Boni Luigi is our kind of guy. Upon arriving at his hilltop winery about an hour from Bologna the first order of business was to discuss lunch plans. Welcome to Italy.
Lambrusco is one of those polarizing wines that shouldn't be. The problem most likely is memories of Riunite in a gallon jug that was sweet, green, and more like sparkling iced tea than real wine. We've been on the hunt for the opposite, and with Boni's whopping 1 hectare Il Ritorno parcel, we struck red, sparkling gold!
When I told a friend of mine that I was heading to Emiglia-Romagna to find some sparkling wine he playfully chided me: "You're looking for Brooklyn wine bar headache juice? Good luck with that." But what I found at Boni's was instead something far more for farmhouse, far more handmade, and exponentially far more awesome.
Boni farms and makes this wine for a neighbor, and makes only 1000 bottles. When I tasted it on a cool, check that, cold, February day it somehow seemed appropriate to quaff it down nice and cold, even standing around his space heater to stay warm. Lambrusco is like that I guess, at once refershing and lively, but at the same time, still red wine! Perfect all year round.
Boni and I took this bottle to a nearly empty lunch spot in the next village and cranked it down with some ham, salami, polenta, and tuna-filled pasta. It worked.
Do we have here the most food appropriate wine in our lineup? I wonder...
I was warned by someone close to me that I might strikeout in Italy. It was hard to argue. My batting average visiting wineries in France is about .600, pretty darn good. In Spain, it's about .400, still worthwhile. But in Italy, historically for me, it's about .100. That's right, one hit in every 10 at bats. Ugly. And who wants to visit 50 wineries with the hope of landing five? Not me. That's waaaay too much dried-out, herbaceous, leathery, whiskey-scented red wine for one wine importer. Yuck.
Why is it like this? Mostly its because I judge hard. I don't like dirty wine and I don't like sloppy wineries. Also, the viticulture scene is chaos. There are so many wineries, and so much bad wine, and a lot of that wine is already head-scratchingly available in the US market. Finding something new and noteworthy is nowhere near as easy as finding a good meal. (which is wonderfully easy, thank goodness)
So, when I met Ettore Ciancico in Tuscany I didn't want to leave the batter's box.
Everything was a homerun.
Ettore is what I would call a traditionalist, modern winemaker. He runs his vineyard in Tuscany, and the other growing pink grapefruit in Sicily, the same as one might expect of a farmer 150 years ago. Lots of work by hand. No chemicals. No pesticides. Everything truly organic. Ettore has farmed Salceta organically since he began developing it in 2000. He also farms olive trees for oil, and acacia for honey. The biodiverstiy is important (and unusual here, where there is virtual ocean of grapes in view as one drives around). His wines are bright-fruited, juicy, and teeming with life. There's something special here.
But his winery is modern. All stainless steel tanks with temperature control, and all hyper-clean. The result is wines with freshness, exuberance, and life.
Best of all, he bottles his wines with an awesome glass cork called Vino-lok. Pop it off, pop it back on. Never a corked bottle. Fully recyclable. I bet wineries in the 1800s would have loved this! Ettore understands well that his Sangiovese shows best when it is preserved as it was in the tank---filled with fruit, juicy and complex.
What we have here ostensibly is one of the best Chianti I've tasted in years. But we're not calling it Chianti, okay? Because its better than that. Way better.
Ruschieto is a one hectare vineyard in the Valdarno di Sopra zone, not far from Chianti Classico, about halfway between Siena and Arezzo. He makes just 2000 bottles and sells most of his wine locally. I feel lucky to have gotten about 10% of the loot. Ettore's wines have started to change my mind about Sangiovese, and in a way, about Italian red wine in general.
La Nocetta (a local hunting term) is Ettore's stab at a so-called Super Tuscan (a term I generally dislike). He blends the ubiquitous Sangiovese with the lesser-seen Cabernet Franc to make a somewhat powerful wine, but also a very refined style. Interestingly, the wine as completely raised in steel vats, no oak whatsoever, and bottled after two years of continuous racking in order to avoid "off aromas" and reduction.
A few winters ago, I visited with a longtime friend in Tuscany--Joschi Goldschmidt (not very Italian sounding, I know). Joschi's family purchased this farm in 1969 after 700 years in the same family. It's a real treasure of a place. I've worked on and off with Joschi for years and when he heard I was importing again he reached out to see if we could rekindle something. Ticket booked.
If you, dear reader, manage to ever visit the fantastic farm of Aljoschi Goldschmidt in Tuscany, you will receive an email from him prior to your arrival. Contained within will be advice to NOT trust your car's GPS to find the winery, and should you choose to use the GPS anyway you will instead end up on a driveway suitable only for mountain goats. And your rental car will be toast.
So on my first visit to Corzano e Paterno, many, many years ago, I almost needed a new rental car.
After slowly backing out of the rut-lined "road", I made the 20 minute circuit around this large property and found the correct driveway. It's a long slow drive and one that you wish could take just one way in, and to never return to reality. This is an extraordinary Tuscan farm of olive trees, sheep (for Tuscany's best cheese), and wine. We'll get around to importing cheese and oil in the year's to come but its the wine that will lift our boat and introduce you to this incredible place.
Joschi moved here from Switzerland as a boy in the early 70s and knows the farm like the back of his hand. His near perfect English and easygoing, talkative way make visits here always memorable.
Joschi's Corzano e Paterno farm in the hills east of Siena is way more than just a wine winery. Among vineyards they also farm olive trees and raise Sardinian milk sheep for their onsite cheese operation. In fact, I think wine comes in 3rd here. Of 140 hectares only 13 are now planted to vines. It's one of my favorite visits in all of Italy--peaceful, beautiful, and filled with good things to eat and drink! I'd recommend a visit here anytime. Just say the word and I'll make it happen! (they have beautifulagriturisimo accommodations)
I love Joschi's white wine more than any other I've tried in Tuscany. it's a wildly unique blend of Trebbiano, Malvasia, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Petit Manseng, and Chardonnay. Phew! There's really nothing else like this in the wine world let alone anywhere else in Tuscany. It was cold and resting in a stainless steel tank waiting to be bottled when we visited that winter We filled a carafe however and enjoyed it with cheeses from the farm later on at dinner. From aromatics to mouthfeel to length and complexity this is as thoroughly interesting and delicious of a white wine as any I've recently had.
Il Corzanello is the name of a house on the property and is the namesake of this pure Sangiovese, from a plot just below the terrace. Joschi releases this wine a year or two prior to the Chianti to give a sneak preview of what's to come. So..."baby" Chianti anyone?