Monthly Archives: November 2010

Chianti at Maialino Restaurant

I have not been to Tuscany in a few years and every so often I get a longing for Sangiovese, which is at its best in Chianti. I had the chance to satisfy that longing, albeit in New York, when I was invited by the Consorzio Vino Chianti to taste and drink the wine of six Chianti producers at Maialino Restaurant.  Chianti and Porchetta, I thought, how could I resist?

The Invitation

The Consorzio Vino Chianti was established in 1927 by a group of wine producers in the provinces of Pistoia , Siena, Arezzo and Florence. Later the Consorzio expanded to cover the whole production area

covered by the DOCG. Now the Chianti production area is located in the provinces of Arezzo, Florence. Pisa, Pistoia,Prato and Siena. Chianti wines are designated as: Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colli Senesi, Colline Pisane, Montalbano, Rufina, and the last added in 1997 Montespertoli.  In addition is the return of the Chianti “Superiore” which can come from anywhere in the Chianti wine area with the exception of the Chianti Classico zone between Florence and Siena. Superiore cannot have a name of an area on the label. There is also the Colli dell’ Etruria Centrale which is a DOC and permits in the Chianti DOCG area the production of wines of a different quality from Chianti which include reds, whites, roses, novello and Vin Santo . I believe this is all very confusing to the average consumer.

Grape varieties for Chianti: A minimum of 70% Sangiovese – 30% of other grapes, with a maximum of 10% of white grapes varieties and 15% for Cabernets.

The wines


Chianti DOCG 2009 “I Sodi del Paretaio” Badia di Morrona Made from 85% Sangiovese/15% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. The grapes were mainly machine-picked in late September and early October. Eight days of maceration and aged for ten months in stainless-steel or concrete vats.

 Chianti DOCG 2009 “Gabbiano” Castello di GabbianoMade from 90% Sangiovese/10% other red grapes in the area. Location of vineyards- San Casciano Val di Pesa. Fermentation in stainless steel tanks, maceration on the skins for ten days with pumping over three times a day. Aged for three months in stainless steel tanks before it is released.


Chianti DOCG 2009 “Borghi D’ Elsa” Fattorie MeliniMade from 85% Sangiovese Grosso ,15% Canaiolo, Merlot and two white grapes, Malvasia and Trebbiano. Location: In the heart of the Chianti region alongside the Elsa River Valley. With controlled fermentation for about 10 days with frequent remontages. This is the interesting part: A small percentage of the grapes, which have over-ripened on the vines, are placed in vinificators containing a previously fermented product, starting up again the fermentation of fresh grapes on wine already made. This very slow and steady refermentation renders (according to the producer) a “rich” result, well structured and of exceptional complexity, which is put into what will be the finished wine.

This sounds a little like the “governo method” which was very common in Chianti a number of years ago. 10 % of the grapes were taken out and dried and then added to the “fresh” wine. The wine is aged in stainless steel for 3 months and a short time in bottle before it is released.

Chianti DOCG 2008 “San Lorenzo” Fattorie MeliniMade from 85% Sangiovese Grosso and 15% Canaiolo, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon. Location- San Lorenzo a vineyard area that is pare of Melini’s Gaggiano di Poggibonsi farm. The vines are planted on slops rising 300m with a combination albarese and albarese soil. The “well ripened “ grapes “ are picked in October, there is a 3 to 4 day cold pre-fermentation maceration at a controlled temperature with frequent remontages and a short aging period partly in steel tanks and a small part in medium wooden barrels.


Chianti DOCG 2009 PicciniMade from 95% Sangiovese and 5% Ciliegiolo Location Chianti, Tuscany. Soil-clay and rocks. There is a long fermentation and afterward there is a second fermentation induced by adding a selection of withered Sangiovese grapes that is known as the “governo method” – Governo All’Uso Tuscano.  10 to 15% of must from the grapes gathered before the harvest are partially dried on reed trays known as cannici, or wicker frames called castelli and added to the wine before the end of December.  This is a traditional Tuscan method that is not used today by many producers.


