A light hearted insight into wine with no agenda other than to sniff out wine stories which capture the imagination… follow The Nose…

07/06/2021

Handsome Italian

Ventaglio vineyard

Among the celebrity estates of Bolgheri, Tenuta Argentiera flies somewhat under the radar. 

The ‘Nose’ picked up the scent having been invited to a zoom talk and tasting. I was intrigued  by the story of a wine named Ventaglio for this promised something more unusual for Bolgheri – not only is it a single varietal Cabernet Franc, but it is a true terror wine coming from a single 1.2 hectare vineyard. It is called Ventaglio, after the rows of vines which fan around the circumference of a small hill.  

I expected something ostentatious – a bold and showy  IGT in a heavy bottle – Cabernet Franc sexed up – but on the contrary Ventaglio is sleek, sophisticated and serious, a handsome wine indeed – albeit in a heavy bottle. 

Ventaglio – handsome Italian wine

But let’s backtrack a moment and set the scene. As all wine lovers know Nicolò Incisa della Rocchetta put Bolgheri on the map by commercialising the 1968 vintage of Sassicaia, the Bordeaux blend his father Mario had made for family and friends from vines planted in the 1940s at Tenuta San Guido. 

This coastal area of Maremma is quite distinct from heartland Tuscany. The land around the village of Bolgheri was traditionally used for growing vegetables, olives and grapes to produce rosé wine. Away from the coastal strip there were cereal crops, grazing used for cattle and scrubland. Sassicaia, followed by Ornellaia in the mid 80s, raised awareness in the potential of this coastal area, and it was gradually converted to viticulture. In their wake Bolgheri estates eschewed Sangiovese and focused on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. True to Bordeaux fashion the wines are generally estate blends, drawing on a diversity of terroir. 

Bolgheri attained DOC status in 1994 for a style of wine, an Italian interpretation of a Bordeaux blend. The Bogheri expression can be more restrained than Super Tuscans from heartland Tuscany. The proximity to the Tyrrhenian Sea may permit an elegant expression, however there is no escaping the fact that it can be pretty hot here. Moreover the reflected light from the sea increases the total light with its ‘mirror effect’. On the other hand the sea helps to moderate the temperature, cooling the vineyards with damp coastal breezes. 

Tenuta Argentiera, named after the Etruscan silver mines of the region, lies in the Donoratico Hills, far to the south of Bolgheri away from the epicentre clustered around the famous estates. It began with a flourish in 1999, a latecomer in some respects. The estate belonged to the Fratini family, who in just three years cleared sixty hectares of scrub and planted vines. The Antinori family were instrumental in getting this project off the ground, lending their expertise to Fratini in the early days. 

Leonardo Raspini

The zoom tasting was hosted by general manager and agronomist Leonardo Raspini and Nicolò Carrara, the winemaker. It was certainly lively as Leonardo leapt up on a number of occasions to hold large large boards in front of the camera to illustrate the terroir. (Tenuta Argentiera’s website is also very informative.)

The estate (now 80 hectares) has diverse terroir, encompassing a patchwork of soil types, but it seems the most significant differences with the land around Bolgheri village, are the higher altitude and the east facing ridge which is sheltered by the forest along which the vineyards are planted. Together these factors create a marginally cooler microclimate of approximately 2 degrees celsius. 

The Nose was sent three wines to taste.

First up is Villa Donoratico, DOC Bolgheri Rosso. This comes from a eleven hectare section in the northern part of the estate (nearest to the village of Bolgheri) and from lower lying vineyards. While these are further from the coast, with fewer coastal breezes, the vineyards have a northern exposure which help retains freshness. The lowest vineyards at 30m are more sandy, while those at 100m combine some clay (in which Merlot thrives) and stone. The sandier soils would certain account for the fruity accessibility of this wine. 

A quick aside about vintages. The 2019 vintage was equally successful in Bolgheri as inland Tuscany. It was hot and dry, but there were good water reserves and some rain at the end of July. The stems were properly lignified in 2019 and some whole bunches were used. 

The 2018 was a cooler, wetter and more challenging vintage. July and August were quite cool, but September was dry and windy. I found the 2018 Argentiera fresh and energetic.

2016 was described as a tough vintage for the vegetation. A large rainfall at the end of August helped. It’s a powerful vintage. 

Nicolò Carrara

Leonardo and Nicolò point out that the quality and health of vintages on the coast do not always follow inland Tuscany. In cold, fresher and rainier vintages Bolgheri typically suffers less from disease, while the light reflected off the sea in the afternoon gives vines an advantage. Vintage timing is earlier in Bolgheri – mid September for Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, which in some vintages can be an advantage, but in 2010 the weather in the first half of September was poor, while inland (Montalcino was singled out) benefited from holding out through the much better second half of the month. 

