Recently I was at my village wine club tasting (nothing to do with my job at The Wine Society) in the local parish rooms for a tasting. Our host Simon brought along some wines he’d bought en primeur, some from us and some from another merchant.

He wanted to see how the wines had developed and to see if buying them en primeur had ‘paid its way’ in terms of initial cost (including storage) vs how much the wines would cost now.

The wines were great (with just one that was ever so slightly past its best), and Simon had done his calculations and seen that, for those wines which he could still get, the prices now were much higher on almost all the wines.

En Primeur tasting

It was a fascinating evening for me as I look after our en primeur offers at The Society and it was very reassuring to meet another wine drinker so interested in it and getting such satisfaction from the service; both in terms of value and, more importantly, pleasure from the experience.

I buy en primeur myself mainly for the enjoyment and delayed gratification of having it stored away – sometimes for decades – only to get them out, having long forgotten what I paid for them and slightly smug about being able to drink something so mature that not many others can!

So it was nice that, for the wines we had last night anyway, the numbers also made great sense…

I did come in to work the next morning feeling that what I do gives enormous amounts of pleasure to a lot of our members and it offers good value too. Oh, and none of the wines were the stellar-expensive wines you often hear about – most were in the £15-£40 bracket.

With our 2015 Rhône offer arriving next week, it also felt like a good time to share the experience!

Shaun Kiernan
Fine Wine Manager

Here are some quick notes from what we tasted:

1. Three vintages of Clos Floridène Blanc, one of members’ favourite dry whites from Bordeaux.

Clos Floridène Blanc, Graves 2010
Real class here – exactly what you’d hope for from this excellent wine and vintage. The sauvignon blanc and semillon that make up the blend were in perfect balance, and this wine will still keep for some time yet.

Clos Floridène Blanc, Graves 2009
Still very good too with real class and finesse, and a long satisfying finish.

Clos Floridène Blanc, Graves 2007
Sadly this wine was just outside its drink date and should have been drunk already. It was slightly oxidised but still interesting, but its mature flavours may not be for everyone.

2. Four vintages of Vacqueyras Saint Roch from Clos de Cazaux. This family-owned southern Rhône producer is another popular name at The Society, featuring regularly in our regular and en primeur offers – not to mention being the source of our Exhibition Vacqueyras – so I was especially intrigued to taste these.

Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2010
From a great year, this is still muscular and would benefit from further ageing. You could certainly see its potential though. Keep for two more years: will make a fab bottle.

Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2009
Similarly young as per the 2010 and would be better kept for longer, although the 2009 was lighter in weight. Still highly enjoyable.

Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2008
Smoother and more mature, this was just about ready, and backed up by some appealing sweetness of fruit.

Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2007
Wonderful wine – for me, this is what what en primeur is all about. Totally à point, this is all chocolate and cream, with the freshness that demanded we try a second glass! Best wine of the night for me.

3. Three vintages of Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, a bit of a Bordeaux ‘insider’s tip’ gaining an increasingly large following for its excellent claret, which is offered at reasonable prices.

Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc 2009
Lovely sweetness here, and quite tannic. Not typical of 2009, so without the heaviness I sometimes associate with the vintage. Good wine.

Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc 2008
Leave a little longer: quite typical of 2008 (not my favourite vintage) in its austerity, but the quality was evident and there is more to come from this wine.

Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc 2005
From a classic vintage, this is now ready but was drier than I thought. Slightly muscular, and would come into its own with food.

4. Two vintages of Château Suduiraut, Sauternes, one of the grandest sweet wines one can find in Bordeaux, and which still offers excellent value for its quality.

Château Suduiraut, Sauternes 2010
This is rich but also very fine with lovely balancing freshness, and will keep well. Marmalade nose and lemony freshness on the palate but rich too.

Château Suduiraut, Sauternes 1997
A lovely contrast to the 2010 with the aromas and flavours that come with maturity. A barley-sugar nose but rich on the palate, and again with good acidity. Needs drinking now but won’t go over the top for a few years. Very good indeed!

Comments (2)

My Corsican trip is always a bit of an adventure and giving it time is always a bit tricky. It comes at a busy time for any buyer of northern hemisphere wines.

How soon can a buyer taste a new vintage? Of course there is no real answer. After all during the vintage, there is a certain satisfaction from tasting grape juice, or even the grapes themselves. Young wine on the other hand goes through stages when it doesn’t taste that well. That’s often when it’s just been racked or moved around, or indeed when it is still full of solid matter. Early smells and tastes can be misleading; young wines need time to settle a little and become more like the finished article.

So I asked my good friend Etienne: how about early December? Fine came the answer and so it was.

Corsican trip Dec16

I haven’t fully explored all the travel options yet though I’ve tried a few. There are direct flights in the summer but out of season one has to change, at least once. For the time being my favourite option is to start from Saint Pancras which is conveniently close to home. And yes, it allows me to fantasise about some of the great trains of the past: the Mistral and Blue Train.

There’s an early train to Paris and a quick jaunt on the metro and a fast train to Marseille. The journey itself was relatively uneventful. No murders or vanishing ladies. Vanishing power maybe, as the train came to a halt outside Ashford and remained there for half an hour.

I like Marseille station (I quite like Marseille as well). It’s a station that looks different, definitely imbued with a feel of the orient. There are trees within the station, making it look like a rather large orangery. There’s a friendly intimacy about it and people seem remarkably unrushed. There’s a good place for a coffee and a croissant where people have time to talk.

The two women behind the counter may be busy, drawing one coffee after the other but still have time to exchange smiles and small talk with customers. There’s a tramp seated not far away with his coffee and a sandwich. A heavily armed Gendarme greets a passenger with a kiss. This is all such a contrast with Paris which, by comparison seems cold, fearful and furtive.

Marseille airport is like any other airport and in common with all airports, there are building works and road works; yet it too seems a little laid back. People have time for each other. Even at the security gates, there is an air of friendliness. Not that any of this affected security, which was as tight as anywhere.

Corsica by air

Corsica has four airports which is good going for an island with a population of around 350,000.
But Corsica is more than just an island. It is a sort of mini continent with lots of quite different bits and these are separated by mountains making communication on the island slow and difficult.

Politics play a big part here too. City mayors are powerful beasts whose reach has to extend to Paris. Corsica punches well above its weight in most matters. And so there are four airports.

I still have only explored a tiny bit of the island. There is vineyard everywhere, but it is probably true that some of the top and most forward thinking growers are in the north. And so that stretch that separates the towns of Calvi and Bastia, has become Wine Society territory!

Calvi is where Lord Nelson lost an eye in 1794. It amuses people much that Corsica might have ended up a British possession. Indeed for a couple of years George III was king of an Anglo-Corsican kingdom.

Back to wine!

Clos Culombu is not far from Calvi airport, barely 15 minutes’ drive away. It was dark when I got there. The samples of rosé from the new vintage were all lined up on the counter.

Somewhere in all these different hues is the 2016 blend!Somewhere in all these different hues is the 2016 blend!

Etienne Suzzoni was there, all six-and-a-half feet of him (or more!), and his son Paul-Antoine who as it turned was largely responsible for making the 2016 vintage. Father Etienne is these preoccupied with other ventures; he is after all Mayor of his local town, Lumio.

2016 is a good vintage here. It was explained that it was hot and dry but that crucially that it had rained just enough so that drought was never really a problem. We tasted from a round 20 different tanks, all representing specific parts of the vineyard and different grape varieties, and different ages of vine too. Some of the samples were already blends with two varieties present. For instance, the first tank was of sciaccarrellu with a little syrah, and very good it was too.

Before continuing maybe a few words are needed about varieties. Corsica has a rich and varied ampelography taking in influences from France, Genoa, Tuscany and even Catalonia. Many varieties were lost during the phylloxera epidemic though some have since been rediscovered, growing wild.

In the north, niellucciu is the main red grape variety and is in fact identical to the Tuscan sangiovese. It produces full-flavoured, full-bodied and often tannic wines. Sciaccarellu is a native Corsican variety, grown nowhere else. It tends to make wines that are fragrant, fruity with plenty of grip and is the majority variety further south such as in Ajaccio. Local wisdom says that it is the choice variety for making rosé. Grenache is also indigenous and probably came from Aragon or Sardinia. Syrah and cinsault are more recent imports. Last year, the blend for our Corsican Rosé was mostly niellucciu with a little sciaccarellu and grenache.

Silence tends to reign during these tastings, considerable levels of concentration being required. Each sample is tasted, one after the other. Each could have something to say in a blend. One sample might have low pH which could be a good thing while another might have high pH, less desirable. Likewise excessive alcohol might not be a great idea. And so I write down a comment or two beside each wine, by the time the last wine has been tasted I have an idea which samples to retain for the blend.

And then starts the fun with test tubes and calculators at the ready. The sciaccarellu wines are all very good and yet, on its own, something is missing.

There are several false leads until finally a blend sticks. Jean Dépagneux, for many years in charge of a business in Beaujolais and Mâcon, always used to tell me that three elements in a blend are better than two.

And then I found it. There was a tank of pure cinsault which didn’t seem much and was easily overlooked. Just 10% was enough to bring the niellucciu and sciaccarellu together. And so the 2016 vintage was born.

The following day the three elements, 60% niellucciu, 30% sciaccarellu and 10% cinsault, were blended together.

What happens now?
The wine now rests; it will remain untouched over the winter and will be bottled after a filtration in the spring.

The first shipment to Stevenage will be in April and I for one am looking forward to trying it!

Corsica is a big place and 36 hours doesn’t allow for much exploration. After Calvi, my route took me east to the other fortress town of Nelsonian fame, Bastia. A high point was the entering the forbidding-sounding Désert des Agriates. North of the main road, there is just a startlingly beautiful emptiness.

Vineyards in Corsica

I had to meet Marie-Brigitte Paoli who picked me up in her incredibly large land cruiser. The next four or five miles were not easy driving on a deeply rutted track but eventually we arrived at her estate. Hers is called Clos Teddi while her husband’s, next door is Clos Alivu. One cellar serves both and there is one winemaker, a Parisian who came to Corsica as a student to do a vintage and never left!

There are lovely wines here in all three colours and complemented to perfection the lunch which was brought out on a windswept terrace. There was charcuterie, figatellu sausage, spare ribs, an eyewateringly strong cheese, Fiadone cheese cake and garden-picked clementines, a sole guardian of sensible eating!

