Within the famously undulating hills of the Tuscan countryside one will find a vast landscape dedicated to the grapevine. Producing about 33,000,000 cases of wine annually, the wines of Tuscany are some of the most recognized and appreciated wines in all of Italy. From Chianti in the north to Montalcino in the south and Bolgheri on the coast, wine drinkers have certainly sampled the simplest to the most complex of wines. The main grape for the region (ultimately accounting for 10% of all vines in all of Italy) is Sangiovese, a varietal known for its red and black cherry fruit and a dusty earthiness, as well as its ability to produce long-lived, world-class wines. Taster’s opinions differed on the favorites of the evening, quite rightly, and a broad array of Tuscany’s offerings was introduced to new palates. We, of course, recommend trying one out yourself!
Melini 2011 Borghi d’Elsa Chianti ($9.95)
Cappanelle 2007 Chianti Classico Riserva ($29.95)
We began the tasting with a side-by-side comparison of two qualities of Chianti – the best way to examine exactly what contributes to a wine’s quality, and the processes of how this occurs. A baseline $10 Chianti paired with a more aged and smaller-production Chianti Classico Riserva. The Melini 2011 Borghi d’Elsa Chianti offers a solid wine at an everyday price – juicy, earthy with cherry fruit and an incredible drinkability. The Cappanelle was certainly a step up, as the nose alone showed a deeper concentration of fruit and minerality, clearly showing the pedigree of the wine. On the palate we find far less fresh cherry fruit, though ripe, taking on more of a dried quality. As this wine has aged, the fruit has mellowed out and integrated allowing non-fruit notes to surface. The fruit is darker, and the earthiness and dustiness well-integrated. These are both wines more traditional in style, so those seeking a fruitier style certainly have other options in the shop. All tasters agreed the Melini was a great value, and the quality comparison was enlightening, showing how not all Chianti is created equally.
Querciabella 2009 “Mongrana” Maremma Toscana IGT ($19.95)
The term Super-Tuscan came about in the 1960s and implies the use of non-traditional varietals in the creation of a Tuscan wine. By utilizing the French varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and or / Syrah, some of the most prized wines in recent decades have been created. The Querciabella Mongrana falls into this category, produced in the fairly recent designation of Maremma, a thin strip of the Tuscan coastline. This wine is comprised of 50% Sangiovese, with equal portions of Cab Sauv and Merlot filling the rest. The Cabernet brings darker fruit and tannins, Sangiovese offers high acidity and dustiness, and the Merlot smooths out the blend while supporting the red fruit of Sangiovese. This wine is clearly old world in style, but certainly has a bit of fruit to balance the earthiness. A tasting favorite.
La Palazzetta 2010 Rosso di Montalcino ($21.95)
Just south of Chianti we come across the region of Montalcino, a regions broken in two distinct climates and terroirs by vast forests. To the north, the limestone soils produce wines with structure and longevity, while the clay based soils of the south west prove to create wines of greater elegance. The big wine of the region is Brunello di Montalcino, and as the style requires extensive aging, cashflow is a concern. The more youthful style of Rosso di Montalcino allows producers to keep the winery fiscally stable, and is a wine created of fruit destined for Brunello, therefore creating an often excellent wine at affordable prices. This La Palazzetta Rosso has a nice bright cherry fruit, bright acidity and a light, but smooth palate showing just how great a value this wine is. We are currently pouring this wine at the bar in Shorewood – stop in and give a taste!
San Filippo 2007 Brunello di Montalcino ($43.95)
Casanova di Neri 2006 “Tenuta Nuova” Brunello di Montalcino ($89.95)
Showing two Brunellos comparatively shows their differences, yes, but also just how good this wine is. Brunello requires 48 months total aging, two years of which must be in cask. This extensive process creates a high pricepoint, often intimidating consumers, though the price is right for such a world-class wine. The San Filippo, at a more introductory price, shows a fantastic wine full of deep rich dried black cherry fruit with notes of earth and dust balanced by a little grip and integrated acidity. This wine was quickly a favorite as the price a bit lower for the style, yet the quality stayed high. Casanova di Neri is known for being a flashier producer, and as the fruit for this wine is sourced from the southern portions of Montalcino (the winery is located in the northern), the ripe lush fruits show through as the warmer climate allows for more development of fruit. This wine brings a bigger fruit profile with a slight bit less acidity and a richer palate – a more modern style of Brunello though classically layered with earth and spice. The Neri is twice the price, but has the ability to cellar a bit longer than the Filippo, and shows the exceptional winemaking of Giacomo Neri. No matter your style, these wines are both superb examples of the region and are certain to please.