Riecine – Sean’s kingdom

When you phone up a winemaker in Chianti to see if you can drop in on a visit, you do not really expect a pleasant Irish lilt on the other end of the phone.  However, Sean O’Callaghan, has been the enologist at Riecine, now a 11-hectare estate, since 1991, so what you see is Sean’s kingdom.  Everywhere you see expressions of his decision making, of his continuing search for the last drop of quality out of this Gaiole estate: the functional modern winery filled with casks of various sizes, the vines on the hillside under the winery in conversion from Guyot to the old-fashioned alberello (‘small tree’) system and the concentration on Sangiovese alone.   In this, he is supported by American owner, Gary Baumann, who we had the good fortune to meet on the day of our visit.  Gary has backed the vision in the shape of buying top-quality vineyards and building a new winery and, of course, going with Sean’s expertise and instincts. With Monica in the office, they are a well-focused team with a clear aim: ‘to produce the finest Sangiovese-based wines in the world’. 

IMG_0070IMG_0061Vines converting to alberello
Since 2006 the Chianti Classico here has been 100% Sangiovese and with Sean and a visiting American importer, we taste through the barrels, getting a sense of the individual vineyards – Rietine and La Cascina from the two recent vintages 2009 and 2010.  The finished bottled wines are wonderful but the sheer lip-smacking youthfulness of the wines in cask is something else.  Both years are full of fruit, with the 09s showing the greater roundedness of the older wine.  The hallmarks here are the clearest possible sharp Sangiovese fruit, a certain minerality (the soils are variously alberese and galestro, limestone and limestone and clay marl) and a tiny bit of controlled leafiness, brought about by 10-15% of whole bunch fermentation and thus using some stalks.  And, as the exception which breaks the rule, there is a small amount of 2006 Syrah in a barrel which according to Sean just keeps getting better … so if there is a restaurant or wine shop that would like something of a one-off, you know where to call! 

We tasted the wines of this estate including La Gioia which includes fruit from further south in Tuscany and so is IGT Toscana, rather than Chianti Classico:

Wines tasted August 2011

Chianti Classico 2009 – tobacco and liquorice notes from the oak ageing, perfumed fruit, excellent depth of flavour, good tannic zing, delicious wine from an excellent vintage

Chianti Classico riserva 2007 – superb subtle ‘warm’ nose of spices, tobacco, cloves, blackberry and mulberry; attractive palate; very long, excellent.  Won a much-coveted 5 star (out of 5) Decanter rating and an amazing score of 19/20: ‘sleek and fresh with intensity rather than weight’

La Gioia IGT Toscana 2006 – deeper colour, very spicy (cloves), blackcurrant, preserved fruit, high level of tannins. As noted, this wine has fruit from the much warmer Montecucco zone of the Maremma, further south, and in the past has had a small amount of Merlot.  However, from 2010 Riecine have stopped using the grapes from the Maremma, experiencing some difficulties as the seasons have got hotter.   

La Gioia IGT Toscana 1998 – we were in luck: this 13-year-old bottle had been opened for other visitors and we got to try it too:  great development in the fruit, mulberry under spirit, almost porty, beautiful palate,  very very long, still good grip

We left our impromptu visit in no doubt that Sean and the whole team are producing Chianti of the highest quality with a profound sense of place and with a heartening conviction about the potential of Sangiovese.

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