Passion and Precision in the Heart of the Maremma – Tasting the New Release Podere Val di Toro Vermentino…

It is not very often that a new winery just drops in for an impromptu visit to introduce their wines and you fall completely in love with the entire range. Well that’s what happened when I first tasted Hugh and Anna’s wines from their Maremma winery Podere Val di Toro, situated between Grosseto and Scansano near the Tuscan coast.

Fast forward 7 or 8 years and the range has grown to include one of the most delicious up and coming cult Rose wines made in the mould of Whispering Angel but utilising Sangiovese grapes, as well as one of the very finest Vermentino whites in the Maremma where conditions are perfect for this aromatic variety.

With the close proximity to the sea, a soil rich in minerals and ample sunshine, the Auramaris Vermentino has garnered awards thick and fast including several 90-plus ratings and a 5 star award from Decanter Magazine.

Anna Maria Cruciata and husband Hugh Maxwell

Podere Val di Toro Auramaris Vermentino 2017, DOC Maremma Toscana, 13.5 Abv.

Primary, taut, vibrant and fresh, this young Vermentino positively bristles with new vintage energy. The aromatics are correspondingly fresh, pure and primary packed full of waxy green apples, creme soda, lemon grass, dried straw, honeydew melon and dusty crushed gravel minerality. The palate entry is also ultra mineral, reminiscent of sucking on wet river pebbles, classically dry and restrained showing a seamlessly balanced mouthfeel. The addition of 15% Grechetto increases the harmony and complexity of this wine and there is no shortage of green apple pastille and crunchy white peach fruit laced with subtle rock candy bon bon length. Sleek, classical and quite grown up, the Auramaris is one of the finest Vermentino examples in Tuscany. Drink now to 2024+.

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

Certified Organic through BioAgriCert.

http://www.valditoro.it

Sassicaia 2015 – An Outstanding Vintage Release to Rival the Great 1985 from Tenuta San Guido in Bolgheri…

2015 was another wonderful year all across European winelands, producing some truly exceptional wines in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Spain, Germany, and of course Italy. While longer aged Brunello’s and Barolo’s are still some way off being released, 2018 is the year for a whole long awaited tranche of 2015 Tuscan gems from Sassicaia to Ornellaia, Tignanello to Solaia.

The release of the 2015 vintage of Sassicaia from Tenuta San Guido captures the essence of this truly unique vine growing terroir, showcasing generous, refined black fruit aromas, power and balance, together with beautiful freshness and elegance.

There has been much excitement about 2015 in Tuscany which the estate of Tenuta San Guido confidently compares to the very famous 1985 vintage. Both shared similar climatic conditions – a mild winter that was followed by heavy rains in the spring and a hot summer, with higher than average temperatures in June and July, resulting in very healthy vineyards and excellent ripening across all varietals.

Tenuta San Guido has created what James Suckling calls “potentially one of the best Sassicaia’s in decades”, awarding it 98/100 points in his most recent tasting report. Antonio Galloni’s early Bolgheri reports for Vinous, confirms that the “warm, dry growing season produced generous, highly expressive wines.” Collectors and connoisseurs of Italian Super Tuscan blends are in for a very big treat this vintage.

The Wines

Tenuta San Guido Le Difese 2016, IGT Toscana, 13.5% Abv.

Made up of its usual blend of 30% Sangiovese and 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, this is Sassicaia’s answer to an earlier drinking wine. Deliciously bright and inviting, the nose is intensely aromatic with spring violets, cherry blossom, dried rose petals and a wonderful melange of raspberry, crushed red cherries and salty red liquorice. Crunchy and crystalline, the palate shows velvety soft chalky tannins, mouth wateringly fresh acids, beautiful purity and a corresponding amount of verve and vigour. One wonders what else you could possible hope for from a classy little wine like this. Drink from release and for 10+ years if well cellared.

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

Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto 2016, IGT Toscana, 14% Abv.