Winery

Moving up the hierarchy, there is Argentiera, a Bolgheri Superiore. This wine is a blend, the grapes for which come from a myriad of vineyards which range from low lying sandy vineyards at 20m up to 200m, but the focus is on the higher altitude. The second level has more clay and the the upper more stone and schist. At 150-200m the terroir is Fliche – geologically one the oldest formations (sedimentary rocks consisting of limestone, marl and argillite with sandstone and siliceous rock). To keep it simple – these higher vineyards have more clay and of course a greater temperature swing between warm days and cooler nights.

And top of the heap – Ventaglio

In 2012 a small hill, 80m above sea level and 2 km from the coast, was planted with Cabernet Franc. The rows were planted through 270 degrees – South to North-East – like the spokes of wheel or indeed a fan, after Ventaglio from this hillside vineyard takes its name. The soil is clay loam with gravel and limestone pebbles – a profile known as Eagle’s Nest in regional classification.   

In 2015 the estate changed hands, bought by the Austrian industrialist Stanislaus Turnauer. He clearly has a passion for wine for he moved his family to Bolgheri, but wisely gave his talented team the liberty to focus on the terroir and produce the best wine with minimal intervention.  

Stanislaus Turnauer

Ventaglio is made in wooden tanks and aged largely in 500l barrels with a maximum of 25% new oak, some coming from the Austrian cooperage Stockinger. 

The first vintage of Ventaglio, 2015, was 85% Cabernet Franc, while 2016 is 100%. (There are 2400 bottles, which are already allocated to collectors.) The tentative first step wasn’t explained, but why not go for broke? A single varietal must be labelled IGT, but in the context of Super Tuscan history, this is patently not an issue.  It’s not the first single vineyard, single varietal. Merlot based Masseto is the stellar example, but with this newcomer, the team at Tenuta Argentina have their sites set on a place in the Bolgheri firmament.  

Tenuta Argentiera, Villa Donoratico, Bolgheri 2019

50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 15% Cebernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot.  

A ripe, forthright expressive aroma with a hint of liquorice, methyl and Earl Grey tea. Packs a juicy punch. Deliciously ripe, but vibrant and the tannins have a bit of grip. Nicely balanced. An appetisingly bitter umami note to finish. This is a well structure wine which delivers on fruit and a decent level of complexity. Score 16.

Tenuta Argentiera, Argentiera, Bolgheri Superiore 2018

It is 50% Cabenet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. 

Seductively perfumed aroma combining high toned white pepper notes with lower toned shades of violet, vanilla and camomile. It flows into a sumptuously smooth and inviting palate, which has elegant fluidity. It is quite trim and just deliciously laced with freshness. Soft at the beginning, it focuses across the palate, to become tighter and lively and even quite piquant. The finish is nicely sustained and has vibrancy, lift and brightness.  Score 17.5 From 2024-33

Ventaglio, IGT 2016

Discreet aroma – a subtle, silky perfume. Quiet and intense palate. It has a refined texture and shimmers with freshness. The flavour spectrum includes some earthier notes, a light herbal edge and tangy, sooty bitterness on the finish which contrasts and balances the sweeter smoothness in the mid palate. Such a refined Cabernet Franc. Beautifully persistent with a chalky, powdery quality on the finish. Score 18.5 From 2025-35+

Tenuta Argentiera website

02/05/2021

Super-Duper Chianti

Isole e Olena

“It was hard to declare Cepparello as a table wine,” my father was appalled, but it was 100% Sangiovese so we had no choice and in fact it saved the estate,” says Paolo de Marchi.

Paolo de Marchi is referring to the ‘bad old days’ when it was mandatory to include white grapes (Trebbiano and Malvasia) in Chianti. Today the estate of Isole e Olena is a byword for quality in Classico region and Cepparello is one of best know and loved of its wines, but Paolo describes his start in Chianti as ‘a real adventure.’ 

Back in the 1960s, when the estate was founded by his father, the regional economy in Chianti was based on share cropping, but things were changing fast. “Chianti experienced a social earthquake,” says Paolo de Marchi. Within five years at the estate, 130 people, working the land to feed their families, and keeping half of the crop, diminished to forty employees earning a wage. “It was a turbulent time.”

