Tuscany Trip: Day Four – Sun, Sea and Super-Tuscans

With a lot of ground to cover on our final day (including a change of car in Sienna for one with four wheels), we had an early start with a tasting at Il Poggione just south of Montalcino.  This is one of the larger estates in the region at 125 hectares, run by talented father-and-son team Fabrizio and Alessandro Bindocci.  The quality here is exceptional – and perhaps no surprise owing to the sparkling state-of-the-art cellars and very experienced winemakers.  We tasted the 2010 Rosso di Montalcino, 2007 Brunello di Montalcino and their 2006 single vineyard ‘Vigna Paganelli’ Riserva, which has just received 97 points from the Wine Advocate’s Italian expert, Antonio Galloni.  Suffice to say we agreed with him and are delighted to be offering this exclusively to our Fine Wine Plan customers in the autumn.

After a rather inconvenient detour to Europcar in Sienna, we hit the road again and headed for the Tuscan coast and the region of Bolgheri, some eighty miles away.  There was simply no short-cut and so we spent a good few hours climbing up hill and down dale via the ancient hill-top town of Volterra and passing the tall towers of San Gimignano again in the distance.  Whilst we didn’t have time to stop, the cloudless sky meant that we could see for miles and the scenery was simply breathtaking; vast swathes of barley and farmland were interspersed with vines, sunflowers and olive trees and the terracotta rooftops of the local fattoria dotted amongst them.  It was easy to see what enticed Frances Mayes to this corner of Italy; I for one was spellbound.

After several wrong-attempts at finding the iconic Ornellaia estate just off the famous avenue of Cypress trees (Viale dei Cipressi) in Bolgheri, we were treated to an excellent lunch with British directors Tim Banks and Alex Belson.  The wines made here include those that most people only ever dream of tasting, so we were absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to appreciate and discuss them with those that know them best.  We began with their rare and unique Poggio del Gazze which is a barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc – whose rich, creamy, leesy and stone fruit character certainly fooled me into thinking it was something completely different!  Though needless to say it was delicious.  This was followed by the second wine, 2009 Le Serre Nuove, a silky and fleshy merlot-dominant blend with ample raspberry, plum, cherries and spices.  It was fascinating to see the correlation between this and its bigger brother, Ornellaia, whose Cabernet character is elegant, finely balanced and deliciously fresh with incredible depth and complex notes of blackberries, crushed flowers and fresh leather.

When a wine is so heralded, it is easy to get swept up in the reams of hyperbole that critics like to reap on its attributes; however, there really is reason to believe the hype!  Ornellaia is an astonishingly well made wine whose unique character and superb quality owe everything to its terroir and inimitable vineyard sites.  We were fortunate enough to see this for ourselves as we went to view the vines which stretch out west towards the coast and experienced the cooling effect of the salty sea breeze at first-hand.  For a wine lover, it was quite an epiphany.

Unsurprisingly, we got a little carried away at Ornellaia, though fortunately our next appointment was only next door at Tenuta San Guido (Sassicaia).  Here, the cellars are vast and impressive with a clever and stylish system of stacking their barrels which many producers would do well to replicate!  We tasted the three wines made on the estate: 2010 Difese, 2010 Guidalberto and 2009 Sassicaia.  The top wine was very open with elegant texture, mineral freshness and notes of dark chocolate, coffee and cherries, liquorice and attractive oak spice.  We were also fortunate enough to taste their 2009 Barrua from the tiny island of Sardinia – a predominantly Carignan blend, which was quite simply one of the best Carignans I’ve ever tasted!

With just one appointment left on our Tuscan Tour and with very little time to spare, we couldn’t resist a quick photo opportunity on the beach – to the envy of our colleagues back in the office.  A cold can of Coke as we paddled in the Mediterranean was all it took to provoke a barrage of abuse via text message!  Reluctantly, we hopped back into the car with our sandy feet and sped off towards yet another hilltop village (San Gervasio) near Pisa and just outside the Chianti Classico region.  Their Super Tuscan is called A Sirio and is a delightful, dense and meaty wine with excellent ageing potential.  The temptation to stay for dinner and swim in their pool was great, but unfortunately we had a plane to catch….

A frantic airport dash along the confusingly (no surprises there) signposted ‘Fi-Pi-Li’ highway towards the setting sun was a fitting end to our trip.  Tuscany certainly exceeded all expectations – the history, people, countryside, architecture, and gastronomy; but most of all, its wines and winemakers, who are true masters of their craft and are deservedly gaining worldwide attention among the top echelons of age-worthy and collectable Fine Wines.  I am now truly a Sangiovese aficionado (something which I never thought would happen) and I look forward to the day when I can return to discover more of what this beautiful region has to offer.

Alla Prossima Volta!

Edwina Watson

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