finally wrote down what he had learned and sent it in a letter to Professor Cesare Studiati at the University of Pisa in 1872:

‘…I verified the results of the early experiments, that is, that the wine receives most of its aroma from the Sangioveto (which is my particular aim) as well as a certain vigour in taste; the Canajuolo gives it a sweetness which tempers the harshness of the former without taking away any of its aroma, though it has an aroma all of its own; the Malvagia, which could probably be omitted for wines for laying down, tends to dilute the wine made from the first two grapes, but increases the taste and makes the wine lighter and more readily suitable for daily consumption…’

I find it fascinating that even then he knew the Malvasia diluted the wine – softening it to make it drinkable – and could be left out if you wanted to age the wine instead. Malvasia is no longer a permitted grape for Chianti – although it is still grown in the region for other wines – all the grapes used in Chianti must now be black.

Today the estate is the largest in Chianti Classico – 12000 hectares in total with 236 hectares of vines and olive trees and it might all seem rosy, but that is only because of a great deal of hard work and foresight.

The charming Baron Francesco Ricasoli.

In the 1960s the Ricasoli family sold their name, their brand, to Seagrams. They managed the vineyards and sold the wine to Seagram who marketed it around the world. It may seem strange today, but at the time it made total sense. Many fine wine regions were struggling, astonishingly both Chablis and Côte Rôtie almost disappeared at that time, and Chianti was going through a hard time too. The wines had lost their reputation for quality and many producers had lost confidence in their grapes and their land – this was the time when some Chianti makers saw their future in Cabernet and Merlot and the ‘Super-Tuscans’ were born.

The Seagrams deal saved them at the time, but undermined their history and reputation. Baron Francesco Ricasoli took over the family business in 1990 and decided to put that right. The first thing he did was extensive replanting to ensure the quality came right in the vineyard. Then when Seagrams sold out to Hardy’s in 1993 he was able to buy the family brand back. From then on the focus has been on quality and re-establishing the prestige of their brand.

Brolio Castle.

Francesco was not a winemaker by trade, but a professional photographer, so since 1990 has been operating outside his comfort zone in many ways – although frankly it doesn’t show. He is assured, charming, deeply knowledgeable about his land and I could have listened to him forever. He introduced his wines with modesty and was keen to emphasise that he had built a team to make this project work, but you could hear the pride in his voice when he told us that in 20 years Ricasoli went from being almost forgotten to being regarded once more as a great estate.

Key to the progress they have made with their wines is their zoning project. This is a study in collaboration with the Experimental Institute for the Study and Protection of the Soil in Florence, which is mapping each parcel of vineyards by soil and climate to ensure that the correct grapes varieties are planted where they should be and on the most suitable rootstock.

The tasting was held at Pied à Terre in Charlotte Street in London and the food was an exquisite backdrop to these wonderful wines.

The aperitif:

2015 Torricella
Barone Ricasoli
IGT Toscana

This was our aperitif and it was a  blend of 75% Chardonnay blended with 25% Sauvignon Blanc. The Chardonnay was aged for 9 months in used barriques and tonneaux on the lees. the sauvignon was aged on the lees in stainless steel for 9 months.

This was a terrific wine with a lovely, beguiling, balance of richness and texture with freshness, acidity and minerality. I have had a few wines over the years that blend these two grape varieties together and they always seem good to me, so I often wonder why more people don’t don’t do it. This example is very fine – 91/100 points.

Available in the UK for around £17 per bottle from:
Fareham Wine Cellar and Slurp.

Served with Roasted quail, baby beetroots and wild mushrooms:

2013 Casalferro
Barone Ricasoli
IGT Toscana

A single vineyard Super-Tuscan wine that has been produced since 1993. It was originally pure Sangiovese, but is now 100% Merlot. The vineyard is south facing and the soil is chalky clay. The different blocks were aged for between 18 and 21 months in French oak barriques and tonneaux before blending.

I am not always a fan of Merlot, but this was delicious stuff. The colour was deep, vibrant and plummy, while the lifted nose offered mocha, chocolate, plums and coffee with a touch of earth and even a whiff of the Mediterranean. The palate was smooth, creamy almost with light grainy tannins, vanilla, rose hips, plums and a dusting of cocoa. The flavours really build in the mouth and it is very long. It was a great match – 92/100 points.

Available in the UK for around £40 per bottle from:
Tannico and Just in Cases.

2006 Casalferro
Barone Ricasoli
IGT Toscana

This was the last vintage that blended 30% Merlot and 70% Sangiovese together, from 2007 Casalferro has been pure Merlot. The wine was aged for 18 months in French oak barriques.

Beginning to show its age with a tawny rim and a briny, balsamic dominated aroma together with leather, earth, dried fruits and strong coffee. The palate was very soft, yet savoury and earthy with something almost medicinal about it. The tannins and the fruit were smooth and velvety and the acidity, presumably from the Sangiovese, kept it youthful and bright. This was magnificent with the quail meat, especially the crispy roast quail legs – 93/100 points.

Available in the UK for around £40 per bottle from:
Hedonism Wines.

Served with venison, celeriac, watercress, sprouts and chestnuts:

2013 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione
Castello di Brolio
Barone Ricasoli
DOCg Chianti Classico

This wine, now labelled as Gran Selezione – the first eligible vintage was 2010, is the Grand Vin of the estate. Gran Selezione is an attempt to firm up the quality credentials of top Chianti Classico. Historically the Riserva wines were the pinnacle of production, but normal Chianti Classico could be aged longer in wood and be labelled as a Reserve, so nothing really set the wines apart as being great quality.

Gran Selezione wines must be made from estate grown fruit, not bought in. The minimum alcohol must be 13% compared to 12.5% for Riserva. The wine must be aged for 30 months, compared to 24 months for Riserva. There is some controversy around the adoption of this new system, but I can see the point of it.

This 90% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot blend is made from a very careful selection of the best fruit on the estate, fermented in stainless steel then aged for 21 months in French oak barriques and tonneaux – 20% new.

The nose offered bright plums and pomegranates together with rich earth and mocha notes. The palate was supple, youthful, joyous and delicious with fine grain tannins, sweet red fruit and a harmonious feel. I could drink it now, but it really needs time – 94/100 points.

Available in the UK for around £40 per bottle from:
Waitrose Cellar, Tannico and Millésima.

