Tuscan Treasures—Cellared Wines

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Reported by Alexandre Desbarats

Tuscany is immediately evocative of sun-drenched landscapes, picturesque hill-top towns and amazing food. But Tuscany is also an incredibly diverse wine producing region that delivers top quality at prices to suit every purse. Guild secretary Robert White led an enthusiastic group of members on a tour of some of the top Tuscan wines, drawn from his personal collection. We explored wines from the Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino appellations, as well as a few “Super Tuscans”. Robert provided a bit of background on the wines we tasted which I have included here. They were tasted blind, in three flights of four. A listing of wines tasted is given for each flight.

Chianti is a vast area within Tuscany divided into sevel sub-zones stretching between Florence and Siena. Chianti Classico (DOCG) represents the oldest and original appellation within the Chianti region. To be classified Chianti “Classico”, the wine must contain at least 80% Sangiovese and up to 20% of other varietals such as Canaiolo Nero, Colorino, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Chianti Classico “Gran Selezione” is a new (since February 2014) premium level of Chianti Classico, above the “Riserva” classification, which must be made from grapes harvested from the winery’s own vineyards, and with enhanced requirements for alcohol content, extract and aging (minimum of 30 months).

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (DOCG) is a red wine made in the vineyards surrounding the town of Montepulciano, southeast of the Chianti Classico region. Prugnolo Gentile, the local name for Sangiovese, must make up at least 70% of the wine. The remainder of the blend may contain the other local varietals, Canaiolo Nero and Colorino. The wine must be aged at least two years before release including at least one year in oak barrels.

Brunello di Montalcino (DOCG) is a wine made in a small district south of Siena. It must be made 100% from the Sangiovese Brunello clone. Traditionally, the wine goes through an extended maceration period. Following fermentation, the wine is often aged three years or more in large Slavonian oak casks that impart little oak flavour and generally produce more austere wines. Some winemakers use small French barriques which impart a more pronounced vanilla oak flavour.

In the 1970s, a new class of wines known as “Super Tuscans” emerged. These wines were made outside DOC/DOCG regulations for Tuscany but were considered of high quality and commanded high prices. Typically, they may be made from Bordeaux varietals in addition to Sangiovese. Many of them became cult wines. With the reformation of the Italian classification system, many of the original Super Tuscans now qualify as DOC or DOCG wines (such as those from the Bolgheri region) although some producers still prefer the declassified rankings or to use the Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) classification of Toscana.

First Flight: Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

The first flight of the evening featured wines of the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (VNDM) appellation. I like to think of them as budget Brunellos. Leading the line-up was the Antico Colle VNDM 2010 showing a lovely medium garnet colour in the glass and stone cherry, earth, and dried herbs on the nose. On the palate, it was very dry, medium-bodied, with firm tannins, balanced acidity and a long finish. Although it was a very good wine, it was the favourite of only one member. Next up was the Dei VNDM 2011. It was a dark ruby with purple hues. It had (I thought) rather funky reductive notes on the nose but also some intriguing fruit aromas which one perceptive guild member nailed as passion fruit. Not a very common descriptor, particularly for an Italian wine, but right on. On the palate, it was dry, medium fullbodied with lively acidity and some heat on a long finish. It came in a distant second in terms of popularity among members. The third wine of the flight was the Poliziano Asinone VNDM 2009. In the glass, it was a lovely dark garnet. On the nose, it was quite complex, showing ripe cherry, sandalwood, leather and perhaps menthol along with light oak spice. It was dry, mediumbodied with velvet tannins and a long graceful finish. It was also the hands-down crowd favourite. Not surprisingly, it was also the most expensive wine of the flight at $55.00. The last wine was the Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 2007, a ringer snuck in among the VNDMs. It was medium garnet in the glass, suggesting some age. On the nose, it showed cherry, pomegranate, prune and oak spice. On the palate, it was dry, medium-bodied with silky tannins, some heat and a longish finish. It may have been a bit oxidized. Nobody admitted to preferring this wine, although it was my close second favourite after the Poliziano Asinone.

First Flight Wines

  • Antico Colle, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, 2010, $26.95, #383026, Prugnolo gentile (100%), aged two years in Slavonian oak, Wine Enthusiast: 93
  • Dei, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, 2011, $27.95, #285510, Sangiovese (90%), Canaiolo Nero (10%), aged two years in Slavonian oak, Antonio Galloni: 92
  • Poliziano Asinone, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, 2009, $55.00, #952473, Prugnolo Gentile (85%), Colorino, Canaiolo, Merlot (15%), aged between 14 and 16 months: two-thirds aged in “barriques” and “tonneaux” of French oak (20% new, 80% second-use), and one third in traditional large casks (botti), Antonio Galloni: 93+
  • Badia a Coltibuono, Chianti Classico Riserva, 2007, $43.00, #683474, Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo, Colorino, aged 24 months in French and Austrian oak casks of varying sizes, Critics: 91

