Tuscany and Campania Reds

Notes from a recent staff tasting 'Tuscany & Campania Reds'.

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Tuscany

Tuscany is a very hilly region (as is most of central Italy), with only 8% of the land classified as ‘flat’. Whilst it is not mountainous in the way that neighbouring Umbria is, there are many rolling hillsides which are key to the wines qualities.

All of the best wines are grown between 150-500m altitude on Southerly facing slopes. Soils are generally rich in Calcium, but nutritionally very poor, which suits quality grape production. The slopes are key to ripening Sangiovese at this latitude, as it requires intense UV light to attain full ripeness. The altitude also allows for good diurnal temperature variation, which here is important in developing the aromatics of the variety, rather than in preserving the acidity.

The highest altitudes are found in the Chianti Classico zone and the Colli Fiorentini and Rufina zones, whilst altitude gently declines as one moves South and East. Montalcino and Montepulciano at around 250m are lower (and therefore warmer) than Chianti, whilst much of Morellino is at 150-200m (although Scansano itself is at 500m) and also in the South of the region and thus is the warmest area.

The Maremma (coastal strip) is warmer and heavily influenced by the sea and is mostly famous for Sassicaia, Ornellaia and other ‘Super-Tuscans’, made mostly from International varietals.

Campania

Wine has been made here for over 300 years, but until very recently virtually all of it was indistinguished and made for immediate consumption. It was only during the 1990’s that serious quality wine started to be widely made, although the undemanding local market of Naples means that much ordinary wine is still made. The wines of Campania are distinctive and can be amongst the world’s great originals, being quite full bodied with notable acidity and with the reds carrying a far charge of tannin. One of the great food areas of the world, it can lay claim to having invented pasta and pizza. This is not an area that has been poluted with ‘iternational’ varieties, but one that continues to champion its own native ones, most famously Greco, Fiano, Falanghina and Coda di Volpe for whites and Aglianico and Pedirosso for reds.

Sangiovese

The most commonly planted variety in Italy, Sangiovese is responsible (under various synonyms) for the majority of her finest wines. It is also the workhorse grape of central Italy, turning out millions of litres of largely undistinguished wine. It is a late ripening variety that has relatively high acid and in marginal areas and less good vintages, wine from Sangiovese can be positively tart with hard tannins and weedy fruit. Systematic over cropping, as often occurs in lesser areas, can have a similar effect. Sangiovese has great intensity of somewhat sour cherry fruit, whilst its grapes are not blessed with thick skins so the wine tends to be not especially deep coloured, unless there has been major extraction during vinification as in Brunello. Sangiovese made its way to the Americas with Italian emigrants and is found in Argentina, Chile and the USA.

The more marginal the climate, the more perfumed and aromatic the wine will be, but with attendant higher acid and more angular tannins. Chianti produces the most aromatic and acidic wines of Tuscany and Morellino the fullest and ripest. Montalcino shows the most power, but at the expense of aromatics, whilst Montepulciano lies somewhere between Chianti and Montalcino, showing good weight and aromatics.

Aglianico

A very dark skinned grape capable of the highest quality, its name is a corruption of Ellenico, reflecting its Greek origins. It was first planted around the Greek colony of Cumae, close to present day Avellino - home of Taurasi, but is now scattered throughout Campania and Basilicata, with small amounts found in Calabria, Puglia and Molise. It is a very late ripener that requires intense heat and even this far south it is regularly harvested in November. If yields are too big, or the grape is harvested earlier, its full tannins and brisk acidity can become savage. Recent years have seen progress in making wines that are less imposing in youth, but at some cost in concentration. The best wines are full of glorious chocolate and plum flavours, with full fine grained tannins, marked acidity and developing forest floor notes.