The wines of Corsica are fascinating and though I’ve spent much of the time on rosé, the whites and reds are also worth exploring. More Italianate then Gallic, they are at their best at the heart of a meal.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

If you enjoy finding out what goes on behind the scenes on our wine buyers’ visits to our winemakers, visit the Travels in Wine™ pages on our website.

Comments (1)

I had to pinch myself a few times throughout 2016. Since landing my dream job as trainee buyer (and subsequently taking on buying duties for England, beers and accessories), I have been lucky enough to meet some amazing people, visit some beautiful places and experience some remarkable things.

One thing that will stick with me though is some of the fantastic people that I have been lucky enough to meet who, whilst all have stories of their own, always share one thing in common with me: a love of wine.

Putting together a list of just three bottles that really meant something to me from 2016 was not easy, as there were so many more that I wanted to select. However, I settled on three very special wines from three very special producers, in three completely different wine-producing regions of the world.

You can buy a convenient three-bottle mixed case of these reds for £38 – with UK delivery included – via thewinesociety.com.

1. Château Monconseil Gazin, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux 2013 (£9.50 per bottle)

monconseil-gazin

My very first trip accompanying one of the buyers was in January 2016 when I went to Bordeaux with Head of Buying Tim Sykes. The main goal of the trip was to blend the new vintage of The Society’s Claret but while there we managed to fit in visits with a few other producers. Our last visit of the trip was to a small, humble producer in Blaye on the right bank of the Gironde.

After a few days of suits and ties and smart sales folk, it was lovely to meet a proper winemaking family. We weren’t talking to a sales representative or a marketing person but the owner and winemaker of a small and excellent-quality winery. Jean-Michel and Françoise Baudet are the couple in charge here, at one of the oldest wineries in Blaye. They love nothing more than driving visitors around their vineyards and talking them through the subtle nuances that each vineyard has on their wines. After the tour it was time for a bit of cake before going to the airport.

This was the first time that I felt like I got to the heart of Bordeaux; despite all the money in the region and all the marketing, it is people like these who live for the wine and who make good wines at very affordable prices.

This 2013 vintage of Chateau Monconseil Gazin was one which I remember for its soft tannins, fresh acidity and feeling of being complete, by which I mean everything was in harmony and as it should be. Fresh fruit is there, but it is soft and relatively gentle, with an appealing, simple charm. For me, this wine spoke of its place very well, from the freshness in the fruit on the highest vineyards, kept cool in the wind, to the ripeness of the fruit that bit closer to the river, where the temperature is moderated thanks to the influence of the Gironde.

2. Chianti Rufina Riserva, Villa di Vetrice 2011 (£10.95 per bottle)

grati-chianti

When I joined The Wine Society’s Buying Team, I was lacking in the foreign language department, other than a miniscule amount of Italian. In order to fit in to such a linguistically talented team of buyers, I had to brush up on it! After a number of Italian lessons, Sebastian Payne MW, our buyer for Italy, said: ‘If you really want to learn the language, you need to get out there!’ So I did.

I spent a couple of weeks working at wineries in Italy; firstly with the lovely folks at Vallone in Puglia but I spent the second week with the truly lovely, and truly Italian, Grati family in the Rufina Valley of Chianti.

I’ve never had a week where I felt so looked after and learned so much. The warm and incredibly intelligent Gualberto Grati and his sister Christi are now at the helm of their family winery, having taken over from their parents who live at Villa di Vetrice itself. I managed to experience all sorts of jobs which surround the harvest on my visit, from the picking of the grapes, to hanging up bunches in the vinsantaia (see above), to carrying out a whole experimental micro-vinification of the very rare grape variety sanforte.

Sitting around the family table for dinner at Vetrice on the first night of my visit, not being even nearly competent with my Italian, was a strange mixture of lovely and terrifying. However when, on the last night of my trip, Gualberto and I were invited for dinner with Christi, her husband Luca and their two daughters, I found I was able to have a conversation in Italian, the feeling of pride was really quite memorable. It was all thanks to the kindness and patience of this Tuscan winemaking family.

Their wine is really rather delicious too! This one combines the rusticity and ‘hands-off’ approach to winemaking found in the most authentic of Tuscan wines with such obviously excellent fruit, from a region that really seems born to produce wines. Silky smooth yet still fresh, thanks to the signature acidity of the Rufina valley. A charming, approachable and thoroughly enjoyable wine, whilst still smart and proper, much like the family who make it!

3. Hedges CMS Washington State 2015 (£13.50 per bottle)

the-hedges-family-washington

I’d never been to the USA before being lucky enough to get a place on a trip arranged by the Washington State Wine Commission. The bulk of the trip involved a small group of us visiting a number of wineries spread over five days. I wasn’t able to fly out to Seattle until the day after the rest of the group, which meant that I would be there a couple of days after they had all gone home again at the end of the trip. With that in mind, I had made plans to go and visit a couple of producers who we already worked with at The Wine Society, one of which was Hedges Estate.

I’d heard that Christophe Hedges was a pretty cool guy and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. He lives with his wife Maggie and their two young sons, in a beautiful white-stone house which is down the end of a dirt track, in the middle of the vineyards of Red Mountain. I drove down the track and pulled up outside the house, which was clearly still undergoing some construction work. I walked around the side and knocked on the door but there was no answer.

Eventually, this tall, muscular wine god of a man came around the corner. This was Christophe, who it turns out is not only a great winemaker but also a seriously good stonemason. So good in fact, that he built the house himself!

The Hedges family were like something out of a film – painfully good looking with perfect smiles and a sense of coolness and calm about them which makes you feel like they just love living life. When I went to visit them, I had just left the rest of the group who had flown home and as I got into my hire-car I distinctly remember a sudden sense of real loneliness, now finding myself in a small town in a country I had never been to before, almost 5,000 miles away from home. When I got to the Hedges’ home, it was like seeing old friends.

I tasted a lot of good wines with Christophe, many of which could have been featured here; but for me, this was perhaps the most approachable now. It encapsulates the terroir of Red Mountain, with a hint of earthiness and bright, fresh acidity. The complexity of fruit here is impressive, thanks to the clever blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah, making a wine which is juicy and bright, while maintaining a peppery touch and a firm backbone.

Enjoy!

Freddy Bulmer
Trainee Buyer

Buy the three-bottle mixed case for £38 – with UK delivery included.

Comments (6)

Having spent my wine budget rather lustily during the Christmas period, I’m looking for maximum bang for buck from any New Year indulgences.

Thankfully, this under-£7 Portuguese white ticks all the boxes. It was one of the stars of my visit to Portugal with Society buyer Jo Locke MW last year; and it’s a testament to its quality that it can shine every bit as brightly in a grey Hertfordshire January as it did in front of the sun-soaked vista of Esporão’s tasting room!

The view at Herdade do Esporão in the Alentejo

You can find a full archive of Staff Choices on our website here.

Esporão Monte Velho, Alentejo 2015

Esporão Monte Velho, Alentejo 2015

This blend of local grapes (roupeiro, antão vaz and perrum) is the top seller in its price bracket on the Portuguese market, and winemaker David Baverstock hit the nail on the head at our tasting when he said it offers ‘a lot of sophistication for a big-blend wine from a hot climate’.

Esporão’s winemaker David Baverstock showing buyer Jo Locke MW the day’s harvest during our visit in September

The ripe 2015 vintage offers a little extra generosity of body, citrus fruit and even some leafy complexity too, making this the perfect opportunity to try it.

This is no one-dimensional summer quaffer, but really quite a refined foodie white that will work well for wintry sipping too, and I hope you like it as much as I do!

£6.95 – Bottle
£41.50 – Case of six
View Wine Details

Categories : Other Europe, Portugal
Comments (5)

These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the New Year selections of our Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. Wine Without Fuss offers regular selections of delicious wines… with the minimum of fuss!

Why not join the growing band of members who let their Society take the strain, and are regularly glad they do?

Janet Wynne EvansJanet Wynne Evans

National Chip Week, which traditionally sizzled into action, when our New Year Wine Without Fuss selections were safely in the rack, was surely a happy light at the end of the grim tunnel of atonement that is January for many of us. If only we could master the art of moderation. On that note, a recipe for recycling them, below, may help debunk the myth that an Extra-Large portion of chip-shop soggies has to be forced down or thrown away.

Of course, there is so much more to potatoes than chips and more varieties than you can shake a stick at. There’s more from me on that story in the February edition of Societynews and if I seem to have taken overly long to harness the humble tatty for the Wine and Dine aspect of a ‘Fuss’ selection, it’s because the choice of spuds before us today is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Regrettably, the vacuum has been filled with doom-laden denunciations from the carbs police, but let’s not confuse potatoes with pappy rolls and blotting-paper bread. Unlike those, potatoes contain a raft of useful vitamins and minerals. They can even take the place of flour in soufflés (see below), which suddenly become a gluten-free option. They are also very versatile as I have found over the years when using up the end of a sack of them that seemed like especially good value at the time – for a family of 20. There is certainly enough scope to cover the dozen intriguing bottles that awaiting the undivided attention of the Wine Without Fuss subscriber.

Once you’ve got the right one, potatoes are, essentially, magnificent shock absorbers, for the butter, milk and spring onions that turn Maris mash into champ, for the vinegar that wakes up a proper, chipped King Edward, for the riot of cream and garlic that transforms layered Désirées into gratin dauphinois and for the mayonnaise, chives and bacon bits that curl around Charlotte and her elegant pals to make a great potato salad.

So, at this grey time of year, I commend to fellow-members the infinite variety of the pomme de terre. Large or small, short or tall, spring or fall, there will, surely, always be a spud you like and always a Fuss-free wine to go with it.

Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor

THE RECIPES

Mashed Potatoes with Fresh Truffles

jersey-royals-finalLast year, we celebrated the foodscape of Istria, the small, but gastronomic triangle that hangs between the rest of Croatia and north-eastern Italy. The emphasis was on black truffles, which thrive here. This recipe was given to us by Robert Golic, in-house chef at Agrolaguna, who supply our Vina Laguna Malvazija (sadly currently out of stock), but it also works very well with any fulsome chardonnay.

Try it with Joseph Burrier’s buttery Mâcon-Verzé (French Classic Whites), or if you prefer a red, go for a lightish one: Moselle Pinot Noir ‘Les Hautes Bassières’ (French Classic Reds) will do nicely.