2008 Chianti Classico
Castello di Brolio
Barone Ricasoli
DOCg Chianti Classico

This 80% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot blend is made from a very careful selection of the best fruit on the estate, fermented in stainless steel then aged for 28 months in French oak barriques and tonneaux – 20% new.

2008 is not considered a great vintage, but Francesco is very fond of it and wanted to share it with us. I am glad he did, I thought it was terrific.

The age is beginning to show here with more toffee, caramel and balsamic, soy sauce and general umami note The palate was very supple, very smooth with nice freshness, dried fig fruit, mushrooms, smoky coffee and caramel flavours. The finish was long, savoury and saline with a touch of mocha and cedar too. A beautiful wine ageing gracefully – 93/100 points.

2003 Chianti Classico
Castello di Brolio
Barone Ricasoli
DOCg Chianti Classico

One of the hottest vintages to date, this was a blend of  Sangiovese with a little cabernet sauvignon. The wine was aged for 18 months in French oak barriques – 65% new.

The age shows here, but it is very good. the nose is earthy, mushroomy, truffles, meaty, dried figs and rich coffee, even a touch of stout on the nose. The palate is again very supple with sweet dried figs, almost no tannins and a meaty, savoury richness that makes it great with food – 93/100 points.

Served with the cheese course:

2013 Colledilà Chianti Classico Gran Selezione
Barone Ricasoli
DOCg Chianti Classico

This wine is a site specific, pure Sangiovese Chianti Classico that is now labelled as a Gran Selezione. In effect it is a Cru from a vineyard on the estate that sits at 380 metres above sea level and faces south west. 

100% Sangiovese made from a very careful selection of the best fruit on the estate on the Colledilà block, fermented in stainless steel then aged for 21 months in French oak barriques and tonneaux – 40% new.

I am not always wowed by the top wines of an estate, but this really seduced me. What’s more it was from a difficult vintage with lots of hail. It was fragrant, floral, perfumed with sweet red fruit, mocha and a touch f tobacco. The palate was smooth, supple, smoky with fine grain tannins, ripe red fruit and a beautifully fresh, lightly flesh and succulent mid weight to it. This was stunning wine and I would add that the label is utterly beautiful too – 95/100 points.

Available in the UK for around £50 per bottle from:
Hedonism and Millésima.

2010 Colledilà Chianti Classico
Barone Ricasoli
DOCg Chianti Classico

100% Sangiovese made from a very careful selection of the best fruit on the estate on the Colledilà block, fermented in stainless steel then aged for 18 months in French oak barriques and tonneaux.

Showing some lovely bottle age, this is much more savoury and meaty with dried fruit, walnuts and coffee aromas, even some toffee. The palate is wonderfully cohesive with an underlying freshness balancing the richness and binding it all together. The tannins are supple and there is a dried fruit and savoury, earthy flavours and a sense of purity about it that makes it sing. It was magnificent with the Comté – 93/100 points.

Available in the UK for around £32 per bottle from:
Vintage Wine & Port.

Served with the petit fours:

2007 Vin Santo
Castello di Brolio
Barone Ricasoli
DOCg Chianti Classico

This blend of Malvasia and  Sangiovese is made from late harvested grapes that are then dried over the winter to concentrate the sugars further.  The juice is then fermented and the wine then aged for 4-5 years in French oak barriques.

This was the colour of Malt Whiskey and had a nose of cinder toffee, caramel, oranges, dried apricots together with a whiff of old books, leather, pipe tobacco and coffee. The palate is a wonderfully sumptuous blend of sweet and sour with chestnut, coffee, dried fig, maple syrup and concentrated apricot fruit. The finish is firm and surprisingly unsweet with great acidity and balance. The end is almost savoury and salty with reminders of Sherry, Sauternes and Madeira on the nose and plate – 93/100 points.

Available in the UK for around £33 per half litre from:
Hennings Wine.

The whole evening was a memorable experience of good company, excellent food and magnificent wines. If you want to see what Chianti can be, do try one of the wines from Castello di Brolio Barone Ricasoli, they are quite a revelation.

The wines that I have written about here are the pinnacle of Barone Ricasoli’s production. If you want to dip a toe in the water and try their wines without quite such a large price tag, then they make many other wines including their superb Barone Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva, their excellent Brolio Chianti Classico  – also here – and the Waitrose in Partnership Chianti Classico, which is very good and great value for money.

Barone Ricasoli wines are imported into the UK by John E Fells.

Barone Ricasoli wines are imported into the US by Domaine Select & Liber Selections,

Wine of the Week – a delicious Italian white

For me the much of the excitement of wine is experimentation and finding something new and surprising.

To that end I am always on the look out for regions about which I know nothing, or little and grape varieties that I have never tried before.

Well, the other day I tried a dry white wine that ticked both those boxes and was really good. I enjoyed it very much and it was very, very drinkable. Certainly the bottle just seemed to empty itself with incredible speed – which is often a good measure of how much I like a wine, especially when the bottle is emptying fast, but I don’t want it to actually end – like a good book.

Anyway, the wine I drank came from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, from DO Romagna and was made from the Pagadebit grape, of which I had never heard and rather surprisingly it was so good that I made it my Wine of the Week.

Wine map of Northern Italy. Emilia-Romagna is in the South East. Click for a larger view.

The amazing winery at Poderi dal Nespoli.

2016 Poderi dal Nespoli Pagadebit
Poderi dal Nespoli 
DO Romagna
Emilia-Romagna
Italy

There is nothing fancy about the winemaking here, just a blend of 85% Pagadebit with 15% Sauvignon Blanc. 

Pagadebit is the name in Emilia-Romagna for the Bombino Bianco grape. This undistinguished grape variety grows all over southern Italy and has long been confused with Trebbiano d’Abruzzo. In fact they are so intertwined that DO Trebbiano d’Abruzzo wine can be made from either Trebbiano or Bombino. The name Pagadebit is interesting and refers to the fact that the grape gives a large crop, so ensures a good financial return so the name means something like ‘pays your debts’.

The estate at Poderi dal Nespoli which is a family run winery that was founded in 1929.

