Castelluccio plus

Castelluciolow vinesIMG_5303David and Claudio Fiore

My visit to Castellucio, in the hills above Modigliana south of Faenza, was, very unusually, separated by three months from the opportunity to taste their wines. The visit took place just before Vinitaly 2013 on a cold, dull day which felt more like winter than spring.  Claudio Fiore welcomed Janet and I warmly, having already explained that he was preparing to go to the wine fair and so had little time. But there was time to hear the history of the property, stand over the vineyards in the faint drizzle and, generously, be given a case of the wines to taste. We did just that three months later as part of a fine wine supper, augmented by a few bottles which illustrate other aspects of Romagnan viticulture.  This was a good outcome as there was plenty of time to reflect on the wines and to share the experience with a group of 15, none of whom had knowingly tasted quality wine from Romagna before. 

The land here is seriously hilly and unstable.  On the short drive up from the town we had to inch our way around a gaping hole in the road which had disappeared in the previous few days. The locals just shrugged – that’s what happens if you live on a slippy, clay soil and you suffer the wettest spring in living memory.  Castelluccio’s considerable success is by exploiting the steep vineyards on the sunnier slopes – ‘ronco’ is the local word, a vineyard which can only be worked by hand.  As we will see most of the Castelluccio top wines are single ronco wines!

Label as artUnusually, Castelluccio’s white wines are made from Sauvignon Blanc, not Albana or any of the other common local white varieties. This is what happens when the vines are planted under the direction of a well-travelled consultant, Claudio’s father, Vittorio Fiore who also runs the famous Chianti property, Poggio Scalette.  There are two styles, youthful and fruit led on the one hand and serious and ageable on the other.  Lunaria, Sauvignon Blanc, Forlì IGT Bianco, 2010, is quite neutral on the nose for this variety with attractive peach fruit and a hint of something both floral and green on the palate.  Decent mouth feel and richness, and some length complete the picture.  Much more serious in intent is Ronco del Re, Sauvignon Blanc, Forlì IGT Bianco, 2007. An initial whiff of oak which wears off, then ripe complex fruit, a substantial palate (1% more alcohol) and good length. It would be difficult to place either of these if tasted blind but they are both high quality in their categories. 

If you are exploring Romagnan wines, you have to taste Albana and preferrably a top quality one.  This variety, along with Trebbiano and Pagadebit, are the local commodity grapes and rarely shine … but there are exceptions of which one, undoubtedly, is La Mia Albana, Progetto 1, Leone Conti, Romagna Albana DOCG, 2012.  Normally Albana’s star quality is the way it retains high acidity in a warm climate. Here this is joined by its intense pale gold colour, concentration on the nose, ripe palate with a touch of orange rind and floral themes, and long dry finish.  While it is customary to sneer at Albana having been the first white wine in Italy to be awarded the coveted DOCG, the quality potential here genuinely merits it for this excellent local wine.  For comparison’s sake we also tasted two vintages, 2005 and 2007, of a high quality Soave, made from Garganega, a grape variety which has a parent-offspring relationship with Albana.  Inama’s Vigna di Foscarino shares the ability to age, the gold colour, the fine rich palate but not the high acidity. 

Serious labelsOn to the red wines.  Castelluccio have four reds – a simple, unoaked gem of a Sangiovese, two serious single-vineyard wines from the same grape (we are in central Italy!) and a Cabernet/Sangiovese blend.  Le More, Romagna Sangiovese 2011 is not just a big success in Romagna and beyond as wine-by-glass in bars and restaurants, it also boasts a really attractive label with a drawing of a blackberry (see above) and, most importantly, it is exactly what Janet loves in a glass of wine – brilliant, bright, black fruit on nose and palate, no oak at all, mouth-refreshing acidity and a tannic structure which means it will stand up to big roasts and casseroles.  Textbook young Sangiovese from a clay rich soil which give it more fruit-richness than many Tuscan examples.

And then there are three ambitious reds.   Ronco dei Ciliegi, Forlì IGT Rosso, 2007 is the larger production at 20,000 bottles a year (cf. 50,000  of Le More and just 5,000 of Ronco delle Ginestre).  The yields also drop progressively from 70 to 50 to 40 hl/ha for the three wines. This first premium red has intense blackberry and black plum aromas with a whiff of refined smoke and custard powder. The palate is just as impressive with its intensity of flavour and big structure with rounded powerful tannins.  A big wine with good balance and length.  Ronco delle Ginestre, 2007, is sulkier – you can sense the concentration on the nose but it hasn’t really blossomed yet, the palate is denser and seriously robust, one for long keeping. Finally, the Massicone 2007 is very impressive for the way that 50% Sangiovese is still the dominant note despite a hefty whack of 50% Cabernet. The fruit is a bit more foreword, brighter, but it is still a wine which says ‘Romagnan Sangiovese’.  These are all weighty wines with controlled tannins which will repay keeping.  

MassiconeAlbana passito

The final wine of the evening goes back to Albana and to Leone Conti.  If Albana is known for one style it is not the simple table white, nor the high quality white but for the passito, wines made from semi-dried grapes and to varying levels of sweetness. Here the variety’s natural acidity comes into its own as a balancing point to sweetness. But you have to do the hard work first – grow perfect and ripe fruit, pick it carefully, hang it up to dry or put it on shallow trays with plenty of air flow to dessicate the grapes, keep watch for the slightest sign of grey mould, eventually after a couple of months you press the grapes and ferment the very sweet liquid until the yeasts exhaust themselves resulting in a sweet wine.  Non ti scordar di me (‘forget me not’), Albana DOCG Passito, Leone Conti, 2008 would be an excellent wine with mature cheese – it is sweet but not very sweet, has fine acidity and just 13% alcohol with complex floral, fresh and conserved citrus fruit and honeyed notes.  A fine climax to any evening. 

The wines of Castelluccio are innovative and traditional at the same time with the Albana of Leone Conti filling out the picture as a good complement. At the former, Claudio Fiore is producing fine Sauvignon Blanc and concentrated Sangiovese. He is also beginning to make his name with his own estate of Balìa di Zola which he runs with his wife and agronomist, Veruska Eluci.  Clearly we are going to here much more of the family Fiore in the coming years. 


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