2009 Rosso di Montalcino, Pierri Agostina

Founded in 1991 by Francesco Monaci, this 10 hectare estate is now run by Francesco along with his 2 sons, Jacopo and Francesco. Despite the first release here being as recent as 1999 (with their 1994 Brunello), they have fast gained a reputation as one of the best producers in the region and have not gone unnoticed by American wine writers. The Brunello is quite modern in style, seeing 12 months in new oak, 12 months in older barrel, whilst they are one of the few estates to take Rosso as seriously as Brunello. Pieri is the only producer to ever gain the Gambero Rosso’s prestigious Tre Bicchieri for a ‘mere’ Rosso di Montalcino.

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2009 Avvoltore, Morisfarms

Founded in 1700 by Spanish nobility, the estate is today run by Caterina (a direct descendent of the original family) and her husband, Dr Adolfo Parentini. The estate covers 476Ha, with 70 Ha of vineyards, of which 33 are in the Morellino DOC. The yields here are well below the average for the region and the wines all have a freshness and aromatic purity unusual in Morellino, in part because the estate is at the highest point in the DOCG. Morisfarms (along with Le Pupile) has been the leading light in the region since the 1980’s and the wines have gained regular critical acclaim, especially Avvoltore, a blend of 75% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet and 5% Syrah, aged in 80% new barrique for 12 months.

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2008 Sassoalloro, Jacopo Biondi-Santi

Jacopo Biondi-Santi is the heir apparent to the great Tenuta Greppo estate in Montalcino in which he is actively involved with his father Franco. He has also established an estate in the Maremma, which is planted with the Biondi Santi Brunello clone, merlot, cabernet and a little sauvignon blanc. The wines here match the Montalcino estate for quality, but are in a much more open and fruit driven style with fabulous textures and an altogether more ‘modern’ feel to them. Whilst the Sangioveses are traditionally Tuscan, the varietal Merlot and Cabernet are more international in style, albeit with a freshness that sings of Tuscany. Sassoalloro is made from the Biondi-Santi Brunello clone and spends 14 months in un-toasted French oak barrels.

2007 Inversus, Fattoria Casaloste

Casaloste is located towards the South of the Classico zone in the village of Panzano. The estate measures 19.5 hectares, of which 10 are planted to vineyards, the rest mostly to olives. Owned by Giovanni Batista d’Orsi, a qualified oenologist and agronomist, the vineyards here are organically farmed and certified by ICEA, an Italian organic farming guild. This philosophy extends to the winemaking also, where care and gentle handling are the watchwords as Giovanni believes his wines are ‘essentially alive and like all living things need love to survive’. Only French oak is used for ageing and yields are very low here. Inversus is named both for the d’Orsi’s son - whose heart is on the ‘wrong’ side of his body, and because it is a reverse blend to Chianti - 90% Merlot and 10% Sangiovese, which spent 14 months in 70% new French oak.

Terradora

Owned and run by the Mastroberardino family and with more than 150 hectares of vineyards, Terradora is Campania’s largest wine producer and vineyard owner. In Roman times, Campania was home to the finest wines of the Empire, and Terradora was founded in 1978 with the lofty ambition of restoring that glory. Concentrating on the local historical varieties, the single vineyard wines, such as the Terra di Dora and Loggia della Serra have won international acclaim as the finest in their respective regions. The whites are all unoaked, aromatic and rich, yet imbued with a freshness and minerality and with great finesse. Terradora are masters of the Aglianico grape, and make the greatest examples of Taurasi.

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2009 Aglianico IGT Campania, Terradora

This wine as been made to give a taste of Aglianico in a less challenging package and so the winemaking was very gentle to minimise tannin extraction. Harvested by hand, de-stemmed and fermented at 24-25C there was only 7 days maceration, to moderate tannin extraction. Part aged in French oak barrel, part in tank for 12 months.

2006 Taurasi, Fatica Condadina Terradora

Terradora produce arguably the greatest examples of Taurasi - the Barolo of the South. Whilst not their top wine, the Fatica Contadina is nonetheless a pretty uncompromising wine, charged with extract and tannins just starting to soften after 6 years. Harvested by hand, de-stemmed and fermented at 28C with 12 days maceration, the wine was aged in small French oak barrels for 18 months, blended, then aged a further 12 months in 35Hl old oak bottle.

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