Cortona DOC is one of Tuscany’s lesser known production regions. Although many of the region’s largest and most-famous producers do produce wines made here, it doesn’t celebrate the same international appeal as Chianti, Montalcino, Montepulciano, Bolgheri, Maremma or the like.
Whereas a whole host of varietals are permitted here, notably also imported varietals from France, a great deal of the wines are single varietal. Syrah is a popular choice here and, alongside the typical Cuvee wines made using a variety of grapes, a number of winemakers release a 100% Syrah wine.
One such producer of Cortona DOC Syrah is Marchese Antinori – one of the largest names in both Tuscan and Italian wine. Its Montalcino-based subsidiary: La Braccesca, famed for its Montalcino wines, makes this Syrah produced from grapes grown in the Arezzo region closeby, near to the Tuscan/Umbrian border.
Ruby red with a purple, clear hue.
On the nose is a great deal of black forest fruit but also a decent helping of fresh raspberry. Coupled with a hint of vanilla, thanks to the oak handling, this makes you think of raspberry-ripple ice cream. There is a background oak note but it is both very decent and purely a background thing.
The attack is one of Cassis but this quickly moves on to blackcurrant, red plums and the raspberry promised in the nose. It is all very harmonious with a light acidity that eventually turns into mild tannins, a sprinkling of vanilla, a hit of oak and then fine chocolate and espresso.
A pleasant and very simple, smooth wine. It offers a different side to Syrah and, whilst it is a powerhouse on the body, the finish is nice and calm leaving the wine remarkably easy to drink: smooth, long and yet clean on the palate.
As the proud home of both Ornellaia and Sassicaia, Maremma is one of Tuscany’s most-prized production regions. In the last 50 years together with Bolgheri, it has altered the Tuscan wine world, taking away importance from the wines of Montalcino and Montepulciano.
Another major producer in Maremma is Monteverro. Owned and operated by Georg Weber since 2003, the Tuscan producer has experienced international success in its short history. Regularly put in the same league as the top wines of the region, the first wine retails for upwards of 70 euros. This second wine is made up of 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Cabernet France, 20% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot.
Plum red in the glass with a clear-brown hue.
The nose is rather reserved. There are notes of both blackcurrant and Cassis and yet these are almost hidden behind fresh herbs, oak and cigar tobacco.
The attack is smooth and silky: there are profound notes of forest fruits – mainly blueberry and wild strawberry. The body too is smooth with red cherry and blackcurrant. This leads onto a finish which is quite heavy on the tannins but eventually gives way to vanilla and smoke.
Whilst the wine is already showing off some fine fruit, it probably is a tad young. With a few more years in the cellar, those hefty tannins are likely to let up a little and expose a touch more of the finely composed silky body and character-defining structure.
There are a few things I can’t turn down: Red Toscana IGT wine is one of them. I’ve been a fan of the stuff since I can remember and, unlike most of the other production regions I favour, I can actually afford the Tuscan wines.
Whereas Tuscany might be most famous for its Chianti, Brunello and Vino Nobile, its ‘new’ wines are the most interesting: in Bolgheri for example where the traditional Tuscan practise of using pretty much only Sangiovese in winemaking has disappeared – they hardly use it at all there. Toscana IGT (literally Tuscan country wine) has little to no restrictions. Many of the producers of ‘Supertuscans’ usually blend Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah with a small amount of traditional Sangiovese to create, mellow, fruity cuvees – this is, by far, the most common approach in all non DOC and DOCG red wine from the region.
This wine is made of 70% Sangiovese and 30% ‘other varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon’. It is aged for about six months in oak. The Carpineto winery was founded in 1967 and is known for both its DOCG wines from Chianti Classico and Montalcino. Dogajolo is a flasgship product made using grapes from all over the Tuscan countryside.
Ruby red with a hint of maroon at the rim.
The initial feel is of red berries and forest fruits with a distinct note of vanilla ice cream. There are raspberries in there too and a distant but not unimportant aroma of wood.
The attack is characterised by the red berries: Cassis, cranberry and raspberry but, before their full juiciness is exposed, the vanilla kicks in – this completes the body: long, warm and elegant and leads nicely onto a balanced and hearty oak note and a long, off-sour finish.
