Fattoria Le Pupille Releases Their Impressive New Saffredi 2017 Super Tuscan in London… 

The original Sangiovese based wines of Le Pupille were made under the Morellino di Scansano appellation. So when Elisabetta Geppetti proceeded with her vision to add an international dimension to the estate’s wines, the Maremma’s first quality Super Tuscan was born.

The Cabernet Sauvignon based blend Saffredi was first released in 1989 with the 1987 vintage, made in consultation with Giacomo Tachis, one of the founding fathers of Italy’s Super Tuscan wine style. The Tachis era ended in 1996 and subsequent consultants involved with Saffredi have included Riccardo Cotarella, ex-Chateau Latour winemaker, Christian Le Sommer and currently, Luca del Toma.

As various consulting winemakers have taken the reigns and made their mark, so the Saffredi blend has slowly evolved, starting off initially as a pure Cabernet Sauvignon wine until 1990, after which Merlot, Syrah and Alicante have all played differing supporting roles. Today, the modern expression of Saffredi relies on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot, all harmoniously blended to produce one of the most highly sought after reds in Tuscany.

Tasting at the London launch with Elisabetta Geppetti’s daughter, Clara Gentili.

Fattoria Le Pupille Saffredi 2017, IGT Toscana, 14.5 Abv.

The 2017 marks the 30th vintage of this now iconic wine and is made up of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot. Impressive quality delivered in a warm, challenging vintage. The aromatics are super perfumed, exotic and seductive with layers of cherry sherbet, crushed limestone, tart cassis and sour Victoria plums. The fine grained tannins are sweet and rounded supported by delicious freshness and vibrant acid brightness. Certainly no shortage of intense strawberry and black berry fruits, cherry spice, pomegranate, cola and subtle hints of graphite minerality and wood spice on the finish. A triumph of quality for the vintage and every bit as good as the lauded 2016!

(Fine Wine Safari: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tasting the Sensational New Release Marchesi Di Gresy Martinenga 2015 with Jeff Chilcott in London…

If the wines of Angelo Gaja are the Domaine de la Romanee Conti of Barbaresco, then in my mind the pure, precise, fragrant, linear expressions from Kiwi winemaker Jeff Chilcott must surely be the Armand Rousseau. Coming from a site famous since ancient Roman times, the Marchesi Di Gresy estate was originally known as ‘Villa Martis’ with its 11 hectares of single vineyard Martinenga Nebbiolo producing some of the best Barbaresco DOCG reds in the region.

Marchesi Di Gresy own the entirety of Martinenga and split it into three cru terroirs – Gaiun (2.3ha south-facing), Camp Gros (2.6ha south-west facing) and Martinenga (6.5ha facing south/south-west). This ideal exposure at an altitude of 250-280m contains a very special soil composition of blue marl (a mix of clay, chalk and limestone) which all help combine to produce wines of exceptional class, structure and finesse.

Tasting with winemaker Jeff Chilcott in London recently.

The owner Alberto is rarely over in London showing his estate’s wines but these days is more often than not ably supported by his daughter Ludovica and son Alessandro. I recently caught up with Jeff on one of his flying visits to London and had the opportunity to taste the range with him including his sensational new Martinenga 2015 Barbaresco.

Marchesi di Gresy Barbaresco Martinenga 2015, 14.5 Abv.

From a warm year in Barbaresco, winemaker Jeff Chillcott recons they managed to make a very decent wine. Piedmont of course prefers the cooler years, but in 2015 they had to pick before the end of September. The wine is fabulously perfumed and precise with a piquant note of dried almonds, sour red cherry, pink musk, exotic cherry blossoms and red currant crumble. On the palate there is the usual impressive precision, purity and linearity you find in all Jeff’s Barbarescos. The entry is very seductive with a sweet pocket of spicy, pithy red cherry confit combined with a gravelly minerality. The texture is oh so fine, like polished marble and the acids fresh but soft and perfectly integrated. Medium bodied in weight, silky smooth and utterly seductive, this wine has enough ripeness, freshness and mineral tannin grip to allow good age ability. Definitely one for the collection!

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Garnacha not Guerra – The Creation of a Sardinian Cult Wine…

If you are looking for a Grenache with a difference, Garnacha not Guerra is for you. A fabulous interpretation of Cannonau / Grenache from clay – sand soils over granite in Sardinia. Mick O’Connell MW has basically taken one variable out (picking date is always in the couple of days before 1st September) so the wine can show clearly how the vintage treats Grenache in the two plots he picks each year.

Winemaking is the same each year, using whole bunches, spontaneous fermentation, foot treading, a short maceration, no oak use, no fining or filtration and only a tiny bit of SO2 is used at bottling.

