Castellari Isola del Giglio ~ The Italian White Wine Treasure Off the Tuscan Coast…

Castellari Isola del Giglio is the realisation of the viticultural dream of South African Manfred Ing, better know as the head winemaker for Tuscan winery Querciabella in Gaiole. Together with joint venture partner Simone Ghelli, who had been visiting the island since the 1990s, Manfred started this sideline wine project on this ancient Tuscan granitic island of Giglio in the Mediterranean. 


Manfred’s love of the land lead him to rediscover the ancient, abandoned vineyards on the steep terraced hillside slopes of Giglio, and so he set about producing fine wine from the indigenous Ansonica grapes. This labour of love started with their first vintage in 2013 and has slowly grown to a production of just over 900 bottles for the 2015 vintage.


“Calzo della Vignia” originates in the Castellari and Finocchio vineyards on this windswept island, characterized by its loose granitic soils. The wine attempts to respect the traditional ways of winemaking in Giglio, using only 100% Ansonica grapes that were hand picked from two vineyards in early September. Back in the cellar, once destemmed, the Ansonica was fermented naturally on its skins for up to 3 months. The wine was then pressed off into old French oak barrels where maturation continued for several months before bottling.


Castellari Isola del Giglio Calzo della Vignia Toscana Bianco IGT 2015, 12 Abv.

The dark gold, straw yellow colour reveals this wine’s 3 months ageing on its skins. This really is a tantalising gourmet wine, and one taste would be enough to make the most seasoned sommelier week at the knees. But this wine is certainly not so esoteric so as to only appeal to wine geeks, foodies, and hipsters. The aromatics are profound, displaying complex notes of lime zest, pineapple pastille, white pepper, yellow grapefruit pith, and dusty pear drops. There are also plenty of attractive phenolic nuances melting into a complex melange of peach skins, orchard fruits, baked apple skins and pithy, wet stone minerality. The aromatic components lift out the glass in perfect harmony. The palate too is very fine, focused and intense, with vibrant white peach fruit, soft bright acids, pithy grippy sherbet powder tannins, sun dried pineapples and mangoes, dedicated coconut, and a dry, saltly Sauternes-like finish. Heady and evocative, this wine shows great elegance, power and terroir specificity. A wine for food as well as contemplation. Utterly delicious.

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

Ornellaia 2014 ~ Exceeding All Quality Expectations For the Vintage…

I recently had an incredibly interesting tasting Masterclass with Ornellaia winemaker Axel Heinz as he launched the new bottled release of their Bolgheri red blend 2014 in the UK. The tasting took the format of a deconstruction component tasting Masterclass for barrel samples from the upcoming 2015 vintage.


The point of the tasting was not specifically to explain the 2014 vintage per se, but to illustrate the analysis, tasting, micro-vinifications, and terroir analysis that goes into the construction of the Ornellaia flagship blend every year. We tasted nine Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot single varietal vinifications that illustrate the jigsaw of terroirs that are analysed to create the perfect completed wine jigsaw within any given vintage. Fascinating.



2014 was considered a very challenging vintage with a warm and wet winter followed by a mild and dry spring, allowing for normal vegetative growth with punctual and regular flowering. Perfect July weather was followed by a cold and rainy August, creating very difficult conditions for ripening and greatly increasing the risk of vineyard diseases.


Meticulous work in the vineyards was required to keep the canopy and fruit healthy. But this work was rewarded with two successive months of mostly dry, sunny weather creating excellent conditions for ripening. It was at harvest time that the intricate analysis of various plots really came into its own. The result was one of the longest, most delayed harvests on record ending on the 22nd October.


Tasting Note: 

Ornellaia 2014 Bolgheri DOC Rosso Superiore, Italy

Having already tasted and scored most of the Bolgheri 2014s, it was with great anticipation that I finally got to taste both the Ornellaia 2014 and the Le Serre Nuove 2014. This is a very impressive expression of Ornellaia, blended from 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 20% Petit Verdot. Born out of a very difficult vintage, winemaker Axel Heinz has exceeded expectations producing a rich, opulent, yet classically proportioned wine that overflows with black berry fruits, cherry, liquorice stick, damson plums, bramble fruits and dusty graphite notes. The palate is bright and pure with a real sense of textural precision. There is wonderful cut and freshness, but also superb black and blue berry fruit intensity and linear, mineral definition. This wine is the ultimate surprise package. With 20% (instead of the usual 4-5%) of late ripening Petit Verdot in the blend, you’d expect this vintage to feel a little different. It is a true testament to the obsessive commitment winemaker Axel Heinz has committed to this challenging vintage. Drink from 2020 to 2040.

