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.

Tasting the Casanova di Neri Flagship Brunello di Montalcino Cerretalto 2012 with Giacomo Neri…

The most famous vineyard sites produce the most famous wines and Montalcino is certainly no different. Casanova di Neri was founded by Giovanni Neri in 1971 and since his passing in 1991, his son Giacomo Neri has run the farm overseeing all vineyard and cellar activities personally where they produce six different wines.

 

The Cerretalto vineyard cuvee is however an exceptional flagship expression in the Casanova di Neri range producing extraordinary Brunello’s with a real concentration of fruit and minerality but are only bottled in the most expressive vintages. Of the total 8 hectares of the vineyard, only 4 hectares of vines lying on the red iron soils are used for this special cuvee.

The first Cerretalto vintage was 1981, followed by 1986, 1988, 1990, 1993, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010 and now finally 2012… a wine always released after 6 years aging in the cellar of which 28-30 months are in 300 and 500 litre French oak barrels and the remaining 30 months in bottle.

 

Tasting with Giacomo Neri, the current owner.

Casanova di Neri Cerretalto Brunello di Montalcino 2012, 15 Abv.

One of the most famous ferrous iron rich soil sites of Montalcino located east of the town continuously produces incredibly profound, potent wines with a very classical cool personality in the context of Brunello di Montalcino. The aromatics possess a wonderfully lifted perfumed fragrance laden with intense notes of dried rose petals, exotic baking spices, graphite, sun raisined cherries, Arabian prunes, iron filings, bresaola, liquorice and tar. On the palate, the flavours are bold and powerful with an incredible cherry fruit intensity layered with nuances of aniseed root, gravelly minerality and creamy sweet tannins that embrace the palate and then gently tail off slowly to leave a lasting imprint of sublime complexity, textural depth and superb elegance. This wine is a revelation and once again, top terroir trumps vintage conditions. Drink from 2020 to 2035+

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

Marchesi Mazzei Launches Its New Fonterutoli Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2015 In Arty Style…

It has long been apparent the excellent quality that Tuscan producers managed to harness with the 2013 vintage for wines from Chianti, Bolgheri and the Maremma. Indeed, it was one of the very few European premium wine regions that reached very high quality levels in 2013. While 2014 saw its challenges for Tuscany, 2015 returned with a bang to allow producers to make some astonishingly pretty wines. 

I recently had the opportunity to taste the impressive new Gran Selezione 2015 Chianti Classico from Marchesi Mazzei’s Fonterutoli estate in Tuscany. The success of this new vintage was put into context being tasted alongside the 2008, 2010 and the superb 2013 and paired with excellent food from the acclaimed Petersham Nurseries, a restaurant business owned by Giovanni Mazzei’s wife Lara Boglione’s family.

To complete the perfect setting, the wines were poured at the Petersham Nurseries‘ temporary Pop-Up Restaurant at the 2018 Frieze Art Fair in London... a suitably flamboyant venue for these delicious wines.

Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2008, 13.5 Abv.

Layered and opulent, the bouquet is starting to show subtle tertiary notes after 10 years age. Plenty of earthy stewed cherries, herbal spice, black plum, tannery leather, liquorice and aniseed root. Palate is plush and comfortably mellow, showing plenty of piquant sappy spice, cedar and pithy, stewed black berry fruits. Drinking well now, quite traditional in style, maturing nicely. 

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

Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2010, 14 Abv.

Lovely smokey aromatics of incense, graphite, sweet grilled herbs, polished mahogany, tannery leather and earthy black plummy fruits. Pithy and piquant, there are subtle coffee bean notes, wood spice and creamy brûléed back berry nuances. Evolving nicely, drinking well now, but still plenty of life ahead. 

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

Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2013, 13.5 Abv.

Youthful and vibrant, the 2013 displays beautiful perfume of cherry blossom, violets, dried flowers, black cherry and smokey charcoal embers. Palate is super polished, vibrant and elegant with deliciously fresh acids, soft creamy tannins and a glitteringly pretty, elegant, vibrant textural finish. 

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

Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2015, 14 Abv.

An altogether more opulent, dense, powerfully ripe expression from a very fine vintage in Tuscany. The aromatics are youthful and intense with lashings of black cherry confit, black plum, kirsch liqueur and salty cassis. The palate follows with a ripe, fleshy, intensely focused palate with high class tannin management, beautifully sweet mid palate fruit weight and a long, vibrant, concentrated finish that fans it’s tail with caramelised red cherry, black currant and sun raisined cranberry nuances. Fabulously delicious and eminently drinkable already.

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

Available to trade in the UK from importer Maison Marques et Domaines. 

Querciabella 2015 Raising The Quality Bar For Premium Chianti Classico…

South African winemaker Manfred Ing continues to make waves in Chianti’shire as he continually pushes the level of quality upwards across the entire range. But of course it’s the Chianti Classico red that is the main Estate wine and therefore the offering that receives the most close and critical assessment from wine reviewers and commentators with the release of each new vintage.

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 normally consisting of 2nd and 3rd fill barrels.

Agricola Querciabella Chianti Classico DOCG 2015, Tuscany, 14 Abv. 

