Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Things to do in Chianti

Joe recently wrote, saying he will be staying in Greti, a hamlet near Greve in Chianti for the first two weeks of October, and asking what he should see. The Distillerie Bonollo, artisinal grappa producers located in Greti come to mind, and you'll find a number of other suggestions in a Chianti itinerary I wrote a number of years ago.
Have a great trip!


Monday, September 26, 2005

San Luciano's D'Ovidio Rosso Toscano IGT

There are two kinds of verticals: Those of established wines, and those of new wines. In an established wine vertical, one is tasting a wine that has been made from the same vineyards in the same manner for years if not decades: One notes how the wine evolves over time, and how it shows in different sorts of vintages, be they wet, hot, dry, even, or whatever. In a new wine vertical one sees how the winemaker establishes the wine, adjusting the proportions of the varietals in the blend, deciding exactly how to ferment it -- in wood, steel, or cement, number and type of pumpovers or pushdowns, fermentation temperature, maceration time on the skins, malolactic in wood or in steel, and so on, and, finally, how to age it -- what size barrels, from where, what toast, and for how long. In short, a new wine vertical is actually a tasting of several different, closely related wines, each like the one before it except for a specific detail, for example maceration time or kind of wood. Though one obviously cannot draw any long-term conclusions about the wine from a new-vertical tasting, seeing how the winemaker approaches the target he or she is aiming for is quite interesting, and this is what we have here.

The Azienda Agricola San Luciano is a medium sized winery (63 hectares of vineyards) in the Valdichiana, a part of southern Tuscany much better known for its beef, the famed Chianina breed, than for its wines, and to be honest this is the way the big negociants of better-known nearby areas like it, because it gives them a ready supply of low-priced wines to bottle; the larger Valdichiana producers in turn have a ready market for their wines, and everyone is happy. At least everyone who is happy with this sort of setup; producers who decide they are no longer happy simply being suppliers -- a change of heart that often comes when the younger generation finishes enological school, decides to pursue quality rather than quantity, and justly wants to have its name on the label -- have instead found themselves hampered by the Valdichiana's reputation for producing plonk. Not that this has stopped them, of course.

For San Luciano the change of heart came when Ovidio Ziantoni's son Marco, who oversees the vineyards, decided to try vinifying some of their Sangiovese separately in the late 1990s (until then they had concentrated primarily on bulk production of reds and whites). He called the new wine Ardia, drew up a label with his computer, and entered it in a local competition. It won, but, more importantly, Giacomo Tachis noted it.

One really cannot ignore Giacomo Tachis, the man who shaped both Tignanello and Sassicaia, and at this point Ovidio, Marco, and his brother Stefano (who oversees the cellars) enlisted the help of Fabrizio Ciuffoli, an enologist who also happens to be a relative. Fabrizio thought that they had potential, but told them their equipment primitive, and that if they wanted to do things right they had to put hand to billfold, as it were, and invest. They did, buying new equipment, setting up a bariccaia (a barrel hall), and replanting their vineyards, and were quickly noticed by the Italian wine press.

Their flagship wine is D'Ovidio, which Marco and Stefano have named after their father; it's a blend of 40% Sangiovese, 40% Montepulciano D'Abruzzo, 10% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet, and this calls for a quick explanation. Sangiovese is, of course, Tuscany's great red grape, and as such it belongs in a Tuscan estate's best wine. Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, on the other hand, was brought by migrant workers who would stay the season with the Ziantonis back in the 1960s -- the first year they came they found the local wine lacking, so the next they brought some vines and planted them. Marco and Stefano are very happy with how Montepulciano D'Abruzzo has adapted to its new home, and therefore include it in the blend. The international varietals? To add an international touch.

D'Ovidio Rosso Toscano IGT 1998
This is the first vintage; it's deep garnet ruby with some almandine in the rim. The bouquet is rich, almost chewy, with red berry fruit and some berry fruit jam mingled with sea salt and a fair amount of underbrush, with underlying cedar and some bitter underbrush. On the palate it's full, and strident, with lively acidity and sour red berry fruit that supported by rather dusty tannins; it has potential as a wine but is also quite rustic, almost to the point of coarseness, and is the sort of wine that a lover of delicacy and smoothness will be put off by. It will, however, drink well with a succulent steak or leg of lamb. Quite a bit of acidity and a great deal of life.
One Star.

D'Ovidio Rosso Toscano IGT 1999
With this vintage they decided to see what would happen with increased extraction, and macerated the wine on the skins for 40 days. It's a considerably deeper ruby than the 98, with more ruby and less almandine in the rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, with quite a bit of wood and underlying red berry fruit that gains depth from some berry fruit jam, and also considerable India ink bitterness. It's much more polished than the 98, and this comes through in the palate as well, with intense cherry and forest berry fruit supported by some sweetness, and by clean fairly sweet tannins that lead into a long sweetish berry fruit finish with nice tannic support. Charged -- what one gets with 40 days of maceration on the skins -- and muscular too; it's more about power than finesse, but does have nice balance, and will drink well with succulent red meats.
Two Stars.