The aromas are floral, light honey, apple and herbs. The palate is a lovely combination of ripe, but crisp fruit and savoury herbal flavours. Tangy, crisp apple, light peach and a burst of fresh lemony citrus and tangerine vie with the savoury, almond and herbal notes and the merest hint of something saline. This is not a hugely complex wine, but it is really very drinkable, utterly delicious and incredibly versatile. Perhaps the addition of Sauvignon adds little finesse here. Enjoy it without food or with any lighter dishes, especially seafood and chicken. What’s more Emilia-Romagna is the home of Parma ham and I am sure that would be a great match too – 88/100 points.

Parma ham a local speciality.

I particularly like recommending this wine because it is mainly made from a grape that almost no one has a good word for. Pagadebit / Bombino Bianco is reckoned to be a grape that makes very ordinary wines and I love it when such generally held wisdom is shown to be inaccurate or out of date, just as it is with Verdicchio, which funnily enough was also long confused with Trebbiano.

Available in the UK for around £10 per bottle from:
Laithwaites – online and from their shops.

The Marche – a region awakes: Part 2 – the red wines

A few weeks ago I was on a wonderful trip to the Marche region of Italy, some of you will have read Part 1 of my thoughts on the trip, well here is Part 2 and it focuses on a couple of producers whose red wines really stood out for me.

Beautiful vineyards in the Marche.

I saw so much that excited me on my trip to the Marche, it is a beautiful landscape with much to enjoy and incredible variety, borne out by the many different wine styles. However it is the quality of the DOC Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi whites and the lesser known, in the UK anyway, Cònero Rosso DOC and Cònero Riserva DOCG that must be the region’s vinous calling cards.

I was hugely impressed by the modern examples of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, they were totally different from the thin and harshly acidic wines of my youth.

In truth I had no idea what to expect from the reds, so really enjoyed the experiences of tasting the wines. They were so varied, from deliciously fruity and modern wines, to rich and powerful examples and refined elegant wines. It seems there is something for everyone here.

We tasted good red wines at pretty much every where we went, but these are the ones that moved me the most.

Wine map of the Marche – click for a larger view.

The main grape in the Marche for red wines is Montepulciano and the most important wine that it is used for is Rosso Cònero DOC and it’s big brother the Cònero Riserva DOCG. Both of these must contain at least 85% Montepulciano and can have up to 15% Sangiovese.

Montepulciano is a grape that struggles with its image I think. For a start there are the cheap and cheerful wines from Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. I know there are good wines made down there, but most of the examples that we get are somewhat jammy and easy drinking. Well most of the Rosso Cònero and Cònero Riserva wines that I tried were nothing like that. They were very enjoyable to drink, but they were layered and complex wines that really excited me.

The other problem for Montepulciano, which can cause confusion, is that in Tuscany there is a town of that name that produces a wine called Vino Nobile di Montepulciano from Sangiovese grapes.

I was really astonished by how good these Cònero wines were and very disappointed that are very hard to come by in the UK.

Cònero DOCG covers the same area, but has lower yields and is aged for at least 2 years.

Fattoria La Terrazze

Fattoria La Terrazze from the air showing the proximity to the sea – photo courtesy of the winery.

My second winery visit in the Marche was to Fattoria La Terrazze in the Rosso Cònero area. The setting is so lovely, 10 km or so to the south of Ancona and only a kilometre or so inland from the Adriatic Sea and Mount Conero which gives this small wine area its name. The mountain is a promontory to the south of Ancona (there is a slight bulge out into the sea on my map) and is the only high point on the east coast of Italy and at 572 metres it really stands out. In ancient times it must have been a welcoming marker to tell sailors that they had made it safely to Ancona.

Antonio Terni.

The estate has been here since 1882 and is still owned by the founding Terni family, although its reputation is all recent. Today it is run by Antonio Terni and his charming English wife Georgina. I liked them, their beautiful winery and all the wines. Antonio is something of a music fan and his rosé is rather memorably called ‘Pink Fluid’. We even tried his bulk wine that is sold to the locals by the litre – they bring their bottles and jars to be filled. The red was a Montepulciano and the white was a Chardonnay and they were very nice, drinkable wines, however, some of his finer products really stood out.

2014 Rosso Cònero
DOC Rosso Cònero
Fattoria La Terrazze

100% Montepulciano grapes are fermented in stainless steel and then aged in huge, 2000-4000 litres wooden barrels for 15 months.

The colour was a mixture of damson and dark cherry, while the nose gave off wild fruit of the forest and light smoke notes together with something a little salty or soy sauce-like. The palate is medium weight with nice acid balance, herbal flavours, salty, mineral and spicy flavours and some coulis like brambles fruit together with a very long finish. I liked this a lot. It was my first wine of the region that I can remember tasting and it was pretty impressive, a worthy alternative to Chianti or something like that – 89/100 points.

The road to Fattoria La Terrazze, that is Monte Cònero and the sea in the distance..

2013 Sassi Neri
DOCG Cònero Riserva
Fattoria La Terrazze

This wine is named after a beach below Monte Cònero which is called black or neri because it is covered in mussels.

This is also 100% Montepulciano grapes that are very carefully selected for this wine, picked later and riper are fermented in stainless steel and then aged in 225 litres wooden barrels for 18-24 months depending on the parcel of fruit. It is also aged for a further 6months in bottle before release.

The colour was attractive, deep, and plummy. The nose was earthy, smoky and savoury in a really attractive way. Then the palate was rich and intense with smoke, herbs, sweet liquorice, a sweet and sour umami thing, rich cooked dark fruit, spice and some pretty big, drying chalky tannins in a good way. My I liked this, it really is beautifully made  – 91/100 points.

Antonio also shared bottle of the 1998 Sassi Neri with us. This was much more developed with more prune-like fruit, fig notes, dried raspberry, as well as rich umami, coffee,muchroom and salty flavours on the lovely finish.

Some of the Fattoria La Terrazze wines are available in the UK from Tannico.co.uk and Italvinus.

Azienda Agricola Moroder

Aerial view of Azienda Agricola Moroder -photo courtesy of the winery.

Azienda Agricola Moroder is another winery in a magnificent setting. It’s in the middle of Conero National Park, just 5 km inland from the Adriatic Sea and the glorious Mount Conero which gives this small wine area its name.

Mattia and Marco Moroder.

