Review of Terrific Tuscan Wines
by John Dunham
The 1953 film Roman Holiday starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn was about a royal princess out to experience reality. The movie led to an academy award for Ms. Hepburn and provided audiences a beautiful travelogue of the Eternal City.
Rome on the Range!
Rome, however, is just one part of Italy – and not even the capital of the oldest civilization.
The Etruscan civilization existed long before Rome was even a modest city. This powerful civilization covered an area encompassing modern Tuscany, western Umbria, and northern Lazio from about 800 BC until it was absorbed by Rome around 100 BC.
All of the major cities of modern Tuscany began as Etruscan city states including Frienza (Florence), Livorno, Pisa, and Siena.
Think About Terroir
We have mentioned many times in these articles that the key to understanding wine is really about understanding place, or the French call terroir, which loosely translates to the word, “habitat”
The place, the climate, and the soils that nurtured the grapes that go into wine, is really what the wine itself is about.
Chardonnay from California is very different from that grown in Burgandy, or in Australia.
Considering that wine grapes in Tuscany have a 3,000-year history there must be something very special about the terroir in this small part of Italy.
The Etruscans were the first to bring grapes to Tuscany (from the Middle East) and were the first known civilization to produce wine there.
The coastal regions south of Livorno were the first cradle of Tuscan wine, and the Ancient Greeks called the area Enotris, or the land of wine. This means that wine has been a part of Tuscany for at least 3,000 years.
The first Etruscan grapevines were grown like trees and produced prodigious amounts of what were likely more like today’s table grapes.
Over time, different varietals began to call the region home, with the standard wine of the region during the Middle Ages coming from the Primitovo varietal, a grape that originated in Greece and is a precursor to Zinfandel.
The Vernaccia grape, a white varietal was commonly produced in Tuscany during the Renaissance period. It was not until the 1700s that the Sangiovese grape, which today dominates the entire region, was introduced.
Sangiovese is the only grape (or at least the main grape) used to produce Chianti, Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montalcino and Carmignano.
Only in the 1970s and 1980s did classic Bordeaux varietals make an appearance in a Tuscany where they form the basis of so-called Super Tuscan wines.
Sampling Tuscan Wines in NYC
We recently sampled a number of different Tuscan wines at two walk around tastings in New York City.
The first, Benvenuto Brunello 2017, was held at Gotham Hall, while the second, the Slow Wine 2017 Tasting was at the new Eataly location at the World Trade Center.
Benvenuto Brunello featured wines from nearly 50 producers in the small region of Montalcino, located in the lower part of Tuscany just south of Sienna.
Montalcino is a hilly area that has been settled since Etruscan times. Brunello di Montalcino is produced only in the vineyards surrounding the town of Montalcino from 100% Sangiovese grapes.
Brunello di Montalcino is produced only in the vineyards surrounding the town of Montalcino from 100% Sangiovese grapes.
The area contains a number of different growing regions, each with a distinctive character (remember place is super important).
For this tasting we focused only on the wines produced in the Castelnovo dell’Abate region, which is located in the far southeastern corner of Montalcino.
We sampled two wines from each of four producers and were not disappointed.
All of these wines are good for pairing with Italian red sauce foods, and other dishes with a similar acidic character.
The 2012 Brunello di Montalcino DOCG ($21) was red in color with hints of orange. The nose reflected the expected cherry notes with a hint of mint.
The wine itself was a bit on the sour cherry side, with some herbal notes and a solid structure.
The other wine from the producer, Sant’Antimo DOC Ciacci Giovanna (2015: $14) was a Super Tuscan drawing on Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
The wine was a light red in color with the kind of laundry room nose that Syrah can bring. On the palate, we tasted more of a Sangiovese character than the Brunello, with a lot of cherry and light tannins.
Moving west along the region, we find Corte Dei Venti a small family winery that goes back to the 1940s.
The Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (2012: NP) was red in color with as sweet though loamy nose.
On the palate were the expected cherry notes and a decent structure. The other wine, Sant’Antimo Rosso DOC (2015: NP) was light red in color with a dry dusty nose.
The palate was light featuring a lot of cherry reflecting the fact that this super Tuscan contains 40 percent Sangiovese grapes.
The Fanti Brunello (2012: $34) pulled away from the first two wines.
Red in color with a nose featuring cherry and licorice notes, this wine was much more complex with cherry, plum, and spicy peppery notes.
This was a very friendly wine with good structure and even at the higher price point was a nice bargain.
Fanti is a larger international producer with a vineyard going back to 1800.