In the midst of this, the appellation regulations were drawn up. The intention was to improve the quality of the wine and prosperity of the Chianti region, starting with “Chianti Classico’ as the sub-region with the worst problems. Sadly the new wine legislation enshrined some poor practices, including the mandatory use of white wine in red. Added to which many vineyards were planted with inferior clones of Sangiovese. 

“It was a difficult time, but one of great possibilities.. and the door was open to in-comers,” remarks Paolo de Marchi who made his first vintage 1976. He describes his efforts as “lemonade in a sandpaper glass,” which certainly does not sound like a success. “It was all acid and tannin. These are the fingerprint of Sangiovese, but they should not hurt your palate!” It was a first attempt and it had rained through the season, but there was also the pesky inclusion of white wine and the fundamental issue of poor clonal material.

So to kick off, Paolo de Marchi picked the white vines separately and sold off the fruit. In 1987 he grafted some Chardonnay onto Malvasia vines planted in the best vineyard locations for white production including a five hectare vintage at 400m on limestone and marl soil. This became the first wine in his “Collezione Privata” A collection which includes a Syrah and a Cabernet Sauvignon. 

The parcels where Chardonnay thrives are the cooler spots. The vineyards receive the sun late in the day or loose it early, and as such these sites are unsuitable for ripening Sangiovese.  (As a brief  aside on climate change, Paolo strongly believes that combating climate change will not be achieved by opting for cooler sites, but rather by selecting later ripening clones.) 

The Chardonnay is fermented in small barrels, one third new, where it remains on lees for a year. “A Chardonnay for Chianti Classico is now historic,” comments Paolo de Marchi. “There is very little Italian white wine from older vintages. It has a unique story here.” 

In his second year Paolo de Marchi began a lengthy project to address the problem of clonal material with regard to Sangiovese. He began identifying the best vines, walking up and down the rows, tagging those that performed best, and over the years some vines had a plethora of tags, giving him a growing understand of the variety and the vineyards. 

These ‘super’ vines were used to create the highest expression of Chianti at the estate  – Cepparello. 

At the time the famous names in southern Tuscany were busy perfecting their ‘Super Tuscan’ blends; a fashion for blending Sangiovese with non-native varieties which was most often aged in French barrique. This had become popular from the mid Seventies after Tignanello whipped up a storm of interest. 

Paolo di Marchi comments on blending, “It was not our vision, which was to make the best Sangiovese.” Albeit he has made a blend of his own, for he swiftly admits, “When we took out our best Sangiovese for Cepparello, it weakened our Chianti Classico, so we decided to ‘complete’ it with some Syrah. Syrah is earlier ripening and can bring more ‘ripeness’ as well as colour.” This was possible by a change in the regulation in 1984 when Chianti Classico DOCG permitted 10% non-native grapes in the blend.

So the first Syrah was grafted onto Canaiolo vines in 1984 and was included in Isole e Olena’s Chianti Classico together with a little Canaiolo, both helping to boost the main component which is of course Sangiovese. Subsequently Paolo planted a two hectare, high density vineyard of Syrah and began producing a single varietal Syrah. 

This was breaking new ground. Isole e Olena was the first estate  in Itlay to produce a pure Syrah wine. Paolo de Marchi labelled it ‘Hermitage’ in a bid to draw attention and it worked. “I was stealing a name, but I was invited to show it at a big tasting in Hermitage and came 8th or 9th of 800 wines.” The second year the Syrah joined the “Collezione” and was labelled as Syrah. 

And then there was Cabernet. In the Eighties, a powerful lobby pressing for Bordeaux varieties to be included in the appellation emerged, and Paolo de Marchi felt he should become familiar with the varieties. If I understand correctly he made a Cab Sav, Cab Franc and Merlot blend, but the wine that made the Collezione is 95% Cabernet Sauvignon with soupçon of Cab Franc and Petit Verdot. What’s it like? Well Paolo says, “Cabernet Sauvignon here is not the the Tuscan coast which is more like Bordeaux.” From my tasting of the Cabernet, I think he might mean it is more subtle.

Not a man to stand still without a project, Paolo de Marchi has plans for Canaiolo. “It would be a pity if this unique variety died out. Caniaolo is a little spicy and has aromatics. It can be difficult. It has big clusters and loose bunches. They are easy to hang and are traditionally eaten at Christmas. Very little work has been done on Canaiolo.” He has selected vines which have berries “that look like blueberries”. In two years he will produce a Canaiolo which will join the Collezione Privata. “Canaiolo is very specific, while Sangiovese is everywhere.” 