The estate today is run by Marco and Mattia Moroder whose family have owned the site since the late eighteenth century, but who turned it into a dedicated winery in 1837. The winery is still in the cellar of the beautiful original farmhouse. The Moroder name is actually Ladin and Germanic and originates in the South Tyrol, indeed the brothers told us that Giorgio Moroder is a relative. They also explained that the name came from bands of fighting men who were left behind, making it strikingly similar to ‘marauder’ in English.

The cellar dates back to 1700 and was originally used as an ice store and to keep food in good condition. Although they have a long history here, their reputation is much more recent and Marco and Mattia’s parents, Alessandro and Serenella Moroder can pretty much be credited with revitalising the red wines of the area.

Azienda Agricola Moroder.

The estate has a huge terrace with beautiful views out over the vineyards making it seem very restful. It covers some 120 hectares, but only 50 are planted with vines. The rest being forest, olives and fruit trees, all of which helps with bio-diversity and other products like oil, jam and truffles. The brothers are keen to have a light impact on nature and since 2010 the estate has been certified organic.

Azienda Agricola Moroder.

We tasted a wide range of their wines, including a sparkling, but it was the reds of the Cònero Rosso DOC and Cònero Riserva DOCg that really got to me. All of these are made from 100% Montepulciano grapes.

They produce a comprehensive range too starting with two very different Cònero Rosso DOC. The fresh, unoaked Aiòn was a great start, but the botti aged Moroder Cònero Rosso was a real step up in complexity.

Botti in the cellar of Azienda Agricola Moroder.

2013 Rosso Cònero
DOC Rosso Cònero
Azienda Agricola Moroder

100% Montepulciano long macerated on the skins to give good colour and flavour, then aged for 24 months in botti, large barrels of 2700 litres.

The nose is lovely with one leafy notes, chocolate and ripe red fruit. The palate is beautifully structured with delicate oak, ripe fruit and tamed tannins. There is plenty of fruit with earthy and mineral flavours. I loved this wine and think many others would too if we could just buy it – 89/100 points.

2004 Rosso Cònero
DOC Rosso Cònero
Azienda Agricola Moroder

100% Montepulciano aged for 24 months in botti, large barrels of 2700 litres.

As you might expect this was much more developed than the 2013 version. The fruit had turned much more savoury, earthy and leathery with a meaty and tomato stem quality. It was a splendid wine, a bit of a treat really, but needed food. The younger, brighter wine was more for me – 89/100 points.

2012 Cònero Riserva
DOCG Cònero Riserva
Azienda Agricola Moroder

This is their standard Cònero Riserva DOCG, the grapes are carefully selected, with low yields and the wine is aged for 30 months in oak, half in 10,000 litre botti and the other 50% in barrels.

The nose is gorgeous, with lifted damsons, sweet cherry and smoky, coffee / mocha notes. The palate is full, smooth and rich with some intense dried fruit characters, fresh acidity and a lovely earthy, savoury character leading to a very long finish. I was hugely impressed by this wine, it was concentrated and intense, with lovely mineral, earthy notes and a wonderful backbone of fresh acidity – 90/100 points.

Azienda Agricola Moroder.

2011 Dorico
DOCG Cònero Riserva
Azienda Agricola Moroder

This is their top wine, a Cònero Riserva DOCg called Dorico in celebration of the Greeks who brought grape growing to the Italian peninsula. This cuvée is made by a very careful selection of the best fruit that is left on the vine for 2 extra weeks to get even riper. The wine is aged for 36 months in barriques, 225 litre barrels.

The nose is gorgeous, with lifted damsons, sweet cherry and smoky, coffee / mocha notes. The palate is full, smooth and rich with some intense dried fruit characters, fresh acidity and a lovely earthy, savoury character leading to a very long finish. I was hugely impressed by this wine, it was concentrated and intense, with lovely mineral, earthy notes and a wonderful backbone of fresh acidity. It was one of my two favourite reds of the trip, beautifully balanced with tension between the richness of the fruit and the grapes natural acidity and the minerality of the style. Again the tannins of this famously tannic grape were very well tamed – 93/100 points.

Some of the Moroder wines are available to be shipped to the UK – until Brexit ruins everything – by Uvinum.

Umani Ronchi

Massimo and Michele Bernetti.

Umani Ronchi is one of the really famous names from this part of Italy, but despite the scale on which they operate, everything of theirs that I tasted was very good indeed. The company was created and is still owned by the Bernetti family. Michele Bernetti is the CEO while his father Massimo is the chairman. It’s a pretty large estate run on several different sites as they produce Verdicchio wines and wines in neighbouring Abruzzo as well as in Cònero and all their vineyards are farmed organically.

Some of Umani Ronchi’s Cònero vineyards.

2016 Serrano
DOC Rosso Cònero
Umani Ronchi

85% Montepulciano with 15% Sangiovese fermented in stainless steel aged in stainless steel to preserve the juicy fruit.

Everything about this wine is fresh, juicy and lively. The colour is vibrant like liquified raspberry. The nose gives bright, fresh lively raspberry fruit together with a touch of herb and pepper. The palate is plump, chunky, smooth and supple with loads of bright, rich fruit and a light touch of chalky tannins on the finish. This is a happy wine that is very modern, very fruity and beautifully made – 89/100 points.

The Umani Ronchi barrel cellar in Cònero.

2011 Campo San Giorgio
DOCG Cònero Riserva
Umani Ronchi

100% Montepulciano grapes carefully selected from the San Giorgio vineyard which was planted around 2000 and is trained into bush vines in order to stress the plant and produce small yields. Everything is done by hand in this vineyard and everything is done to ensure a small crop of concentrated fruit. The grapes are fermented whole, but without the stalks, using the natural yeast to give a spontaneous fermentation. The wine is aged in new oak barriques for 12-14 months depending on the parcel the barrel. They only make around 4000 bottles of this wine. 

The ageing and the maturity really show here, it has an earthy, garnet colour. The nose delivers salty, tangy, earth,  sweet cherry and raspberry notes.
The palate is lovely and supple with a fresh, breezy feel, the oak makes it mocha infused and there is a wonderful concentration of fruit. All in all it has a lovely balance between lightness and richness. There are nice fine grain tannins on the finish, while the minerality and freshness give it great elegance. A very fine and very beautiful red wine – 94/100 points.

I also tasted the 2010 Campo San Giorgio which was also very good, but I thought the 2011 just had the edge – although I would happily drink either.