Chianti DOCG 2009 Ruffino A minimum of 75% Sangiovese plus other varieties like Canaiolo and Colorino. Alcoholic fermentation takes place for two weeks aided by racking and punching down in stainless steel and concrete vats. The wine is aged for 4 four months in stainless steel vats and 1/2 months in bottle before it is released. This wine is a great buy at $10


Chianti Superiore DOCG 2008 Ruffino Made from a minimum of 75% Sangiovese and other varieties such as Canaiolo and Colorino. Location- Best location within the Chianti area. Chianti Superiore’s code of production limits the maximum yield at 7.5 tons per hectare, the same as Chianti Classico but the grapes can come from any place in Chianti (except the Classico area). Superiore is created by a careful selection of the best grapes during harvest. The harvest began in the end of September and lasted to the middle of October. Alcoholic fermentation took place in stainless steel vats for about two weeks, post fermentative maceration continued on the skins for seven days. The wine was aged in stainless steel vats for 7 months and in bottle for three months before it was released.

Vin Santo

 Vin Santo Del Chianti DOC 2006 Badia Di Morrona Location of Vineyards Terricciola (Pisa) Made from 70% Trebbiano, 15 % Malvasia Bianca and 15% Colombana. The selected grapes hang from the ceiling to wither in a dry and ventilated loft until January.  The wine spends 3 years in caratelli- -Tuscan 112 liter oak barrels.

Vin Santo Del Chianti 2003 “Chiacchierata Notturna” Castelvecchio Location of Vineyards San Casciano Val di Pese Made from 70 Trebbiano and 30% Sangiovese The best bunches of grapes are selected in September and hang to dry until December in order to get a high sugar content. The wine is aged for 5 years in caratelli made of oak and a minimum of 3 months in bottle before it is released. This wine was drinking very well.

The Porchetta

I was happy to see that the producers were using traditional grapes for the most part.  I liked all the wines with their bright fruit hints of violet, good acidity and the aroma of sunshine on the Tuscan pines. The ones that went best with the food were: the Piccini, both of the wines from Ruffino and the Melini “San Lorenzo”. They went well with the Bombolotti all’Amatriciana and the Porchetta. We finished the meal with Vin Santo and cantucci — a perfect Tuscan ending to a wonderful evening.

Anthony Giglio, wine writer and educator, was the speaker for the event.  All of the wines sell for under $20


Filed under Chianti, Italian Red Wine

Ruffino Riserva Ducale 1927-2007 and the 1947 Riserva Ducale Oro

With the release of the 2007 vintage this year, The Ruffino Winery is celebrating 80 years of Riserva Ducale dating back to 1927. The history of the winery goes back to 1877 when it was founded by the cousins Ilario and Leopold Ruffino. The winery was sold to the Folonari family in 1913 and it became the first Chianti Classico imported to the United States in the same year.

 Riserva Ducale is named in honor of the Italian Duke of Aosta who selected Ruffino’s Chianti Stravecchio as his official court wine in the late19th century. Ruffino dedicated the first vintage of Riserva Ducale (the Duke’s Reserve) to honor his patronage. It is interesting to note that it is the only Chianti permitted to bear “riserva” in its proper name.

The Menu

I was invited by Adolfo Folinari to Locanda Verde in NYC to celebrate “Ruffino Riserva Ducale 80th Anniversary Vintage”. Chef Andrew Carmellini, inspired by the occasion produced, an authentic contemporary Tuscan menu . The first dish was quail in Porchetta with Fig Agrodolce. It was paired with the 2007 and 2006 Ruffino Riserva A Ducale Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG.  Adolfo said that 2006 was a better vintage than 2007. The 2007 was young and fruity with hints of cherry and spice. The 2006 was more complex and well balanced with good acidity. It had aromas and flavors of red berries and hints of spice and tobacco with a nice finish and aftertaste.

Riserva Ducale and the Quail

Both wines are made from 80% Sanviovese/20% combination of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. These grapes come from the vineyards of Ruffino’s Santedame, Montemasso and Gretole Estates. The soil is typical of the Chianti area, primarily clay with an abundance of galestro rock. The grapes are handpicked in late September – middle of October. Alcoholic fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks aided by racking and punching down, for about 10 days. The maceration on the skins continues for another 10 days. After completing malolatic fermentation the wine is aged for 24 months, part in 40/80 hl oak barrels and part in stainless steel/concrete vats. It is aged another 3 months in bottle.

 The next course was Strozzapreti with Cinghiale, Juniper and Brussel Sprouts. This was paired with the Ruffino Riserva Ducale Chianti Classical Riserva 2000 and the Ruffino Riserva Ducale Ora 1990. The grapes for the 2000 are 90% Sangiovese, 10% Colorino, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Alcoholic fermentation took place for 2 weeks and maceration on the skins continued for another 2 weeks. After completing malolatic fermentation the wine was aged in stainless steel vats for a brief period and then in 40/80 hl oak casks for about 24 months. It then was kept for a period in the bottle before release.  