Their Rosso di Montalcino (2014: $13) was our favorite from our tasting, and was just what one expects from a Rosso.
It was very light red in color, the nose featured cherry and laundry room notes. The palate was a cherry bomb with very little structure. This is a wine to enjoy now.
We also sampled wines from Voliero. Voliero Brunello di Montalcino (2012: $50) was a garnet red in color, with a dusty nose with red berries.
The palate had a great structure with cherry up front followed by more mineral notes on the rear of the palate.
The Rosso di Montalcino (2015: $19) is a nice balanced wine.
Light red in color with a nose of light berries and cumin, the palate was dry and fruity at the same time, with cherry, currant and other red berries. This was a great value and will be finding a way into our cellar soon.
Tasting “Slow Wine” at Eataly
While Montalcino is an important part of Tuscany, and Brunello is an excellent presentation of Sangiovese, it is just a small part of the overall region.
Slow Wine is a magazine that features and promotes small-scale Italian winemakers who use traditional wine-making methods.
These people are working with respect for the environment and terroir, and safeguarding the incredible biodiversity of grape varieties that are part of Italy’s heritage.
The recent tasting at Eataly featured dozens of these producers from all of the wine regions of Italy.
We focused on 5 of the 15 producers showing Tuscan wines, and were not disappointed.
A surprise in this tasting was Podere Il Carnasciale which produces wine from a grape clone that they call Caberlot.
This clone was found about 40 years ago. It is found at Il Carnasciale, a vineyard which lies atop a rocky, south-facing bluff that towers above Tuscany’s Arno River (the one which flows through Florence).
The wine is bottled exclusively in magnums, and while it is available in the US, allocations are limited.
Il Caberlot (2012: $225 Magnum) has a dark purple color and a light peppery nose. The palate was extremely peppery with dark fruit notes.
Honestly, I have tasted some amazing Cabernet Franc varietals and it had characteristics like those but was even spicier.
The Il Caberlot (2013: $118 Magnum) was similar in character. Dark purple in color, the nose was more like a Cab Franc with lots of green pepper.
On the palate, the wine was super spicy with green pepper notes and dark fruits.
Carnasciale (2014: $53 750ml bottle) was dark purple in color with a syrah-like laundry room nose. T
he palate reminded me of Indian food, with pepper, nutmeg and cumin the dominant notes. This was a striking wine and unlike anything I have tasted.
Caberlot may be the next varietal to overtake Tuscany.
We moved from there to traditional Sangiovese wines and Super Tuscans that one expects to see from the region.
Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (2011: $29) is a reddish brown sangiovese with a nose similar to sherry.
On the palate we saw red fruits, black cherry, plum, and earthy notes. The wine was a bit tight in the tannins and could age a few more years before drinking.
Caiarossa, a certified organic and biodynamic producer was featuring Super Tuscan blends.
The Caiarossa (2011: $65) is identified as a Slow Wine. Besides excellent sensory characteristics, the wine manages to distil the character of their terroir, history and environment in the glass.
It was dark red in color with a grassy nose reflecting the fact that it is 24 percent Cabernet Franc along with 6 other varietals.
The wine was quite fruity on the palate, reflecting characteristics of fruit forward new world Bordeaux blends. Black cherries, sugar plum coffee and jammy notes were on the palate which had a very light structure.
This is a wine to be drunk today rather than held as it will not likely soften more with age.
Castello di Monsanto Chianti Monrosso (2013: $16) is made with Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Merlot grapes.
Light ruby red in color, the nose was ripe with red berries. On the palate there were layers of red berry fruits cherry, raspberry and plum. The finish was soft with a light acidity.
This is a great wine to drink today with a range of foods from hamburger to pasta to lasagna.
Fontodi Flaccianello Della Pieve (2013: $109). This is an excellent wine, what Slow Wine calls a Great Wine meaning it which possess the absolute sensory quality.
Dark red in color, the nose was peppery, with berry and floral notes.
On the palate were cherry rhubarb and strawberry notes. The wine was well made with balanced acidity and a very long finish. This was not your grandfather’s Sangiovese.
Tempted To Try Tuscan wines?
Audrey Hepburn won an academy award in 1953 playing a princess in the real world.
The Tuscan wines that we tasted at these events highlighted terrific wine coming out of Central Italy just as regal as Ms. Hepburn was on her “Roman Holiday.”
This is a great time to stock up on some great values and some truly superior wines from the region.
They are friendly, beautiful, and flexible and should be a part of every great cellar.
For more on Brunello visit The Consortium of the Brunello of Montalcino
For more on Slow Wine visit the website