But, Sangiovese is the core variety in Chianti and work, from the mid Eighties, has continued across the estate (and the region)  on upgrading the vineyards. Many vines which are now 15 years old have been ripped out and re-planted using superior clonal material. The vines are planted in higher density and I gather that Paolo de Marchi prefers to plants rows across the contour rather than up and down the hill, to help prevent erosion. In Chianti it is most unfortunate that a vine virus (Esca) has infiltrated the vineyards, as it has in so many regions, and consequently the estate aspects to lose around one third of the  new plantings. Hence their 7,000 density plantings will become 5,000 in time.

Going back to those multi-tagged Sangiovese vines, Paolo took cuttings and planted them in one place to monitor how they performed on a level playing field. Subsequently the best were used to replant the estate. 

Cepparello is made from the best sites – sunny south/west slopes at 400-480m on largely galestro, a schistous clay. The vines are 12-54 years old. This is the flagship of the estate. In 2005 it became permissible to make Chianti Classico with 100% Sangiovese but he prefers to hang on to the IGT label. The current vintage is 2018, which I tasted for this blog.

2018 was a challenging vintage. Rain in spring with a very hot summer and rain at the end of August and into September. Rain and Sangiovese don’t really get on. Harvest was largely in September and Paolo comments “I like to harvest in October. After the 21st September the nights are longer then the day, so the light from the sun takes longer to reach its height. You are able to have a longer hang time. 2018 may have a little dilution but it is light and bright. It is high in alcohol, but you can’t do much about that. I think it is well balanced.” 

Actually it’s a hefty 15%. “It is difficult to go against nature, when you want to go with it!” Paolo de Marchi points out that you can’t pick Sangiovese early – “the evolution of acidity and tannin is not at the same pace as the manufacture of sugar.” When he tried topping the vines, the sugar levels dropped, but the malic acidity increased and tannins were green. He has found it more effective to pull off the lateral leaves just before they reach full size. These leaves are powerhouses of photosynthesis, which is fine when the sugar is going into foliage growth, but after they are fully grown the energy is used to ripen the berries. Time for them to go. However this  leaf plucking is a lot of work. It is only used in some vineyards, while he develops a practical system to carry it out throughout the estate. 

And lastly we tried the Selezione. Paolo had hoped that this new appellation – the cherry on the cake for Chianti – would be used to incorporate the ‘Super Tuscans’ into the appellation fold. It didn’t happen and he feels the authorities have missed an opportunity to include all the best wines made in the region. In the event, the rather draconian rules stipulate 100% Sangiovese from a single vineyard or 90% Sangiovese with 10% of local grapes. The 2015 vintage is Paolo’s forth vintage of Selezione and it includes 8% Petit Verdot. 

The range of wine from Isole e Olena estate is not truly traditional, but nor is it ‘Super Tuscan’. Paolo de Marchi has brought together elements of both approaches in his own style of ‘Super-Duper Chianti’.

Isole e Olena ‘Collezione Privata, Chardonnay 2019 

Light citrus aroma, so the rich butteriness and glossy roundness of the palate comes as a surprise. It is richly savoury rather than fruity and has light nutty and biscuit note and a touch of bitter fennel on the finish. There is certainly good freshness and good ‘drive’ on the finish, despite the warm summer and early harvest. This is showy and quite impressive. Score 17.75. From 2022-30+

14%. £59

Isole e Olena ‘Collezione Privata, Syrah 2017

Blackberry fruit and up-toned spicy aroma. Very sweet on the strike, almost jammy. It’s richly textured; a thick suede swath. Voluptuous mid palate with a saturated quality to the fruit. Very moreish and I like the contrast, which comes through on the finish, of something more piquant – black chocolate a fresh and energetic bite. This is a full-on, hedonistic wine. Score 18. From 2023-35 

14.5%. Twenty-Five percent new French and American oak here. £62.99

Isole e Olena ‘Collezione Privata, Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

A somewhat dusty aroma. A rich and seductive Cabernet on the strike; there is sweetness of blackcurrant fruit in middle palate with good depth and density. The glycerol and elevated alcohol are quite apparent. Richly ripe and velvet tannins. It is lighter, fresher and more energetic on the finish. I like the tanginess at the end which is accompanied by appetisingly fresh and herbal aromatics. Score 17.75. From 2025-35

14.5% £84.99.

