Italy: Tuscany

Il Macchione (Montepulciano) Organic

We were having a wonderful dinner at Osteria La Porta in Montichiello between Montepulciano and Montalcino. The first red was high-profile and a bit overwhelming for us. Do you have something a bit more restrained, austere, traditional and low-profile? Daria Cappelli, the charming owner, and her wine-waiter looked at each other and came up with a bottle of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva from Il Macchione.

We contacted Il Macchione at the crack of dawn. May we visit you? We are really sorry we only have one hour to cram a meeting in before heading to Montalcino. “OK!”
An hour later we arrived at Il Macchione to be met by Simone Abram.
Quote #1 – “We’re not from Tuscany. We were driving around for 5 or 6 years looking for the right spot.” His family was originally from Trentino.
Quote #2 – “I didn’t choose Sangiovese – I chose this land”.
Quote #3 “It’s just me, my brother and a couple of gypsies. No, they really are gypsies. Actually just one main one really. He’s one of the family. Totally committed.”
Quote #4 – “100% Sangiovese – not cut with Cabernet or Merlot or other stuff.”
Quote #5 – “Everyone talks about acidity and dark fruits and tannins and stuff – I taste with my body.”
Not certified but totally organic – this is where we first saw Favino plants (Broad Bean/Field Beans) between the rows. An effective natural fertiliser, used to fix nitrogen in the soil.
We listened, loved the attitude, tasted with our bodies and were very impressed. Excellent wines; pure, unmessed-with.

Terre a Mano (Carmignano-Bacchereto) Biodynamic

Before our colleague (now former colleague) Dan Towler joined us, he did a harvest in Tuscany, at Capezzana in Carmignano to be precise. In the evenings, after gruelling days of picking, there were several bottles circulating the dining tables. The one that haunted him was a Carmignano from Terre a Mano, a small estate up in the hills, in the village of Bacchereto.
Dan was keen for us to taste the wine and, if possible, bring some in. Even with our Sicilian colleague Giorgio working the phone and email, it was initially hard to make contact but, after a few years, we broke through and we have been ordering ever since.

Our visit in March 2016 was one of the highpoints of our Tuscan trip.
Rossella Bencini Tesi inherited the beautiful estate high up in the hills and woods above Prato and Carmignano from her grandfather. Her grandfather had been a lawyer in the mediaeval city of Pistoia in the valley below and bought the estate in the 1920s. It was run as a self-sufficient smallholding. The estate previously formed part of a much larger estate belonging to the Medici family and was used for hunting parties. Today Rossella has 8 hectares of land of which 4 are covered with vines. She also has olive trees and rents out some of the buildings on the property as holiday homes.

History Time!
Carmignano was given the DOC status in 1975 and was the first Tuscan DOC to allow Cabernet Sauvignon in its blend. This may appear to be the beginnings of what became the “Super Tuscan” trend of the 1980s/90s but Rossella was keen to point out that Cabernet Sauvignon had been long established in the zone. The Medicis were bankers (they bankrolled Christopher Columbus) and had wide influence. Catherine de Medici even married into French royalty. It is thought that through this connection Cabernet found its way to Carmignano and became known locally as Uva Francesca. It was by no means a one-way trade – Bechamel sauce, according to the Florentines (but much disputed since), was brought to France from Tuscany (where it was known as Glue Sauce).

Why is it that Carmignano got the DOC in 1975 but the locals are celebrating its 300th Anniversary?
In 1716, The Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III de’ Medici wrote a Bando (Ban, or Proclamation) proclaiming that Carmignano, Chianti, Pomino and Valdarno were superior quality and granting them legal protections. The locals therefore argue that their DOC dates back 300 years.

Carmignano can trace its winemaking roots further back. Wine vessels have been discovered in Etruscan sites at Monte Albano and in Roman times, Julius Caesar rewarded his high-ranking veterans with land in the area to make wine.

Dreolino (Rufina)

A few years ago, we stumbled across a delicious Chianti Rufina by Dreolino in the unassuming and excellent Trattoria Tre Soldi in Florence. The following morning we were driving north-east out of Florence to the pretty town of Rufina and knocking on Sabrina Tanini’s door. (Tanini? Dreolino? Dreolino was her grandfather, Gino Tanini’s nickname).
Sabrina’s wines are no-nonsense, toothsome – breezy strawberries/raspberries and yet savoury, with weight and texture. It was a welcome relief after too much over-hyped, over-priced, over-harsh Chianti Classico.
We were drawn to the white-label Chianti (also available in the Fiasco straw-covered bottles), the blue label Chianti Rufina and the red-label Chianti Rufina Riserva: a wine of elegance and poise.
Having agonised long and hard over whether or not to buy the Chianti ‘Normale’ in the old straw-covered flasks, we finally opted for the newer label and bottles. Feel free to lobby us for the flasks for next time. After all, you may need new candle-holders for your 1960s retro interior, right?
UPDATE MARCH 2020 – We finally cracked and brought some in on our latest shipment. Hope you have some candles!

La Colombina (Montalcino)

Our encounters with La Colombina are invariably with Fabrizio Pecciarini who has a voice so low that that it’s almost outside the frequency range of telephones.

Fabrizio is the son of Alamiro and Anna Maria, who is from the Caselli family, residents of Montalcino for generations.

Alamiro started as an electrical engineer in Florence. An early adopter of microchips, he made the first self-service petrol pump. Then, after a stint in a brick-making company, he bought an agricultural supply shop in Montalcino. This morphed into winemaking supplies – tanks and barrels and so on.
In parallel, Anna Maria’s family had concentrated on olive oil until 1984, when there was a terrible frost which decimated their olive groves. Although that was the moment when Alamiro and Anna Maria decided to get into viticulture, it took them until 1997 to bottle their own wines as La Colombina.

