It is a New Year and with it brings new beginnings, new hopes, and the anticipation of being able to travel again. In the meantime, I am continuing my virtual journey to wine regions around the world.
My visit today is to Castello di Fonterutoli located in the beautiful region of Tuscany in central Italy. Centered in the heart of the Chianti Classico zone, Castello di Fonterutoli’s property stretches across 1600 acres, with seven areas under vine for a total of 290 acres throughout three districts. These districts within the territory of Chianti Classico are Castellina in Chianti, Castelnuovo Berardenga, and Radda in Chianti.
The Mazzei family dates back to the 11th century. They originally came from Florence where they made a living as coopers and artisans. The first documented reference to Chianti as a production region dates back to 1398 between Ser Lapo Mazzei, a notary and connoisseur of wine, and Francesco Datini, a merchant from Prato. In this document, authored by Ser Lapo Mazzei, it shows he paid for six barrels of wine from Chianti. In 1435, Ser Lapo Mazzei’s granddaughter, Madonna Smeralda Mazzei, married Piero di Agnolo da Fonterutoli, and Castello di Fonterutoli became part of the Mazzei family’s estate. For the past 24 generations, the Mazzei family has been producing wines at Castello di Fonterutoli.
The Sangiovese grape is the most planted grape variety in Italy, and Tuscany’s largest and best-known Sangiovese-dominant wine region is Chianti. Depending on where the grapes are grown, with climate and soil being a factor, Sangiovese can deliver a wine that is fruit-forward with bright acidity and high tannins or lean towards earthy with herbal notes. It runs the gamut of descriptions, but one of Sangiovese’s trademarks is its dark cherry flavor.
Last month I attended a virtual tasting with Giovanni Mazzei who represents the 25th generation of this family-owned winery. He is the export director for Mazzei and the eldest son of Fillippo Mazzei who is one of the managing directors of the estate.
Beginning with the 2017 harvest, the Mazzei family introduced a different perspective to express the biodiversity of their Sangiovese-based range of wines. Giovanni guided us through a tasting of the estate’s three Chianti Classico Gran Selezione wines from three different terroirs, with each wine exhibiting its own unique character. In addition, Giovanni shared a soon-to-be-released bottle of Siepi Toscana IGT 2018.
Giovanni said, “For the last 50 years, we have been dedicated to research to better understand Sangiovese evolution. We have an articulated estate with so many differences from one location to another. The vineyards range from two meters above sea level to almost 600 meters with different terrain and different climates. You can’t have just one solution for everything. It is a massive puzzle! There is beautiful diversity in this region, with each district exhibiting its own characteristics. Our aim is to reflect the viticulture of the region.”
As of 2014, Gran Selezione is a new classification above Riserva for Chianti Classico DOCG. A minimum of 80% Sangiovese estate-grown grapes is required. Grapes must be harvested only from the winery’s own vineyards along with upgraded requirements for alcohol, extract, and a minimum aging of 30 months. Giovanni said, “At the end of the day, the rules aren’t really making the wine. It is the winemakers and how they envision the wine and how it is expressed. Gran Selezione is the best of the best. The quality is phenomenal. Only 6% of Chianti Classico DOCG production has qualified so far for the Gran Selezione level. It is a game-changer!”
All vineyard cultivation is entirely manual, including the grape harvest.
Badiòla Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2017
100% Sangiovese grapes were harvested from the estate’s highest altitude vineyards of 570 meters in the Chianti municipality of Radda. Soil is mainly a mix of Galestro (local lime marl) and sandstone. The average vine age is 16 years. The vines benefit from ventilating winds with lower temperatures than any other estate vineyard. The wine goes through natural fermentation, with no yeast added. It is aged for 24 months in French oak barrels from Burgundy (30% new) and then ages further in the bottle.
This is a fresh and elegant wine with lovely aromas of fresh berries, cherry, and spice. The palate offers red fruit, cherry, plum, spice, chalk, and silky tannins. The wine is well integrated with a long finish of sour cherry, spice, and a hint of cocoa. Giovanni said, “I’m a big fan of this wine. It has complexity with austere character, typical from Radda.”
Castello Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2017
This is the estate’s flagship wine made from a selection of 11 of the best vineyard plots surrounding the Fonterutoli hamlet in the Chianti municipality of Castellina. The age of vines is between 25 to 30 years. The altitude is 470 meters above sea level with rocky limestone, chalk, and rich skeleton texture. The wine was first produced in 1995 and is a forerunner for Gran Selezione. The 2017 vintage is the first vintage to use 100% Sangiovese. Each plot is individually vinified, and the wine is then aged in Burgundy and Bordeaux barrels for 25 months and then six months in concrete tanks before bottling.
This is a wine with structure and elegance. Delicious aromas of wild berries, violet, lavender, cherry, and earth lead the way for an explosion of flavors on the palate. Cherry, dark fruit, vanilla, licorice, spice, and minerality blend with silky tannins. This wine is rich and crisp. Giovanni says, “It is an energetic wine. The juice gives a sense of purity. It is a pure Sangiovese”.
Vicoregio 36 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2017
This wine is a blend of 36 different Sangiovese biotypes derived from fifty years of research. The biotypes are planted in a single vineyard at 350 meters above sea level on a sunny plateau of Castelnuovo Berardenga. Soil is clay-rich limestone and fossil matter. Thirty-six individual vinifications take place in French oak barrels, and then the wine is aged for 18 months in French oak barrels (50% new). This is followed by several months in concrete tanks.
Seductive aromas of cherries, spice, and floral envelops the nose. The palate is layered with rich and expressive flavors of dark cherry, dark fruit, lavender, spice, herbs, pepper, and earth. Chewy tannins, with lingering spice and dark cherry, add to a long and delicious finish. This is a vibrant and complex wine. Giovanni says, “This wine is the heart beating from Vicoregio.”
Siepi Toscana IGT 2018
There is an interesting story attached to this wine. The first vintage was in 1992. It is a 50/50 blend of Sangiovese and Merlot. According to Giovanni, the family fought over how to produce this wine. The older generation wanted it made with mostly Sangiovese, and the younger generation wanted it made with 100% Merlot. A compromise was made, and a 50/50 blend was produced. The grapes are sourced from 10 to 35- year-old vines in the Siepi vineyard that has belonged to the Mazzei family since 1435. The Mazzei family was one of the first producers to plant Merlot in Chianti Classico. Each variety goes through a gentle vinification. 70% of the wines are aged in new French barriques (Merlot: 18 months, Sangiovese: 16 months), and then they are blended and aged an additional four months in steel tanks. The wine is bottle-aged for four months before release.
This wine opens with aromas of dark fruit, cherries, berries ,and subtle notes of spice, cocoa, and herbs. The palate is an infusion of delightful layers of dark cherry, dark berries, spice, hints of plum, vanilla, and toast. Silky tannins add to this rich and complex wine. Giovanni says, “This wine is very approachable and has great drinkability.”
Although I was thousands of miles away from Tuscany, it was exciting to take a virtual trip through all of the vineyards with Giovanni. The character and uniqueness of each municipality were beautifully captured in each bottle of wine. For a brief moment in time, my palate enjoyed “traversing through the terroirs of Castello di Fonterutoli”.
Until next time…