Tuscany and Miscellaneous Top Whites
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato
This week’s report covers top smart buys from Tuscany and recommended white wines from the October 25th VINTAGES release. Next week’s report will follow-up with the best from Chile and more red wines.
Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images. You can also find the complete list of each VINTAGES release under Wine >> New Releases. Remember, however, that to access this list and to read all of the reviews you do need to subscribe (only $40/year). Paid subscribers get immediate access to new reviews, while non-paid members do not see reviews until 60 days later. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!
The Tuscan “Wine Miracle”
Despite intense competition from other regions of Italy, I’d rank Tuscany as Italy’s most improved wine region of the last generation, at least the last half of the 20th century. In time, regions like Campania or Sicily may claim that title for the first half of this century, but it’s hard to argue with Tuscany’s miraculous turnaround since WWII. Sure, Tuscany has a history of fine wine, and indeed Chianti was one of the first demarcated wine zones in the world (1716), but overall quality has exploded over the last fifty years.
In the aftermath of World War II, when most of Italy had been reduced to rubble, the country underwent a period of miraculous growth – what economists called il miracolo economico. In barely more than a decade, Italy shifted from a rural, agriculture nation to a major world industrial power. But this led to a massive exodus from the countryside, and many wine estates were all but abandoned, even in beautiful Tuscany, and there was little money to focus on top quality production.
Montalcino counted barely a handful of producers, and the majority of Chianti was harsh, acidic red wine sold in a straw-covered flagon.
But from the 1970s on, everything changed. “Super Tuscan” wines emerged from the ashes thanks to the vision of producers like Tenuta San Guido (Sassicaia) and Antinori (Tignanello). These wines were so radical that Italy’s entire appellation system would have to be overhauled to accommodate them.
Sangiovese, Tuscany’s most planted red grape, along with other local varieties became the objects of serious research in the sixteen-year project called “Chianti Classico 2000”, an effort to identify the viticultural parameters (clones, rootstocks, planting density, soil characteristics, clones, etc.) that would raise quality. The full benefits of this research are just now coming to a wine glass near you.
Money trickled into the region, then flowed, from within the region and other regions in Italy, and eventually from foreign sources. Today the list of wine estate owners in Tuscany is as international as the starting lineup for a Serie A football club. Land prices have skyrocketed; if only my parents had bought a little Tuscan villa with vineyards back in the 1970s.
Montalcino, for example, has grown to over 200 producers making premium quality, and priced, wines, while the baseline quality of Chianti Classico today would be mostly unrecognizable to farmers of the pre-war generation.
The coastal Maremma, and especially Bolgheri, essentially swamps up until the time of Mussolini, have emerged among the world’s most suitable sites for premium wine. Montepulciano has seen the rapidly changing landscape and has been pulled into the quality upswing. And many other regions, like the Val d’Orcia, Cortona, Montecucco, Val di Cornia or Suvereto, among many more, have become serious sources worth investigating. In short, the last generation could be characterized as il miracolo del vino Toscano.
With fame comes higher prices, but the top entry-level Chianti remains one of the best sub-$20 values in the world of wine, especially if you like eating while you sip. And even at the high-end, $40 or $50 for top Chianti Classico or Vino Nobile, or $60+ for Brunello, in light of the average prices for Bordeaux, Burgundy or Napa, are also relative bargains. You can of course easily spend over $100 for fine Tuscan wine, but I don’t recommend it – it’s not necessary. There’s so much unmatchable pleasure in the sub-$50 category; any higher spend is mostly name-brand label buying.
Here are several excellent, sub-$50 wines hitting shelves on October 25th.
Buyer’s Guide October 25th: Tuscany
Soffocone Di Vincigliata 2011, Tuscany, Italy ($34.95)
John Szabo – From the stable of Bibi Graetz, one of Tuscany’s most lauded vintners and a man who believes in purity and authenticity, this sangiovese (with a splash of other local varieties) is a wonderfully elegant and pure, savoury and balanced wine of haunting beauty. If that’s not intriguing enough, then perhaps the label will be – it was banned in the US for it’s overt sexual imagery. Best 2014-2023.
Sara d’Amato – Here is a wine with sex appeal, literally. The secluded vineyards near Vincigliata, where the grapes are sourced for this utterly pure, edgy and verve-filled wine, offer scenic views of Florence and are also knows as the local “make-out point” where “soffocone” (fellatio) inevitably happens (hence the erotic imagery on the label). This largely sangiovese based blend is made from 40-year-old vines that deliver serious structure and lovely musky spice. Keep this one for Valentine’s Day.
Antinori 2009 Badia A Passignano, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG, Tuscany, Italy ($44.95)
John Szabo – A former monastery established in 891 (not 1891), Badia a Passignano has been in the Antinori family since 1987. It’s a gorgeous property in Sambuca Val di Pesa, with vineyards stretching up to 300m, producing a reliably excellent Chianti Classico from old sangiovese clonal material cut from the nearby Tignanello estate. This 2009 is a fine example of Chianti Classico’s new top-level classification called Gran Selezione; tasted blind I’d be far more likely to guess Brunello. Best 2016-2024.
Sara d’Amato – This gracefully maturing Chianti Classico Riserva produced from the serene monastery of Badia A Passignano is drinking quite beautifully now. Notes of plum, prune and delicate, exotic spice linger nicely on the finish of this sophisticated wine.
Avignonesi 2011 Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy ($35.95)
John Szabo – A terrific, balanced, pure, perfumed and savoury, firm and dusty Vino Nobile here from the storied house of Avignonesi, under new ownership since 2009. The entire estate has been converted to biodynamic farming and the positive results are beginning to show in the 2011. Best 2014-2021.