Some of the Umani Ronchi wines are available in the UK from Tannico.co.uk.

It does seem very strange to me that these are so rarely available in the UK. They deserve to be more widely seen here as the general quality seemed to be very high indeed. The style struck me as being very accessible and would prove popular with anyone who enjoys Chianti, Rioja or Bordeaux. There was nothing odd, rustic or quirky about these wines, they deserve to be widely known and enjoyed and not just treated as an obscure oddity. As you can see I liked some of these very much, the best of these red wines were as good as anything I have tasted this year.

I will leave it at that for now, but I have more to say about the wines of the Marche, some more producers and styles to mention, so will return to the region soon.

 

The Marche – a region awakes: Part 1 – the whites

A few weeks ago I was on a wonderful trip to the Marche region of Italy. This lovely region is in central Italy on the Adriatic coast and the capital is the bustling port city of Ancona. The name of the place, Le Marche, has always intrigued me. It’s pronounced Mar-Kay – and comes from the plural of the word March, which is an archaic term for a borderland. Orginally there was the March of Ancona, the March of Camerino and the March of Fermo, together they were described as Marca or Marche. So when they were put together to form a single region that is the name it was given – Marche or the marches.

The beautiful countryside of Marche.

The region has interested me for quite a long time, but life has prevented me from actually getting there before, so I was quite excited to see the place for myself. Of course I was primarily there for the wine and I was very pleased to be there too, because I had the feeling it was going to be an exciting place.

I wasn’t wrong. The Marche is an exciting wine region. In fact it seemed to me that the whole place is a bit of a sleeping giant that is only just beginning to get really ambitious and to realise just what a good wine region it can be. The wines might not be as well known as those from Tuscany, but I rather think they should be.

For quite a while now I had been convinced that the wines were worth reappraising. That is because all the books still describe the most famous wine from here – Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi – as it was 30 years or so ago, light acidic and bland, but in truth they aren’t actually like that – not anymore.

Staffolo, a hilltop town near Cantina Cológnola.

The countryside is very beautiful and very varied too and well worth a visit if you would like a more unusual corner of Italy to explore. Inland the landscape is very attractive and gentle – not unlike Tuscany – with appealing hilltop towns and villages standing guard over the valleys.

The coast at Sirolo some 10km south of Ancona.

Sirolo.

The coastline too is attractive, with a rugged and wild quality as the beaches are usually at the bottom of coastal cliffs, while the seaside towns are delightful places to stroll around – I was there in May, but I was warned that they are very busy in the summer.

Of course I was there for the wine and there is a lot of wine going on in the Marche. It is a region where a lot of PDOs / appellations / DOCs – call them what you want – overlap each other and cover much of the same territory. I know this as I have just drawn a wine map of the region and it took some working out as it is very complicated.

Wine map of the Marche – click for a larger view.

From an export point of view the 2 most visible wines are both white and made from the Verdicchio (pronounced Ver-dick-ee-oh) grape variety. Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi is the most famous and enjoys the biggest production, so is the wine that you will come across more than any other. The other leading white wine is Verdicchio di Matelica, which only produces a tenth of the amount of the other Verdichio, so tends to be more artisan production.

Verdicchio is a grape that has really captured my imagination in recent years. It is somewhat written off by most wine books, certainly the ones that I have, but deserves to be taken much more seriously. From my experience, even cheap versions of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi have more about them than most books and wine courses let on. I am sure this is because the wines, like so many, have improved out of all recognition over the last 15 years or so. They are no longer pale, lemony and thin, but have some texture and weight to them and the cheaper versions can often be very inexpensive and pretty good quality too – click here for an example.

Beautiful vineyards in Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi.

The finer bottles of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi and Verdiccio di Matelica are very different though. I found them to be quite beguiling with taut, crisp acidity and minerality, with mouthfeel and texture showing good weight of fruit, although they are fresh rather than fruity, and complexity. They were seriously exciting wines and the best ones that I tasted are as good as a good Chablis and very much in that style. What’s more, again like a good Chablis, fine examples of Verdicchio are not just fresh, crisp wines, they can be aged to develop more complexity and character. Ian D’Agata, in his book Native Wine Grapes of Italy, states his belief that ‘Verdicchio is arguably Italy’s greatest native white grape variety’ – which is high praise indeed as there is some serious competition from the likes of Fiano and Greco. Verdicchio is also used to make Lugana near Lake Garda, another excellent Italian white wine.

Beautiful vineyards in Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi.

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi is a Denominazione di Origine Controllata / DOC for white wines only. They have to be made from at least 85% Verdicchio grapes with the rest being most likely Malvasia or Trebbiano, although most that I have tasted are 100% Verdicchio.

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico, shown in deep yellow on my map, comes from the historic area of production and has to be made with lower yields than the wines labelled purely as Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi.

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Superiore wines are also made using lower yields and can be made anywhere in the region, while Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore are made from lower yields in the Classico zone.

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Spumante are sparkling wines from the region and can be very good indeed, as can the dessert wines made from dried grapes, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Passito.

The pinnacle of production is Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Riserva. These wines have enjoyed the superior classification of Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita / DOCG since 2010. They are produced in the Classico zone with lower yields and have to be aged for at least 18 months before release – this does not have to be in oak, but some are oak aged.

The soils here seem to be a mix of sandy, chalky, stony and limestone which together with the sea breezes and cold north easterly winds from the Balkans makes for wines with fresh acidity and a note of minerality, which sort of defines the finer wines here.

Inland there is another Verdicchio area. Verdicchio di Matelica DOC is a much smaller zone of production and is away from the coastal influence, so has a continental climate that is cooled by the winds coming down the valley from the north. In order to refresh the grapes further, they are planted high up at 500 metres above sea level. Again sweet, Passito, versions are made, as are sparkling, Spumante. Verdicchio di Matelica Riserva DOCG is made using lower yields and with longer ageing.

Sadly we only tasted a handful of wines from the Matelica zone and they did not stand out. However I would recommend this one, this one and especially this one, which is an especially good wine.

For me the standout producers and wines from Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi were the following:

Cantina Cológnola – Tenuta Musone

Cantina Cológnola – Tenuta Musone.

