On the Road with the Grape Guy

On the Road with the Grape Guy is a on-going feature that follows me from event to event ... I post my thoughts, feelings and reviews of what happened and what I tasted ... basically it is here that I review the events I attend and the things that thrilled me.

Report from : Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2020

31 Mar 2020

(February 19, 2020) ... SAN GIMIGNANO – This year’s Anteprima schedule started with Chianti (in Florence) and moved along though San Gimignano – I seem to be putting these reports up haphazardly this year – the Brunello reports are all up (Rosso, Brunello, Selezione) while Chianti and Vino Nobile remain on my desk waiting – they’ll pop up in the next few weeks, after a quick look at San Gimignanon and Vernaccia.

Vernaccia is the white grape of Tuscany and the first to receive DOCG status – years ago I wondered why anyone would care about this grape, because the wines were so terrible – now I lament that we don’t get any into Ontario (or very few) – to make up for that, I end up bringing a bottle back just to enjoy over the summer.

Winemakers here are starting to understand that freshness, acidity and fruitiness wins out over oak and makes this grape not only unique but a wonderful summer wine that brings pleasure to the consumer. Yes, they still insist on oak in the Riservas, but there seems to be a pull-back here that allows for fruit (not oak) to shine trough. Plus, there is a push towards single vineyard offerings to showcase terroir (many of these end up in my report scorecard below).Vernaccia in a glass

The good news for these wines is that over my years of attending the Anteprima I have noticed more and more producers step away from the old ways and take a more modern approach to their winemaking – those willing to take a chance are being rewarded, those stuck in the past are pulling those willing to change down (but thankfully it seems to be fewer and fewer every year).

The best versions of these wines have freshness in the form of minerality and acidity backed by citrus fruit and / or stone fruit. The best Riservas keep that lively freshness while also adding weight and texture to the delicate wine without over-powering or over-oxygenating (oxidized) the wine. Single vineyard (or selection), wines that have a name in quotation marks – are slowly beginning to gain wide acclaim because they show another dimension to the winemaking.

As previously stated we don’t see a lot of Vernaccia wines in Ontario, I can’t speak for the rest of Canada, but the wines made around San Gimignano are a rarity on LCBO shelves, so instead of providing full tasting notes ; I’ll use my Good / Better / Best approach below; but also because, once again this year’s paperwork did not specify whether the wines tried were finished or a tank / barrel sample – it is because of this I am also leery to give an official score to these wines … therefore I am treating every wine as a “sample” … And with that said, I give my usual disclaimer for an Anteprima tasting:  I do not score unfinished wines, too much can go wrong between tank / barrel and bottle that can compromise or otherwise change the wine that I have I tried as a “sample”. So, I will be rating all of them using my good / better / best system for potential … read on to find out which wines made make the list:

Vernaccia 2020 wallAfter tasting 81 wines these were the best of those offerings:

Good Potential

Cantine Guidi 2019 Vernaccia di San Gimignano
Cappellasantandrea 2019 Vernaccia di San Gimignano “Rialto”
Casa alle Vacche 2019 Vernaccia di San Gimignano
Casa Lucii 2019 Vernaccia di San Gimignano “Casa Lucii”
Casa Lucii 2015 Vernaccia di San Gimignano “Mareterra”
Collemucioli 2019 Vernaccia di San Gimignano “Madre Terra”
Fattoria Poggio Alloro 2019 Vernaccia di San Gimignano “Il Nicchialo”
Fontaleoni 2019 Vernaccia di San Gimignano
Guicciardini Strozzi 2017 Vernaccia di San Gimignano Riserva
Il Colombaio di SantaChiara 2018 Vernaccia di San Gimignano “Campo della Pieve”
Il Palagione 2018 Vernaccia di San Gimignano “Ori”
La Lastra 2018 Vernaccia di San Gimignano Riserva
Macinatico–Massi 2018 Vernaccia di San Gimignano Riserva “Massi”
Pietrafitta 2018 Vernaccia di San Gimignano “Borghetto”
Podere le Volute Vernaccia di San Gimignano
Podere Arcangelo 2019 Vernaccia di San Gimignano
San Donato 2018 Vernaccia di San Gimignano “Angelica”
Signano 2019 Vernaccia di San Gimignano “Poggiarelli”

Better Potential

Agricoltori del Chianti Geografico 2019 Vernaccia di San Gimignano “Borgo alla Terra”Vernaccia 2020
Casa alle Vacche 2019 Vernaccia di San Gimignano”I Macchioni”
Casale Falchini 2018 Vernaccia di San Gimignano “Vigne a Solatio”
Casale Falchini 2017 Vernaccia di San Gimignano “Ab Vinea Doni”
Fattoria Poggio Alloro 2019 Vernaccia di San Gimignano
Guicciardini Strozzi 2019 Vernaccia di San Gimignano “Titolato”
Il Palagione 2019 Vernaccia di San Gimignano “Hydra”
Macinatico – Massi 2019 Vernaccia di San Gimignano
Podere del Paradiso 2019 Vernaccia di San Gimignano
Tenuta La Vigna 2019 Vernaccia di San Gimignano
Tenuta La Vigna 2018 Vernaccia di San Gimignano Riserva
Tenuta Le Calcinaie 2017 Vernaccia di San Gimignano Riserva “Vigna ai Sassi”
Teruzzi 2019 Vernaccia di San Gimignano “Isola Bianca”

