23 Apr 2012

Who is Kaiser Soze? (Tuscany, Italy - Day Four)

When you hear names of regions and places for wines, many things may come to mind. Very rarely are you able to associate a specific wine or style with a specific place, but some famous examples are Champagne, Burgundy, Mosel, Rioja, Barolo and Chianti. It is not difficult to see why this phenomenon is common in the vast majority of regions outside of Europe, as the focus on producing regionally distinct wines from specific regions has only been a recent occurrence. In many cases entire countries that may have a huge variety of climates are associated with a particular variety, such as Australia with shiraz, New Zealand with sauvignon blanc, Chile with merlot, Argentina with malbec, and South Africa with pinotage. Anyone from these countries will happily tell you that this doesn’t reflect the entire production, as they produce many more varieties and many more styles even with the same variety. This phenomenon is also common in Europe for a range of reasons. This may be because a range of different varieties are grown but no one or two are considered the best, it may be because the law allows much leeway for blending other varieties, or perhaps the wines are simply not good enough. In many countries this is further compounded by the setbacks in the first half of the 20th century, with most regions rediscovering the right variety for the best sites, and re-establishing many of the winemaking traditions. With so many regions in Europe, with some much bigger and more diverse than others, it is easy to get lost. Thus it is important to establish regional identity and distinction, rather than produce the same wines as everywhere else. Montepulciano is one such region that lacks clear regional identity, in spite of the fact that the most common grape grown is sangiovese.

New shoots on old vines in Montepulciano
Poliziano is not only one of the most important wineries in Montepulciano but also in Tuscany. Poliziano is the modern face of quality Montepulciano wines across the world, which is not an easy mantle to carry. The winery was established back in 1961 by the Carletti family, and over the decades grew to account for 140 hectares of vineyards, fairly large by Tuscan standards. Vineyards are owned in various parts of the Montepulciano DOC, which is technically part of the broader Chianti region. Sangiovese is the most planted variety, but a wide variety of other indigenous and imported varieties are also grown. Like many other wineries in Tuscany, Poliziano have invested in the Maremma region where they are producing consumer friendly wines. The jewels are undoubtedly some of the historic and most sought after vineyards, most famously the Asinone vineyard, with which they produce a single vineyard wine. The modern facilities where the wines are produces include such equipment as sorting tables and conical fermentation tanks, with a range of tanks and barrels of different sizes. Wines are left to settle in bottle before being labelled packaged and distributed to over 40 countries around the world. Many people visit the winery, a large proportion from English speaking countries, and as such the hospitality staff is proficient in the language, including a writer from the United States who relocated to Tuscany several years ago. Wine education is taken particularly seriously, with regular wine and food matching sessions hosted for guests. After a tour and tasting I was able to sample some of the charcuterie and cheeses from the area with some wine.

Fruit processing area at Poliziano
The Rosso di Montepulciano 2010 was spicy and juicy on the nose, expressing purple and red fruits with plenty of fresh acids and balance. This is a classic style for the region, and is made up of 80% sangiovese and 20% merlot. The Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2008 had a subtle rustic earthy nose, with great intensity and plump mellow tannins, a wine of approachability and elegance. This was yet another wine to show the majesty of the 2008 vintage in Tuscany. The Asinone is a 100% sangiovese wine, and I was able to compare two vintages of the wine. The 2007 was quite open and broad yet subtle and concentrated, very soft and generous with plum, cranberry and cassis. The 2006 had a much more focused and expressive nose, with significantly more elegance and structure, drive and focus on the middle of the palate. Moving into wines from Montepulciano that aren’t mostly sangiovese, the Le Stanze is a ‘super tuscan’ blend of 90% cabernet sauvignon and 10% merlot. The 2006 was rich and textured, with bold fruit sweet tannins and very integrated oak, showing approachability and complex nutty characters. The In Violas Cortona Merlot 2008 was a dusty earthy aromatic wine, had some structure but was very broad and unfocused. The final two wines I tasted were from the Maremma region, beginning with the Lohsa Morellino di Scansano 2010, which was unctuous and full, was uncomplicated and flavoursome with some earthy mineralic elements. The Mandrone di Lohsa is the reserve of the previous wine, but is made from 80% cabernet sauvignon and other varieties whilst the Lohsa is led by sangiovese. The 2008 was not unlike the In Violas, being quite approachable and soft with plenty of flavour, but lacking distinction and focus.

The Poliziano wine museum, with vintages going back to the '70s
Boscarelli is a winery that has managed to establish a reputation that far exceeds the size of their production. The De Ferrari family are very modest and humble producers growing wine from only 14 hectares of vineyards, and have been doing so since 1962. Preferring to focus on the estates they have, they are committed to producing the best wine they can from what they have. This was perfectly illustrated when they purchased several hectares of vineyards nearby, but resold the property as they were being spread too thin. Harmony with the environment is the key in the vineyards, and they aren’t afraid to try new things like planting varieties like gamay in parts of the property prone to moisture and frost. The cellars are very modest and somewhat disorganised, which suggests they are focused on the viticultural side producing the best fruit possible. Nicolo De Ferrari showed me around part of the vineyard, showing me difference in soils, trellising, shoot development post-budburst, variety and elevation. The estate is divided up into very small parcels, which each have their own identity and name, the best of which is probably the Nocio parcel. With the evolution of the region and the estate in the past 20 years, the range has changed very subtly to reflect the times and qualities.

Nicolo De Ferrari in the cellars of Boscarelli
The Prugnolo Rosso di Montepulciano 2010, made from 90% sangiovese and 10% mammolo, had wild green pepper expressiveness on the nose, showing bright red fruit on the palate with some complex spice and great drive on the back of the palate. The Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2009 was much more intense and closed, with some floral earth and darker fruit notes, focused acids, gentle tannins and some very subtle crushed herbs and dried apricots on the palate. The Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 2007 has deeper black fruit sweetness, showing the toastiness of additional barrel ageing, violet floral elements and great balance. The Nocio dei Boscarelli 2007 was one of the most seductive of all the wines I tried in Tuscany, combining floral, black cherry and yellow plum fruit aromas, with amazingly pure yet complex and concentrated elegance and tannins. The Boscarelli IGT 2006 had a very perfumed cassis oak and dust element, with very full and dense tannin and bold structure, but for the time being looked a little hot and needs some time in bottle to balance. The Familiae Vin Santo 2002 was the second of the style to impress me, having a caramel colour with some oxidative, flan, toffee, vanilla and hazelnut aromas, and whilst rich and sweet still had plenty of fruit and sweetness to offset the higher alcohol level.

The Boscarelli range
My evening was spent in the agriturismo of Il Cocco in Montalcino, where they have begun producing their own wines very recently with the worldwide emergence of Brunello di Montalcino. The estate is one of the highest for viticulture in the area, and the winery is modestly housed in the old farmhouse. The wines are all exemplary for the price, but for the region are very immature and will benefit from more vine age and experience producing the wines.

Just a few barrels at Il Cocco in Montalcino
Click here to see more photos from Day Four in Tuscany, Italy.

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