Tuscan skies like all things Italian are a little unpredictable at the moment. It is a relief to many that most of the grapes are in anyway.
It’s been a long sunny season, yet cool and the ripening has stretched through September and into October.
This the home of the sangiovese grape – an ugly grape vine which likes to grow like an unruly child, in every direction, has very tough skins, easily carries too much crop causing late ripening.
Yet the Tuscans are proud of this hardy vine. Most properties on the steep hillsides do not have irrigation so there are clear signs where vines are struggling: varying leaf colours across the vista, many turned yellow. So wines from these vines would not be generous.
As we Australians do, the better vineyards have not yet been picked, hanging out the crop to full ripeness.
Sangiovese had its origins further north during the Middle Ages, in the province of Romagna yet we credit Tuscany with its determined commercialisation.
I am on my way to the heart of Chianti Classico, that big geographic slice of land south of Firenze (Florence) and north-east of Siena whose wines carry the distinctive Gallo Nero (Black Rooster) pink neck tag, and have done so for decades.
The trip from my digs in Barberino Val D’Elsa (town of Barberino in the Elsa Valley) was 30 minutes on back roads, GPS-assisted, which really gives the feel for the terrain (hilly, ever-changing, gangly sangiovese everywhere, some new plantings, forest, elegant pencil-shaped cypress pines, other cypress bushy), even driving over the main Siena-Firenze highway.
This misty morning the visit is to the hilltop village of Castellina in Chianti, and my host at Castellare, Sienese-born customer services officer Gabrielle Mori. A property with 100 hectares, not all vines but olives for oil, is set in a patchwork of vineyard blocks.
The cellars house all the wine made annually (200,000 bottles), established 100 years ago, underground, and now extended in 1979 by the current owner.
The wine library is comprehensive in this modern era, but I did have to grin where four barrels of chardonnay, and three of sauvignon blanc, fermenting, were resting. International white variety experimentation, why do it?
My tasting in the wood-panelled room quickly focussed on the 2008 Chianti Classico, 13.5%, for its freshness and vitality. This grape has almond and black cherry/sour cherry flavours, and at times, tumultuous and terribly drying tannins. It’s generally medium bodied.
I wondered if that Madiran, France-origin technique of micro-oxygenation has reached these parts. “Micro” makes tannic reds soften during making, and I reflect on why the Tuscans hold sangiovese wines so long in barrel and bottle letting the fruit dip, and the tannins dry out, even before wines are sold.
The serious wines, Riservas, and single vineyard wines currently on sale, are from 2006. Imagine how well a fleshy Riserva 2008 would drink now? Conceptually better to an Aussie.
Now that I have that wine style thought out of my system I am more determined to enjoy sangiovese some more; generally its grippy tannins and savoury, medium texture come into play at meal time.
This is where the magic starts, and all of Tuscany closes down around 1pm for lunch, streets go quiet, traffic drops and life goes on much slower.
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