My first visit got off to a very good start at Cantina Cológnola – Tenuta Musone. The estate is a few kilometres south west of Jesi, roughly where the ‘e’ in dei is on my map. It’s owned by the charming Darini family and the winemaker is the very humble, but clearly gifted Gabrielle Villani, who kept saying that he just wanted to make better and better wine.

2016 Via Condotto
DOC Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore
Cantina Cológnola – Tenuta Musone

I really liked this bright, fresh and focussed wine. The colour was bright – it was sealed with a screw cap – honey tinged straw, while the aromas offered rich lemon zest, floral notes and straw. There was no malolactic, so the acidity was vibrant and forthright. It is aged for a few months in tank before release and it has lovely natural balance between nicely textured palate and the freshness. A terrific wine with an incredibly long finish – 88/100 points.

Interestingly when I asked Gabrielle why it was so very different from the bland and dull Verdicchios of my youth he explained that they now do not use Trebbiano – this was 100% Verdicchio, as were most of the others I tried, they use much lower fermentation temperatures in stainless steel tanks, so keep the wine fresh, they age the wine for less time, they site the vineyards more cleverly for freshness, they plant with lower density, use lower yields and harvest later. So that combination of things reduces the yields and increases the concentration of the grapes, so adding flavour, while the fermentation techniques and the site selection adds freshness and balance. The result is a wine that bears no relation to the Verdicchios of the past.

2016 Ghiffa
DOC Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore
Cantina Cológnola – Tenuta Musone

Much as I liked the Via Condotto, and I did, this really made me sit up. It is also 100% Verdicchio, but picked later, to let the sugars build, then a rigorous selection of the fruit makes it more concentrated to start with and then it was aged for 12 months on the less. The lees are the yeast sediment left over from fermentation and give the wine more complexity and can give it a richer texture too.

This had a deeper colour from all that ageing, a lemon curd, creamy and herbal aroma, while the palate was textured and succulent, with peach, apricot, honey and even nougat flavours, while the acidity and saline minerality really gave freshness and balance. This is a serious wine, rich and tangy with a stony mineral finish – 91/100 points.

Gabrielle also makes 2 excellent quality sparkling Verdicchio wines that I enjoyed very much indeed:

Gabrielle Villani.

2014 Musa Brut
DOC Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Spumante
Cantina Cológnola – Tenuta Musone

This is 100% Verdicchio grapes made sparkling by the Traditional Method, as used for Champagne. The wine was aged on the lees for 9 months.

The colour is quite golden while the aromas give a biscuity note as well as ripe each and apples. The palate was surprisingly rich, but balanced with lively, fresh acidity – 89/100 points.

Cantina Cológnola – Tenuta Musone.

2012 Darina Brut
DOC Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Spumante
Cantina Cológnola – Tenuta Musone

This is also 100% Verdicchio grapes made sparkling by the Traditional Method, but this richer wine wine was aged on the lees for 24 months.

This is a very serious sparkling wine with a rich colour and has a powerfull, leesy, biscuity, flaky pastry sort of aroma with nuts, caramel, cooked apples and cooked peach. The palate is soft and rich with a rounded mouthfeel balanced by refreshing acidity. The wine is rich and complex and tasting it blind I would never have imagined it was from a region so unknown for sparkling wines  – 91/100 points.

Some of the Cantina Cológnola – Tenuta Musone wines are available in the UK from Tannico.co.uk.

Società Agricola La Staffa di Baldi Riccardo

The entrance to La Staffa.

This beautiful little estate is near Staffolo, so not far from Cantina Cológnola and is universally known as La Staffa. The Baldi family started it in 1994, because of the rising reputation of the local wines, but it is now run by the charming, energetic and remarkably assured Riccardo Baldi. Riccardo is only in his twenties but clearly understands this piece of land and how to make wines from it. The estate is now 7 hectares with some vines going back to the 1970s and Riccardo farms biodynamically with no use of chemical herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers. It is a wonderful place, very peaceful and utterly lovely. Standing there it felt very much like being in Chablis, but a Chablis vineyard that had somehow been plonked down in the Mediterranean – which is very much how the wines feel too.

Interestingly the wines all have a salty, mineral quality. All the water used in the vineyard comes from a well on the site and I got to taste that water and it was salty.

La Staffa.

If you have never tried a Verdicchio, or have not had one for a while, Riccardo’s wines may well be the best place to start as they are exemplary.

2016 La Staffa
DOC Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore
Società Agricola La Staffa

100% Verdichio from 12 year old vines fermented in a mixture of stainless steel and cement tanks with a spontaneous fermentation using the wild yeast, 12.5% abv.
The colour is very pale and pure, slightly silver.
The nose gives salty peach skin aromas and the palate is juicy, there is a lovely sweetness of ripe fruit there making it surprisingly surprisingly succulent.
However it feels very fresh with a long salty, pretzel like finish with lively citrus acidity and a mineral quality. The acidity is on the high side, but not too dominating. This is a beautiful wine, pure and lively, but with some weight too. I loved this wine – 89/100 points.

The wonderful Riccardo Baldi.

2011 Rincrocca
DOC Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore
Società Agricola La Staffa

Rincrocca is the name of a hill next to the winery. This wine is 100% Verdichio from 45 year old vines fermented in cement tanks with a spontaneous fermentation using the wild yeast. It was aged in concrete tanks on the lees for 12 months –  14% abv.
Very rich amber honey colour shows the development.
The nose is salty and mineral with apple compote and some mushrooms that again show the development.
The palate is full, rich, honeyed and creamy with mealy texture – but bone dry. The salty purity of the young wine returns on the long, long finish and there is plenty of fruit, peach, peach skin, apple and even some rich citrus like tangerine. Oh I loved this wine, it is quite magnificent like a really good Premier Cru Chablis – 93/100 points.

Some of the stainless steel tanks at La Staffa.

I was also fortunate enough to taste this:

Some of the cement tanks at La Staffa, they are quite old and came from another winery.

2013 Rincrocca (from magnum)
DOC Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore
Società Agricola La Staffa

As you might expect this was not quite so developed, but it was superb. The colour was honeyed, the nose gave complex herbal, camomile, sage, sea salt, sweet dried apricots, toffee and orange zest notes.
The palate was fabulous, round and succulent with ripe peach, peach skin, dessert apples, herbs, honey, caramel and then smoke and salt. The finish was incredible, it just went on and on like a prog rock drum solo – 94/100 points.