Chef Carmellini and Adolfo Folonari

 The Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro 1990 (the gold label). 90% Sangiovese, 7% Canaiolo and 3% Malvasia. The grapes are from the Montemasso Estate located near San Polo in Chianti, and the Santedam Estate near Castellina in Chianti and also other selected vineyards. This is hilly land with poor soil of a mixture of clay and sand, rich in limestone and galestro (rocks). The alcoholic fermentation took place in glass painted cemented tanks for 2 weeks, and was followed by a post-fermentative maceration on the skins for another six days. After completing malolatic fermentation the wine was aged for a minimum of 24 months in 80hl Slovenian oak casks and then in stainless steel tanks. The 2000 had mature red fruit aromas and flavors with hints of violets and spice.  The 1990 was made without any international grapes and with one white grape. It had the typical hint of violets with mellow red fruit and a touch of spice. It had a very long finish and a great after taste. 20 years old and it was not showing its age!

 The last course was cheese: Pecorino Ora Antico and the wine : Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro 1985 made from 90% Sangiovese, 7% Canaiolo and 3%Malvasia (White grape) These grapes came from the Montemasso Estate and other selected vineyards. Aging as above.  The 1985 was the wine of the afternoon for me. It reminded me of Tuscany – sunshine on the Tuscan pines was my first impression and it just was everything I wanted in older Chianti.

 The Riserva Ducale was first produced in 1927.  The first release of the Riserva Ducale Oro was in 1947.

A few years ago a friend came over for dinner and brought with him a bottle of Riserva Ducale Oro. He wanted us to taste it and guess the vintage. Everyone there was involved with wine and had experience with older Chianti. Someone guessed 1990, another 1982, another 1958 – not because it looked or tasted old but because 1958 was a great year. We were all wrong — the wine was the 1947. Sheldon Wasserman in his classic book “Italy’s Noble Red Wines” 1985  states that the 1947 was made from 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo,10 % Malvasia and Trebbiano (white grapes),5% Colorino, Ciliegiolo and Cabernet (a first?) and it was made with the governo method. The use of the governo, a secondary fermentation created by the addition of dried grapes 10/15 % or the must of dried or concentrated grapes was traditional in Tuscany. Colorino was usually the grape of choice to be dried. He gave the wine four stars, his highest rating. 57 years old when we drank it!  Ruffino makes the longest lasting Chianti Classicos and the 1990 and 1985 were more proof that Chianti can age.


Filed under Italian Red Wine

Talking about Brunello with Riccardo Illy

My coffee of choice is Illy. I toured the Illycaffe factory in Trieste with Dr Ernesto Illy in1996 and last spring went to the Universita Del Caffe, a two day course given by Illy at the International Culinary Center in NYC.  So I was happy to have an opportunity to have dinner with Riccardo Illy and to taste the wines of brunello producer Mastrojanni which the company had acquired.  Robert Restaurant on the 9th floor of the Museum of Art and Design was the setting for the tasting and dinner.

Riccardo gave me some background on the family business.  Francesco Illy, his grandfather, founded Illycaffe in 1933 and they produced coffee and chocolate.  Back then,  they even owned a farm near Trieste in Istria, but after WWII they lost it when Istria became part of Yugoslavia.  Riccardo said that after WWII his grandfather stopped producing chocolate and concentrated only on coffee. His father Ernesto Illy introduced Illy tea but discontinued it in the 1980’s.

 Riccardo is now the chairman of Gruppo Illy. He explained that Gruppo Illy has taken on a number of different quality brands: Domori- chocolate, Dammanna Freres- tea, and Agrimontana-fruit preserves, jams and confections, and the Montalcino estate of Mastrojanni.  He went on to say that with the addition of the Mastrojanni estate, he and the Illy family realized one of their dreams, to own a top-quality wine producer in their native Italy.

It was Riccardo‘s brother Francesco who began drinking Mastrojanni wines and going to Montalcino.  After many visits to the Montalcino area Francesco liked it so much that he wanted to buy land there. A Tuscan friend introduced him to a shepherd who wanted to sell his land and an old house. The property was next to the Mastrojanni Estate in the province of Siena, at the farthest southeastern edge of Montalcino, in the hillside town of Castelinuovo. Francesco brought the property and restored the house which became known as Le Ripi. Over time Francesco became friendly with the general manager of Mastrojanni, Andrea Machetti and he introduced him to the Mastrojanni family. In 2008 the Mastrojanni winery came up for sale and Francesco convinced the Illy family to buy it.

