The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Go-To-Wine Tuesday: Tenuta dell’Ornellaia 2013 Le Volte

Intense, structured, vibrant and delicious under $30 wine from Ornellaia!

RD8563-2I was very excited and curious to try the new 2013 vintage of Le Volte, the “second wine” from the iconic Tuscan producer Tenuta dell’Ornellaia. After drinking it this past weekend, I’m delighted to tell you that this 2013 Le Volte drinks like a beauty and priced just under $30 it offers a great price-to-quality ratio for a top quality Super-Tuscan.

With neighboring producers like Tenuta San Guido, Antinori’s Guado al Tasso, Grattamacco, and Le Macchiole,Tuscany’s tiny coastal town of Bolgheri is at the pinnacle of winemaking in Tuscany.  Tenuta dell’Ornellaia was one of the region’s first estates, and 1985 was the estate’s first vintage. The estate’s 63 acres are planted predominantly with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with small plantings of Cabernet Franc, all sitting on elevated parcels composed of clay, gravel, and loam soils. Although it is considered the “second wine” of the estate, Le Volte combines the Tuscan expression of opulence and generosity with structure and complexity. The approachable style of Le Volte , a blend of 50% Merlot, 30% Sangiovese and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon (sourced from trusted neighboring estates), reflects the philosophy and outstanding savoir-faire of Tenuta dell’Ornellaia.

One of the secrets of this gorgeous wine is that the grapes from each vineyard ferment separately in individual tanks. This makes a lot of work for winemaker Axel Heinz’s team, but it means that each individual base wine (of which there are more than 60!) contributes its own character to creation of the final blend according to the specific conditions of the vineyard area.  Only after a period of 12 months of aging in French oak barrels does the Ornellaia team select and blend the base wines to create an elegant expression of the vintage’s unique character.

Intense red and dark fruits aromas burst from the glass and the pure fruit notes are beautifully delineated. The 2013 Le Volte reflects its cool growing year and late harvest in its concentration, structure, energy and purity. It’s a perfect wine to enjoy now with a bit of decanting and it’ll pair perfectly well with a wide variety of Mediterranean dishes, grilled or braised meats, but it will drink beautifully for another 7-10 years if you have the patience to age it in your cellar. I highly recommend it and hope you will enjoy it too!

Expert Picks: Antinori and…Antinori!

Two expert selections from John Camacho Vidal

CamachoWhen we think about Cabernet Franc in Italy, we automatically think of Super-Tuscan wines. While Cabernet Franc is considered an international varietal since its origins are in Bordeaux, France, it has been grown in Italy since ancient Roman times, when it was known as Biturca, the name of a tribe in southwest France’s Gironde region. Eighteenth-century records indicate that Cabernet Franc was called Uva Francesca, and although Cabernet Franc was planted throughout Italy after the phylloxera devastation of the nineteenth century, most of the Cabernet vines that remained were mostly in the north where it grew well and thrived. Modern Italy is the second largest producer of Cabernet Franc, after France, and the most well known Italian region for Cabernet Franc is Tuscany. I want to present two Super Tuscan wines that are prime examples of how good Cabernet Franc from Italy can be. One, Antinori’s Tignanello, is a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc and the other, Antinori’s Matarocchio, is an elegant mono-varietal Cabernet Franc.

Antinori 2012 Tignanello $121.99

The nose of this ’12 Tignanello is ethereal with cherry and spice, hints of tar and tobacco and a slight balsamic note. The palate is powerful, dry with noticeable acidity and chewy tannins. A blend of 85% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc, Tignanello was the first Super Tuscan to blend Sangiovese with non-indigenous grape varieties; the wine ages in barrique for a period of twelve months with another twelve months in bottle before release. Drink 2018 to 2032.

Antinori 2011 Matarocchio $349.00

The Antinori family has been making wine for 600 years, and they believe that Il Matarocchio is the maximum expression of both mono-varietal wine and a cru; it’s a wine that best shows the meeting of a single grape variety and a single vineyard, and together, they make a wine that shows its place of origin. 100% Cabernet Franc, this wine shows elegance from the start. It’s dark and dense with a nose full of cedar, spice and eucalyptus followed by minerality, loads of black fruit, leather, and a smoky herbal note. The palate is well balanced with strong grippy tannins and a spicy finish that lingers nicely. Drink 2019 to 2031.


Expert Picks: Le Macchiole and Ca’ Marcanda

Two expert selections from John Camacho Vidal

CamachoThis weekend I focused on Super Tuscans, a style of wine that producers interpret in many ways. One way to understand this group of wines is that they are the Grand Prix of Tuscan enology where all aspects and techniques of winemaking are pushed to the limits to enhance the expression of terroir. Another is that Super Tuscans express a free interpretation of a given area in Tuscany whose winemakers explore the territory beyond the bureaucratic restrictions of DOC and DOCG.

One pioneer that is an example of the above statements is Le Macchiole, established in 1983 by Eugenio Campolmi and one of the major players in the Super-Tuscan movement. Eugenio realized that the best way to make his wine was to make mono-varietal wines that expressed their terroir. The estate believes that wine is made in the vineyard, but the management of the cellar is crucial in achieving quality wine. I tasted the 1999 Scrio, which is starting to enter its drinking window, and I was blown away. While Le Macchiole is an old player in Bolgheri, Angelo Gaja is relatively new to the Super-Tuscan movement. Angelo Gaja is known as a great winemaker, but he’s also know as a rebel and someone who does not necessarily follow the rules of DOC and DOCG, so it’s only natural that he produces Super-Tuscan wine. I tasted the Ca’ Marcanda (Gaja) Camarcanda 2010, and although it’s still rather young, it shows how spectacular it’s going to be with some age.