D'Ovidio Rosso Toscano IGT 2000
40 days maceration was too much, so they halved it, and also began to remove the lees by hand, rather than pumping them out, because pumping crushes the pips thereby extracting green tannins. The wine is deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and some almandine in the rim, and has a smoky bouquet with a fair amount of cedar, and considerable India ink bitterness underlying red berry fruit and sea salt. On the palate it's medium bodied tending towards full, and fairly sweet, with bright berry fruit supported by some sweetness and by considerable tannic bitterness; by comparison with many 2000 wines it is richer, and shows the August heat less, though it remains quite young, and is once again muscular, rather than refined. In terms of accompaniments, succulent red meats.
Two Stars.

D'Ovidio Rosso Toscano IGT 2001
The target is by now visible, though they have yet to settle on what wood; they begin with Alliers, followed (in the next vintage) by Nevers and other areas. This vintage is deep black cherry ruby with cherry rim, and has a cleaner bouquet than those of the preceding years, with red berry fruit laced with some India ink bitterness, sea salt, and mint; it's a distinct step up from the 2000 and has quite a bit to say. On the palate it's full, and rich, with powerful cherry plum fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins that have some sweet vanilla overtones, and flow into a long clean fresh finish with considerable fruit. It's quite pleasant, in a well-muscled nicely rounded way, and will drink well with grilled meats or steaks now, though it will profit from another 2-3 years in bottle. The wine's potential begins to emerge.
Two Stars.

D'Ovidio Rosso Toscano IGT 2003
Deep black pyrope ruby with purple rim. The bouquet is rich, and quite clean, with bright cherry plum fruit supported by some berry fruit jam and by clean spice; there has been tremendous progress from 98, and it displays considerable finesse as well as underlying power. On the palate it's full, with rich cherry plum fruit supported by dusty tannins that have slight bitter ashy overtones, and leads into a long clean berry fruit finish that has some glancing over-young tannic overtones. It's a babe in the woods, but will grow up quite nicely, and will drink well with red meats, though it needs at least another 3-5 years to develop.

In summary, with D'Ovidio the Ziantonis are definitely zeroing in on their target, and my impression is that this winery is worth keeping an eye on. In the United States their importers are: Dall'Uva Ltd for Oregon and Washington, Enoteca Internazionale De Rham for New York and California, and Vino Imports for Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, and Florida.

And their address?
Azienda Agricola San Luciano
Località San Luciano, 90
52048 Monte San Savino (Arezzo)
Tel +39 0575 848 518
Fax +39 0575 848 210
Email: info at sanlucianovini.it

We're Back in Business, and Thoughts About the Current Vintage

The view from our new homeWhen I signed off in early June, saying I would be taking some time off because we were moving, I certainly didn't expect the process to take as long as it did; there were renovations here, and we also decided the time had come to sell my late mother's house in Pennsylvania, so we spent the second half of the summer in the US packing it up and getting it ready. With no more moves planned, it's time to get back to work.

The first order of business is a few words on the outlook for the 2005 harvest, which is now underway. Though we did have a couple of weeks of very hot weather in late June/early July, the second half of July was relatively mild, as was August, which also saw quite a bit of rainfall, to the point that the countryside was much greener than usual. Fortunately, the clear days between the storm fronts were quite sunny, with substantial day/night temperature excursions, and therefore the grapes did develop rich aromas, though they didn't ripen as much as they do in hotter, drier vintages.

Because of these conditions, the outlook for 2005's white wines, almost all of which are by now fermenting, is actually good: their bouquets will be rich, and on the palate they will be elegant and crisp, with lively acidities that will allow them to pair quite nicely with foods. They will also age nicely.

The outlook for the reds is more problematical; at the end of August the producers I talked to were optimistic, saying that the grapes on the vines were nice, but that they needed clear weather to ensure optimal ripening and the absence of rot in the vineyards. Unfortunately, we've had quite a bit of rain in the course of September, and the outcome is now in the hands of Mother Nature: if the weather holds steady for the next couple of weeks, those whose vineyards are free of rot and mold will have a good, if not stellar vintage. If, on the other hand, the rains continue, we'll have a repeat of the 2002 vintage, with lean, strident wines.

An important thing to keep in mind, when I evoke the specter of 2002, is that one has to go region by region; the rains of the past couple of weeks have primarily affected the central and northern sections of the Peninsula, while in the south conditions have been drier. Also, the truly late-harvesting varietals, in particular Nebbiolo, could shrug off even more rain now if the weather clears later: in the Valtellina 2002 was a 4-star vintage, thanks to a perfect October.