 Riccardo made it clear that they have only made small changes at Mastrojanni. They brought new barrels- but only large ones- which Riccardo pointed out are traditional for the area. They expanded the cellar, replanted where necessary, and redesigned the labels. Everything else remained the same including keeping Andrea Machetti on as general manager. In fact it was Mr. Machetti who insisted that the winery continue using the large traditional barrels associated with the great wines of Montalcino. He believes these grande botti are the best way to emphasize the typical characteristics of Sangiovese Grosso and the specific local terroir. Riccardo made a special point of saying that barriques are never used. The wines are aged in large barrels ranging in size from 15-54 hectoliters. The size of the barrels fluctuates according to the characteristics of each lot.

Riccardo Illy and the Grande Botti

He went on to say that they depend on Mr.Machetti’s knowledge, experience and intuition when it comes to the wine.  Riccardo gave examples of Mr. Machetti’s intuition when it comes to the harvest. In 2005 Mr. Machetti decided to harvest in early September instead of October. This was the right choice and made it a great vintage for them.  2006 and 2007 was excellent weather and Riccardo thinks that they are both five star vintages. In 2008 it was cold in September and the ripeness of the grapes was not right. Then there was rain and many other producers harvested their grapes in early October. Mr Machetti felt that the grapes were still not ripe enough but believed warmer weather was on its way. It was and they were one of the last wineries in Montalcino to harvest the grapes. For them 2008 was another five-star vintage. In 2009 there was rain, sun, rain for most of September and October. Mr Machetti harvested 4-5 times in order to get the right ripeness.  Mr Machetti is aided in his work by the famous oenologist Maurizio Castelli.

 In 1975 when Mastrojanni was established there were fewer than 25 Brunello producers.  Today there are over 250. Riccardo said that the first vintage was in 1980 and that the winery became known for their classic Brunellos. I first encountered Mastrojanni wines at Vinitaly many years ago and have been enjoying their wine ever since.

The first wine we tasted was the Rosso di Montalchino DOC 2008 100% Sangiovese Grosso. The wine is aged in 54 hectoliter Allier oak barrels for 6/7 months and another 3 months in bottle. The grapes are hand harvested for all their wines. The wine has aromas of fresh black and red berries with a hint of spice — $25

Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2004 100% Sangiovese Grosso. It is aged 3 years in Allier oak barrels of various sizes – 15, 33 and 54 hectoliters and then for 6/8 months in bottle. The wine has aromas and flavors of ripe black and red berries with a hint of spice and tobacco — $65


Brunello di Montalcino “Vigna Schiena d’Asino” DOCG 2004 100% Sangiovese Grosso. Riccardo said that this is his favorite Brunello.  He said this is the oldest vineyard, 1 hectare, facing southeast. The average age of the vines is 35 years and it is less densely planted with low yields. The vineyard gets its name from its shape- reminding one of a donkey’s backside. This Brunello is only made in the best years. It is aged in Allier oak barrels of 15 hectoliters and aged in bottle for 9/12 months. The wine has aromas and flavors of spice, ripe red and black berries and a hint of tobacco with a long finish and great aftertaste. It will age for many years and was a perfect combination with the duck I had for dinner. $90


Riccardo also said that he likes Brunello that has aged a number of years. He has found in the cellars wines going back 20 years and he has been drinking them.

 Mastrojanni in 1997 introduced a Super Tuscan “San Pio” IGT and it is still produced.  Made from 80% Cabernet Sauvignon / 20% Sangiovese Grosso, it spends 18 months in French oak and small barrels. Riccardo was quick to point out that this is their only super Tuscan.

 In Tuscany there are regional regulations that say you must not cut down the forests. Riccardo believes that trees help to absolve changes in the climate, provide fresh air and encourage the difference in temperature between night and day. While they are not certified organic, they follow organic principles and biological production standard when possible. This is why the new part of the cellar designe by Riccardo’s brother Ernesto follows bio-architectural principles.

Part of the New Cellar

 I found Riccardo very interesting and knowledgeable about wine in general and the Mastrojanni winery in particular. In most cases when a traditional producer is bought by a “large company”,  the first thing that they do is to put the wine in barriques and make wine for the “international market”.  This was not the case with Illy, and in my opinion  they should be applauded for preserving the winery’s traditional way of making wine.


Filed under Brunello, Italian Red Wine