View the recipe here

Born-Again Patatas Fritas

The perfect exit plan for the unwieldy portion of chips served up by the average chippie. With the rising cost of cod, I imagine the aim is to add value. I’m quite staggered when people throw away what they can’t eat, especially when these chips are so good reheated that I’ve even been known to order a ‘large’ to make sure we’re covered for Round Two. Given a Spanish twist as below, or cooked in duck or goose fat with a few sprigs of thyme and a splash of garlic oil , they are just plain delicious.

The secret is good flavourings and fresh cooking-fat at the proper temperature. Having your chips and your fish separately wrapped is wise, and at all costs, decline politely any offers of salt and vinegar at the counter. Once home, apportion your chips for now and later. Let the laters cool completely and freeze. I find that recycled chips are best thawed before reheating, so I allow time for that, but by all means recook them in their frozen state if you like.

Shallow-frying requires relatively little oil – about an inch or so, or barely 100ml for two portions of chips. It should be between 160-175C, or hot enough to make a test chip sizzle as soon as it makes contact. If it’s smoking vigorously, it’s too hot.

Dust the thawed chips in smoked paprika – sweet or hot, as you prefer – and fry in groundnut or sunflower oil to which you have added just a hint of chilli oil, to taste. Once the chips are brown, crisp and clattering in the pan, drain well on kitchen paper. Delicious with grilled chorizos or just dunked into a pot of spicy tomato sauce for that stereophonic patatas bravas vibe.

To drink: Spanish of course! 3C Premium Selection, Cariñena 2013 (Buyers’ Everyday Reds) is perfection, or try The Cup and Rings Mencia (Buyers’ Premium Reds). If you’re serving these without the fiery tomato dip, but with, say a bit of grilled fish, the brisk piquancy of Crego e Monoaguillo Godello-Treixadura (Buyers’ Premium Whites) will offset the smoked paprika and fat.

Ratte and Smoked Salmon Parcels
This recipe is reproduced with the kind permission of La Ratte du Touquet magazine.

An intriguingly spicy little purse of a starter. If your guests express interest in the recipe, I find it’s best not to spoil their appetite by telling them that they’re eating Ratte. And yes, there is a magazine dedicated to this potato variety.

aumoniere-de-ratte-du-touquet-saumon-et-coriandre

Serves four as a starter
• 500g Ratte potatoes (or similar small new variety)
• 6 slices smoked salmon
• 6 sheets filo pastry
• 20g thumb of fresh ginger root
• a small bunch of coriander, leaves only, washed (save the fragrant stems for stocks and sauce)
• olive oil for frying
• a handful of fresh chives, washed and dried
• salt and pepper

Set the oven at 180C/Gas 4. Peel, rinse and chop the potatoes into 1cm cubes. Peel and grate the ginger. Roll up each of the salmon slices and cut into fine strips. Chop the coriander finely.

Blanch the potatoes for a few minutes in a pan of boiling water. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain and dry on kitchen paper. Plunge your chives into the same boiling water, for just one minute. Refresh them under a cold tap and dry well.

Once the steam has stopped rising from the potatoes, heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the potatoes and let them colour and finish cooking. Season with just a little salt and some black pepper. Mix well with the salmon , ginger and coriander.

Brush the filo sheets with oil, one at a time (keep the rest covered with a damp cloth to stop them drying out. Place one-sixth of the potato mixture in the centre of each sheet and draw the pastry into a purse shape, trimming the tops if necessary. Tie each purse with a couple of the chives.

Once all six are assembled, place them on a baking sheet, brush with a little more oil and bake for 8 minutes or so, until golden and fragrant. Serve without delay.

To drink: there’s salt, smoke, spice and greenery to contend with here, so go for a multi-tasking white like Percheron Chenin Blanc-Viognier, Swartland 2016 (Buyers’ Classic Whites). Three Choirs Stone Brook (Buyers’ Everyday Whites) would also rise to the occasion.

Potato & Goat’s Cheese Soufflés
Inspired by a recipe in SAVEURS magazine

Potatoes make healthy and tasty ballast for soufflés. They don’t produce an ethereal and majestically wobbly result, more a solid and comforting deliciousness.

The original recipe specified just enough flour to dust the ramekins to stop the mixture sticking, but using grated Parmesan instead not only adds an extra layer of flavour but makes the soufflés wheat-free. The specified spud is the yellow-fleshed Bintje, a variety rarely seen commercially here, but our more familiar all-rounders Wilja or Maris Piper will do the job perfectly.

souffle

(Photograph courtesy of Saveurs Magazine)
Serves six as a starter, four as a light lunch
• 650g potatoes
• 4 eggs
• 100ml single cream
• 250g soft goat’s milk cheese, strong or mild as you like
• 25g softened butter
• 2-3 tablespoons very finely grated aged pecorino or Parmesan cheese
• Salt and black pepper
• A pinch of ground nutmeg or Cayenne pepper

You’ll need four ramekins, about 10cm across the top and 5cm deep, or six smaller ones measuring about 7cm across but of the same depth.

Peel the potatoes. Rinse them under the tap, pat dry and chop into small pieces. Put them in a pan of cold salted water, turn on the heat and give them 20 minutes from cold.

Grease the ramekins with the butter and veil with the Parmesan, shaking out the excess. Save that and add to the potato mixture. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Drain the potatoes for at least 10-15 minutes to let the steam die down completely. Pass the potatoes through a ricer or mash by hand to achieve a thick, but not gloopy puree.

Separate the eggs. To the yolks, add the cream and the cheese and fold into the mashed potato, using a spatula to obtain a smooth puree. Add the black pepper and nutmeg or Cayenne.

Now add a pinch of salt to the egg-whites and beat to a firm peak. Fold them quickly into the potato mixture to retain as much air as possible.

Place the prepared ramekins on a baking sheet and fill almost to the brim with the mixture. Bake for 25-30 minutes, resisting any temptation to open the oven door. If your oven doesn’t have a glass porthole, be guided by the smell.

While the soufflés are cooking, prepare a little salad of interesting greens, dressed with a dash each of hazelnut oil and lemon juice to serve on the side. Remove the soufflés from the oven and serve without delay.

To drink: it may be a bit of a cliché but was there ever such a love affair as the one between goat’s milk cheese and sauvignon blanc? Step forward Touraine Chenonceaux, Domaine de la Renaudie 2014 (French Classic Whites), but if you fancy a red with this, a ripe cabernet franc – Chinon, Domaine de la Semellerie (Buyers’ Premium Reds) – is your man.

Categories : Wine Without Fuss
Comments (0)

In October four lucky members and their guests made a ‘trip of a lifetime’ to visit some of our favourite Tuscan producers in the company of Society buyer Sebastian Payne MW.

Here’s the second instalment from Societynews editor Joanna Goodman (read part one here).

Into the heartland of Chianti Classico for the winning members of our Tuscan tour starting at Castello di Brolio, the birthplace of modern-day Chianti, followed by an afternoon in the company of Paolo di Marchi at Isole e Olena to learn about the rebirth of Chianti in the post-seventies whicker-flask era and finishing up at Fontodi with Giovanni Manetti where the grapes were still coming in! A final flit to Carmignano country and Villa di Capezzana on the way to the airport completed our trip…

Good morning Siena!

good-morning-siena

What a difference a day makes. Opening up the shutters on our second morning in Tuscany, the sun streamed in and the view across the hills in the early-morning mist was stunning. The vision was made even more magical with the appearance of a host of hot-air balloons, hanging surreally in the sky before us. Today was going to be another great day.

Yesterday, our adventures in Montalcino and the very south of Chianti Classico were fabulous, despite the drizzle and cold. We’d found out about the fickle sangiovese grape and how it changes from place to place (even changing its name in Montalcino where it is called ‘brunello’), but today we would learn even more about its capricious nature, as well as the history of Chianti itself.

Castello di Brolio – the birthplace of Chianti
I had visited this famous Tuscan estate around 20 years ago and knew that we were in for a treat. Back then, we hadn’t gone inside the imposing castle – ancestral seat of the Ricasoli family since 1141 – so I was thrilled to learn that we would be taken on a guided tour.

The group at Castello di Brolio The group at Castello di Brolio

We were met by Elisabetta, a cousin of the current Barone (Francesco Ricasoli), who took us first on a quick tour of the vineyards to point out the different aspects and soils of this vast 1,200-hectare estate, 230 of which are under vine. Most of the vineyards are south/south-west facing and at an altitude of 200-500 metres above sea level. 80% of the vineyard area is planted with sangiovese, but merlot, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and malvasia, plus experimental plantings are also grown.

Elisabetta explained that one of the most important aspects of the estate is the fact that they have more than 20 different soils on the estate, the five most important being: galestro (a schistous clay soil), sandstone, argilliti (sedimentary clay marl), limestone and alluvial soil.

She took us to the side of the road to point out the different rocks to help in our geological education. Some of the rocks dug out of the vineyard were huge – it gave you some idea of how hard the work must have been for the original land workers who would have had to haul out these rocks by hand. Nowadays, machinery and dynamite make it a little easier!

Brothers Dominic and Paul Tooke survey a large galestro boulder at BrolioBrothers Dominic and Paul Tooke survey a large galestro boulder at Brolio

History of the Ricasoli family
Elisabetta explained that the castle was strategically placed almost mid-way between Florence and Siena and that the side facing Siena was constructed of red stone mirroring the buildings there. The north side facing Florence is made of ‘green stone’ (limestone), in homage to the architectural style of that city.

Castello di BrolioCastello di Brolio

It seems that the castle has always been caught in between these two warring rival cities, but the ‘Iron Baron’ Bettino Ricasoli is credited with bringing about peace and unifying Italy, going on to become prime minister of Italy not once, but twice!

Whispering the secret password to get us inside the enormous castle walls, Elisabetta took us on a tour of the castle telling us more about the incredible Bettino, whilst showing us around the museum set up to display his many accomplishments.

He was a real polymath – an artist, philanthropist, scientist and politician – interested in the education of the children on the estate; he studied soils, collected shells, carried out early research into phylloxera; his studies of grape varieties and experimentation in wine led to the first written formula for Chianti as we know it today, identifying the importance of sangiovese in the blend.

Although the formula has been modified over the years, sangiovese is still recognised as the most important variety in the mix and today must make up at least 70% of the blend (80% for DOCG wines). The rest is made up of either native canaiolo or colorino, or non-native cabernet sauvignon or merlot. White grapes, which were included in the original formula (their acidity helps to fix the colour of the wine, among other things), can no longer form a part.

You can go on guided tours of the castle and I would thoroughly recommend it: there’s plenty to see and the castle is truly atmospheric in all its gothic splendour. Our host hinted that the building was still patrolled by the Iron Baron and someone heard her whisper thanks to no one in particular as we left.