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


“This year represents the heart of the estate, Ornellaia’s ‘Essence’: its natural style, the exceptional quality of its terroir, and the competence of those who work in the vineyards and the cellar.” ~ Axel Heinz, Winemaker, Ornellaia

Prepping For “Montalcino March” with Some Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino 2011…

Burgundy En-primeur has taken ownership of months January and February, Bordeaux April and May. So the gap in between had to be filled by Montalcino March. This region’s new releases now command more interest with drinkers than almost any other Italian releases including Bolgheri, Barolo and Barbaresco. Their quality, wine style and importantly, release prices, have struck a cord so loud and true that demand continues to grow year on year and demand is now outstripping supply. 


With our own Brunello EP tastings in London just days away, I thought I would start getting into the mood properly with a sexy bottle of last years Gaja Brunello di Montalcino 2011 release. Here’s my Wine Safari verdict…


Tasting Note: The Brunello di Montalcino 2011 is made from a blend of fruit from different vineyard parcels in the north west of Montalcino. The sites have more cooler northerly exposures than those of the Cru vineyards Rennina and Sugarille located further south around the winery, where warmer south and south easterly exposures dominate. The aromatics are dark, broody and spicy with a melange of dried herbs, tobacco, oregano and thyme and an overtone of aniseed root, raisined cherries, blood oranges and vermouth spices. You can taste the slightly cooler, spicier taughtness of the northerly sites which are crisper, fresher and more linear and angular on the palate. There are no over ripe fruit notes despite the 15 Abv, with the crisp fresh acids keeping the palate taught and slightly fours-square. The mid palate fruit is beautifully seductive and silky, spreading out across the palate to leave a long, pithy, graphite laden black cherry and aniseed finish. There is more frame, more angles, more spice than riper southern Montalcino wines. This wine is unashamedly youthful and minerally grippy but also vibrantly fresh. It does not possess the depth and power of the epic 2010, nor the sweet opulent generosity of the 2012, but it’s a thoroughly pleasing wine to swirl and savour. Start drinking in 3 to 5 years time.

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

Tasting the Superb Limited Release Val di Toro T3 Special Reserve 2010 Maremma Toscana IGT…

Today one of my favourite Italian producers popped in for a tasting of their new vintages. Hugh Maxwell and his wife Anna have been producing beautiful wines in the Maremma at Val di Toro since 2006. If my memory serves me correctly, I was the first wine merchant to buy their wines in the UK.


But today I was in for a big treat as Hugh brought along a very special bottle to taste. Having bought and sold a lot of Val di Toro’s 2010 estate wine, what a surprise to be given a bottle of the T3 2010! Standing for Tonneau No.3, this batch was identified at the time of production as possessing extra special qualities and so it was decided to separate out this tonneau and age and bottle it separately.


A blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Montepulciano, this wine would require at least 85% Sangiovese to qualify as Morellino di Scansano DOC, however that was never Hugh and Anna’s intention, hence the Maremma IGT classification. Here is my verdict…

The site of Val di Toro, near Grosseto

Tasting Note: As you raise the glass to your nose, it becomes evidently clear this is a special wine. Brimming with lifted perfume and aromatic complexity, this wine seduces from the outset. Lashing of caramelised cherry, kirsch liquor, raisined cranberries, vanilla pod and clove spice flow out of the glass. It’s hard to move past the opulence and extrovert character of the nose. Another swirl and yet more aromas waft out the glass… sweet tobacco leaves, cedar wood spice and aniseed root.


The palate certainly does not disappoint either. Richly textured, the layers of liquorice, sweet caramelised cherries, vanilla pod spice, sour plums and salty black currant are tightly woven together with just a hint of volatile acidity adding a mouth watering vibrancy. The finish is long, pithy and super intense, with sweet creamy tannins and lingering notes of plump sweet blood oranges, tart maraschino cherries and liquorice stick. Wow! This wine really reminds me of a top notch Brunello di Montalcino from a ripe vintage with extra complexity from a few years in bottle. This is indeed a profound wine that unfurls over the hours and builds to an epic crescendo. I don’t know who’s decision it was to separate out this single tonneau, but congratulations. You raised an Adonis of a wine! 

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