The biggest difference between 2017 and 2018 was that 2017 was ridiculously hot and dry and it shows in the firmness and structure of the wine. But 2018, by Sardinian standards, was cool and wet producing a much prettier, juicy, bright style with a much lighter colour. A short maceration is employed partly because Mick isn’t too concerned about the wine’s colour and also because he tries to avoid any astringency being extracted from the stems.

The story of the label – When Mick had the original idea of making a wine in Sardinia, he really wanted it to be the antithesis of the other red wines he was drinking there, most of which were flabby, oaky and just flat lacking freshness. So the answer was doing the opposite of everything the other producers were doing. He couldn’t go and call it Cannonau then depsite the fact the fruit could all be classed as Cannonau di Sardegna DOC.

There’s a bit of graffiti in a town called Orgosolo near where he sources some of the fruit which says “concimi non proiettili” which means “compost not bullets” – Mick absolutely loved that name but couldn’t say the last word – very tough Italian pronunciation! But it did inspire his wine’s original name.

For the 2017 vintage Mick moved into the corner of a winery where previously he had been in a garage. Since moving in there he’s had to play by their rules which has meant having to adjust the labels a bit. Because he’s only claiming classification as a “table wine” legally there shouldn’t be a vintage on the label, so 2018 is being called V4 or Version 4.

There’s also a bit of funniness around the use of “Garnacha” or not – for Vino Rosso you can use an international variety but because there is a DOC with Cannonau in the name you can’t use synonyms of Cannonau unless you claim the DOC. So the 2017 and 2018 labels have been renamed G not Guerra.

Cancedda O’Connell Garnacha not Guerra 2018 V4, Sardinia, 12 Abv.

The fourth vintage of this wine harks back to the maiden 2015 with its light 12 percent alcohol and crystalline, translucent purity. Mouthwatering and seductive the 2018 is fabulously pale in colour, almost like a rosato. But there is nothing timid about this wine whatsoever with its superbly lifted aromatics of sun raisined red cherries, cranberries and red plum spice. Delicate notes of dried tangerine peel and wild botanical herbal notes add an extra complex dimension to the wine. The palate is resplendently light, pure and elegant with the texture of a fine Pinot Noir with the mid palate plumped up with sweet sappy cherry fruits, tart cranberry, grilled Mediterranean herbs and a spicy, peppery note on the finish. Seamless and silky, vibrant and deliciously fresh, this wine has a real inner harmony and beauty that will seduce on the first sip. Possibly my favourite vintage yet.

(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

A Decade of Seeking Maremma Perfection – Tasting the Immaculate 10th Vintage of Val di Toro…

I recently tasted the delicious Val di Toro X Vendemmia 2015 red from Anna Maria Cruciata and Hugh Maxwell, owners of the dynamic Val di Toro estate in the Maremma that lies between Grosseto and Scansano. Wow, I thought, has it really been ten years since I first tasted their maiden release red? A decade of growth and a decade of fine tuning has now resulted in one of their greatest red creations to date.

The 2015 vintage was an incredible year in the Maremma and also a year Hugh and Anna decided to put their organically grown Sangiovese grapes into large new Slavonian oak botte where it was aged for 24 months before being bottled. The results have been captured immaculately in bottle and represent the pinnacle of the Val di Toro journey to quality.

 

Val di Toro 2015 X Vendemmia Maremma Toscana Sangiovese, 14.5 Abv.

Always a dense, concentrated red wine, Val di Toro has never lacked intensity or depth. But what the 2015 reveals is definitely a vinous revelation and a notable step up in quality. The aromatics portray a picture of beauty, seductive perfume, sweet red cherry, sandalwood, resinous sappy oak spice, vanilla pod, aniseed root and a bold lashing of caramelised red cranberries. The palate is regal and broad, incredibly fine grained and suave with a fine balance and ambitious textural harmony. Who knew Sangiovese tannins could be so sweet and sensual? Still very youthful, there are no edges to speak of and elegance and finesse are the words that inspire a palate built around intensity, sublime balance and succulent length. In many ways, the addition of the botte ageing has added an almost “Brunello’esque” gravitas to the wine and an intriguing extra level of complexity and allure. This is surely a wine that will age and improve for a good 10 to 15 years but also a vinous delicacy that is so delicious to drink in its vibrant halo of youth.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Gaja Highlights Their New Tuscan Releases at a High Profile Masterclass in London…

In 2019, as Angelo Gaja reaches 78 years old, he has for the first time all his children, Gaia, Roxanna and Giovanni all working together representing the family’s multiple estates. So it was perhaps extra fitting that today Angelo Gaja was awarded the prestigious Institute of Masters of Wines’s Winemakers’ Winemaker Award at Prowein in Dusseldorf.

However, for this tasting in London, Gaia and Giovanni started by profiling the family’s most recent Gaja winery acquisition in 1996, running through the full range of Ca’Marcanda wines produced in Bolgheri, coastal Tuscany, home of legendary neighbours Guado al Tasso, Ornellaia and Sassicaia.