Ca’ Marcanda (Gaja) 2010 Camarcanda $139.99

This ’10 Super Tuscan bursts with plums, and blackberry, blueberry followed by notes of earth and leather and sweet balsamic. The tannins are silky smooth, and the wine nearly crackles with noticeable acidity that will integrate nicely with time—a baby, this wine is still a bit tight. Patience will reward with this wine. Drink 2017-2025.

Le Macchiole 1999 Scrio $175

Le Machciole makes its mono-varietal Syrah in limited quantities that never exceed 5,000 bottles. The word “Scrio” has Tuscan origins and it translates to “pure,” “sincere,” or “upright,” and this wine is all that with aromas of dark red fruit, mocha, chocolate, earth spice and mineral. Sporting a full, powerful mouth-feel with sweet tannins that have integrated nicely, this wine reveals new aromas and flavors with every sip and ends in a lovely, lingering finish. Drink now.


Recollections of Sassicaia’s Maker

The quiet, aristocratic beauty of Tenuta San Guido

Sebastiano Rosa before Sassicaia's barriques

Sebastiano Rosa before Sassicaia’s barriques

There is an unmistakable scent when wine ages. It’s a smell of ineffable purple, of life and wood and grapes and the alchemy of fruit becoming something else, something greater. The air of every winery I’ve ever visited has that certain aging wine odor, yet they are all unique unto themselves. The closest analogy I can think of, and this will make sense only to horse-lovers, is the scent of horse barns. Every horse barn smells the same, for each one is, after all, a mixture of the same elements. And yet, each barn is individual and, to a horse-lover, something beautiful. Such is the case with wineries.

This analogy makes the most sense when you consider Tenuta San Guido, makers of Sassicaia. Both horse breeders and winemakers, Bolgheri’s Tenuta San Guido owns every inch of its aristocratic heritage. In America, we tend to think of aristocrats as haughty and pretentious—and, certainly, some of them are—but Sassicaia has an intense comfort with itself. It needs to prove nothing to anyone, so it can be simple, beautiful, hi-tech, clean and quiet. It’s a winery of buffed wood or shiny glass and steel. The winery, begun as a foray into experimental wine culture Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, is all these decades later serious business, and its seriousness imbues the wines, which are products of careful study, ceaseless experimentation, and an indefatigable commitment to its grapes.

IMG_1360“Good grapes make good wines,” says Sebastiano Rosa, who was Tenuta San Guido’s Director of Communications when I visited. They do, indeed, but no matter how much the estate tries to play down its viniculture in favor of its viticulture, it’s still a place where wine moves from vat to barrique and barrique to bottle by forced nitrogen so that it isn’t harmed by pumping or mechanization. There’s a serene, spare confidence to Sassicaia, and it’s telling. It’s in the architecture of the buildings. It’s in the air of the tasting room. And it’s in the wines. You can taste the self-assuredness, and it’s comforting and starkly, unattainably beautiful.  These are fairytale wines. This is, after all, where the Super-Tuscan revolution began in 1964, and it remains the beating heart of this extraordinary shift in Italian winemaking.

IMG_1371Today, IWM’s eLetter presented one of the most fabled vintages of Sassicaia, the 1985. Most people will never taste this wine (I haven’t), but that’s okay. There’s always the estate’s Guidalberto or Le Difese, the estate’s second-tier and entry-level wines, and they’re entirely first rate.

Cupano’s Super-Tuscan Love Affair

A love letter to Cupano Sant’Antimo Ombrone


The road leading to Cupano

I remember precisely the first time I ever drank Cupano’s Sant’Antimo Ombrone. It was in late November 2011, and I had spent the day with Ornella Tondini, who owns the estate with her husband, winemaker Lionello Cousin. Ornella had kindly brought me to this awards ceremony and tasting for Brunellos in Montalcino—I don’t remember exactly what it was beyond that everyone who’s anyone in Brunello was sitting in the small, jewel-like theatre.

Lionel Tondini of Cupano

Lionello Cousin of Cupano

The event had stretched into lunch, and lunch had stretched into coffee, which had elided into a bottle of wine or four, popped open on the verandah of Cupano, opera playing in the background, Lionello tending the fire burning in a gutted drum in front of us. The group of people kept shifting kaleidoscopically, but I was always the only American and the only person who couldn’t converse in multiple languages. Everyone there had something to do with wine—they made it, they imported it, they sold it, they loved it.

We began by drinking different vintages of Cupano Brunello, but after some coercion on the part of one of the other guests, Lionel opened a bottle of his Sant’Antimo Ombrone. I’d been in Montalcino a little more than a month; thus I’d been drinking a lot of Brunello. It had been more or less a steady Sangiovese drink, something about which I felt nothing but joy, punctuated by the odd Piemontese Dolcetto or Barbera for variety. So when that velvety, opulent Ombrone crossed my palate, I sat up and took notice. It was both so very different from everything else I’d been drinking, yet so very redolent of the cypress-scented, mineral-inflected air where I sat that it felt both familiar and unknown at once.

The rocky vineyards at Cupano

The rocky vineyards at Cupano

This past Christmas, I poured the Ombrone 2006 for friends at Christmas dinner. It drank like a perfect little chamber orchestra, each note building upon the one before, each one working in concert to create a delightful, deceptively powerful experience. I alone at the dinner had been to Montalcino—in fact, I think I was more or less the only wine person—but everyone loved the wine.

That’s the kind of wine Cupano Sant’Antimo Ombrone is. It’s like its two gracious makers, Ornella and Lionel, people who open their house, their lives and their bottles to strangers and make them lifelong friends.

Today’s eLetter offer featured the 2010 vintage of Cupano Sant’Antimo Ombrone; priced at under $40, it’s a steal.


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