A very warming wine and, due to its inevitable youth, one that reminds strangely of summer rather than the typical seasons one would drink red wine. I can imagine it slightly cooled, served on a balcony thanks to its freshness and the liveliness of the red fruit and yet I feel the vanilla note takes a bit too much prominence away from the red fruit too early – I think, with a few more months in oak or indeed the cellar, this wine would feel fuller – there is great potential here it wine is fantastic with both white and red meat, salad and hotpot – a rare product: a food wine suitable for pretty much anything you want to put on the table.
Chianti is a complicated affair: either sour and off-balance or luxuriously elegant, it can be hard to know what to expect when opening a bottle. Much like with most things though, spending a couple more of your pounds, dollars or euros has an effect.
Another thing that makes a difference is exactly who makes it: when the name of Tuscany's and perhaps Italy’s most famous producer is printed on the label, the chances of receiving a clumsily-mixed, basket-bottle-style wine are greatly reduced.
Known for their Supertuscans Solaia and Tignanello, Marchese Antinori make a number of DOC and DOCG wines all over Tuscany. From the fantastic (and fantastically affordable) Montepulciano and Montalcino wines through to the Toscana IGT ones, Antinori has a wine for everyone. Alongside these wines, Antinori create a handful of Chiantis: the simplest being from their Santa Cristina Marque. In the middle of the road is the famous Pèppoli: a classically elegant Chianti Classico DOCG which I reviewed a few years back (click here).
Their prized Chianti carries the company name though: Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva.
Made of 90% of some of Tuscany’s best chocolately Sangiovese and some of the ripest Cabernet Sauvignon this side of the Atlantic, the wine is aged in French and Hungarian oak for a year before spending another twelve months ripening in the bottle.
Thich cherry red with an almost syrupy appearance. The hue is brownish and rather clear.
Underneath the initial tone of rather potent oak there is an immense amount of hidden fruit waiting to be picked out. Black cherry and blackberries characterise the fruit part of the nose and offer up some more exotic tones as well.
Initially, the fruit attack feels rather overwhelming and yet it develops into an incredibly well-blended concoction of black cherry, blackcurrant, blackberries and blueberries with, thanks to the oak, a vanilla undertone. There’s chocolate, licorice and even some espresso in the body and the finish is long and, whilst rewarding, rather strong: the oak is both very present and yet it really feels very much a part of the wine's structure which is clearly set-out from the attack until long after finishing.
A beautiful drop of Tuscan wine: both classically fruity, chocolately and racy, it brings with it a decent amount of structure and elegance making this age-old production region’s produce seem rather modern. The oak is the wine’s swansong and the combination of that much excellent black fruit together with the wood is both rare and a reason to try the wine at all.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG, Tuscany, Italy
To me, Brunello has always been the most elegant Tuscan choice - long refined notes of mostly perfect control: discipline. The Chianti regions on the other hand offer, less than superfine wines praised for their easy-drinkability and mass-appeal. What if there was a wine that could combine the both of these things? Fine and elegant and yet fun and racy: there is, Vino Nobile.
Also made almost entirely from a mutation of Sangiovese (in this case Prugnolo Gentile and a splash of Merlot), VIno Nobile often offers up some of the notes that Sangiovese is better known for: sassy, tart and exciting fruit with long, luscious minerals and a handful of luxury aromas.
This wine, from Tenuta La Braccesca, is the brainchild of that famous Tuscan producer, you know: the one which makes Tignanello, Solaia, Pèppoli, Santa Cristina and the like. The Antinoris bought the estate back in the early 1990s and whilst it might not be their most-famous Tuscan product, it's a very good wine nonetheless.
Deep red-purple with a bright pink hue.
The first sense on the nose is one of a bright black fruit mixture: a big sense of blackcurrant but also black cherries, redcurrants and blueberries. Some lovely sweet Virginia tobacco, a patch of leather and even some freshly-roasted espresso are all in there too.
A much more subdued explosion of taste than expected and one that implemented the alternative sides to the fruit rather than their sweet sides: slightly sour berry tannins eventually gave way to ripe red and black fruit, lead entirely by the blackcurrant and black cherry. A nice toasty finish with well-worked in tannins completed the wine rather elegantly.
A great wine and a brilliant example of how Vino Nobile is the most accessible of the finer Tuscan DOCs and DOCGs. With enough elegance and pride to impress the drinkers of the stuff grown 20 or so miles to the South West, the tart and lively notes of Montepulciano make Sangiovese-based DOCG wines attractive to anyone: not just the classic wine drinker.
