Tuscany Comes to Soho

The world of Italian wine might be more complex and mystifying to most Americans than any other wine region, including France or Spain. Yet it’s only been the last 25 years or so that Italian wines have really taken off here, due in large part to a couple things—one, a revolution of a sorts in modern winemaking, and two, the introduction of the so-called “super-Tuscans”, wine based on the Sangiovese (Chianti) grape, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot added for structure and body.  That actually points out one of the things that’s typically been a stereotype but true about Italian wines; they’ve always been known for their finesse, moderation and balance, true food wines, rather than blockbusters. And of course, that makes a lot of sense, given the Italian penchant for fine food. And at least during my visits to Italy, I couldn’t get and haven’t had a bad meal, although I did have some less than stellar wine.

But there’s some great wine coming from Italy now, and there always has been. A few years ago I was privileged to work with Marilyn Krieger at Winebow, and taste many of Leonardo Locasio’s many fine import selections. But just last week, I had the pleasure of actually sitting down with a scion of one of Italy’s great winemaking families, for a lunch and vertical tasting of wines from the Capezzana estate of the Conte (Count) Contini Bonacossi Family, in Tuscany, perhaps Italy’s greatest wine region.

Our hostess, Beatrice Contini Bonacossi, is one of four siblings (of a total of seven) who are directly involved in the winery, and its global brand ambassador.  As she buzzed around the modern yet elegant Soho apartment she’s renting as her NY headquarters, chatting with the dozen or so of us that she’d invited over, I cornered her for a few moments and learned that she fell into this line of work really by accident, selling high-end German cookware while a student in London.  Her brother Vittorio figured out that her skills in sales and customer relations would be transferable to the wine business…and so it has!

The Capezzano Estate is huge by any standard, with a total of about 1650 acres, with 200 under grapevine, 140 in olives, and the rest farmland and private property. The place is about 12 miles west of Florence in the Apennine Mountains, but at only about 600 foot elevation, daytime temps are high and nights are cool. The grapes ripen early here.

The specific wine region here, Carmignano DOCG, is Tuscany’s smallest wine appellation but it has an important history and influence.  Long before the Super-Tuscans were adding Bordeaux grapes to their wines, the story is that the Medici family (yes, that one) was adding Cabernet Sauvignon to its Sangiovese-based wines 450 years ago. The winery’s offerings include DOC, DOCG and IGT wines, and to refresh your memory:

DOC: Demoninazione di Origine Controllata or Demonination of Controlled Origin.  Reserved for Italy’s best wines, and created in ’63.  Also says how wines in this category have to be made.

DOCG: Demoninazione di Origine Controllata e Guarantita or Demonination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin.  Reserved for Italy’s most prestigious wines, a level above DOC.  DOCG was created in ’63 with DOC, which just leaves off the “G.” There are 31 DOCG zones.

IGT: Indicazione Geographica Tipica or Typical Geographic Indication.  Middle ground between table wine and DOC/DOCG (classified) wines.

So, the vertical tasting.

Villa de Capezzana Riserva DOC 1968: 65% Sangiovese, 10% Cab, 15% Canaiolo, and 10% other regional grapes. Hints of cinnamon, very little tannin, still nicely balanced and has maintained its acid.

Villa de Capezzana Riserva DOC 1977: 65% Sangiovese, 10% Cab, 15% Canaiolo, and 10% other regional grapes. Mint, violets, very light bodied, but holding up well.

Villa de Capezzana Riserva DOCG 1988: 70% Sangiovese, 15% Cab, 10% Canaiolo, and 5% other regional grapes.  This was the first DOCG vintage. Moderate tannin but has lost some fruit, mint and leather, actually tasted older than the ’77.

Villa de Capezzana Riserva DOCG 1998: 80% Sangiovese, 20% Cab. First vintage fermented in a type of vessel called a tonneaux. Nice balance, medium-long finish.  Overall a very nice wine.

Villa de Capezzana DOCG 2008: 80% Sangiovese, 20% Cab. Lots of fruit, lots of tannin. Fun wine to drink.

Trefiano DOCG 2007: 80% Sangiovese, 10% Cab, 10% Canaiolo.  Easy drinking, yes.  Complex, no.

Ghiaie della Furba IGT 2007: 80% Sangiovese, 30% Merlot, 10% Syrah. Wow.  This wine punches you in the mouth with flavor and acid, spice and a long finish.


Other Capezzana Wines:

Sessante IGT 2007: 100% Merlot. Wonderful wine. Great balance, nice blackfruit, great long finish.

Vin Santo DOC 2006: 90% Trebbiano and 10% San Colombano. Wonderful, nutty sweet dessert wine. I’d drunk Trebbiano as a dry white table win but I’d never heard of San Colombano before. Bet you never have either.