This particular Tuscan ‘castle’, with a 350 hectare estate, enjoys a remarkable combination of deep countryside and proximity to Florence. When you are there it is difficult to believe that the city is about 15 km away as the crow flies. This is partly because of the altitude, around 400 metres above sea level, and partly because of the magnificent rural landscape – you can’t see another settlement in any direction.
As with a number of places we visited in the summer of 2011, the recent history is of the property being bought as a country retreat in a previous generation, often by an industrialist or banker. But the wonderful thing is that the land then grips the attention of a subsequent generation. Perhaps the most famous example in wine terms is Montevertine near Radda in the Chianti Classico area, but there are many more of which Castel del Trebbio is a particularly fine example. If you have any sympathy for the land at all, it is not difficult to see why!
We were shown around by Anna Baj-Macario (understandably known as Anna Trebbio) who, with one older brother, decided to stay on after their parents’ deaths twenty years ago, to make a go of the estate. Anna oozes enthusiasm for her family, her staff (especially the now retired guardia, estate warden, who we met), the land, the houses and castle now arduously restored, the wines, the olive trees (her speciality) and the saffron crocuses … not to mention the agriturismo, the new restaurant and anything else that moves or breathes in this special place. She will tell you that she talks to much but she does have a great deal to tell you about. Along with the technical expertise of her enologist husband, Stefano Casadei, (who runs a separate agricultural consultancy business) and the rest of the team, her commitment and sheer energy are huge factors in the success of this complex venture. And I didn’t mention that they also have vineyards and wineries in the Maremma and in Sardinia …
It would be easy to be romantic about this place. The picture on the left shows the castle above (in which the family lives) and the new restaurant below. But there is also a hard business sense. One of Anna’s favourite words is ‘synergy’. It is not enough simply to make and sell Chianti Rufina. To make it worthwhile to go to wine fairs, to travel and to promote the products, they need a wide offer – Rufina, the softer, fruitier reds of the Casadei winery in Suvereto and the distinctive Vermentino and Cannonau of Sardinia, not to mention the olive oil and now the saffron. We tasted the whole range of wines, but let’s concentrate on the wines from this estate, all Castel del Trebbio:
Congiura Bianco IGT Toscana 2009 – to say that Chianti Rufina is not known for its dry white wines is a massive understatement! And to make a local blend of Trebbiano and Malvasia is not going to cause much excitement beyond the local cafes and restaurants, however much I will always want to try them and argue for their merits. Castel del Trebbio’s response is to make this Riesling/Pinot Grigio blend as though we were somewhere a lot cooler, but of course the day/night temperature difference in these hills will help here. The wine is in its fifth year of production. Quite honeyed (which will only increase with time), floral and a hint of Riesling metal, very good complexity on the palate, good fruit and herbal notes, very good.
Chianti DOCG 2009 – easy drinking, inexpensive (€3) lovely simple Chianti, Sangiovese (95%), Canaiolo (5%), good fruit reflecting the relatively cool site. A wine to make those of us who contemplate everyday wines in UK supermarkets weep! Castel del Trebbio’s pricing policy is interesting: they set their prices years ago in the days of the lire and have basically stuck with them. They want to encourage loyalty.
Lastricato, Chianti Rufina Riserva 2007 – 100% of the best Sangiovese given the top treatment: picked by hand, relatively short maceration (for a riserva) of eight days, with malolactic fermentation being completed in December. Part of the wine is aged for 14 months in second use barriques, while the remainder rests in large barrels for 20 months. (There is slight conflict here between my notes and the technical specification on the property’s website.) So what do you get for your €7.80 from the winery? A most inviting and complex bouquet of subtle herb notes and sour cherry, a good taut palate with a moderate version of the typical Rufina astringency, and excellent persistence. This got a creditable ‘two glasses’ from the Gambero Rosso but I was more enthusiastic about it than that.
Anna gave me three bottles of Lastricato to conduct a mini-vertical tasting of this riserva. They were tasted blind by an established tasting group (see blog entries on the ‘BBC’): the immediate view was that there was ‘some connection’ between wines 1 and 2 (ie 2007 and 2003), while wine 3 (1999) was ‘different’, perhaps a different grape variety or country. This perception remained throughout the discussion:
2007 – floral, alongside the herb and red cherry combination as above, with the zip of young acidity. This was a good to excellent year in Tuscany.
2003 – violets, red berried fruit, similar wine in mid-life, rounded with some attenuation of the acidity and rounding of tannins but still very fresh; looking back on it, it is remarkable how fresh this was, given the bakingly hot year, no ‘cooked’ notes
1999 – from a good year in Tuscany, if not in other parts of Italy. The wine now shows fully integrated aromas of dark plum fruit and the cloves and balsam of old wood, fine and smooth on the palate, very lively still and so would have many more years in it; one member who had a rural upbringing said it reminded her of the smell of the tack room and clung on to her glass! These wines are worth keeping for 10 years plus.
Pazzesco IGT Toscana 2006 – you don’t need a great deal of Italian to spot that this is called ‘crazy’ or ‘incredible’, no doubt a bit of irony about a Super Tuscan in this Rufina heartland. But why not? - as long as they put as much effort into Lastricato, which of course they do. 60% Merlot and 40% Syrah, kept cool for 36 hours as a pre-maceration to intensify the fresh fruit flavours, then fermented in a controlled way to keep below 30° and then held with the skins for a further 15 days before being aged in new and one year old barriques for 18 months. Rich; blackberry, mulberry and vanilla on the nose; dense satisfying palate; very long, very worthwhile. Castel del Trebbio believe that the vineyard has a great potential for Merlot and in time this will become entirely Merlot.
Many thanks to Anna for your warmth and generosity, and to all at Trebbio. It is a very beautiful and impressive place, and your commitment – not to mention the quality of the wines – is obvious to all.
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