Tasting the Castello di Brolio wines
We headed back down to the office building for a tasting with export manager Andrea Maiolatesi who took us through some of the more recent developments at Brolio.

Tasting at Castello di Brolio with the family tree (the inspiration for Colledila label) in the backgroundTasting at Castello di Brolio with the family tree (the inspiration for Colledila label) in the background

Since the early nineties, the 32nd Baron of Brolio, Francesco Ricasoli, has been engaged in a massive replanting project. Using modern techniques, help from the university of Florence and also with the knowledge passed down over generations, he has set about replanting the vineyards, matching terroir to variety and identifying the best clones of sangiovese, matching vines with the best rootstock and increasing the vine density.

They are fortunate to have such a wide variety of different terroirs to play with all on one estate as well as a wealth of different vine stocks at their disposal.

Buyer Sebastian Payne MW had told us in the coach on the way here that he had stopped buying the wines for a while as they hadn’t been as good as they had been in the past, but that now they were really starting to shine again. All that hard work and endeavour is starting to reap dividends.

We started our tasting with the white Toricella 2015, a Tuscan IGT wine made from 75% chardonnay and 25% sauvignon blanc. Our group of members seemed to really like this wine. I can’t help but feel that the first wine of the day, especially a white in a predominantly red-wine region, always seems to have a little something extra about it! Sure enough the wine was beautifully poised – lush oaky vanilla flavours from oak-aged chardonnay combining with fresh, bright acidity from the sauvignon blanc.

Next came a red – Colledilà 2013 Chianti Classico DOCG – a Gran Selezione wine. This comes from a single vineyard and is 100% sangiovese. The Gran Selezione label is the highest category, above Riserva, and the grapes must come from the estate and the wine aged for a minimum of 30 months. It has to pass muster by a tasting panel from the Chianti Classico consorzio. Andrea explained that this wine isn’t produced in every vintage and that it undergoes 20 months in barrel and a further 10 in bottle. ‘It needs further ageing’, he said, but despite the smoky, cigar character, it wasn’t heavy but showed great elegance already. Sebastian says that he has bought a little for members, which will be released at a later date.

The Castello di Broilio Chianti Classioc DOCG 2013 is also a Gran Selezione wine made from 90% sangiovese, 5% cabernet sauvignon and 5% petit verdot. Still quite firm and ‘chewy’ with savoury, truffley aromas, there’s lots to get your senses around in this wine. It’s the big brother of the Brolio Chianti Classico, the 2013 vintage of which we currently list.

Casalferro Toscana IGT was the invention of Francesco Ricasoli when he took on the running of the business in 1993. His first release was a 100% cabernet sauvignon, in 1997 it was 50% cabernet 50% merlot but now, in the 2013 vintage, it’s 100% merlot. Why the change? After lots of tasting with his agriculturalist, Francesco decided that the merlot from this one particular vineyard was so amazing that it really warranted being made into the wine on its own. ‘Chiantified merlot’, Sebastian said and he must have approved of its sweet, herbaceous balsamic fruit as it’s currently on our List!

The final wine in the line-up was another relatively new invention of Francesco Ricasoli’s, made in tribute to Bettino Ricasoli. Called Brolio Bettino Chianti Classico DOCG 2013, it is made from predominantly sangiovese and is unfiltered and aged fo 18 months in large traditional barrels (botti). Lovely ripe red fruit with a touch of typical austerity, this could be drunk now or cellared further, we were told.

Osteria del Castello - highly recommended!Osteria del Castello – highly recommended!

We were treated to lunch in Brolio’s restaurant, Osteria del Castello, before heading to our next appointment and very good it was too. Knowing that we were to be eating out in the evening too we tried to limit the number of courses taken (always tricky in Italy – even more so when there were some really interesting dishes on offer, created by chef Silvia Zinato).

If you are ever in the region, I’d recommend a visit, or you can even stay in some renovated cottages on the estate.

Isole e Olena – the story of Chianti’s rebirth
Winding our way up through the narrow forest roads, you really got a feel for just how isolated parts of Chianti Classico are. Sebastian said that the roads were much improved since he has been visiting these parts and that in the winter, the roads can still be quite hairy.

Sebastian explained that Paolo de Marchi’s family were Piedmontese and had bought up two neighbouring estates based around the hamlets of Isole and Olena in the west of Chianti Classico in the 1950s. The land had been share-cropped but, but as was the case with many such estates, the locals had abandoned the land for work in the cities.

Sebastian Payne and Paolo de Marchi - Sebastian had said that Paolo always had something interesting to say on his visitsSebastian Payne and Paolo de Marchi – Sebastian had said that Paolo always had something interesting to say on his visits

It wasn’t until 1976 that Paolo took over the estate and he had to start practically from scratch with very little money. ‘The first years were all about survival,’ Paolo told us. ‘I had to borrow money from the banks to try to rebuild the tumble-down houses and replant the vineyards.’ It wasn’t until 1987 that Paolo planted his first vines, a project that is still ongoing. Importantly, he realised the significance of clonal variety in the vineyards; using massal selection he has managed to create vineyards with a great diversity of plant material.

‘Sangiovese isn’t genetically that strong,’ he explained, carrying on the refrain that we had picked up from our first visit in Montalcino. ‘It isn’t like cabernet sauvignon, for example, that gives a strong identifiable character, no matter where it is planted, sangiovese, is less easy to pin down, it’s more variable and sensitive to its surroundings, this is its beauty….think of it like the Alps, with lots of smaller peaks rather than the Himalayas with its great mountains!’

But he didn’t just stick to sangiovese, planting chardonnay, syrah and cabernet sauvignon amongst others too. Sebastian had told us that Paolo is always experimenting and trying out new things.

He took us up to the tiny hamlet of Olena where one family have moved in and are gradually renovating some of the ancient properties. Paolo explained that he has always tried to maintain something of the history of share-cropping – not-for-profit ventures such as bee-keeping, experimenting with ancient strains of wheat, orchards of apples and apricots – all great for maintaining biodiversity, essential for the good health of the land.

Before getting onto the subject of Chianti’s revival of fortunes (for which he can claim to be one of the trailblazers), Paolo shared his concern for the future. This is hard physical work and Paolo worries who will take over from him in the future. He knows it will be hard to let go of all that he has worked for but recognises that he will need someone to challenge and experiment as he has done and that he will need to stand back and watch them make mistakes.

‘I studied oenology at Turin university, but you don’t really learn about making wine properly until you get your hands dirty in the field and the winery.’ Looking around our band of members, I could see that some were wondering if they’d ever have what it takes to take on such a fantastic project – they were certainly under Paolo’s spell, anyway.

The perfect storm which dealt a huge blow to Chianti
The sun was starting to go down, but we were still wandering around the ruined buildings of Olena and Paolo was in full flow, telling us about the history of Chianti and the constant struggle to produce top-quality wine.

Deserted streets of Olena

In the post-war period there was a demand for cheap bulk wine and, unfortunately, Chianti at that time was all about quantity and not quality. A surge in price for bulk wine (remember the old raffia flask wines?) didn’t help matters. The wine produced at this time was thin and pale in colour with white grapes helping to sweeten the rather tart, often unripe sangiovese. Sadly the DOC rulings came about in 1966 enshrining some of these bad practices and the mix of grapes in law before any of the moves to create more quality-focused wines could take hold. Things were only set to get worse when the oil crisis of the 1970s saw a slump in the bulk price of Chianti, just as the fruit from newly planted vineyards planted to meet the earlier high demand came on stream, creating a huge surplus. The bulk price fell dramatically leaving many estates on the verge of collapse.

But it’s an ill wind that doesn’t bring someone some good, and so it was for the top-quality producers of Chianti Classico. Innovative winemakers started to experiment with their wines, reducing the proportion of white grapes, introducing ‘foreign’ grapes like cabernet and merlot to beef out the sometimes austere sangioves, making 100% sangiovese wines and playing around with smaller barriques to age the wine in rather than the traditional botti. Because these wines flouted DOC regulations, they had to be labelled as simple vino da tavola, but their reputation grew and they started to gain attention, earning the sobriquet ‘Supertuscans’.

Paolo arrived just at the right time you could say. He focused on low-yielding clones, re-established the abandoned terraced vineyards and set his sights on producing quality Chianti. He too created his own Supertuscan, Cepperello, which is usually 100% sangiovese, though sometimes he adds in a little cabernet sauvignon to flesh out the mid-palate.

Cellars dug out of the rock at Isole e OlenaCellars dug out of the rock at Isole e Olena

We walked through the cellars, dug into the rock below the house, and Paolo told us of his plans to extend – he’d like to be able to age his wines and release them when mature for the top restaurants. He said that when he first started out he had barrels all over the house, including the bedroom, ‘it nearly drove my wife mad!’

Back in the main building above the cellars, Paolo took us through his wines, talking all the time about changes in climate, in winemaking, in consumer tastes. But regardless of external forces, the Isole e Olena style remains one of elegance, with fragrance and drinkability to the fore. His 2014 Isole e Olena Chianti Classico DOCG has attractive red fruit and spice with a richness to the finish. It has a splash of syrah in the mix. ‘Table-friendly Chianti’ is how Paolo describes it and you can imagine it going beautifully with some of the lovely food we’d tried over the last couple of days.

Next came the 2013 Cepperello IGT Toscana. 2013 was a pretty good year in Tuscany, ‘like the old days with harvest in mid-October,’ Paolo said. Made from the best plots of sangiovese on the estate, the wine is aged in French and American oak barrels for 20 months before bottling. Very full-bodied but with the characteristic red-fruit character, the wine still feels like a sleeping giant. One for the cellar, I’d say.

Isole e Olena villa

We tried two of Paolo’s ‘Collezione Privata’ wines – a 2009 syrah and a 2013 cabernet sauvignon. Paolo said that he wasn’t trying to create another Supertuscan but felt that both the cabernet and syrah do well here. They are lighter than elsewhere and fresher, reflecting the terroir (though not to the extent that the sangiovese does.)

The sun was sinking fast and we had to take to the road again for our final appointment of the day at Giovanni Manetti’s Fontodi estate in Panzano. It wasn’t too far away, but the roads were going to be wiggly!

Fontodi’s Giovanni Manetti – a fellow trailblazer for Chianti Classico
Like Paolo de Marchi, Manetti is one of the heroes of modern-day Chianti. His vineyards are in a prime location in the conca d’oro (golden shell) of Panzano – a south-facing natural amphitheatre in a relatively high-altitude location for Chianti (400m above sea level).