Toscana IGT, Italy
When the Swiss Widmer family took over the Brancaia estate in Tuscany's beautiful Chianti region at the beginning of the eighties, it didn't take long for them to produce world-class Chianti Classico (just two years).
Hitting the Tuscan wine scene right when the Supertuscan boom was rocking the wine-drinking world, the winery launched a series of non-DOC wines based on both the local speciality Sangiovese and French-imports Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Thanks to growing demand, the company expanded, obtaining two new wineries and this wine is made from grapes grown on all three estates hence the name 'tre' - this also refers to the three different varietals in the final cuvee - one that is aged for at least 12 months in French oak.
A rather translucent red, this wine is much lighter in colour than is usual in Tuscan wine with a bright pink hue.
Bright red fruit lead by cassis is the first on the scene in the way of fruit. Soon to follow are blackberries and blackcurrants with a unique sense of cranberry and citrus fruit. Wood is in there too, as is an earthy-mineral mixture, the nose is however dictated by fruit.
Cassis, cranberry and black berries are the first notes to pick out in the attack. A racing acidity picks up which makes the wine rather light and refreshing: those long satin-smooth notes and textures typical of the other Supertuscans isn't in this wine and, whilst that's what this kind of wine is treasured for, it does make this particular bottle rather unique. It also makes it a perfect companion to food: particularly cheese, game and lamb.
Far from being the most elegant of Tuscan reds, this is a typical example of the combination of styles some wineries specialise in. The Swiss owners clearly have brought a part of Switzerland with them in the creation of this wine: the perfect companion to food, the rougher, wilder side of wine that is particularly present in Northern European reds together with the fuller body and sweeter notes of sunny Tuscan rosso. I don't understand a recent Decanter review where this wine was awarded 95 points....it's very good, it's not an all-time great though.
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Tuscany, Italy
Brunello di Montalcino comes from a small town/commune in Eastern Tuscany called…well, Montalcino. The vines must grow in the foothills surrounding the town and must be made of Sangiovese – a rare mutation of the varietal that only occurs here. The warm sun and steep slopes create remarkably elegant wines – something Sangiovese might typically not be associated with.
Deep pomegranate red with a clear, peachy hue.
A very thick and dense berry compote was the first thing I picked up: lots of blackberry and redcurrant but also cranberry and plummy stone fruit. There was also a remarkable neat set of other aromas to pick out: finest tobacco, leather, long notes of polished wood and a generous helping of licorice.
Like most good Brunello, the taste was discreet: whereas the berries did come through, they weren’t nearly as extreme as they were in the nose: the whole wine felt very concise and there wasn’t a single note out of place. The feel was very smooth and the fruit on the pinnacle of ripeness. The tannins were firmly in place and their abrupt appearance was evidence for this wine not having been quite ready to drink yet – nevertheless a superb drop of red with an even brighter future.
Something to lay down and leave for another five to ten years in the cellar but already offering some beautiful promise. Some of the best young Brunello I’ve ever tried.
As one of Tuscany’s biggest winemaking names, Ornellaia’s third wine Le Volte is a common find in wine stores and larger supermarkets the world over. Made using a range of varietals from a number of vineyards all over Tuscany, the wine represents a typical Supertuscan cuvée: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and, for authentic Tuscan character, a decent helping of raunchy Sangiovese.
For those who are keen followers of the Supertuscan scene, Le Volte is no stranger and alongside Luce’s second wine: Lucente (Review here), it really shows that if you are a red wine drinker, there are almost no wines elsewhere than can compete in this value for money category – if you’ve got £15-20 to spend on red: I can’t think of a better way to use it than by purchasing the Supertuscan wines’ little brothers. There are of course many ways to use this money wisely: Antinori, Frescobaldi, Ornellaia, Luce, Tenuta San Guido or indeed Brancaia and, whilst the big name wines really are in a class of their own: the second and third wines of these producers are certainly enjoyable and much more affordable. (Please note that this wine was not decanted before tasting).
Deep red, purple on the hue but body is very dark – almost Mahogany.
The nose was a composed one with plenty of red and black fruit, most prominent were mild notes of Blackberry, cassis and red plums. The fruit tones were strong but also confined – nothing was too sweet and nothing too sharp. A thick sense of dark chocolate was also to detect and there was a pleasant aroma of smoke and dark wood on the nose.