Ca’Marcanda is also the Gaja winery that has seen the most marked increase in quality over the past 5 years as new plantings age and the family slowly learns the true potential of the estate’s terroir that includes 27 different soil types.

Tasting with Gaia Gaja and Giovanni Gaja at the Lanesborough in London.

75 hectares were bought in Bolgheri in 1996 with another 50 hectares subsequently acquired near Bibbona, outside the DOC Bolgheri appellation, for fruit that goes into the Vistamare white and Sangiovese grapes for some of their non-DOC reds.

Ca’Marcanda Vistamare 2018, 14 Abv.

A blend of Vermentino and Viognier, the wine shows vibrant pithy aromatics loaded with white citrus, salty maritime notes, green apple, ripe pear, sweet blossom and chalky, stony notes. Despite the vintage’s rain, there is a fine stony green apple fruit concentration, rasping white citrus and a delicious fleshy texture.

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Giovanni, Gaia and UK agent, Patrick McGrath MW from Hatch Mansfield.

Ca’Marcanda Promis 2017, 13.5 Abv.

55% Merlot, 35% Syrah and 10% Sangiovese blend. An incredibly hot, dry year but not in the mould of 2003. The year started dry and hot so conditions were far more anticipated. Over ripeness has been avoided yielding a fine opulent example with plushness, sweet black berry fruited nose from tiny berries that embraces the subtle chocolatey mocha, nutty, oak notes and chalky, dusty mineral tannin on the finish. Very mineral and powerful, perfectly representing the small, thick skinned grapes vinified in this vintage.

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Ca’Marcanda Magari 2017, 14 Abv.

A blend of 60% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot. The aromatics immediately show ample complex lifted perfume notes with layers of violets, lavender, coastal garrigue and sweet dark black bramble berries. Silky soft elegant texture, there is impressive freshness and generosity framed by chalky mineral graphite tannins, sweet blueberry and black cherry fruit concentration and a delicate concentrated cassis confit length. A wonderfully composed and orchestrated red blend with a lot of class.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Ca’Marcanda Camarcanda 2016, 14 Abv.

A blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Cabernet Franc. The flagship Red comes from the “almost perfect” 2016 vintage where Gaia said everything was in perfect balance and harmony. Already very open and “friendly”, the Carmacanda shows dense dark black currant depth, sweet cassis, graphite spice and a very restrained, fresh, crunchy concentrated finish with real verve and nerve, tension and generosity. The 17 degree C diurnal temperature shift between day and night during vintage really shows its imprint through bright, linear, vibrant glassy acids framing the pure, precise black fruits. Sublime precision and pinpoint elegance with substantial power and drive. This wine has class and quality written all over it. Possibly the finest Camarcanda flagship expression produced to date.

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Gaja Winery owns wine estates in Barbaresco (Piedmont), Pieve Santa Restituta winery in Montalcino (Tuscany) and Ca’ Marcanda winery in Castagneto Carducci (Tuscany). In 2017, the Gaja family undertook a joint venture with the Graci family. Together they purchased vineyard acreage on the southern slope of Sicily’s Mount Etna, where you can find Nerello Mascalese and Carricante varieties. Plans for the new Gaja winery are currently awaiting planning permission in Sicily.

Sassicaia 2016 – A Legendary Red Wine in the Making…

One of the great things about Sassicaia new releases is that every year you get to taste the new wine alongside the estate’s Guidalberto and the Le Difese cuvees, both from the subsequent vintage. Last year, while tasting the incredibly fine Sassicaia 2015, it was the Guidalberto 2016 that really turned heads and got tongues wagging. If the unofficial second wine is this good, what could we expect from Sassicaia 2016 itself!?

 

So after 12 months of waiting, we recently got to taste the new Sassicaia 2016 release in London. Rather unusually, the wine had already been tasted and rated 100 points by The Wine Advocate’s Italian reviewer, Monica Larner, which as can be expected, set the fine wine trade fully ablaze and sent merchants into a vinous frenzy as they ventured to secure precious allocations. Also, the fact that Monica Larner had scored the 2015 Sassicaia the same as I had at 97/100 merely served to further increase my own personal interest in the new release.

 

What can be confirmed is that both 2015 and 2016 are certainly two of the best back to back vintages anyone can remember in Tuscany. The 2010 Bolgheri reds were fantastically good and the 2013’s were also very memorable, but neither vintage was as highly anticipated as either the 2015 or 2016 releases. Hype can make vintages seem even better than they are, but in this case, these two back to back 5 star vintages seem to be fully grounded around their exceptional quality in the bottle.

 

Tasting the Sassicaia 2016 with Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta in London.