It’s because of this higher position that they were still picking at Fontodi, the cellar hands were still scrubbing and washing down the grape reception area when we got there ready for the next day, which Giovanni said would be the end of the harvest. We worried that he’d had rain all day as we had in Montalcino, but he said that it had been fine here – a special spot indeed!

For someone who had been harvesting for weeks now, he still looked remarkably fresh and took off at a brisk pace to show us as much as he could of the winery in the fast-dying light.

The sun setting over PanzanoThe sun setting over Panzano

He showed us the amphitheatre of vines stretched out below the village on the hill to the right and explained how he had gradually persuaded all his neighbours to follow his example and convert to organic farming (well, all but one neighbour, apparently!) We asked how he had managed to do this and he said that it was largely a question of demonstrating how much healthier the soil and therefor the grapes were. I imagine Giovanni’s charm worked a treat too. He is now using most of the principles of biodynamic viticulture too.

In the winery, there’s very much a hands-off approach too. Everything is designed to make the most of nature – the cellars built so that gravity can be used to move the wine from place to place (rather than being pumped). Giovanni said that he leaves the grapes sealed for 24 hours and lets fermentation start naturally, ‘last night it was so cold however that we had to heat up some of the vats!’ he revealed. When the sun went down it was decidedly chilly up here.

I couldn’t hear much of what was said on our tour of the winery as it was still very much a place of action even this late into the evening. One thing that did surprise me on our tour of the cellars was the number and variety of sizes of clay amphorae clearly being used for winemaking. I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise as the Manetti family have been manufacturers of fine clay amphorae for centuries. Giovanni’s brother is in charge of that side of the business and apparently there is a boom in demand for amphorae for the wine trade with orders coming in from across the globe.

Giovanni Manetti showing us one of his clay amphoraeGiovanni Manetti showing us one of his clay amphorae

‘It’s a natural fit for our family,’ Giovanni explained. ‘We started experimenting with using the amphorae and we really like the results… there’s a degree of porosity which seems to work well with the wine.’ They certainly look impressive too and a great showroom for the terracotta side of the family business!

But it isn’t just terracotta that Giovanni is experimenting with. He proudly showed off his latest acquisition, a newly delivered huge wooden vat in the traditional botti style but made in Burgundy from French oak. We put our heads inside to breathe in the heady vanillin aromas. Giovanni wanted to see what the toasty oak character would give to the wine in this large format… interesting.

fontodi-brand-new-barrel

Time to taste Fontodi
It was quickly down to tasting through the range of wines before heading off to Giovanni’s local trattoria for dinner; we certainly didn’t want him to have a late night before the final push!

The first wine was a new project, from an historic vineyard high up behind Panzano in the village of Lamole owned by the Manetti’s cousins. Giovanni explained that the family had stopped bottling the wine in the 1970s as the high production costs made it unworkable. Now the two families are working together, the wine is fermented up in the village then brought down to Fontodi. Very different in style from the other Fontodi wines, Filetta di Lamole Chianti Classico 2014 is not a ‘big’ wine but it has structure and Giovanni says it can age well. It is very typical of the classic Chianti style, a little bit astringent and sinewy but with attractive fruit character and delicate aroma.

Giovanni Manetti and Sebastian Payne MWGiovanni Manetti and Sebastian Payne MW

Fontodi Chianti Classico 2013 was next up (Sebastian said we had just shipped this wine to Stevenage). Giovanni explained that for him this wine represents their house style, a sort of vinous business card made from a blend of wines from different vineyards on the estate. I thought it had lovely brambly, bosky flavours with great depth and subtlety, and an exuberant freshness to the finish.

Next came a sneak peak at the 2015 vintage – a stunning vintage here as almost everywhere in Europe and certainly in Italy. Not yet in bottle, this was incredibly rich and full; Sebastian revealed that he had agreed to buy some from Giovanni for a special bottling for members to be released in several years’ time.

Fontodi’s Gran Selezzione wine, Vigna del Sorbo Chianti Classico, came next from the unusual 2012 vintage. The wine comes from a single vineyard – one of the most beautiful on the property with vines with an average age of 40-50 years. Made from 100% sangiovese, this weighs in at a powerful 15% alcohol, but it wears its power lightly, feeling quite gentle on the palate with distinctive notes of roses, herbs, tea and cherries vying for attention. Giovanni said it would keep 20 years at least.

The Fontodi Supertuscan, Flaccianello della Pieve, was to be our treat over dinner. No time to waste! We were ushered into a flotilla of waiting Land Rovers and whisked down to Giovanni’s fantastic local for dinner.

The journey back to Siena was a very sleepy one filled with wakeful dreams of fabulous food and wine, inspirational winemakers and beautiful scenery. Tomorrow would be our last day in this Tuscan paradise, but we were going to squeeze in a trip to Villa di Cappezana, north of Florence and en route to the airport.

Tenuta di Cappezana – a taste of history in Carmignano
This part of Tuscany, to the north of Florence, used to be a favourite spot for the Medici and other wealthy Florentines to take refuge at the height of summer. They built fine manor houses here and had hunting lodges and parks and of course, grapes and olives were grown. It is quite low-lying here compared to Chianti but although it is hot in summer, there’s a wonderful refreshing breeze that comes down from the Appenines.

Carmignano only has 12 producers in the consorzio and Cappezana is the oldest and largest – in fact, you could say that the DOC (and now DOCG) was created almost for this estate alone. What’s the main difference between Carmignano and Chianti? The biggest difference is that the wine must contain cabernet sauvignon. But this non-native is no newcomer here: it is thought that the Medicis brought it here and that the vines planted at Cappezana by ancestors of the Bonacossi family brought cuttings from Château Lafite, no less.

Today this large property is still in the hands of the Contini Bonacossi family. Bernadetta is in charge of the wine and her brother Vittorio, the olive oil. Several generations of the family are employed in the business and it was a niece, Sabrina, who met us and showed us round.

The first thing that struck us as we got off our coach was the heady scent of fresh olive oil. How exciting! They had started to pick the olives and we were to see the pressing of the olives first hand. Apart from the deafening noise of the press, the most surprising aspect of olive-oil production is the incredible luminous green colour of the new oil as it oozes out of the machinery.

Fresh olive oil at Tenuta di Cappezana

We could hardly believe our eyes. Then we were treated to the sight of more ancient amphorae, some dating back as far as 1881! These beautiful old glass-lined pots are filled with the new oil where it stays for several weeks to allow the sediment to fall out.

Amphora of olive oil at Tenuta di Cappezana

If it wasn’t for the incredible smell you’d almost believe you were looking into large vats of Swarfega!

We risked sensory overload when we were taken into the lofts where the Capezzana Vin Santo was ageing gracefully. We went from room to room and saw tiny vat after tiny vat of cherry and chestnut wood in a variety of different sizes.

Grapes for Vin Santo drying on straw matsGrapes for Vin Santo drying on straw mats

The grapes (mainly trebbiano) are dried on cane mats until January after harvest then fermented very slowly in these casks, caratelli, for four or five years. Yields are tiny and get less by the year, but the final product was amazing. Our guide explained that her aunty was passionate about these wines and thought they should be enjoyed on their own as meditation wines not spoiled by pairing with dessert.

Time was tight so we sat down to a light bite (four-course Tuscan traditional menu) before racing off to the airport. The house rosé, Vin Ruspo 2015, came first with fresh toasted bread and the new extra virgin olive oil. I think I would have been happy to stop there! Then came a fresh pasta and home grown baby Savoy cabbage sauce with Barco Reale di Carmignano 2014. This is the equivalent to Montalcino’s Rosso and is made from 70% sangiovese, 15% cabernet sauvignon and 10% canaiolo and 5% cabernet franc. It had a lovely ruby colour and smooth tannins accompanied by cherry/plum fruit.

Next with a traditional beef stew came two vintages of Carmignano Villa di Capezanna – the 2013 followed by the 2006. The wine is a standard mix of 80% sangiovese with the balance cabernet sauvignon and sees 12 months in new oak. The fruit is very perfumed and the wine shows real elegance; the 2006 was particularly soft and perfumed.

With the main course there followed the Riserva wine which they call Trefiano DOCG from the 2010 vintage. This is made from 80% sangiovese and 10% each of cabernet sauvignon and canaiolo. Refined, elegant and sophisticated, it was rich and chocolatey but yet with freshness still. Ghiaie della Furba IGT is their Supertuscan. Also from the 2010 vintage, it is made from grapes grown in the alluvial soils of the Furba River valley (ghiaie are pebbles). It is made from 50% cabernet sauvignon and 30% merlot and 20% syrah and given 15 months in oak. Less overtly fruity than the previous wines and quite savoury in character, it possibly still needs time. Finally a pear and raisin cake (which seemed quite British in style) came with a glass of 2009 Vin Santo Riserva.

It couldn’t have been a more perfect way to complete this Tuscan tour.

Joanna Goodman
News & Content Editor

Many thanks to the estates who hosted us and to Peter Cox for some great photos.

If you enjoy going behind the scenes with our buyers, visit the Travels in Wine™ pages of our website.

Categories : Italy
Comments (0)

For the last Staff Choice of 2016 we wanted to offer members something a little different.

We asked everyone who works at The Society to pick their favourite under-£10 wines, with the most popular to feature in a special Staff Favourites Mixed Case.

The e-mails began flooding in. 90 different wines were suggested in total. ‘How can you choose between so many children?’ was one response that summed up the difficulty especially well.

These 12 wines got the most votes – spanning Italy, Austria, France, Portugal, Chile, Argentina, the USA and Spain – and you can buy them for the equivalent of less than £8 a bottle. We commend them to you highly!

The Staff Favourites Case
A 12-bottle case containing a bottle each of two sparkling, five white and five red wines, voted for by Society staff:

Sparkling:
Italy: Moscato d’Asti Elio Perrone 2015 (£8.25)
Italy: Prosecco Brut I Duecento (£8.75)

White:
South of France: Duo Des Mers, Sauvignon-Viognier Vin de France 2015 (£6.25)
Portugal: Adega de Pegões Colheita Seleccionada, Península de Setúbal 2015 (£6.95)
Chile: Undurraga Cauquenes Estate Maule Viognier-Roussanne-Marsanne 2015 (£7.50)
Austria: The Society’s Grüner Veltliner 2015 (£7.95)
Italy: The Society’s Falanghina 2015 (£8.25)

Red:
Rhône: Ventoux Les Traverses, Paul Jaboulet Aîné 2014 (£7.50)
Spain: Navajas Crianza Rioja 2012 (£7.75)
USA: Ravenswood Lodi Old-Vine Zinfandel 2014 (£8.95)
Argentina: Weinert Carrascal Mendoza 2010 (£9.50)
Italy: Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso, Torre del Falasco 2014 (£9.95)

£95
Case of 12 bottles

Available here

Categories : Miscellaneous
Comments (0)

Reminiscences along the road in south-west France with buyer Marcel Orford-Williams.

