Val d’Orcia – mixed farming and viticulture

The Val d’Orcia is an extensive, beautiful and disparate DOC, created in 2000, which sits between the two giants of southern Tuscany: Montepulciano and Montalcino.  The DOC is fairly flexible while having a clear connection with the past: it requires a minimum 60% Sangiovese in the Rosso and a minimum 50% Trebbiano in the Bianco.  The clearest sign of intent is the new Orcia Sangiovese DOC, available from the 2011 harvest, which not only requires 90% Sangiovese (when EU law would have allowed 85%) but also demands that the blending grapes are Tuscan – for example, Canaiolo, Colorino; not Merlot or Syrah.  This is a clear statement that this ‘Sangiovese’ is going to be a thoroughly Tuscan wine. 

Generally speaking, the land here is flatter and lower than Montalcino and the agriculture is definitely mixed.  Vineyards take their place alongside cereals and animals.  The prosciutto and especially the cheese (Cacio from Pienza) are more famous than the wines, while the truffle is king in the woods.   But the wines are well worth exploring and extremely good value. 

Capitoni – Podere Sedime

Janet and I first met Marco Capitoni at his winery in 2008 when we were on a reconnaissance trip to southern Tuscany. We visited here as recommended by Monty Waldin’s wine touring guide.  Marco immediately struck us as a highly engaged grower who brought his warm personality to his work. He has been a great contributor to Tuscan Harvest Watch, the online diary of the Tuscan harvest which this website runs.  It was therefore a particular pleasure to visit him again in the summer 2012. 

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Podere Sedime, near Pienza, is a mixed farm of 50 hectares of cereals (which as Marco said) only keep you busy for a few weeks of the year, one hectare of olives and five of vines. His neighbours keep animals. The land is very open here, with wind helping with day/night temperature difference and a good level of health in the vineyard. The soils are quite mixed with clay and sand in layers and lots of fossils. The vines are planted at 5,000 plants to the hectare are quite widely spaced to prevent shading.  On the whole the plants are resisting well the near drought conditions of early August 2012. As we saw elsewhere this summer, Esca, a disease of the trunk, has struck in random places requiring individual vines to be replaced.   The wine making here is along traditional lines – 10 days of fermentation, 10 days of maceration on the skins with pumping over and breaking up of the cap, which can be hard work.  The wines are then matured in either barriques (especially the Merlot), used for up to five seasons, or larger wooden vats. 

Marco produces two wines, Capitoni and Frasi.   The Capitoni is a blended wine, assembled by his enologist, Fabrizio Ciufoli, from the fruit of the younger vines, in a mix of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Merlot.  It is aged for one year in barriques and a further year in bottle.  By contrast the more traditional Frasi is 90% Sangiovese, 8% Canaiolo and about 2% Colorino, from 40 year old vines. It is aged for two years in the larger botti.  For this wine the grapes are harvested and vinified together and of course this would qualify for the new Val d’Orcia Sangiovese designation and even the Riserva. 

This neatly illustrates the problems with Italian DOC-dom. From the first Marco had to choose between Chianti Colli Senesi and the new Val d’Orcia.  He opted for the latter which has the benefits of naming an area about which those know about Tuscany will have heard, because of its place on the tourist trail.  The former has no real cachet and is a huge area with few distinguishing features.  But, in the end, what matters is what is in the bottle, not what it says on the label.  

On the occasion of our visit Marco had organised a vertical tasting of his two wines.   We tasted the current vintage of Capitoni, 2009; as well as the 2008, 2007, 2005 and 2001.  (Both 2002 and 2003 were difficult years for different reasons.)

With Frasi we were treated to 2008, along with 2007, 2006 and 2005. 

Marco CapitoniCapitoni, Orcia DOC, 2009 – deep ruby in colour, appealing soft red and black berried fruit. The oak (barriques) is well handled with the powerful fruit to stand up to it.  This is a powerful, warm, structured expression of Sangiovese, softened and made fruitier by the addition of Merlot.  Marco says: you know where you are with Merlot, it is like an insurance policy. 

2008 – this wine is something of a triumph, being the result of two months’ work  in the vineyard, to clean up the vines after hail.  For Marco, what remains was a good, not an excellent year, with some rather tough tannins which are beginning to come around now with time in the bottle.   Vintage variation is in important even here in the warm Val d’Orcia. 