Wonderfully bright ruby hue, this is a power packed, super distinguished juicy effort from a fantastic vintage in Gaiole, Tuscany. The aromatics are packed with sun raisined cranberries, aniseed root, sweet wood spice, wet tobacco, black cherry and dusty earthy clay notes. The palate ups the ante with an ultra generous texture, wonderful ripe red cherry fruit concentration, suave sweet tannins and an incredibly focused, creamy mineral laden finish. True class, impeccable proportions and fantastic balance. Drink from release or cellar for 8-10+ years.

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

The 2015 is an exceptional wine from an exceptional Tuscan vintage and probably the best new release Chianti Classico I can remember tasting from this winery. The signals are all looking good for the 2016s as well, so I look forward with great interest to see what young talent Manfred Ing can conjure up.

Ornellaia Delivers One of Their Greatest Vintages Ever on Their 30th Anniversary – Tasting the Ornellaia 2015 Bolgheri Superiore…

Ornellaia is a Super Tuscan of international acclaim that is arguably one of the world’s most collectible wines. An uncompromising attention to detail is a mantra by which wine maker Axel Heinz lives. Where Sassicaia often tends to reflect a character of greater minerality and elegant restraint, coming across almost Pinot Noir-like in some years, Ornellaia is boldly more opulent and hedonistic without ever over stepping the mark.

The 2015 vintage of Ornellaia, which marks its 30th vintage anniversary, is without doubt one of the great Ornellaia vintages. I thought I would repost my specific Ornellaia 2015 note on this epic wine as it was perhaps a bit lost in my longer post featuring the Vendemia d’Artista banquet in London.

After the unusual 2014, the 2015 vintage proved to be very regular, almost “textbook” like. After a normal, rainy, mild winter, with just a couple of days with temperatures below zero, the budding arrived on time in the first days of April. Spring was characterized by dry and sunny weather, ideal conditions for a regular vegetative development that culminated in a fast and complete blooming at the end of May.

Winemaker Axel Heinz describing the vintage

Starting in June, water stress gradually became an issue. July will be remembered as particularly scorching and dry, with maximum temperatures that exceeded 30°C every single day of the month. The heat, combined with the absence of rains, raised the spectre of an interruption in the ripening process and possibly an early harvest. Luckily rain came around the 10th of August, with abundant precipitation allowed the grapes to continue ripening, also bringing a much cooler weather during the final stages.

This cool yet sunny weather persisted throughout the harvest, allowing Ornellaia to pick very slowly, waiting for every vineyard to arrive at the perfect point of ripeness, combining a fresh and lively aromatic quality with a perfect phenolic maturation with abundant yet silky and soft tannins. Harvest began on the 29th of August with the Merlot, and ended on the 12th of October with the last of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.

Tenuta dell Ornellaia 2015, Bolgheri Superiore, Toscana, 14 Abv.

Intense broody dark fruited nose brimming with black cherry, crushed gravel and graphite spice. But the minerality of this superb, glamorous, opulent vintage does not outweigh or over power the incredibly intense perfume of lavender, violets and cherry blossom. The underlying note on the palate is dark fruited, powerful and structured with vibrant black tart cherry acidity, suave fleshy textural concentration and the most seductive, complex finish of pithy black cherry, liquorice stick, graphite and chalky tannin spice. A very serious effort, showing great generosity, power, intensity and gravitas. This has the credentials to age for 2 to 3 decades, and the potential to be a future Bolgheri Ornellaia legend.

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

One of the Great Names of Chianti Producing Some Very Impressive Wines – Tasting with Francesco Ricasoli…

Having just returned from Tuscany and Campania, it was lovely to have Francesco Ricasoli pop in and show me his new vintages. The Ricasoli family has been linked with winemaking since 1141, with the original “blending recipe” for making wines in the Chianti region invented by Baron Bettino Ricasoli or the Iron Baron.

From the estate’s 5 main soil types, grapes are harvested for 230 micro-vinifications, with my favourite often being the Colledilà. Together with their own vineyard yeasts which they have just had isolated and cultured, Ricasoli is making some very expressive wines from around Gaiole.

Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Colledilà 2015, Tuscany, 14 Abv.

After the excellent 2013 from Baron Ricasoli, the Colledilà 2015 ups the intensity somewhat being even more exciting and impressive. The fruit from this 7.5 hectare vineyard plot was not bottled into Colledilà in 2012 or 2014. On the nose, the 2015 shows a wonderful exotic perfume of cranberry cordial, red crystallised maraschino cherries, lavender, parma violets and a delicate pink musk fragrance. Thoroughly seductive and alluring. The palate expresses a brisk steely linearity and precision, revealing the true characteristics of the vineyard’s marl limestone soils, bringing extra brightness, fresh acidity and an intense minerality. The texture is ultra sleek and harmonious, pin point and taut with delicious red cherry and black currant fruit nuances, aniseed root, fennel seeds and a pronounced piquant graphite spice on the finish. Superbly balanced and focused in the mouth, this wine shows class with power, intensity and purity. Already drinking so beautifully, a few more years in bottle will bring added tertiary complexity and allow this pure Sangiovese to unwind a little.

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