I have never been to South America but in my imagination I see areas of wide, open spaces and in some places, the backdrop of the Andes. The south-west of France is also about wide, open spaces and in places the majestic Pyrenees provide a similar snow-capped backdrop.

The analogy can go further as there are strong cultural ties between many of the growers in Argentina and Uruguay with those from this side of the Atlantic. Malbec, so important in Argentina came from Bordeaux and Cahors, while tannat, the principal black grape in Uruguay, was brought there by Basque migrants from south-west France.

aquitaine

Earlier in the year I spent a week exploring this vast and disparate region of France searching out wines to offer to members and visiting some of our long-standing suppliers. This is a region that for a long time lived in the shadow of Bordeaux and then was almost wiped by phylloxera. The region is steeped in history with Romans, Gauls, Visigoths all leaving their mark. Not to mention the Angevins from the day in 1152 when Henry II of Anjou married Eleanor of Aquitaine.

The Romans probably brought wine culture to the region but it is the growth of monasticism that created the patchwork of vineyard areas that we have today. The link with Santiago de Compostela is very strong as the south-west of France is crossed by numerous pilgrim routes to that holy place in north-western Spain. As I was driving out of the border town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port I saw numerous walkers marching along the roadside, with poles and rucksacks and some with tell-tale scallop shells around their necks.

Waymark in the south-west

If you want to read more about the pilgrim’s route to Santiago de Compostela, Anthony Gunn MW has written an article for our website.

My week was one of tasting, meeting people and assessing the 2015 vintage and in four days I managed to visit the majority of appellations. 2015, as I expect you will now have realised, was looking good, especially for the later-harvested varieties such as tannat and gros and petit manseng. That means outstanding wines from Jurançon and Madiran, and also the Basque Irouléguy.

Irouléguy with Pyrenees in background (photo by E Poupart)Irouléguy with Pyrenees in background (photo by E Poupart)

The south-west, dominated as it is by Bordeaux and even to some extent the Languedoc, doesn’t sell by itself. It has always needed big personalities to bring these wines to the attention of consumers. As it happens such people have never been lacking here and many have become proud suppliers to The Society – the Grassa family of Château Tariquet, for example, suppliers of our Society’s Côtes de Gascogne, whose pioneering spirit we wrote about in Societynews some years ago.

The new generation at Château Tariquet]The new generation at Château Tariquet

I have mentioned the strength of the 2015 vintage but in fact, most vintages have their strengths and that the grape varieties planted here are perfectly adapted to the vagaries of climate. That’s the exciting part of my job, travelling to these wine regions and tasting the wines alongside the winemakers, finding out exactly what has worked well and what hasn’t so that I can make my selection for members.

Château Aydie's father-and-son, Pierre and Jean-Luc LaplaceChâteau Aydie’s father-and-son, Pierre and Jean-Luc Laplace

This year I was bowled over by so many of the wines that I tasted and I can’t help feeling that members will want to share in my enthusiasm for these distinctive wines.

We have just released one of the largest offers of wines from south-west France that includes reds and whites from most appellations, and with Christmas in mind a few gratuitous treats for desserts. A selection from the south-west would not be complete without the spirit of the region, Armagnac.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

View the offer of wines from south-west France

If you enjoy reading about our buyers’ exploits in the field, visit our online e-publication Travels in Wine

Categories : France, South of France
Comments (0)

A few of us from around The Wine Society sat down with buyer Marcel Orford-Williams the other day to plan the forthcoming en primeur offer of the 2015 Rhône vintage. The wines will be available to order in late January.

The picture Marcel painted for us was of an excellent vintage, and our message to members is to start getting excited.

Weather patterns were complex and it’s a difficult vintage to generalise. Annoying for those of us who enjoy the simplicity of summaries, but stimulating stuff for those of us who enjoy exploring the numerous fascinating differences between wine regions. Being both of those things myself, I was unsure how to feel about it… until the wines were poured.

Côte-Rôtie in the northern Rhône was very successful in 2015Côte-Rôtie in the northern Rhône was very successful in 2015

Each one of them was a joy. Tasting and talking with Marcel, it seems that the principal uniting factors in the 2015s are to do with generosity and pleasure. Even given the Rhône’s impressive run of form over the last few vintages, this is the sort of vintage that will delight aficionados, and would make a great first en primeur buy if you’ve yet to take the plunge. Most will be delicious throughout their drinking windows, with younger wines being gorgeously approachable but complex and fine too.

The northern Rhône’s reds performed superbly overall, with Côte-Rôtie and Crozes-Hermitage looking especially successful. In the south, where the majority of wine is made, the picture is inevitably more complicated, but the successes are quite magnificent, and there are some very special wines indeed. The more mountainous areas tended to perform best: lovers of Vinsobres and Gigondas, for example, are in for a particular treat.

The white wines are rich, powerful yet balanced and rather wonderful. There will be fewer on offer than in 2014, but they will be worth looking out for.

Lovers of Gigondas are in for a treat this yearLovers of Gigondas are in for a treat

Another exciting announcement is that Marcel has decided to feature some new faces in the forthcoming offer – more news on that very soon. Keep an eye on your letterboxes, inboxes and thewinesociety.com for the end of January!

Martin Brown
Digital Content & Comms Editor

Categories : France, Rhône
Comments (5)

In October four lucky members and their guests made a ‘trip of a lifetime’ to visit some of our favourite Tuscan producers in the company of Society buyer Sebastian Payne MW. Here’s a behind-the-scenes write-up of the delights and discoveries made along the way by Societynews editor Joanna Goodman.

I’m not sure that any of us, the four winning members and their guests, or the members of staff asked to accompany them, could quite believe our luck at being picked to take part in a four-day tour of Tuscany’s top wineries.

All the prize winners had to do was propose someone for membership of The Society back in the spring of this year. My job was to help make sure everyone had a good time, along with my colleague Emma Dorahy from Buying, who had arranged the tour, and buyer Sebastian Payne MW, who proved to be quite the composite tour guide! Oh, and to be tour scribe… we packed in quite lot to our three days and learned an awful lot too, so I wanted to share some of that here.

A good place to get the party started. Osteria Le Logge in SienaA good place to get the party started. Osteria Le Logge in Siena

We were based in Siena for the duration of the trip and had dinner on our first evening at the Osteria Le Logge, close to the Piazza del Campo and set up by Brunello producer Gianni Brunelli. Widely regarded as one of the best trattorias in Siena, appreciated by tourists and locals alike, the restaurant specialises in typical Tuscan dishes given a modern twist. The dining room used to be a pharmacy and still retains the old shop-fittings making for an atmospheric setting in which to enjoy the food and, of course, excellent wine.

Gianni Brunelli looks down on us benevolently. Gianni Brunelli looks down on us benevolently

After dinner we were asked if we wanted to see the cellar. All of us thought this a little strange, not appreciating the significance until we got there. One of the waiters accompanied us through the winding streets to a small locked door which opened into a tiny bar area and café, and small stage used for occasional jazz nights, we were told. But what lay underneath was astonishing!

Laura Brunelli’s latest venture – an amazing cellar of wine beneath the streets of SienaLaura Brunelli’s latest venture – an amazing cellar of wine beneath the streets of Siena

As we burrowed deeper beneath the streets of Siena we came upon room after room of amazing bottles from around the world and from top vintages too, each individually wrapped in cling-film to protect the label from the damp. We had fun wondering around, famous-label spotting, calling out when we found something of note, in a sort of vinous version of ‘Top Trumps’!

‘I’ve found some Pétrus!’…’There’s some amazing Penfolds over here’…

Playing vinous ‘Top Trumps’ in the Osteria Le Logge cellar!Playing vinous ‘Top Trumps’ in the Osteria Le Logge cellar!

We could have stayed for hours, but the waiter needed to get back and we needed to get some rest ahead of our busy schedule the next day, which would include a visit to Laura Brunelli’s estate in Montalcino. So we’d get a chance to pass on our compliments for the meal and ask her more about her new cellar venture.

Brunello di Montalcino
We woke to a rather grey, cold morning, with temperatures down considerably on the previous day; not typical of the weather here, we were to learn from talking to winemakers later on. Yes, Tuscany gets pretty cold in winter, but to have such a rapid change in temperature is not usual, they said. Thank goodness, everyone had pretty much finished harvesting!

No trip is complete without a talk from your tour-guide, so on the road out to Montalcino (20 miles south of Siena), buyer Sebastian Payne MW took to the in-coach microphone to give everyone the low-down on the properties we were to visit and explain a bit about the region.

Sebastian takes to the in-coach microphone and proves to be quite a hit at the tour-guide bit!Sebastian takes to the in-coach microphone and proves to be quite a hit at the tour-guide bit!

A bit of geography…
Further south than the Chianti Classico vineyards, those of Brunello di Montalcino, enjoy a warmer more Mediterranean climate (the sea is just 20 miles away); the countryside is more open here, with cereal and other crops sharing land with the vine. (Chianti Classico is more hilly and wooded). Vines around the picturesque hilltop town of Montalcino itself enjoy an elevation of around 600m above sea level, which gives a pleasing freshness to the wines and off-sets the summer heat.

…and some history…
Sebastian surprised us by saying that Brunello di Montalcino is a relatively modern wine, first appearing around 1870, and was practically invented by one man, a certain Ferruccio Biondi-Santi. Biondi-Santi took a scientific approach to winemaking, taking care to plant vines in the right place and carrying out experiments in the winery to establish the ideal methods of production. Significantly, he fermented his grapes separately. At the time it was standard practice to co-ferment, not just different varieties, but red and white grapes too. He also matured his pure-tasting, high-quality sangioveses in cask, a radical new step at the time

The other key differentiator of the wines of Montalcino identified by Biondi-Santi was the type of sangiovese grape grown here, the sangiovese grosso clone, known locally as brunello, which gave its name to the wine. It gained DOC status in the 1960s (upgraded to DOCG in 1980 – one of Italy’s first).

