For those who follow me on Instagram (@timswinemarket) and FaceBook (@timswinemarketorlando) you probably saw the amazing trip I helped to host in Tuscany, along with Art in Voyage (@travelinstyle). We stayed at Villa Laura, which is the farm restored by Diane Lane’s character in the movie Under the Tuscan Sun. It was a magical setting and a great home base for our travels.
During this trip we visited six wineries, all in the middle of harvest. All of our hosts were very gracious and showed tremendous patience with me as I guided our eleven guests through the process of converting grapes into wine. We were lucky enough to visit small and large, family owned wineries and see the process through several different lenses.
At each visit we tasted several different wines, typically those available to us in the US. We also purchased a few bottles, often those not available in the US, for dinner each night back at the villa. It is always wonderful to taste the wines with the people who make them, but there is also a reward in seeing how they work with food as well. After all, the essence of Italian wine is to compliment food.
Below is a list of wines that were standouts for me during our trip. They are all available at the Orange Avenue store and can be ordered by your local TWM if you want to try them. (To be fair to the wines not listed, many are not yet available so I will feature those later in different clubs and weekly features.)
2016 Felsina Chianti Classico ($29)
2013 Felsina Chianti Classico Riserva “Rancia” ($59)
For many years this has been one of my favorite Chianti estates. Their vineyards are in the southernmost zone of Chianti Classico, Castelnuovo Berardenga. This area lies closest to Siena and is lower elevation than the rest of the Classico zone, so the wines typically show great power.
The 2016 just arrived and is an excellent introduction to the powerful side of these wines. This bottling is aged in large botti for year, then bottled and held for an additional six months in bottle. It offers a dynamic combination fresh and tart cherries, new car leather and forest floor mushrooms. You can drink this wine now or cellar it for up to five years.
The 2013 Rancia is a single vineyard bottling, at one of the highest elevations in the zone and a perfect southwest exposure. This bottling is aged in new French oak barriques for eighteen-twenty months, then bottled and allowed to rest another six before release. Here the fruit is darker, with notes of blackberries intertwined with the tart cherries, as well as dried straw, tamarind and spice cake aromas. The feel on the palate is dense but framed quickly by firm tannins. This wine will be best from 2020 through 2030.
2015 Selvapiana Chianti Rufina ($22)
2013 Selvapiana Chianti Rufina Riserva “Bucherchiale” ($45)
On our second day we traveled to the northern-most, and highest elevation, area for Chianti Classico, the sub-zone of Chianti Rufina. This is in no way to be confused with the mass-production brand, Ruffino. Selvapiana is one of the oldest, and most respected properties in the zone, with winemaking and management directed by Federico Giuntini, the sixth generation of the family. The wines here are a little lighter than those of Felsina, but show incredible finesse.
Their base level Chianti Rufina is aged in large, Slovenian casks for one year. There was no Riserva Bucherciale made in this vintage so the bottling has a little more stuffing than their typical bottling. The nose is marasco cherries, violets, candied orange peel, dried blackberries and a very subtle hint of allspice. On the palate it is very silky and balanced, with moderate weight, high acidity, and faintly obvious tannins. Good 2018-2023.
The impressive 2013 Bucherchiale, which Federico considers the best since 2009, is from a single vineyard, which faces southwest for perfect exposure. This wine displays a sweeter, more obvious blackberry, raspberry jam quality, with notes of tarragon, chocolate covered orange peel and a kiss of porcini mushroom. On the palate it is nicely dense, with intergrated but high tannins, moderate acidity. Drink 2022-2033. (I have tasted several 20+ year old examples and this wine ages magnificently,)
2015 Podere Ciona Semifonte ($22)
Made by the engaging Lorenzo Gatteschi, with help from his parents, this is a tiny estate producing incredible wines for the money. Every offering is limited and this is the current wine to arrive in the US. It is a blend of 82% Merlot and 18% Alicante Bouchet, aged in large oak for a year.
As a “super Tuscan” this wine delivers a different nose than a wine made of Sangiovese. The bouquet is red licorice, candied cherries, milk chocolate and rose petals. On the palate it shows a nice concentration of fruit, with soft tannins and lowish acidity that frame it into the finish. Only 120 bottles available.
After visiting this estate and tasting through their impressive line-up again, I stand by my belief this is the best value in serious Tuscan wine you can buy for near term enjoyment. Owner Federico Carletti has grown this from fifty acres he inherited from his father to now more than 900 acres, and yet every wine offers incredible quality, and value.
Their flagship wine is produced from higher elevation vineyards near the village of Montepulciano, and aged in equal parts large botti, 400 liter tonneaux and 225 liter barriques for 14 months. It is a blend of 85% Sangiovese and the balance in Colorino, Canaiolo and Merlot. It shows notes of ripe black figs, candied cherries, sage, cedar, allspice and caramel. On the palate it shows good texture, with moderate acidity and tannins. Drink 2018-2028.
2013 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino “White Label” ($79)
2013 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino “Tenuto Nuovo” ($125)
2015 Casanova di Neri Pietradonice ($89)
I do not believe there is a hotter estate in Montalcino, and perhaps all of Tuscany, than Casanova di Neri. Giacomo Neri and his sons oversee every step of the production of their wines, using only estate grown grapes from their extensive vineyard holdings.
Their White Label is the wine found Giovanni Neri first made in 1971. It is produced from vineyards near the winery on the southeast side of the town of Montalcino. This wine is aged for four years in botti, then a year in bottle before release. It shows a rich nose of old leather books, cinnamon and clove, white chocolate, fennel seed, birch syrup and luxardo cherries. The feel on the palate is very dense and concentrated, with firm but integrated tannins and moderate acidity. Drink 2023-2033.
Their highly rated Tenuto Nuovo is a single vineyard bottling from a vineyard Giacomo purchased in 1985, in defiance of his mother. It is a site located north of the town of Montalcino and was not considered ideal for ripening Sangiovese. Twenty years later, various vintages have received numerous 100 point ratings and the 2004 was the Wine Spectator Wine of the Year. Talk about a bet paying off! This bottling is aged for 48 months in French tonneaux (400 liter barrels) and a year in bottle. It is a bigger wine than above, with rich notes of dark chocolate, caramel, graham cracker, cinnamon, baked dark cherries, clove, dried figs and a kiss of balsamic syrup. On the palate it is very dense and powerful, with firm tannins that are nicely integrated, with moderate acidity. Drink 2023-2043.
Finally, and new to our lineup, is their Cabernet Sauvignon, Pietradonice. This wine is a single vineyard site south of the town and is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is aged for 18 months in barriques, of which 25% are new. It shows an enticing combination of cooked black currants and black cherries, herbs de Provence, lavender and dark chocolate. Texturally it is extremely dense and broad, with firm tannins but bright acidity.