One of my favorite Italian restaurants in NYC is Il Gattopardo (The Leopard). Gianfranco Sorrentino is a most gracious host and Chef Vito Gnazzo always prepares a memorable meal. Recently, I met Barone Francesco Ricasoli for lunch there.
The name Ricasoli has been tied to Chianti from the 19th century when Bettino, known as “the Iron Baron,” developed the blend for Chianti . Francesco is the great grandson of the Iron Baron. The family traces its involvement in wine back to 1141 and theirs is one of the oldest wine estates in the world.
250 hectares of vineyards surround the castle of the estate which is the largest in Chianti Classico. The 1,200 hectares between the villages of Gaiole and Castelnuovo Berardenga include valleys, oak and chestnut woods, and 26 hectares of olive groves.
Francesco took over the running of the family estate in 1993 when he bought back the Castello di Brolio from the British company that it had been sold to. With the collaboration of universities and a key scientific research center, he began to look more closely at his estate and what he could do to improve it.
Brolio Bianco 2013 Made from Chardonnay, Trebbiano and Malvasia. Cold maceration at 5°C for 6-8 hours without oxygen. Fermentation in stainless steel at extremely low temperature 12/16°C. (53.6°-60.8°F). Trebbiano, Malvasia and part of the Chardonnay ages in 500-litre French barrels (first and second use). Sauvignon Blanc and the rest of the Chardonnay are vinified in stainless steel. The bouquet is delicate, fragrant and slightly fruity with floral notes. Dry, smooth taste, pleasantly fruity with an underlying note of almonds. $25
Francesco wanted to find out what the best clones of Sangiovese are, what is the best soil for that specific clone, and what is the best wood for it to be aged in. Beginning in 1995 the ancient Brolio vineyards were gradually being replanted. Francesco started a research project to study and select biotypes of Sangiovese and other typical Chianti varieties. In 2005, 12 were identified, considered to be the best with the most potential for the purpose of selection, and good candidates to become new clones together with those already officially recognized. Three years later, the rootings obtained from these clones were planted. Francesco told me that there was an independent institute working with the clones and trying to have them certified by the Ministry of Agriculture. He added that all the grapes were picked by hand.
Terroir has a most important role to play. They are making a map containing all the data for each vineyard: physical-chemical composition, elevation, sun exposure and micro-climate to select the most suitable rootstock, the appropriate variety to plant, and the best row orientation. This has become known as the Cru project. Three of the wines involved at the moment are Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico DOCG, Casalferro IGT and Colledila Chianti Classico DOCG. In 2002 they introduced stainless steel for vinification. Francesco said that because the estate is so large they can have single vineyard cru wines like they do in Piedmont.
Brolio Chianti Classico 2012 Sangiovese and other complementary grapes from the estates, vineyards in Gaiole in Chianti which are at 280 t0 480 meters. Vinified in stainless steel with 16 days of skin contact and 9 months in large barrels and barriques. The wine has fruity black cherry aromas and flavors with hints of spice and violet. $23 Francesco said the 2012 was a poor vintage for Chianti Classico and as a result almost all of the grapes, even those intended for the cru wines, went into this wine. It has floral notes of violets, with hints of black cherry and spice. $24
This was served with a Tuscan classic caciucco di ceci alla toscana
Colledila Chianti Classico 2010–100% Sangiovese. Francesco said 2010 was a great vintage for the Chianti Classico region. The vineyard is at an elevation of 380 meters and faces southwest. He felt that this was the most beautiful and representative part of the estate. It is a single vineyard which Francesco referred to as a cru because it is the right combination of Sangiovese clone in the right soil which gives you the best grapes. The wine has hints of black cherry and strawberry and a touch of vanilla. N/A
With this we had the pappardella con sugo di lepre
The land is Paleocene-Eocene in origin and forms part of the geological formation “Monte Morello.” The soil is brown with a fine clay structure, very chalky, with subalkaline pH and little organic material. It is well drained and very stony. The grapes are destemmed and fall by gravity into special fermentation vats with a conical shape that are open at the top. During the alcoholic fermentation and the maceration period, a soft pressing is carried out between 2 and 6 times a day as well as the delestage. The maceration on the skins is between 5-9 days in stainless steel vats. Malolactic fermentation is in stainless steel vats. Francesco went on to say that the wine is aged in new barrels and casks for 18 months.
Francesco made a point of saying that the choice of wood used is the result of experiments using 20 different types of the best French oak from different geographical areas (Vosges, Troncais, Nevers, Allier, and Limousin) with medium and medium-plus toasting levels and standard to tighter grains. He also said that they use many different size barrels.
Because of all of this, he felt that this wine was the top expression of Sangiovese at Brolio and that the aroma is so specific, intense and typical that it could not be confused with any other wine.
Casalferro IGT 2010 100% Merlot. The vineyard is at 400 meters and faces south. Each small plot in the vineyard is vinified separately. The grapes are vinified in open fermentation tanks. Thermo-regulated fermentation takes about 9 days during which soft pressing and the delestage are carried out. The wine in aged in new oak barrels 90% French and 10% American for 18 months. $65
He said that in this particular terroir the Merlot “is “Sangiovized” meaning that in this harsh but generous territory it takes on sangiovese-like qualities. Because of this for the first time the wine is 100% Merlot.
Francesco added that he did not consider this wine a Super Tuscan, in fact he felt the time of the Super Tuscans had passed–it was a wine of the 1990’s. I could not have agreed with him more but for me it did not pass soon enough.
Brunello di Montalcino 2009 ” Torre Della Trappola” 100% Sangiovese The wine is vinified in stainless steel tanks at a controlled temperature with 23 to 30 days skin contact. It is aged for 12 month in French oak and 14 months in Slavonian oak. It rests in the bottle for 6 more months before release. This is a Brunello with hints of cherries and spice and a touch of licorice with a nice finish and long aftertaste. $75
With the wine we had the arista di maiale alla fiorentina con patate al forno
Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico 2010 Sangiovese with a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Grapes come from the best 230 acres of vineyards at 250 to 450 meters and the exposure is south/southwest. Vinification in stainless steel tanks with 7-9 days of skin contact and 18 months in barriques and new casks. The wine has aromas and flavors of black cherry, blueberries and a nice finish and long aftertaste. $65
This was served with an assortimento di formaggio con mostarda di frutta.