Best Potential

Tenuta Le Calcinaie 2019 Vernaccia di San Gimignano


Val di Suga Through the Years – a Vertical Tasting of Style

27 Mar 2020

(February 2019) … When is a “terroir” tasting not a terroir tasting? When you only show one terroir without showing a comparative terroir or different terroir … that was my concern after sitting through a Val di Suga “terroir tasting” that was touted as a “vertical tasting” (as it said on the invitation) conducted by Andrea Lonardi, COO, at the winery in Montalcino … Correctly labeled as a Vertical Tasting on the hand-out – but the focus of the seminar kept veering back to “terroir” – when it was really about the change in winemaking style the winery has undergone with its single vineyard output for Vigna Spuntali (and its other single vineyard Brunello – not tasted during this vertical – because that WOULD have made it a terroir tasting).Val di Suga Soils

Five wines were tasted. The very first vintage of Vigna Spuntali (1988) and also 1995 – part of what was referred to as “Artisanal and Barrique” style winemaking; next were the 2001 and 2010 vintage, referred to by Andrea as the “Parker Era” (big, bold, heavily extracted style); finally ending with the recently released 2015, which seems to bring the winemaking style full circle to a more artisanal approach, moving away from rich extraction and, what is lovingly referred to as the “American palate”; here we also see the influence of bigger oak barrels (casks or botti) introducing the wine to less oak integration - larger barrels equals less contact with wood – focusing more on fruit. Here Andrea gives a nod to Biondi Santi for pioneering the large barrels and Slavonian oak.

Also of interest were the thoughts on the growing of Sangiovese during these times of climate change upheaval – where hot vintages are becoming more prevalent and commonplace. Sangiovese is low tannins and high acidity by its very nature; it does not like hot vintages and is affected by three major influences: water (rain or irrigation), oxygen (sandy vs. clay soils) and light (aka: heat) – all three of these can spike Sangiovese’s tannin levels … although studies show that late rains during, or at harvest time, can help lower the naturally high acidity. There was also a discussion about barrel size and shapes and even types of wood (French vs American vs Slavonian) the results of the study, and a paper, will be presented at next year’s Anteprima (or so they say) … this would be of even more interest to those with an affinity for Italian wines made with Sangiovese from all over Italy, not just the Brunello region. I for one would love to be in the audience for that – just saying – as this truly was the most interesting part of the seminar portion … and then we get down to the wines.

Tasting notes  - Vigna Spuntali, Brunello di Montalcino …

1988 … the first vintage Vigna Spuntali was created; the wine presented itself as seemingly thick on the palate with notes of balsamic, floral, dried cherry and freeze-dried strawberry – punchy acidity with tobacco notes on the finish. Still drinkable, if not for the surprising viscosity it would be a beauty.

1995 … Described as a “beautiful vintage with very long ripening” – this wine was aged in 100% new oak, but along with the usual note of older Brunello had some white wine characteristics like candied-citrus peel, along with herbal and fig notes; there was also some dried cherry and balsamic on the finish.

2001 … This wine comes from what is considered as the “Parker Era” of winemaking and is “just a regular vintage” – rich, concentrated fruit with jammy notes; nothing much to write about here, the acidity was nice, but the tannins seemed overwhelming with each additional sip; I never made it past the first few minutes in the glass, but I suspect within an hour the oak/tannins would overwhelm the wine.

2010 … Another from that “Parker Era” and also a hot vintage; the wine tasted older than its 10 years, had plenty of stewed rich fruit: strawberry, cherry, and thick kirsch-like notes – acidity was good and drinks okay, but not much life left in this bottle – drink now.

2015 … Here the older traditions are meeting some new style and trends in Italian winemaking, focusing on larger barrels and getting away from French oak. This was a hot vintage wine but shows more character and longevity than either the 2001 or 2010 does, even when taking into account its age.  Sour cherry, cranberry, cigar box with a long finish and big acid punch – the tannins are soft and round, quite the elegant wine here that has a long life ahead of it.

Parker may have influenced the decade of 2001 – 2010 but it definitely was not for the better or age-worthiness of those wines, and while the ’88 and ’95 were not “fresh” by any stretch they are certainly more drinkable and had more of a “life” ahead of them. The return to a more delicate and finesse-filled style with less oak and more understanding of the fruit being used can only benefit Val di Suga’s winemaking, age-ability and the region as a whole.

To see the other single vineyard offerings from Val di Suga check out my report of Brunello Seleziones (linked here)


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