Both vintages saw long hot summers that encouraged vigorous vine growth. In 2015, a cold and rainy winter preceded an irregular spring followed by exceptionally hot, dry summer weather, creating small bunches of grapes, leading to reduced yields across the region, exacerbated by several violent August hailstorms, although concentration levels are very good. 2016 was another very good vintage in Tuscany which produced wines with deep colour, piercing freshness and impressive fragrance. However, yields across the region were again down by up to -20% compared to the average and at Sassicaia, their own yields were down at least -10%, which was reflected in merchant’s final bottle wine allocations.

 

Will the 2016 with is sublime fruit purity, linear tension and taught acid freshness live up to the legendary status of the 1985? Who knows? All that is certain is that it is an incredibly fine Sassicaia expression and possibly one of the best young Sassicaia releases I have ever tasted. Buy some, age it and if you are lucky, it will turn out to be a wine to rival the 1985 in cult status.

Tenuta San Guido Le Difese de Sassicaia 2017, IGT Toscana

As usual, the le Difese blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Sangiovese delivers an incredible level of complexity and vinous pleasure for the price. The 2017 is a slightly opaque plum ruby red and offers up a fine aromatic melange of red cherries, melted tar, sweet baking spices, red plum confit, red liquorice and a piquant high note. Texturally the palate is bold and full, deliciously fleshy and plump with a glycerol weight that rolls around the mouth. Acids are sappy and fresh enlivening the sweet red fruit flavours of sun raisined red plum, sweet red cherry, aniseed and liquorice stick. Another classy, thoroughly delicious, opulent rendition of this Tuscan favourite. Drink now to 2025+.  

(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto 2017, IGT Toscana (Barrel Sample)

T he 2017 Guidalberto blend is made up of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot and has an alluring dark black plum colour. Like the le Difese 2017, there are attractive aromatic nuances of exotic grilled herbs and sweet dried spices that flow from the glass in a most seductive manner with layers of spicy red plum, pithy red cherry, incense, lipstick, graphite and a fabulous mineral undertone. The palate is super precise and sleek with a creamy, fleshy, harmonious concentration of sweet red cherries, bramble berries, plum skins and crushed limestone that is neatly and concisely supported by suave chalky dry tannins and a sappy, leafy sweet and sour acidity. The noteworthy power and intensity is offered up in a very approachable style but as always, suggests ageing this wine further will bring even greater textural harmony and with it enhanced drinking pleasure. Drink now to 2030+.  

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2016, DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia, Toscana

After tasting the super impressive Guidalberto 2016 last year, the anticipation for the release of the 2016 Sassicaia started building from that point for a full 12 months! The wine sticks to the classical blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc and offers up a cornucopia of perfumed aromatics of sweet red crystallised cherries, red bramble berries, dried herbs, sage, sweet cedar and a subtle menthol red peppercorn exoticism. Fabulously complex, the 2016 unfurls in the glass in the manner of a young Grand Cru Cotes de Nuits Burgundy overpowering the senses with a seamless, integrated harmonious concentration. Effortlessly classy, sublimely opulent and intense but also treads so lightly. The 2016 picks up precisely where the epic 2015 let off but adds a few extra dimensions of textural finesse and intensity without ever being overtly glossy. Very impressive effort indeed. Another expression that will undoubtedly be compared to the now iconic 1985 Sassicaia. Will it live up to those proven 100 point heights? Only time will tell but it looks a sure bet if ever there was one! Drink from 2022 to 2045+.  

(Wine Safari Score: 98+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Wines distributed to the UK trade through Armit Wines.

Sardinian Wine But Not As You Know It – Tasting the Delicious New Garnacha not Guerra 2017 Rosso…

Mick O’Connell MW and Sardinian brother-in-law business partner Gianluca Cancedda finally deliver their third release in their Garnacha winemaking journey in Sardinia. Picked on the 27th and 28th of August 2017 from 250 and 350 metre altitude organic Garnacha vineyards, the date was actually slightly earlier than the lower Abv first release 2015 and second release 2016 vintage.

2017 was indeed very hot and dry but careful berry sorting ensured raisined grapes were discarded to avoid any jammy flavours during vinification. The wild yeast fermentation used only whole bunch clusters with the juice spending four days macerating on the skins.

Garnacha not Guerra 2017, Vino Rosso, Sardinia, 14 Abv.

The colour of this riper 2017 vintage is darker, blacker and more opaque but the nose retains an impressively expressive aromatic lift of cherry blossom, sweet lavender, grilled herbs, sweet raspberry confit, crushed gravel minerality and a lick of balsamic richness. On the palate, the hallmark Garnacha not Guerra drinkability is definitely evident with bright juicy acids but within the textural context of a slightly darker, blacker, broodier berry fruit profile together with more muscular, grippy mineral tannins. All this intensity translates into a slightly more serious offering but certainly no less delicious and mouth watering. It is going to be a wonderful wine to watch evolve and mature over the next 3 to 5 years.

(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)