These were magnificent white wines that can hold their heads up in any company.

Some of the La Staffa wines are available from Berry Bros & Rudd and Amazon.

Casa Vinicola Gioacchino Garofoli Spa

Frankly I feel a bit mean putting Garafoli here as they make wonderful red wines too, but it was the whites and sparkling that especially captured my heart. They are a big producer for the region as they farm 50 hectares and they make many of the different wine styles found in Marche.

Daria Garofoli showing me some of their wines.

They were founded in 1901 and are still owned and managed by the Garofoli family. My tasting here was led by the charming Daria Garofoli who is charge of exports and she claims that they were the first commercial producers of Marche wines. I can well believe that as for most of Italy – apart from Tuscany and some Piemonte wines – selling bottled wine is almost entirely a post WWII enterprise in most of Europe.

Today they have a winery in the Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi zone that makes those white wines and a winery in Cònero that makes everything else.

Daria explained that until well into the 1970 yields remained high and the wines were quite ordinary from here, often with other very bland grapes blended in with the Verdicchio. In those days, and to some degree it continues formally of the more everyday wines, the wines were bottled in a special amphora shaped bottle. Garafoli were one of the very first to bottle wines here and to export their wines. They were also among the first to realise the great potential for quality here, by more carefully siting vineyards, lowering yields and focussing on the mineral quality that Verdicchio can bring.

An old amphora shape bottle of Garofoli’s Verdicchio, it’s from 1964, so even older than me.

2010 Podium
DOC Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore
Casa Vinicola Gioacchino Garofoli Spa

This is a premium selection of 100% Verdicchio grapes that are picked slightly overripe. The wine is aged in stainless steel tanks for 15 months on the lees.

As you might imagine, the colour is a little deep with a peach skin hue. The aroma is wonderfully lifted with creamy, leesy notes competing with fresh citrus, salty sea shore notes, a stony tang and some peach and peach skin. The palate has a lovely succulence and a creamy, mealy feel. There is a salty, mineral quality, rich citrus and a wonderful intensity that balances the lithe freshness and vice versa. A great white wine – 93/100 points.

Beautiful Verdicchio vineyards.

2008 Podium
DOC Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore
Casa Vinicola Gioacchino Garofoli Spa

This is a premium selection of 100% Verdicchio grapes that are picked slightly overripe. The wine is aged in stainless steel tanks for 15 months on the lees.

Another stunning white wine with an amazing balance between the fresh and the linear and the richer and weightier. There is more salinity here and creamer, curdy texture with rich lemon and almost a touch of beeswax – 93/100 points.

That beautiful rainswept beach.

2012 Garofoli Brut Riserva
DOC Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Spumante
Casa Vinicola Gioacchino Garofoli Spa

This is a premium selection of 100% Verdicchio grapes that are picked slightly underripe. The wine is made fizzy by the traditional method and is aged on the lees for 48 months.

This was either really, really good, or I really really wanted some fizz at the end of a long day. We were tasting this at a beautiful, if rainswept beach and it was a great experience. The wine had a lovely peachy, apricot, citrus and biscuity aroma, while the palate was silky and refined – 90/100 points.

Some of the Garofoli wines are available in the UK from Tannico.

So, there you are, a little snap shot of some of the white wines and sparkling wines that stood out for me on the trip. There were a few more producers of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, but I think that is quite enough for now, so I will return to the subject.

You never really hear anyone extolling the virtues of Verdicchio, but I think they should, because as you can see the wines can be very high quality indeed. So, the next time you want a sappy, saline, mineral, dry white wine with real complexity and character, try a Verdeicchio dei Castelli di Jesi. I think you’ll like it.

Tuscany – a short travel guide

The weather is getting better and many of us are turning our thoughts to travel. Every now and again I write wine travel articles for my friends at the excellent 3D Wines Experience wine club and they print them in their Uncorked Magazine. Well, I thought that some of my readers here would enjoy them too, so I will publish them on here in a slow trickle.

My first piece for 3D Wines was about Tuscany and while it isn’t comprehensive it does cover a good swathe of lovely places in Tuscany’s, so I hope that it comes in handy for some of you.

Wine map of Tuscany – click for a larger view.

Tuscany has been attracting visitors for hundreds of years. It has everything from sun, sea and sand to some of the most romantic towns and cities in the world. It is a place that you can visit time and again and yet always find something new to excite you.

Tuscany is home to many famous wines, but Chianti remains its beating heart. The term Chianti was first used to define the hilly area area around Radda, Gaiole and Castellina and is thought to have been the name of an Etruscan family. This is the heartland of Chianti, where it all began and today it’s the core of the Chianti Classico D.O.C.g., but the whole Chianti area is worth exploring.

Castellina in Chianti.

Castellina
Castellina in Chianti is small and still has the feel of a mediaeval walled town. It is a joy to wander along the charming main street – Via Ferruccio – and the Via della Volte, an amazing vaulted, passage now home to shops and restaurants. The main square – Piazza del Comune – is dominated by the Rocca di Castellina castle which houses the Museum of Etruscan Archeology. This is a real gem and if it whets your appetite to learn more about this ancient culture, there is the stunning Etruscan tomb of Montecalvario a few minutes walk away.

It can be very hot here, so some amazing, homemade ice cream from the Antica Deliza Gelateria is highly recommended and almost reason enough to come to Castellina – do try the lemon and sage. If you need something more substantial the Antica Trattoria la Torre serves very good traditional food and is right in the main square.

Hotel Colle Etrusco Salviolpi.

Ristorante Albergaccio di Castellina.

Just outside the town is the Hotel Colle Etrusco Salviolpi an old country house turned into a welcoming B&B hotel complete with swimming pool, while the nearby Ristorante Albergaccio di Castellina provides high class Tuscan food and a wine list to match.

The rolling hills of the Colli Senesi.

Siena
Chianti Colli Senesi, as you might imagine is produced in the hills around Sienna. Once Florence’s equal as a city state, Siena ultimately lost out politically to its rival in the north, but in every other respect is by far the winner. Siena was never the centre of Renaissance intrigue, or Italy’s capital and so it remains small, with just 53,000 people its population is barely a seventh of Florence. This amazing, compact city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site whose buildings are almost all the same colour – terra di Siena or ‘Siena earth’ which makes it seem very beautiful.