Second Flight: Brunello di Montalcino

In the second flight, the group moved on to more serious stuff. We tuned our palates on the Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2009. It was a medium ruby-garnet, with sweet cherry, leather, licorice, vanilla, and oak spice on the nose. On the palate, it was dry, medium full-bodied, with sweet tannins and a long finish. It was narrowly voted favourite of the flight, ahead of the Brunellos. It was also the cheapest wine of the flight at $44.95. Second in the line-up was the Poggio Antico Brunello 2007. It was medium ruby garnet in the glass. On the nose, I thought it a bit shy, with delicate notes of cherry, dried herbs, vanilla and oak. It was extra dry on the palate, medium bodied, with velvet tannins and a medium finish. Definitely one the austere side of the Brunello spectrum, this wine was the favourite of seven guild members. Next in the flight was the Pian Dell’Orino Brunello 2007. I found it very similar to the previous wine. It was a medium ruby-garnet, with sweet cherry, “sous-bois” earthiness, vanilla and light oak. On the palate, it was also extra dry, with well-integrated tannins and a long finish. Seven guild members liked it the best. The final wine of the flight, the Castelgiocondo Ripe Al Convento Brunello 2007, sadly (to put it mildly!) was corked. Nonetheless, I bravely took a few sips. Behind that musty nose, there was greatness lurking.

Second Flight Wines

Badia a Passignano, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, 2009, $44.95, #384552, Sangiovese (100%), aged 14 months in Hungarian and French oak barrels, with an additional 16 months of bottle aging, James Suckling: 93

  • Poggio Antico, Brunello di Montalcino, 2007, $68.00, #700377, Sangiovese (100%), aged 36 months in traditional Slavonian oak barrels, with an additional 12 months of bottle aging, Wine Enthusiast: 94
  • Pian Dell’Orino, Brunello di Montalcino, 2007, $79.00, #308098, Sangiovese (100%), aged in 6600 US gallon oak barrels for 42 weeks, Antonio Galloni: 97
  • Castelgiocondo, Ripe al Convento, Brunello di Montalcino, 2007, $120, #724252, Sangiovese (100%), Critics: 93-94

Third Flight: Super Tuscans

The final flight of the evening featured the heavy hitter Super Tuscans. As they were all very different in their assemblages and not directly comparable, no votes on preference were taken. That being said, I scored all four wines highly and all within a point or two of one another. The first wine and the cheapest, was a ringer. It was the very elegant Fontodi Vigna Del Sorbo Chianti Classico Riserva 2009 at $75.00. A medium ruby in the glass, it showed sweet cherry, leather, vanilla and oak spice on the nose. On the palate, it was extra dry, medium bodied, with balanced acidity, fine tannins and a long finish. Parker gave it a 95. Next in line was the (drum roll please) Tignanello 2008, a cult wine if there ever was one. It was also my favourite of the evening (I swear I tasted it blind). In the glass, it was a dark ruby garnet. The complex and intense nose was caressed with rich dark berry fruit, pepper and camphor. The full-bodied palate was extra dry with fine dusty tannins, balanced acidity, perhaps a bit of heat and a long finish. But there was more to come! The third wine of the flight was the Sassicaia 2007, another trophy wine that most of us can only dream about at $179.95. It was a dark garnet. It greeted the nose with aromas of dark fruit, kirsch, leather, vanilla and oak. The dry and full-bodied palate showed fine tannins and a long finish. The grand finale of the evening was the Ornellaia 2009, a Bordeaux-blend Super Tuscan at $189.95. In the glass, it was an almost opaque garnet. The nose was of plum, hoisin sauce, vanilla and oak. On the palate, it was dry, full-bodied, with firm tannins and a long finish. Some thought it might be a bit young still.

On that high note, the evening concluded. Members thanked Robert for guiding them through an interesting and hedonistic exploration of Tuscan treasures, including some that most of us have heard about but would not otherwise have had a chance to taste.

Third Flight Wines

  • Fontodi, Vigna del Sorbo, Chianti Classico Riserva, 2009, $75.00, #963827, Sangiovese (90%), Cabernet Sauvignon (10%), aged for 24 months in French oak barrels (50% new), Robert Parker: 95
  • Tignanello, 2008, $102.95, #986786, Sangiovese (80%), Cabernet Sauvignon (15%), Cabernet Franc (5%), After the fermentation was complete, the wine was run off its skins and went immediately into small oak barrels where it underwent a natural malolactic fermentation. The wines of the various grape varietals were then blended and aged for a further 12 months in small oak barrels and racked at regular intervals to maintain clean and focused aromas. The bottled wine was given an additional year of cellar aging before release., Critics: 92-94
  • Sassicaia, 2007, $179.95, #480533, Cabernet Sauvignon (85%), Cabernet Franc (15%), Aged 24 months in French oak barriques, Antonio Galloni: 94
  • Ornellaia, 2009, $189.95, #722470, Cabernet Sauvignon (53%), merlot (22%), Cabernet Franc (21%), Petit Verdot (5%), aged 18 months in barriques (70% new, 30% used once), After the first 12 months of maturation, the wine was blended and returned to the barriques for a further 6 months, Antonio Galloni: 97