Poggio Verrano 2006 Chance, Tuscany, Italy ($37.95)
John Szabo – For fans of Super Tuscans, this is an exceptional blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc at a fine price within the genre. Poggio Verrano releases this wine at full maturity, a rarity in the world of Tuscan wine, and this is a ready-to-enjoy wine of considerable class. Best 2014-2021.
David Lawrason – This is very good value in a mature (but not at all tired) Tuscan red from an excellent vintage. It spent its first five years ageing at the winery. Verrano is a relatively new venture founded in 2000, based on a 17 ha site in Maremma only 15km from the sea that grows cabernet sauvignon and franc, merlot and sangiovese.
Castello D’albola 2008 Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany ($22.95)
David Lawrason – Here’s a balanced, authentic and appealing Chianti. I was struck by its freshness as it embarks on its sixth year, with most of its first two years spent in barrel in the cellars of this classic, old property near Radda. Good value for a Riserva.
Ca’marcanda 2011 Promis, Tuscany, Italy ($48.95)
David Lawrason – From the coastal Tuscan property of Angelo Gaia in the Maremma zone comes a real beauty, an exquisite, very fragrant and complex thoroughly modern expression of Tuscany. It is comprised of 55% merlot, 35% syrah, 10% sangiovese that are fermented separately and aged 18 months in new and one year old barrels.
Livio Sassetti Pertimali 2007 Brunello Di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy ($45.95) –
David Lawrason – The Sasseti family has been turning out classic Brunello from their 16 has site for three generations. Aged 36 months at the winery, this somewhat lighter vintage has now matured to ideal drinking condition – very complex, very smooth yet braced by fine acidity. Classic styling.
Ornellaia 2011, Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy ($189.95)
Sara D’Amato – An interesting vintage proved 2011 – mainly hot and dry with a period of cooler temperatures in mid-summer. Thus this marked wine shows a great deal of character, colour and richness of fruit but has also preserved an elegant vein of acidity. Classic, highly appealing and worth tucking away for at least the near future.
Buyer’s Guide VINTAGES October 25th: White Wines
Domaines Schlumberger 2010 Saering Riesling, Alsace Grand Cru, France ($30.95)
John Szabo – The sandstones and marls of this 27ha grand cru are tailor-made for riesling, especially dry and floral styles. 2010 was a terrific vintage, and this wine shows an advanced, earthy, very stony, terroir-driven character on a bone dry, mid-weight frame. Best 2014-2022.
Gunderloch 2013 Jean Baptiste Riesling Kabinett, Rheinhessen, Germany ($21.95)
Sara D’Amato – Old vines, low yields and plantings on unique red slate soils produce this compelling wine brimming with energy, vibrancy and appealing mineral. Excitingly bright with terrific balance and a great deal of staying power.
Vincent Prunier 2011 Saint-Aubin La Chatenière 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($48.95)
John Szabo – Still very youthful and even reductive (flinty), this has depth and intensity above the mean for both the vintage and the appellation, and would sit comfortably alongside more expensive white Burgundy from loftier appellations. Best 2016-2021.
Sara D’Amato – Saint Aubin is known for its floral character and delicacy but this example has much more riveting appeal with racy crispness bolstered by mineral and nicely balanced by saline and stone fruit – a class act.
Dog Point 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($24.95)
John Szabo – Another superior wine from Dog Point, one of the clear leaders in the region. The 2013 has beautiful purity and depth, still in the typical house style of flinty and lightly reductive (matchstick notes), while the palate is beautifully balanced and crystalline with terrific length. Best 2014-2020.
Andrew Murray 2012 RGB Camp 4 Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley, California, USA ($29.95) John Szabo – Andrew Murray is a Rhône-fanatic; he sources Rhône varieties exclusively from a long list of vineyards in Santa Barbara and Paso Robles, a sort of micro-negociant. RGB is an equal parts blend of roussanne and grenache blanc with surprising verve and vitality. I like the interplay of ripe orchard fruit, with almost viognier-like perfume and richness, not to mention glycerous mouthfeel, with underlying acids prop up the ensemble. For those who like it both big and balanced. Best 2014-2020.
Castello Della Sala 2013 Bramìto Del Cervo Chardonnay, Umbria ($21.95) David Lawrason – This is the junior, unoaked chardonnay from Antinori’s excellent white wine estate in Umbria, not far from the classic town of Orvieto. Bramito has long been personal favourite – stylish, yet light on its feet and fresh, with integration ration of chardonnay apple/pear, lemon and light toasty and nutty notes.
Loimer 2013 Grüner Veltliner, Kamptal, Austria ($19.95)
David Lawrason – From one of the leading producers of Austria comes a beauty gruner made in an easier, simpler style. Fine structure and elegance if not great complexity or depth, but the fruit aromas ring true and run long on a spine of firm acidity.
Yalumba 2013 The Y Series Viognier South Australia ($16.95)
David Lawrason – What amazing finesse and freshness (and value) for a wine with so much fruit power. Yalumba has taken on viognier as a cause celebre in Australia, and along the way has emerged as leading global producer of the beguiling perfumed white grape that originated in the south of France.
Le Clos Jordanne 2011 Claystone Terrace Chardonnay, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario, Canada ($40.00)
Sara D’Amato – A bold chardonnay with poise and presence and a great deal of crunchy, textural appeal. Non-believers in the excellence of our local wine – take note!
That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.
John Szabo MS
From VINTAGES Oct 25th:
Photo courtesy of John Szabo, MS