Sangiovese, the most important red grape of Tuscany, is famously variable. It produces both thin sour wine (though today there is really no excuse for this) and some of Italy’s most magnificent, structured and age-worthy reds. The May 2010 edition of Decanter magazine gives the Brunello riserva of 2004 from Biondi-Santi an amazing 20/20 score – apparently, the perfect wine, even if it is a breathtaking £200 a bottle.
A huge range of Sangiovese styles was available of course at the recent Vinitaly. My tastings of the wines from the Maremma (eg the very traditional and wonderful Podere 414 or the warm climate Parmaletto wines of Montecucco) will be added to the Tuscan Maremma pages of this site. Here I want to concentrate on a favourite Chianti zone, cool Rufina, and one classic wine from southerly Montalcino.
The Rufina zone is easy to reach as it is basically just east of Florence on the steep hills which rise from the Sieve river. It is the coolest of the Chianti zones and can produce the most wonderfully austere wines with long ageing potential. Fortunately, this style is not to everyone’s taste so the wines are good value too.
The Rufina consortium’s stand at Vinitaly gave a wonderful opportunity to taste a number of wines side-by-side and to compare each grower’s normale with the riserva. Mind you, there is nothing ‘normal’ about these normali.
Here are the two offerings from the large firm of Galliga e Vetrice. A trick of the light makes the normale on the right look rather darker than in reality, while the ageing of the riserva can clearly be seen in the brown tinge on the right. The latter is available at a great price from Berry Bros.
It would be tedious to rehearse all the wines here. The pair shown above illustrate the two main styles, with the normale (2008) having wonderful freshness, a real zing and some classy minerality. By contrast, the riserva of 2007 is very young and still showing tobacco and leather notes from oak ageing and is very tannic, very distinctive and will no doubt be wonderful in 5-10 years time.
We also tasted wines from the very cool sites of Marchesi Gondi (their 2005 riserva has lots of potential but is still a sleeping giant), while Castello di Trebbio riserva 2006 has more fruit and is already drinking well – but then it was a better year. We also enjoyed Dreolino’s two offerings.
By complete contrast, at the Castello di Argiano stand, we managed to catch up with a modern cult classic. Argiano is one of the big names of the world-famous Montalcino area which is a relatively high plateau with distinctive geology and a local form of Sangiovese known as Brunello, the ‘little dark one’. From these special berries – and three to five or more years in large, neutral, oak barrels – emerge wines of great complexity, structure and longevity. Our short tasting started with the Brunello di Montalcino of 2005. Such is the richness of the experience at Vinitaly that you can occasionally skip all the ‘lesser’ wines and start with Brunello. 2005 was a mixed year but this now has nicely browning edges to its medium ruby colour, an attractive nose of red fruit and violets, and good balance.
But the bottle we really wanted to taste is simply called Suolo – soil. When we visited Argiano four years ago, I tried to buy a bottle of this not knowing how much it cost (€70), but it was sold out. It is not Brunello in its typical style at all but a wine made from the same 100% Sangiovese grapes from 50-year-old vines. The principal difference is that the wine is aged for 18 months in new and one-year-old barriques, not the traditional larger botti. This treatment means that it is a rather more modern style, with more obvious vanilla and leather aromas from the new oak, luxurious rather than austere. But the real triumph in this 2007 vintage is the beautiful, ripe fruit which shines through. There is plenty of room in my (sadly hypothetical) grand cellar for brilliant new wines of this quality alongside traditional Brunello which will go on developing for years or decades.