Of course, microclimates and different soil types are usually key in producing subtle nuances of flavour in single-varietal wines and the best producers have vineyards in a variety of expositions, as we were to learn from the charming Francesco Ripaccioli at our first-stop, Canalicchio di Sopra.

Canalicchio di Sopra – one of the founders of the Montalcino consorzio
After a very warm welcome from the winery cat (makes a change from the more habitual wine dog), who made a point of greeting each of us in turn, we were given a brief overview of Francesco’s family’s property and an explanation of the importance of terroir for their wines.

Francesco Rippacchioli and his incredibly friendly winery catFrancesco Ripaccioli and his incredibly friendly winery cat

Francesco explained that Canalicchio is a sub-zone of the Montalcino region (‘sopra’ means higher), and that the family has vineyards here on the northern side of the town and in another important ‘cru’ of the region, Le Gode di Montosoli. The soils of the former are richer and mainly clay and give and opulence and silkiness to the tannin in the wine. Soils on the slopes of Montosoli are more stony marl and limestone, giving a minerality and freshness to the wine.

Looking up towards the hilltop town of Monalcino from Canalicchio di SopraLooking up towards the hilltop town of Monalcino from Canalicchio di Sopra


Francesco said that the first ever producers of Montalcino in the 1870s were from the Montosoli area and his family, originally farmers rather than winemakers,
were one of the 12 producers to form the consorzio helping the wine to gain its DOC status in 1962. They are obviously proud of their heritage and significant role in the development of the wine, particularly as founders of the DOC who also have vines in the original area of production. The label they use celebrates this heritage depicting the bell tower in Montalcino harking back to the original label design used on all Montalcino (they were given special dispensation to use it).

The Canalicchio di Sopra label depicts the bell tower in Montalcino – once the label designated for all the wines of the denominazioneThe Canalicchio di Sopra label depicts the bell tower in Montalcino – once the label designated for all the wines of the denominazione

Above the roof of the winery loomed the most enormous crane and Francesco called us over to look at the huge clay pit that had been dug out behind their house for a new cellar, which they hoped to have ready for next year’s vintage. It was also a way of showing us the different types of clay in the vineyard. Looking down into the vast abyss, it was hard to picture it covered over and primed ready to receive next year’s grapes. But Francesco is full of energy and dynamism, so I’m sure he’ll make it happen.

Making more room. Francesco showed us the great pit dug out at the back of the property to house a new cellar. It was also an elaborate way of showing us the different types of clay in the vineyard!Making more room. Francesco showed us the great pit dug out at the back of the property to house a new cellar. It was also an elaborate way of showing us the different types of clay in the vineyard!

Talking of vintages, it was time to go and taste.

Would the real sangiovese please stand up!
But before we got down to business, there was one more important lesson; one which we would hear over and over again during our four-day trip and which was key to understanding what makes Tuscany one of the great classic wine regions.

Sebastian was explaining to us that in terms of style, Canalicchio di Sopra’s wines have something in common with red Burgundy – elegant, with a lightness of touch, not over-blown or over-extracted (a criticism that can be levelled at a good deal of Brunello!).

Admitting to being a big Burgundy fan, Francesco took up the point being made suggesting that three of the world’s best red wines (in his opinion) are made from three of the most problematic grape varieties – pinot noir, nebbiolo and sangiovese.

‘Because the grapes are not constant you get a greater variety. The grapes are more fickle and susceptible to their terroir and to weather conditions so they give a greater expression of where they are grown.’

Aha! I had never thought about wines in this way, but it made total sense and gave a whole new perspective for me at least – a light-bulb moment in my 26-year wine vocation!

The first tasting of the tour...The first tasting of the tour…

The desire to let the terroir be expressed through the wine had led to a change in the way they make their wine, Francesco went on to explain. Now, the aim is for more purity of fruit and cleanliness in the wines, changing barrels more frequently, controlling temperatures during fermentation. ‘Classic, rather than super-traditional’ was how he summed up their approach.

We started with the 2014 Rosso de Montalcino. The Rosso is usually declassified Brunello di Montalcino, often made from young vines and should be a producer’s calling card, says Francesco. 2014 was a tricky vintage throughout Italy, but Francesco’s Rosso, though lighter in colour than it would perhaps usually be, had a lovely red-fruit character and definite elegance.

Moving on to the 2011 Rosso di Montalcino, we were treated to something of the ‘balsamico’ character that Francesco had said was a hallmark of his wines. By balsamico, he means a savoury character to the fruit, nothing to do with the vinegar of the same name! A very different vintage for this area produced a lovely pruney, meaty wine with a lot more chocolatey richness and a hint of coffee on the finish. The 2011 Brunello di Montalcino was still a little closed at this stage but with big, rich, powerful fruit, eliciting a few oohs and ahhs from the team!

Francesco talking us through the trials and tribulations of making wine in extreme years like 2012Francesco talking us through the trials and tribulations of making wine in extreme years like 2012

2012 – an extreme vintage
Next came the 2012 vintage, described as ‘extreme’ by Francesco…’nothing was normal; everything was irregular!’ The winter was warm with no days below 0?C (they usually get around 30 days below zero), then in the middle of February they had lots of snow. They were concerned they might lose their olive trees. Then there were five months without rain and they thought they’d lose everything. Vines went into survival mode, all the energy going into the plant rather than the grapes. At the end of August came a couple days of rain which woke up the vines, then September was perfect. Phew!

Francesco said that 70% of the quality of a vintage is made in September, so there were sighs of relief all round.

So what was the final result of this crazy vintage? Francesco said that as a young winemaker (his first vintage was 2007), there was no precedent for these kind of conditions. With the help of the winery’s consultant they managed to make a good wine which, though a rather tough at first, is now opening out and showing great balance. It was an important lesson and a vintage that they will learn from as there are likely to be more extreme vintages in the future.

The 2012 Brunello di Montalcino had the aroma of a hot vintage but the balance of a more even year on the palate; ripe, full-on fruit with a savoury character and spicy finish showing just a hint of liquorice, it was showing well.

The 2016 vintage – early insights
Before leaving and a quick tour of the cellar, Francesco rushed off to get a sample of the still fermenting 2016 wine, still on its skins 18 days after picking. I was impressed with the members’ enthusiasm to try wine in its early raw state… this lot were keen! Francesco advised not swallowing as fermenting wine can give you an upset tummy and we were only on our first visit of the day!

And how was the 2016 vintage? Well, obviously, these are early days, but Francesco, like many of the winemakers we were to chat to over the coming days, was pretty pleased with the wine. It isn’t going to be the block-buster that 2015 was, and quantities are reduced a little, but all seemed pretty happy with the outcome.

Gianni Brunelli – a local hero
Onwards and upwards. We wound our way up to the hilltop town of Montalcino and on to the charmingly positioned property of Gianni Brunelli on a ridge looking out towards Monte Amiata in the south.

Laura Brunelli and cousin and winemaker, Adriano, pleased to see Sebastian againLaura Brunelli and cousin and winemaker, Adriano, pleased to see Sebastian again

There are two vineyards: the original one is on the north side of Montalcino (where we’d just come from) at Le Chuise di Sotto. This plot of land was once owned by Gianni Brunelli’s father a share-cropper who was forced to leave his land and find work in the city of Siena in post-war times of hardship. Whenever he could, Gianni’s father, Dino, would come home to tend his vines, but when he died, Gianni’s mother was forced to sell the land. Gianni vowed that one day he’d buy back his father’s couple of hectares of vines. This he and his Sardinian wife, Laura managed to do in 1987.

A tale of passion and determination
Gianni and Laura had met in Siena, she was studying at the university and he worked for Ignis. His dream, though, was to open an old-fashioned inn. He was evidently quite a charismatic man persuading two old shop-keepers on via del Porrione in Siena to let him give it a go in their empty premises just of the main square. With his mother in the kitchen and Laura at his side, the Osteria delle Logge took off and was such a success that the couple were able to fulfil the dream of buying back the family plot in Montalcino. Later they bought the property the second property at Il Podernovone, with its four vineyards, Olmo, Oliva, Quercia and Gelso, all with very different aspects and soils, and with a tumble-down farmhouse which they repaired and made into a charming place to receive visitors.

An idyllic spot, even to the untrained eye and even in the cold and rain!An idyllic spot, even to the untrained eye and even in the cold and rain!

Sadly, in 2008, Gianni died, leaving Laura heartbroken but determined to carry on realising their shared dream, something she has done with enormous zeal and passion, recently constructing a new winery at Podernovono, built tastefully and sympathetically into the hillside.

When we arrive at the farmhouse, Laura and her winemaker, Adriano, a cousin of Gianni, meet us. Ignoring the now distinctly British-style drizzle, they walk us over to the edge of the ridge to get the lie of the land and view the vines. Even if you knew nothing about winemaking, you’d be able to tell that this is a special spot. But lovely though it is, we were quite pleased to get out of the cold and into the cellar – toasty warm with the heat of the fermenting wine!

Laura’s trusty Labrador, Orso, wanted to come too, but was shooed away and watched us with doleful eyes through the floor-to-ceiling glass which gives a wonderful view over the valley.Laura’s trusty Labrador, Orso, wanted to come too, but was shooed away and watched us with doleful eyes through the floor-to-ceiling glass which gives a wonderful view over the valley.

Adriano and two young interns took us from vat to barrel to taste the new 2016 wine and then last year’s wines, still in the huge wooden barrels (botti) – it was fascinating to try the wines from the separate vineyards and have the subtle differences pointed out to us, then to taste the young Brunellos made from a blend of these constituent parts. (We have just shipped the 2015 Rosso di Montalcino, Gianni Brunelli, which is superb, by the way!).

Tasting from vat and barrel and learning about the differences that each site brings to the blendTasting from vat and barrel and learning about the differences that each site brings to the blend

Now with our understanding of Brunello di Montalcino firmly established it was time to head back to Laura’s house for a light lunch Italian-style, prepared by Laura’s octogenarian Sardinian mother and friend. Plates of local cured meats and cheeses with wonderful salads of beans and tomatoes, all beautifully enhanced by the estate’s olive oil, were handed around by Laura and Adriano. We were made to feel completely at home and thoroughly spoiled and Laura clearly enjoyed sharing her wine and food with an appreciative, and by now, slightly noisy, crowd – once a restaurateur, always a restaurateur!

Laura Brunelli and Sebastian Payne in animated conversation after our ‘light’ lunch!Laura Brunelli and Sebastian Payne in animated conversation after our ‘light’ lunch!

