Italy offers the world the greatest variety of quality wine, even though France has the world’s most sought-after and expensive wine. That is the considered opinion of Ian D’Agata, writing in a Decanter supplement on Italy earlier this year.
D’Agata is co-author of the annual D’Agata and Camparini Guide to Italy’s Best Wines. He is also the regional chair for Italy for the annual Decanter wine awards, which suggests he knows lots about Italian wine.
This leads us this week to discussing inexpensive but quality wines from Italy. The Fattoria Casabianca wine estate — 654 hectares in the Murlo municipality in the province of Siena in central Italy about 70 kilometres south of Florence — is one such example. From the 2015 harvest the property will be certified organic.
Casabianca produces a range of Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG wines plus a line of IGT whites, rosés and reds. Senesi is one of seven sub-zones incorporated as part of the Chianti DOCG in the hills around Siena in Tuscany. Senesi is the largest and the most important of those seven, and extends as far north as San Gimignano.
DOCG is the Italian wine world’s way of designating wine quality via geographical region and name. It is based on winemaking zones with particular traditions and future potential. The original idea of a controlled appellation (name) came from France’s “appellation d’origine controlee” (AOC), or name of controlled origin, established in the 1930s.
The Italian system of controlled appellations — “denominazione di origine controllata” (DOC) or denomination of controlled origin –is a translation of the French AOC. Italy has about 300 DOCs. The Italians added another acronym to define even higher quality wine by putting a “G” at the end of DOC standing for “garantitia” or guaranteed. This is reserved for the most elite wines and contains more restrictions to maintain quality. DOCG was not used until 1980 when it was given to the five most revered wine regions in Italy: Barolo, Barbaresco, Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vina Nobile di Montpulciano.
Fattoria Casabianca has three levels of red wine. The introductory version, the Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG 2013, represents exceptional value for money. It is 80 per cent sangiovese with the balance a mix of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, canaiolo and colorino.
This wine has soft and chalky tannins and a nose of fresh but slightly unripe cherries, combined with dried herbs like thyme and rosemary. At a tasting the next day the terroir showed through, with the chalky sense of the tannins manifesting more as minerality. It is difficult to estimate the price in various parts of the world but it’s a bargain in Italy, selling for under 5 euro.
The Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG reserva 2011 is a similar blend though with 85 per cent sangiovese and 5 per cent of merlot, canaiolo and colorino. Canaiolo is a blending component in reds in Tuscany though during the 18th century it is believed to have been the primary grape and was used in higher percentages than sangiovese. Today sangiovese is the most famous grape in central Italy. Its name comes from the Latin “sanguis Jovis,” or blood of Jove (Jove was another name for Jupiter, the king of the Roman gods). Colorino is known for its deep and dark colour and is used primarily as a way to impart depth of hue in a red.
The Casabianca reserve red is a very fruity wine, with pronounced flavours and aromas of mocha coffee and cherry plus quite marvellous length. We appreciated the sense of masculinity in its structure and texture. This wine is aged in French barriques for about 6 months, and as well as the oak influence we got a sense of mineral tang from the limestone soils. A tasting the next day showed even more pronounced fruit aromas and flavours, and the vanilla from the oak was more noticeable. Another marvelous wine that is very reasonably priced, retailing for under 10 euro in Europe.
The company’s flagship wine is the Chianti Colli Senesi Riserva DOCG Belsedere 2008. It is 100 per cent sangiovese, and offers aromas of black and red fruits plus liquorice and tobacco and plenty of spice. This wine is well made and because of its age the tannins and fruit and acid have integrated beautifully. The tannins are especially inviting and the wine hangs around in one’s mouth for what seems like an eternity. Drink with strong meats.
The 2013 Rosato (rose) is made of 100 per cent sangiovese with soft pressing of the grapes, separation of skins and seeds, and fermentation at a controlled temperature of 18°C. It is a pretty-looking pink with pleasant acidity but little else to recommend it except perhaps to refresh one’s palate on a morning resplendent with lots of sunshine.
The 2013 Vermentino is a pale straw yellow with nice acid and hints of white fruit. It would be ideal with seafood, especially crabs or prawns.
Fattoria Casabianca also offers wine tourism and rents five former farmhouses built in the 13th century that have been restored as holiday apartments and hotel rooms.
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