The attack was fairly sour to start (probably due to the lack of decanting) but this soon gave way to sweet and lush black berries with cassis and blackberry being the obvious notes. Red plum and blackcurrant also came through but this slowly slipped into a chocolate and smoked-wood taste which eventually gave way to a spicy and earthy finish light on tannin but crispy enough for a finish.
A very-well composed cuvée with the delicate but fragrant Merlot providing the fruit, the Sangiovese the Tuscan flair and the small amount of Cabernet holding it all together. Perfect on its own, with hard Italian cheeses or with lamb or beef dishes.
Marchese di Frescobaldi - Chianti Rùfina DOCG
It’s been a while since I last reviewed Chianti so I thought I’d go for something not from Classico but from Rùfina – if you wish to find out more about the region, you can check out my guide to it here.
So, I selected the only Chianti Rùfina from the racks of where I work and having only one or two wines to compare it with (tasting notes saved in my skull somewhere), I am rather a novice in this DOCG.
Marchese di Frescobaldi is one of the biggest names in Tuscany and, at least in this price category, it literally wipes the floor with wines from biggest rivals – quality of wine is factor number one and when you start comparing price against quality, you’ll find seldom an Italian vintner who’ll be able to do anything similar.
Nipozzano retails in Germany for 12-15€ but you’ll find it in the UK as well.
Purple-red with a clear peach-like hue.
With a big burst of red fruit to start with, immediately noticeable are strong notes of cassis and sour red cherries but there is a lot of red fruit to be dealing with. There appears to be some kind of a dried fruit character possibly plums and the mineral note after a few sniffs is rather complicated – dark chocolate, a splash of freshly-roasted espresso and some rather festive spices come through too.
The first fruit that hit me was wonderful blackcurrant. This eventually made way for the cassis and raspberry of the red-berry nose and the refreshing level of acidity eventually approached bringing with it the spice promised in the nose. A very faint sense of oak was to detect and it was coupled with the rather mild but finish-shaping tannins which left the wine going on and on and on. The finish wasn’t quick but it was sharpened and defined.
A very well made Chianti, certainly heavily reliant on the spice hidden in the nose and finish in stark contrast to the wines of the other DOCs and DOCGs within the Chianti itself. Both rounded but sharp and refreshing, a perfect red for an evening on the balcony or with some simple fresh food (Tapas, light BBQ). The wine was well made and represents good value, particularly in a region where a decent red can set you back up to 100€.
Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy
Frescobaldi is one of Tuscany’s most important names when it comes to wine. With their iconic reds, Chianti Rufinas and Pomino whites it provides possibly one of the most complete Tuscan wine portfolios of any producer in the region.
Their Luce estate is situated on the famous hills of Montalcino, a region I was lucky enough to visit personally in the summer of last year. Unfortunately back then I flew with a budget airline: you know the rest.
I’ve had Lucente 2009 in my cellar for about nine months now and, with my girlfriend being away and a lack of energy to nip over the road for a six-pack of beer, my reserved wines are paying the price of my thirst.
A second wine of the Luce estate, this wine was fairly priced at about 25€ - yeah, quite a lot for a Wednesday night I know.
Here is what happened.
Purple-red with a lilac hue.
Deep red fruit defined by sweet cassis and fresh strawberries. There appears an element of smoke about the wine and the big oak is worked into the aroma absolutely tremendously. There is fresh plum on the nose with an after-tone of pepper and aniseed.
Choclately smooth, this wine makes great use of the 25% Sangiovese used to make it. With some really intense red fruit in the way of cassis, raspberry and red cherry, the oak finally makes it to the finish, encapsulating the wine with its rich texture and a small amount of vanilla.
Fantastic: an excellent wine combining modern with traditional Tuscany. Far better than Ornellaia’s Le Volte although that too is a great wine, Lucente is a composition of excellent winemaking and fantastic terroir-based big red grapes. The value for money is, despite the 25€ asking price phenomenal – a superb wine. Maybe one day I'll be able to afford the real stuff!
-Sud de France
-Pinot Blanc (Weißburgunder)
-Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder)
-Pinot Meunier (Schwarzriesling)
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
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0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
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-Medium / off-dry
-Brut Zero/ Brut Nature
-Medium / off-dry