Officially the second wine of Sassicaia created in 2000, this 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot blend is always one of the wineries most sought after wines due to its exceptionally high quality, outstanding value for money on release and its impressive ability to age. The aromatics tip their hat to big brother Sassicaia, with a dense core of Cabernet Sauvignon cedar spice, violets, cassis, earthy black berries and subtle mineral graphite notes. There is an abundance of opulence, expressive plummy flesh, leafy black currant spice and the most seamless, polished mineral tannins imaginable. A structural reprise on the finish reveals juicy tart red berry and cranberry fruit notes which combine with chalky grippy tannins, ensuring a long, distinguished finish brimming with power, elegance and superb textural balance. Drink from 2020 until 2035+

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

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2015, DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia, Toscana, 14% Abv.

Always exciting to taste this icon wine on release, none more so than in block buster quality years like 2015. First bottled commercially in 1968, this 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc blend comes from vineyards at 100 to 400 metres altitude, planted in soils rich in limestone and clay. The aromatics are instantly noticeable for their deeper, darker, riper, broodier fruit profile. Fairly closed and tight on opening, the perfume is a little shy but you can sense the depth and complexity waiting to emerge from beneath. So many notes of pithy black cherries, black currant, leafy black plum and a sappy, resinous fragrance from the Cabernet Franc component. The oaking is almost imperceptible, allowing the fruit and mineral terroir notes to take centre stage. The palate shows beautiful poise, elegance and harmonious balance, framing the red and black berry fruits with incredibly dense, creamy, velvety tannins. The acids are fresh and vibrant, embroidering the palate and keeping it crystalline and vital. Beautifully complex at this youthful stage, it remains imposing yet light on its feet, concentrated but energetic and pure. With such depth of fruit, intense structure and graphite minerality, this vintage looks set for a very long and distinguished road of evolution. A really outstanding effort. Drink from 2022 to 2045+

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

Fattoria Le Pupille Saffredi Masterclass with Elisabetta Geppetti…

Elisabetta Geppetti was only 20 years old when, in 1985 she first took the reigns at her family’s tiny 2 hectare property near Pereta in the Scansano zone. At this time, Tuscan wines were often seen as being of underwhelming quality and fine wines in the Maremma itself were practically non existent.

The original Sangiovese based wines of Le Pupille were made under the Morellino di Scansano appellation. So when Elisabetta proceeded with her vision to add an international dimension to the estates 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.

Fattoria Le Pupille Saffredi 1992, 12 Abv. (Giacometti Tachis)

78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 5% Alicante (Cannonau or Garnacha)

Real depth and allure from this small vintage, the nose is a perfect melange of tertiary and creamy savoury red berry fruits. Plenty of graphite, woodsmoke, diesel rag, blood orange, liquorice stick and sweet earthy bramble berry confit notes. Cool and fine, this is really classy, the work of a master, with a tender touch and soft chalky tannins, stony minerality and spicy, macerated black berries and rooibos tea notes on the long finish. A real rarity.

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

Fattoria Le Pupille Saffredi 1998, 13.5 Abv. (Riccardo Cotarella, brother of Renzo)

55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Alicante (Cannonau or Garnacha)

Rich, aromatics, with sweet leather, savoury plums, liquorice stick and sweet herbal pot pourri notes. Quite lactic and chocolaty, very sleek, elegant and fine boned, this has powdery pithy tannins, and a wonderfully fine texture. So seamless, complex yet vibrant with beguiling leather, aniseed root, creamy strawberries and raisined savoury black cherries on the long, cool, finish. Really grows on you.

(Wine Safari: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Fattoria Le Pupille Saffredi 2004, 14 Abv. (Christian Le Sommer)

50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 5% Syrah

First thing that strikes you about this wine is its purity, clarity and modernity. Perhaps the intensity of the superb 2004 vintage helps shape its character. The nose is dark and seductive, vital, brimming with black cherry, kirsch liquor, saline cassis and black current leaf notes with a subtle backing of graphite, herbs and liquorice. Seamless balance, vibrant acids, a creamy intense palate breadth and wonderful harmony reinforce this wines pedigree. Very fine indeed.