 2007 – this was a year of very low yields and the result is a wine of great concentration, aided by siphoning off some of the free run juice.  The result is a wine of some some real subtlety on the nose and then that concentration which is the hallmark  of the vintage.  (The free run juice that was siphoned off is then combined with the rather harsher must at the end of pressing to make an inexpensive wine to be sold locally.)

2006 – a very good year, if not quite as good as the year which followed it.  But by now, six years on, the wine has developed complexity in the bottle, with a sweet, ripe touch to the fruit balance, but it still basically tastes young.  A fine wine in a full bodied but soft (by Tuscan standards) style. 

2005 – a relatively cool year with two weeks of rain before the harvest. But now the advantage is that, while there is not the fruit of 2006 or 2007, the higher acidity of this year carries the wine forward and has given it the capacity to improve in the bottle.  Quite a tough finish though – despite the helping hand of the Merlot. 

2001 – a real treat here as this was the first wine from the vines only planted in 1999 and only 3,000 bottles were made.  And the wine was aged in brand new barrels because that is all that there was then! But the wine was remarkable – a still young looking ruby colour but with a hint of orange; aged fruit – plum jam, plus dried figs, wax, toast; rounded, fine tannins on the palate, complex and long.  Probably at its peak now.  And to think that before this, the grapes that were harvested on the family farm simply went to the cooperative at Sinalunga … ‘mortification of grapes’ says Marco, with a smile. 

However much I had enjoyed the Capitoni vertical, what I was looking forward to was the Frasi, where the immediate attractiveness of Merlot is banished and the Sangiovese is on full display. 

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Frasi, Val d’Orcia DOC, 2008 – Canaiolo and Colorino may give some body and some colour to Sangiovese but you are immediately plunged here into a gentle austerity in style.  Savoury, sour cherry fruit, tea leaves, sharp acidity and grippy tannins – even in this warm climate version, this is what Tuscany is about.  For the Frasi bottling, each year has its own quotation on the bottle (la frase, a saying, a sentence) and this particular year is dedicated to those who have the instinct to prune an olive tree …

2007 – a beautiful richness in this year, then the classic firm structure, quite a sweet, ripe fruit finish, very good or even outstanding.  ‘the satisfaction of hard work; hope and the results … pride’

2006 – fine taut fruit, some development in the bottle with tobacco, liquorice and spice notes from the wood and fruit; impressive, will develop further

2005 – not the greatest year but appears to be ageing more slowly than the supposedly better years – perhaps there was less immediate fruit appeal in the first place and so the change is not so marked. As with the Capitoni blend, the acidity remains to keep it very lively. 

After the tasting we walking through the still 30+ degrees of the evening heat and have a quick lesson in vine identification. Note the deep cut leaves of Sangiovese (at least here; Sangiovese is wildly variable as a variety) in comparison with the round, barely indented leaves of Colorino.  By contrast, Canaiolo, not shown here, is felty on the back of its leaves.  Walking in the vineyard after tasting, makes you very aware of the work that goes into a glass of wine.  The Val d’Orcia may be very young fine wine area but with prices at €10 and €15 a bottle to the consumer, these wines pack a lot of punch and, as we have seen, have the quality to age and express the characteristics of the vintage.  

deep cut Sangiovese leafchanging colourrounded Colorino

With many thanks to Marco Capitoni for your wonderfully positive attitude to life and these rich, balanced and appealing wines. 

For another vertical tasting  of these wines, see Kyle Phillips’ review in his lush American prose.

Other wines

A few days after our visit to Capitoni I got the chance to taste another, fully mature, Orcia wine:

Malintoppo, Simonelli-Santi, Orcia DOC, 2004 – 100% Sangiovese, this is the second wine of Simonelli-Santi, aged just for a few months in large barrels. Tasted in August 2012, so after eight years. Deep ruby in colour (these wines do keep their colour), rich blackcurrant fruit, almost Cabernet like. I tasted this in a blind tasting group and several experienced tasters thought it came from regions further south than Tuscany. Good structure and acidity, tannins well covered by fruit, impressively youthful.

Page created August 2012

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2 Responses to “Val d’Orcia”

  • slowhand:

    marco is a special person. He is impressively linked to the tradition as well as extremely open minded towards innovations. An example for winemakers and farmers.
    visit him and his vineyards is more than reccomanded
    cheers

  • Enzo Zappalà:

    I completely agree with you! Marco and his wife “Tata” are fantastic persons and friends. Their wines follow the same rule: excellent!!!!
    Yours truly
    Enzo

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