Gualberto Grati drops everything in his office on a Friday afternoon to give Janet and I a splendid tour of his family’s wine business. We start from the ‘new’ winery (where they have taken over some existing plant a year ago) and drive out of the town of Rufina to the Villa Vetrice which overlooks it. First stop is the experimental vineyard (picture). Here they are collecting old varieties and clones, a few plants of each, to conserve, trial and assess them. Then we move on to the Prunatelli estate where there is a medieval borgo, a collection of houses and farm buildings (including a vinsantaia and cellar) and some vineyards growing interspersed with olive trees, as was the custom under the so-called l’agricoltura promiscua system. Then we pass another site where vinification takes place and finally on to the Villa Vetrice where we taste and admire another vinsantaia. No doubt there are more bits and pieces of plant and vineyard, here and there. The picture is beginning to emerge: this is a no-nonsense family business, built up over several generations, with no grand statement building. The family name is Grati, while the commercial name Galiga e Vetrice reflects two localities – and indeed two lakes which the family have created to preserve water. Overall, Galiga e Vetrice is quite a big concern with a 100 hectares under vine and makes a million bottles a year – but it is about as far as you can imagine from the large estates much further south in Tuscany where incomer’s money has bought up large pieces of land and built the new ‘cathedrals of wine’.
The commitment to research and conservation here is real. In one of the vineyards we see plants of the variety Abrostine growing, a grape which gives colour, and which was used in the past to soften Sangiovese-based wines by the governo method. It has been studied in various places, eg, as reported to Vinum Loci, an international forum on Italian indigenous grape varieties, held in Turin in 2005. It heard a report that Abrostine is not the same as Abrusco and certainly not the much commoner Colorino. Old Tuscany is alive and well here in more ways than one.
We tasted a great line up of wines in the reception room at Vetrice. For the reds, the grape varieties are easy to deal with as they take a standard approach to all the wines which are blends: 90% Sangiovese, 7% Canaiolo Nero and 3% Colorino, ie a classic Chianti blend. Gualberto makes good use of the tasting by asking for your opinion of the wines and making notes, a pretty direct form of consumer research! He then send me my Italian comments which I can add to the English notes I took at the time! He is amazed that other producers don’t make use of this opportunity, showing a really positive attitude to feedback.
Ontaneto, IGT Toscana Bianco 2009 – after our visit to this winery we had dinner in Pontassieve and ordered an unknown but recommended white wine. In discussion with the proprietor we praised the wine and then discovered it was from Galiga e Vetrice. And the grape variety? Muller Thurgau!! We had discussed this wine during the tasting, with our host saying that surprisingly it has the potential to age. The 2009 has a pleasant if fairly neutral nose, quite a golden hue, pleasant rounded palate, and was good with food. There is also a more traditional Trebbiano/ Malvasia white with which we failed to catch up.
Semía, IGT Toscana Rosato 2010 – a good shot at a Sangiovese rosé, pleasant fruit, fresh and light, some complexity.
Mondo Canaiolo, IGT Toscana 2009 – a rare example of a single varietal wine made from the Tuscan blender, Canaiolo Nero. This is made by long maceration, and then is mostly aged in large neutral containers with just 30% raised in wood for three months. Gualberto’s view is that Canaiolo is a bit like Merlot in the Bordeaux blend. This example is quite full in flavour, dark plums and dried fruit and with a rather different aroma profile to Sangiovese, some herb notes, perhaps anise, well handled tannins, very dry indeed. Bottles like this make it clear that these local specialities are well worth recovering.
Villa Vetrice, Chianti Rufina DOCG 2009 – the basic wine of the estate, made with the grape composition given above, from what Gualberto describes as a bellisima annata, regular and reliable. The win is fermented at cool temperatures and aged for six months in large traditional barrels. My notes say ‘a very direct wine’, by which I think I mean one that is straightforwardly pleasurable. Very good cherry fruit, excellent acidity, some complexity, a super example of an entry level wine at a very attractive €6.
Villa Vetrice, Chianti Rufina DOCG riserva 2008 – by contrast this was from a difficult year which, with its record rain fall in spring, tested the quality of the work in the vineyard to the limit. You need quite a bit of expertise to evaluate a Rufina riserva of this age as we are really talking about potential. Our bottle was very slightly corked but the greater depth of fruit was very apparent. Try again in a couple of years’ time.
Villa Vetrice, Chianti Rufina DOCG riserva 2007 – the difficulties in 2007 were the other way around, with a hot spring/early summer which was then followed by rain. But out of these difficulties arose a good riserva: more perfumed, fair fruit, ‘in ottima forma’ as ‘I said!
Villa Vetrice, Chianti Rufina DOCG riserva 2006 – sadly was badly corked as it was a excellent year – I have bottles of this at home which I am looking forward to (Wine Society or Berry Bros).
La Capannuccia, Chianti Rufina DOCG riserva 2000 – believe it or not, imported by Sainsbury’s. Aged in large botti and then neutral containers. A pale ruby red in colour, super fragrant nose of moderate intensity. Rounded palate of cherries, dried fruit, tea leaves, elegant and lasting tannins. It is really worth keeping these wines to allow them to develop in the bottle.
Grato Grati, Vecchia Annata, Rosso di Toscana IGT, 1991 – another wine still available to warm the hearts of genuine wine lovers, a twenty year old Rufina, bottled just one month ago. 1991 was a very cool year especially in spring, followed by a very dry season from June to August. The wine no longer leads with fruit (and perhaps never had that much fruit) but has lovely evolved notes, with an excellent freshness, some perfume, and a pleasant roundedness which comes with all that ageing. Good drying finish. Presumably even at this age, this will develop with some years in the bottle?
Filichete IGT Toscana 2001 – just to prove that they can also do something just about approaching a Super Tuscan, this is a blend of Sangiovese (85%), Merlot (13%) and Occhio di Pernice (2%). So, yes, Merlot has managed to sneak into this otherwise traditionalist fortress! The Occhio di Pernice is interesting as it produces aromatic grapes and is another rarity, not to be confused with a style of wine of the same name which is red Vin Santo. Some historical citations for the grape variety are catalogued here. I found the aromas in this wine a bit strange but there is lots of fruit (including figs) on the palate and a pleasant richness. We debated its length: I had some doubts and Janet was more positive.
Villa Vetrice, Vin Santo del Chianti Rufina 1995 – Vin Santo is an obvious speciality for Galiga e Vetrice, given their love of old wines. This is made from a three-way blend of Sangiovese, Malvasia and Trebbiano, perfect grape bunches being hung up (not laid on mats) for three months, with the resulting nectar being fermented and aged in sealed carattelli (small barrels, picture) for ten years. This example is splendid – only modestly sweet, but nuts and caramel on the nose, complex and perfectly integrated, with an excellent balance between the transformed fruit flavours and the remaining acidity. We had a bottle with friends in Massa Marittima later on the same trip and they really loved it too.
There perhaps isn’t a saying (but should be) that if you are good at what you do, you should just keep on doing it! (‘If it ain’t bust, don’t fix it’ is too negative.) It would perfectly sum up the Grati brothers’ work in the vineyard and winery.
Many thanks to Gualberto and all at Galiga e Vetrice – some of the best things in life are worth waiting for!