Isole e Olena ‘Chianti Classico’ 2018

Lightly herbal aroma with touch of cherry pastille. On the palate, light-bodied, bright and quite breezy with a slightly grassy character.  Lightly grained tannins. It is fresh and quite self-effacing and very accessible. A nicely balanced, floaty and quite delicate wine for near term drinking. You might expect it to be overpowered by the level of alcohol, but actually it carries it off. Score 16.5. From 2021-25  

14.5% £27.99

Isole e Olena, Cepparello, 2018

Spicy marzipan aroma. This glides into the palate. Gorgeous texture. Satin smooth and rippling. It’s straight and elegant. Just beautifully woven. A lovely equilibrium. It purrs. The persistent finish is sleek and feline. This is in a different league to all the wines which have gone before, so much more subtle, and I am quite amazed that it carries off the high alcohol with ease. My sort of wine and by far my favourite. Score 18.5. From 2024-35

I5% £99.99

Isole e Olena Gran Selezione 2015

Touch of evolution on the aroma with a hint of forrest floor. Very intense on the strike. Multi layered and compact. It is seriously battened down. There is liquorice density and power, but bunched. Needs time to unfold and certainly a wine which will develop over many years. The finish is very aromatic. Score 18.75. From 2025-40+  

14.5% £279

19/04/2021

Famously traditonal

While some winemakers are famous for flouting the rules (plenty of these in Italy), another breed take the best of tradition and improve it. Franco Biondi Santi was among the latter. He firmly believed in the tradition of single varietal Sangiovese matured in large old barrels of Slavonian oak.

This is perhaps not surprising as his family were instrumental in developing the wine we know today as Brunello di Montalcino when Clemente Santi won acclaim at the regional agricultural fair for his “rosso scelto” del 1865 – wine made from the clone of Sangiovese, which became known as Brunello and is now planted throughout the region.  

Not everyone was convinced by Sangiovese. It was widely considered to be a rather a ‘work horse’ grape variety, incapable of making a great wine on its own and by the 1970s it became fashionable in Tuscany to blend it with Bordeaux varieties and age it in new French barriques.

Meanwhile the Biondi Santi family eschewed fashion and continued their pursuit of the best quality of vine material. Franco Biondi Santi identified a super clone – Sangiovese Grosso BBS/11. He  continued the work of his grandfather Ferruccio who began selecting the very best plant material from the vineyards at Tenuta Greppo as far back as the 1800s. Franco Biondi Santi focused on understanding of the complexities of the terroir, work which continues today through micro-vinifications of small parcels of vines across the Greppo estate. 

The Greppo estate lies in the South East of Montalcino with vines planted on hillsides between 385-507m in stony, marl rich soil. The riserva is made from a selection of the oldest vines planted on the highest parcels. Franco-Biondi Santi expanded the estate from four hectares to the current twenty-five and his work and encouragement inspired many others to produce Brunello di Montalcino. The seventy-six hectares registered to Brunello in 1967 is now over two thousand.  

Biondi Santi produces three wines. The younger vines are used for Rosso di Montalcino; the middle aged vines become Brunello di Montalcino, while the vines over twenty-five years may become Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, but only in exceptional years. Just forty vintages of riserva have been made since 1888.

The riserva 2012 was the last vintage made by Franco Biondi Santi who passed away in 2013. In 2016 the Greppo estate was sold to French company EPI, owned by Christopher Descours, who are committed to continuing Franco’s work. The 40th vintage of the riserva has recently been released. ( 2013 vintage). Of the three wines I tasted, I particularly liked the rosso and the riserva. 

Rosso di Montalcino 2017

2017 was a hot and dry summer with the harvest from mid September. This is aged for 12 months in Slavonian oak barrels. 13.5% alcohol. 

Ripe red fruit aroma with a dusky rose petal and peppery note. Plump and generous with ripe summer fruits, underscored with tanginess. The texture is soft and the tannins smooth, but with some crunch on the finish. It’s very appetising. Drinking now until 2027. 

Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2013

Rainy spring delayed the start of the growing season. From mid July the weather was warm with marked swings between day and night temperatures. The harvest began a little later than usual towards the end of September. The reserve is matured in Slavonian oak for three years. 13.5% alcohol. 

Most alluring gamey aroma, somewhat sweet and feral with a hint of basil. Slips onto the palate on supple tannins. It has a sophisticated texture, sleek and rippling, and is underpinned by lively freshness and tangy energy. It has intensity and silky, elegant persistence. It’s also rather aromatic with anise and fennel frond and on the finish, a light hint of mint. I think this is a lovely moment to enjoy the wine while it still shows the vibrancy of youth with the complexities of some age. As it matures further, it will become more tertiary, complex and fragile, but not necessarily better. Now-2035+

http://biondisanti.com/Eng/home_en.php

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