Before we left, Laura was keen to know what we’d thought of her new venture – the wine cellar that we’d ogled the night before. It is quite an investment for her, but she explained that she wanted the restaurant to become a venue known not just for its great food and local wines but a place where you could enjoy some of the finest bottles from around the world. Something appreciated by many local winemakers we were to find out, who regularly visit and meet up there.

Fèlsina Berardenga – Chianti on the edge
Our last port of call for the day took us back over the Chianti Classico border; just.

Fèslina’s vineyards lie at the edge of the Chianti Classico border with the Chianti Colli SenesiFèslina’s vineyards lie at the edge of the Chianti Classico border with the Chianti Colli Senesi

Fèlsina is located in the most southerly part of the Chianti Classico region: a geological ‘frontier land’, situated between the last hills of Chianti Classico and the Crete Senesi. Some of the vineyards here (this is a big estate – 600 hectares, 95 under vine) don’t even fall into the Chianti appellation. But there’s a huge mix of soil types and the southerly position is crucial to the character of the wines which are big, full and rich. Such is the variety of soils and aspects here that the estate bottles a number of single-vineyard wines as part of its portfolio.

We were greeted by Giuseppe Mazzocolin who has been in charge of the family property since the 1970s. Sebastian hadn’t expected to see him, thinking that he may have stepped back from duties, but both men were clearly delighted to see each other, which was rather touching. Giuseppe was once a teacher of Latin and history, he is softly spoken, inherently wise and everything he says is delivered like a line of poetry or philosophy. We were all smitten by the end of our tour!

Jumping back into our coach, we took to the hills, quite literally, climbing up the steep vineyard track so that Giuseppe could give us both a history and geography lesson (or, with hindsight, perhaps it was more like a philosophy lesson!) Fèlsina is an ancient property and Giuseppe wanted to explain its past and how it fits in with the story of this area.

The ancient Rancia farmhouse which gives its name to one of Fèslina’s single-vineyard ChiantisThe ancient Rancia farmhouse which gives its name to one of Fèslina’s single-vineyard Chiantis

While the heart of Chianti Classico is a wild, forested landscape, here, Giuseppe explained, you see the start of the Crete di Senesi – the low-lying clay hills better known for rolling fields of wheat and a truffles, rather than wine. He said that up here too you get the sea breezes and feel more of a connection with Montalcino than Chianti.

As well as being able to feel the sea breezes, Giuseppe said that he could also feel nature working around him up here: ‘the vines are not passive, I can feel them ‘working’ around me, interacting with the sun and the wind, and all the other elements that surround them…..’

Next we were taken into the historic Rancia farmhouse, which gives its name to the neighbouring vineyard and the wine made from it. Giuseppe explained how the building had once been a Benedictine monastery and that it was sited on an old Franciscan road, a path trodden by pilgrims in the middle ages on their way to Jerusalem or Santiago di Compostela. At one time, as often was the case with monasteries, the building became not just a hostel but a hospital – according to ancient documents, one of the first in Europe.

Giuseppe explained how Rancia is derived from the same word as ‘grange’ with its associations with both granaries and Granges (places to stay). But also, this land was traditionally share-cropped and agricultural land was organised into different ‘grangia’ or units. This was the way the land was worked for centuries up until comparatively recently.

Indeed, the war and post-war periods of poverty hit rural communities hard, but it was the terrible frosts of 1957 which killed off the olive groves that was the final nail in the coffin. At the time, olive oil was more important commercially than wine, in fact wine wasn’t commercialised as such but was produced for home consumption. Even without the devastating frosts, olive oil could not sustain the communities so this was a period of mass emigration both to the cities and abroad.

In 1966 Giuseppe’s father-in-law Domenico Poggiali took the brave step of buying the estate in a period when agriculture was really struggling. Domenico had made his money in logging and sheep-farming, but this new project was by no means one of vanity, he was determined to make great wine and olive oil with a focus on quality from the start. He employed a young team and later, some of the country’s top oenological consultants and his son-in-law, Giuseppe would come at the weekends before giving up teaching Latin and Greek to move here permanently in the late 1970s.

He spent time talking to some of the old farmers that were still around, learning his craft and finding out about the land from the people who had worked it for centuries.

Lessons in life from Guiseppe MazzocolinLessons in life from Giuseppe Mazzocolin

One of the most important things they recognised was the rich diversity of different clones of sangiovese they had across their vineyards. They set about preserving these, identifying the best for propagating using massale selection and establishing the best sites for each type of plant. The work carries on; the attention to detail and respect for the land shines through in the wines as we would see later.

Pioneers of olive oil production
Making our way back down to Fèlsina’s ancient cellars we passed through an avenue of olive trees. Giuseppe explained that the property has more than 8,000 trees and that they were one of the first to identify different varieties and to bottle these separately. Since 2002 they have worked hard to establish the best sites for each variety (Italy has more than 600 different varieties!).

If Giuseppe had been passionate about wine and the vineyards, when he started to talk about olive oil he became even more animated, declaring that this was going to be his focus from now on. ‘There is still so much work to be done here,’ he declared, ‘we’ve barely scratched the surface; olive oil is what connects us to our past, it has been produced for millennia.’

We asked when they would be harvesting the olives, noticing that some of the fruit was black and some still green. Giuseppe explained that the best time to pick the olives is when they are just changing colour, ‘this is when the polyphenols are at their highest, making a product that tastes great and is also good you.’

But he went on to say that the most crucial aspect of olive oil production is getting the olives to the mill immediately, saying that ‘the best olive oil is on the tree!’

Old meets new: the modern art installation in Fèlsina’s cantina was a striking contrastOld meets new: the modern art installation in Fèlsina’s cantina was a striking contrast

We had a quick tour of the ancient winery and ageing cellar (it was built around the middle ages, but they don’t know exactly when – there’s no documentation about it) with its rather incongruous modern art installation (not sure Giuseppe approved!) and steeply sloping floor down which to roll the barrels. Then we were a little relieved to go indoors out of the drizzle to taste, not just the wine, but the amazing olive oil too.

Single-varietal olive oils
This was a first for us all and Giuseppe guided us through the best way to taste the oils, each laid out in tiny polystyrene lidded cups before us. He told us to lift the lid, poke our noses in and inhale deeply to get the aromas before finally tasting (I found this easier when bread appeared to dip into the oils).

Pendolino – one of the most widely planted varieties in Italy, this is one of the most delicate too. Gentle, slightly sweetish flavour and delicate nutty character – good with fish or white meat, Guisseppe told us.
Leccino – also widely grown and quite delicate with more herbal notes, this too is ideal with chicken or veal dishes but also great on salads and with poached fish dishes.
Moraiolo – very common in Tuscany, this is quite a peppery olive oil; the classic choice for drizzling over a plate of mixed Tuscan starters or grilled meat.
Raggiolo – this ancient Tuscan variety has a fiery kick – a little like biting into rocket leaves and would be lovely drizzled over grilled vegetables, meat or fish or as an accompaniment to typically Mediterranean cooking.

As the first company to bottle single varietal olive oils, Fèlsina are certainly at the vanguard of top-quality olive oil production, but Giuseppe thinks there is still vast untapped potential in this area and now wants to dedicate the rest of his days to realising this. If this is a foretaste of what’s to come, it is going to be very exciting to see what he can achieve.

Getting to grips with the Fèlsina Berardenga wines and olive oils: it’s a tough job, but the team pulled through!Getting to grips with the Fèlsina Berardenga wines and olive oils: it’s a tough job, but the team pulled through!

The Fèlsina wines
Next we were on to the wines, starting with the estate’s IGT Toscana chardonnay, I Sistri, in the 2014 vintage. This, their only white, is made from French clones of chardonnay fermented in barrel and given batonnage (lees stiring) and bottle age before release. It’s creamy apricot and melon flavours are topped off with a lick of lime and tangy, salty finish. It went down well with the team.

When one of us asked Giuseppe about the name, he said that he said that the Sistri were ancient instruments dedicated to the Isis, goddess of agriculture, fertility and rebirth, but also that it was a nod to a line of poetry by Giovanni Pascoli where he describes the sound of the wind blowing through a field of wheat; something which seem particularly apt for this vineyard which is surrounded by wheat fields.

Next came the estate’s Chianti Classico Fèlsina Berardenga 2014 DOCG (we currently list the 2013). Despite the tricky weather in 2014, the wine showed really well, demonstrating admirably some true Chianti characteristics; aromas of roses and redcurrants with a slight herbaceous edge.

We followed this with the single-vineyard Rancia Chianti Classico Riserva 2013 DOCG. The fruit for this wine had come from the vineyard we had driven up to earlier and was a notable step up from the straight Chianti and from a riper vintage too. Full, powerful with silky tannins and a long finish, it put smiles on our faces!

Fontalloro 2013 IGP Toscana came next and is from vineyards straddling the Chianti Classico and the Chianti Colli Senesi denomination and as such is highly representative of what it is that makes the Fèlsina wines distinctive; sangiovese ‘on the edge’! It displayed earthy, truffley flavours and spice on the finish – a wine to cellar and enjoy with rich dishes.

The next wine was the estate’s Gran Selezione Chianti Classico Colonia 2013. Having spent 30 months in new oak, this is smooth yet full-bodied with full-throttle delicious red cherry fruit. We were starting to get hungry!

Before we left, Giuseppe pulled out a 2005 Rancia Chianti Classico to show us how these wines develop. It was a real revelation and a great demonstration to the members who hadn’t tried Chianti with age before – smoky, meaty with hints of star anise and black pepper, it was a real treat.

Taking our leaveTaking our leave

Totally besotted with the poetic and lyrical Giuseppe and the equally evocative Fèlsina wines and olive oils, we took our leave and headed back to the coach, Siena-bound. After all this wine tasting we had worked up quite an appetite. We were all looking forward to walking into town for our dinner.

The Piazza del Campo: impressive even on a wet October nightThe Piazza del Campo: impressive even on a wet October night

Tomorrow is another day and for us it would entail heading into the heart of Chianti Classico, to visit Castello di Brolio, where modern-day Chianti was born, Isole e Olena and the always fascinating Paolo de Marchi and Fontodi, who we had learned were still picking!

Joanna Goodman
News & Content Editor

Part two will follow soon. In the meantime, if you enjoy finding out what goes on behind the scenes on our wine buyers’ visits to our winemakers, visit the Travels in Wine™ pages on our website.

Categories : Italy
Comments (1)