(Wine Safari: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Fattoria Le Pupille Saffredi 2007, 14.5 Abv. (Christian Le Sommer)

45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 10% Syrah

The aromatics are laden with dark black fruits, black cherry spice, Kirsch liquor and creamy black current, cassis, pastille confectionary notes. Another superb vintage in Tuscany, the palate of the 2007 shows more coffee bean, bruleed cherry and a hint of molasses and liquorice spice. A complex, animated expression, with layers of graphite, crush gravel and subtle savoury Syrah black pepper seasoning. Plenty of life ahead of this wine.

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

Fattoria Le Pupille Saffredi 2010, 14 Abv. (Christian Le Sommer)

50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 5% Syrah

Another lifted nose with plenty of youthful fragrance. There is a dark broody depth suggesting both a higher alcohol and ripeness level. Aromatics of sweet raisined cherry, black berry, tar, graphite and liquorice tease the palate with subtle layers of caramelised cherry, and vanilla pod spice. Deep, dark, fleshy depth shows some alcohol lift, picante, sweet black berry Syrah spice, but remains compact, full bodied and elegant with admittedly more muscle and ripeness.

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

Fattoria Le Pupille Saffredi 2013, 14.5 Abv. (Luca del Toma)

60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot

A wine that shows its Cabernet base from the start. Violets, cedar, graphite and wood spice mix with liquorice, black current leaf and bramble berry spice. Still youthfully taught, the minerality rises to the fore without too much coaxing out the glass. Like the 2004, the purity and clarity of the crystalline black current and cassis fruit is so impressive and mouth watering, but lacks none of the flesh, density, and earthy power of previous vintages. Another excellent vintage in Tuscany, 2013 combines the best characteristics of fresh acids, harmonious fruit depth and all round complexity.

(Wine Safari: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Fattoria Le Pupille Saffredi 2015, Toscana, 14.5 Abv. (Luca del Toma)

60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot

Opulent classical Tuscan aromatics of sweet cherry, tannery leather, tobacco, aniseed root, and pot pourri. Complex notes of wood smoke, liquorice stick, graphite and saline sweet black berry develop. There is plenty of intense concentration and the palate is fine and suave showing fleshy red cherry and salty earthy red current fruits that drift across the palate lubricated by fine, creamy, polished tannins. Like all great Tuscan 2015s, the palate is under pinned by vibrant fresh acids, adding to the wonderful harmony and palate impact of this impressive wine. Drink now or keep for 20+ years.

(Wine Safari: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

A Dynamic South African Winemaker Moving An Historic Tuscan Icon Winery to New Heights…

Wonderful visit and tasting today with a winemaker I feel is changing, albeit slowly, the established Tuscan landscape. Asserting his influence at Querciabella since 2010, it is indisputable that the wines have jumped in quality and character since Manfred Ing took over as head of winemaking at Querciabella.


A 100% Sangiovese Cuvee, the grapes used have been biodynamic since 2000 and organic since 1988. Averaged yields are approaching 35 hl/ha and the oak use is 100% French, 5% new with the remainder consisting of 2nd and 3rd fill barrels.


Tasting through the whole estate range, it crystallises how Manfred is imposing his quality philosophy on the Querciabella character and style. With a bit of South African sweat, these are now some of the most intense, focused, biodynamic wines made in Tuscany today! And if you get bored drinking his iconic Chardonnay – Pinot Blanc Batar white Blend, there is always his own Ansonica white from the Isle of Giglio you can indulge in (and which is already reviewed in this site!)


Agricola Querciabella Chianti Classico DOCG 2014, Tuscany, 14 Abv. 

This is a deep, dark, broody wine that reveals complex aromatics of raspberry cordial, cherry liquor, cranberry zest, and sweet candied cherry sherbet fruit intensity. So seductive, very alluring, the palate is equally so mouth watering with layers of saline cassis, black berry spice, sweet cherry tobacco and buttered brown toast. Texturally the wines of Manfred are incomparable with previous expressions from the past, with his ability to elevate the concentration, fruit and acidity balance to new levels his real talent. Underlying it all is his leveraging of fruit quality and fruit purity. It resonates across the palate and reawakens your taste buds. Bravo Manfred! 

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

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)