The family now has 5 hectares of vines around Castelnuovo dell’Abate in the southeastern part of the Brunello di Montalcino zone.

The wines are delicious. Supple and sumptuous.

Boscarelli (Montepulciano)

Montepulciano is best known for its Vino Nobile and it’s fair to say that, despite tasting relentlessly, the charm of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano had passed us by. Until one chilly night in January when we were sitting in “La Brocca d’Oro” the only Trattoria open in Chianciano Terme, Montepulciano’s neighbour. We told our young host Leonardo that we had an appointment with Boscarelli the following morning and asked what should we drink tonight. He said “drink the Boscarelli. There’s nothing better.” Over the following 90 minutes we had what could be best described as an awakening. Back in London, a few months later, their exquisite Vino Nobile did not stay on our shelves for long.

Castelvecchi (Radda in Chianti)

Not content with expanding their range of wines locally, the Paladin family (Annone Veneto), makers of our perennial favourite Prosecco, bought an estate in Tuscany, in the heart of the Chianti Classico region and have converted part of it into a luxury hotel.
The heavily fortified Castelvecchi was built in 1043 at the convergence of several ancient roads between Florence and Siena. It was a time of constant friction between local nobles and later developed into intense rivalry between the two larger city states.
The vineyards are Castelvecchi (on the estate) and Colle Petrosi which, at 560m above sea level, are among the highest (and coolest at night) in the whole Chianti region. These two vineyards were originally planted between 1300-1400. Today’s vines average over 50 years old.

The Paladins have been working with one of Italy’s top enologists, Franco Bernabei, since 1999. Bernabei, probably best known for his work with several high visibility Tuscan estates and wines such as Flaccianello, brings some of his trademark sleek, polished elegance to today’s Castelvecchi’s wines.
Capotondo (Round Head) is a classic Chianti Classico blend of Sangiovese with a splash of Canaiolo.

Podere Ciona (Gaiole)

Having travelled the world for Exxon, Franco and Franca Gatteschi thought they’d had enough of jet-setting and red tape and that they’d retire to Gaiole deep in the the hills of Chianti-shire. They bought Podere Ciona from the monastry. Oddly, there were very few vines as the monks just kept sheep and pigs. To stop them getting bored, they opened an Agriturismo and planted some vines. Some retirement! There’s no getting away from the paperwork and we thoroughly enjoyed Franco’s enthusiastic rant about Italian bureaucracy. We can almost picture him as one of those guys who move into the hills and forests of Montana. There the similarity ends. Instead of trapping boar and law-enforcers they run cookery classes and make modern, silky wines; stylish Chianti Riserva, a fabulous Merlot IGT called Le Diacce and Montegrossoli, their charming Sangiovese.

Antico Colle (Montepulciano)

We first started our conversation with Antico Colle in Montepulciano five years ago. Strictly speaking, they started the conversation with us. Their determination paid off. A very cheeky, chunky Chianti Colli Senesi from south of Sienna was the catalyst. 80% Sangiovese with 10% each of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. And what’s not to like with their Vino Nobile?

Canalicchio di Sopra (Montalcino)

Canalicchio’s Nonno Pacenti was one of the first dozen growers to start the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino in 1966, to raise the flag of Brunello above the parapets. Things have moved on since then. The reputation of Brunello now jostles with Barolo for primacy as Italy’s finest red and Nonno’s grandsons are running the Canalicchio show. Francesco is studying Economics and Commerce. He’s the one who takes care of business. Marco, his brother, handles production. Their wines are enigmatic. Rich, ripe and yet with a dark twist.

Il Colle di Carli (Montalcino)

“Brunello for the people!” Caterina di Carli was talking about her Rosso di Montalcino and how she cares just as much about her Rosso as her Brunello. Caterina has been making the wine since she inherited the small estate from her father who was a full-time lawyer with a Brunello-making hobby. He pretty much despatched his entire output himself, which might have accelerated his rather premature demise. The style is unreconstructed traditional. She uses wild yeasts – something we have rarely seen outside of Biodynamic white wine making. This can give some challenging aromas – exciting, raw and dangerous. In the mouth they are elegant and pure. No trace of oak. Just ripe, bright, almost breezy fruit.

La Marcellina (Panzano)

The history of Tuscany drips with jealousy and blood. Nowhere more than in the heart of Chianti-shire. La Marcellina is named after Marcello, the first owner of Fabio Castellacci’s house back in feudal times who was gifted a lookout tower at the bottom of the hill by the Sire of Panzano Castle for a “special favour” done on his behalf. We take this to mean “disposing of someone undesirable”. Wind forward 300 years and the farm belongs to Fabio’s Grandfather, the baker and grocer of Panzano, who started making wine as a hobby. Wind forward another 50 years and Fabio is making charming, pure Chianti Classico with a deft, assured touch.
The track down to their house is so rutted and the hill so steep that no lorry can get down it, so Fabio had to bring his wines up to the top in his 4-wheel drive to meet our transporter.

Pratesi (Carmignano)

Carmignano is an appellation from just south-west of Florence. Like a Chianti, but with a splash of sunshine-soaked Cabernet Sauvignon. Although the Pratesi’s have always done their wine “on the side” (father and sons working as engineers and car dealers) they are serious about the quality. Supple, high-class, high-toned Tuscan reds.