Piazza del Campo Siena.

Do spend some time in the Piazza del Campo, this huge piazza is used as the racetrack for the Palio horse race twice a year and is lined with cafés, restaurants, gelaterias and market stalls. Make sure that you climb the Torre del Mangia, the bell tower overlooking the Piazza, heavy going in the heat, but the view is worth it as the whole city opens up before you.

The Duomo, or Siena Cathedral, is not only stunning in itself as it contains bas-reliefs by Donatello, but the site also includes the Museo dell’Opera dell Duomo which houses masterpieces such as Duccio’s Maestà. Once you have absorbed all the art another panoramic view awaits you from the terrace of the Il Facciatone tower.

Every Wednesday there is a lively market around the Fortezza Mediceana, where food, wine, antiques, animals and clothes are all for sale and it is a great place to watch the locals going about their lives.

Torre del Mangia Siena.

As you might imagine Siena is bursting with places to eat and it is hard to make a mistake, but my favourite is the Grotta di Santa Caterina di Bagoda which has been run by former Palio jockey Pierino Fagnani since 1973. This place is wonderfully atmospheric and fun with a great wine list and a very traditional menu. Try Pici – a thick hand rolled spaghetti which is only made in Siena and often served with a rich wild boar sauce. This would also be a good place to try some Panforte for dessert, with a glass of Vin Santo perhaps?

Looking down on the Piazza del Campo Siena.

Staying in Siena isn’t always easy as the hotels are usually very old, small and lack air-conditioning, while many of them are up several floors with no lift. The Hotel Duomo is pretty central, air-conditioned and has wonderful views from most rooms, but like many hotels in Siena it does lack parking. If you are seeking something more luxurious then the 5 star Grand Hotel Continental Siena occupies a magnificent 17th century Palazzo once owned by Pope Alexander VII. What’s more their Enoteca SaporDivino is a superb wine bar in the cellar that has to be experienced.

Florence.

The Duomo in Florence, beautiful by day and night.

A colourful procession in Florence.

Further afield – Firenze
I suppose that Florence must be at the heart of many trips to Tuscany, so I should mention some of my favourite delights to be found there. Harry’s Bar was opened on the banks of the Arno in 1952 by a friend of Giuseppe Cipriani who created the original in Venice and it appears to be unchanged. It is so elegant and cosmopolitan that as you sip your Bellini you half expect Clark Gable to appear arm in arm with Marilyn Monroe.

More traditional fare is available at the nearby Cantinetta Antinori which is housed on the ground floor of the ancient Antinori family palazzo. This beautiful place offers a small menu of classical Tuscan cuisine together with an enormous list of wines made by Antinori and their friends throughout the world. You can even try all their Super-Tuscans by the glass.

Trattoria Marione

Both of those are delightful and swanky and perfect if your wallet is full, but if you are after some good food and charming local colour on a tighter budget then the wonderfully bustling Trattoria Marione is nearby in the Via della Spade. The check table cloths, Chianti flasks on the tables and salamis hanging over the bar might make you think it’s a tourist trap, but I have only ever known locals to be in there and they always seem to be happily tucking into wonderful traditional Tuscan food in abundance – try the tagliatelle sul Cinghiale – tagliatelle with wild boar.

Florence is also known for its colourful Fiaschetteria or Vinerie, traditional wine bars that are often no more than a hole in the wall. The upmarket Enoteche are a more salubrious update on the theme, often quite smart and serving an array of wine together with stuzzichini, snacks or appetisers of Crostini, Salami and Affettati – mixed cured meats.

Piazza Napoleone, Lucca.

Walking Lucca’s walls.

Lucca
Far from being filthy, Lucca is a delightful walled town a little north east of Pisa. You can walk all around the walls and see the town before you venture in to the maze of winding streets, some of which look as though they are stuck in the Renaissance, while others like Via Fillungo boast an impressive array of luxury shops – as with Florence jewellery and leather goods are the things to buy here. The oval shaped Piazza Anfiteatro was once the ancient town’s Roman amphitheatre. This is a beautiful space and it is wonderful to soak up all the history for a while in one of the many bars.

Lucca from the air – you can clearly see the walls and fortifications – click for a larger view

Lucca boasts one of my favourite family run restaurants. The Trattoria da Leo has been in the Via Tegrimi since 1974 and is a delightful place to enjoy delicious, simple Tuscan food and while away an hour or two. It is an unpretentious, but totally genuine place that lists just two wines, both red – Vino Toscano at 12.5˚ in either quarter or half litre carafes or the local Vino Colline Lucchesi in bottles.

If you find yourself in need of intellectual stimulation, Puccini was born in Lucca and his house in the Corte San Lorenzo is now a wonderful museum. After which you surely deserve an ice-cream and luckily the Gelateria Santini Sergio is nearby and has been making superb gelato on the premises since 1916 – do try the chocolate and orange.

Just go there
There is so much to enjoy in Tuscany that nothing can really do it justice other than going there and seeing these places as well as Pisa, San Gimignano, San Miniato, Livorno, Pistoia, Elba, Montepulciano, Montalcino and all those other little towns you would stop in along the way and remember for ever more.

Not only is everywhere a feast for the eyes, but every corner of Tuscany is home to something that you can actually feast on. Internationally famous wines, local wines, superb olive oils, honey, hams, cheeses, salamis, mushrooms, meats, herbs, breads and sweets abound – no wonder I am so drawn to the place.

Useful Addresses:

Antica Trattoria la Torre
Piazza del Comune15
53011 Castellina In Chianti
+39 (0) 57- 774-0236

Albergaccio di Castellina
Via Fiorentina, 63
53011 Castellina In Chianti
+39 (0) 57-774-1042

Grotta di Santa Caterina di Bagoda
Via della Galluzza, 26
53100 Siena
+39 (0) 57-728-2208

Harry’s Bar
22R Via Lungarno Amerigo Vespucci 
Firenze, Toscana 50123 
+39 (0) 55-239-6700
Cantinetta Antinori
Piazza Antinori 3
Firenze, Toscana 50123
+39 (0) 55-292-234

Trattoria Marione
Via della Spada 27R
Firenze, Toscana 50123
+39 (0) 55-247-56

Trattoria da Leo
Via Tegrimi 1
Lucca, Toscana 55100
+39 (0) 58-349-2236