The tale of a Tuscan tasting

This tasting was a partial Giro d’Italia - concentrating on the region of Tuscany - the aim being to show its diversity of climate and terroirs.

Sangiovese naturally rules with a supporting cast of ameliorating grapes, but it is itself a grape with many faces. In the Morellino di Scansano of Antonio Camillo, for example, it’s all about the sweet juicy fruit. A morello cherry by any other name. In Aretini the tiny Paterna co-op makes blood-of-the-earth tawny-hued Chianti in cement. Nowt added. Nowt taken out.

Rusticity is also a prominent feature of Innocenti’s Rosso di Montepulciano and Vino Nobile respectively. The riserva wines of Tenuta Caparsa, a highlight of the tasting, show a different side of this variety. Based in the hills of Radda in the Classico region Paolo Cianferoni makes uncompromisingly (classically) pure reds that need years to unbuckle their tannic armour. However, he also makes a purple-fruit-freighted junior called Rosso di Caparsa (a field blend of red and white), a wine of russet yeas and honest kersey noes.

What might Robert Hughes say about this sanguine, maquis-inflected number? Possibly that it “possesses the prototypes of strong sensation: blazing lights, red earth, blue sea, mauve twilight, the flake of gold buried in the black depths of the cypress; archaic tastes of wine and olive, ancients smells of dust, goat dung and thyme, immemorial sounds of cicada and rustic flute."

The glory of Sangiovese, of course, is Brunello. Il Paradiso di Manfredi is a tiny 2.5 ha estate, working in a natural and dynamic way in the vineyard and making truly old-fashioned Rosso di Montalcino (baby Brunello) and brilliant full-throttle Brunello. The latter has wicked wild cherry fruit along with notes of herbs, leather, liquorice, pepper and spice and nascent prune, tar and tobacco aromas. It’s so savoury that the food you are thinking of cooks and present itself at the table. Never has so much power been leavened by so much grace.

To prove that there is life beyond Sangiovese we also lined up an impressive array of newbies.  Angiolino Maule (La Biancara) is one of the founding figures of natural farming and wine-making in Italy. He has been setting an example in both practices since the late 1980’s and is now assisted by his two sons, Francesco and Alessandro. Their estate is located in the hills of Gambellara between Verona and Vicenza where they have 9 hectares of vines on south-facing volcanic soil slopes. Masieri Bianco (a blend of Garganega and many other grapes) is vinifed in stainless steel with no skin contact and bottled with a minimal amount of sulphites. The red is a blend of varying amount of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Tocai Rosso and Lagrein depending on the year. These two wines are brilliant, sapid, throbbing with energy. Finally, there is Pico, pure Garganega, an extraordinary white – honeyed in colour with aromas and flavours of ripe nectarine and apricot as well as complex balsam and smoke aromatics.

A cluster of Sicilian wines were in fine fettle and excited much positive comment. Baglio Bianco and Rosso are our new “house naturals”. The white is, well, amber, a Catarratto with three days on skins. Warm, spice-filled and crunchy. The naturally-fermented red, 100% Nero d’Avola, was a revelation. Impenetrable purple colour, dense blackberry and blueberry, a solid core of tannins and a real lift from the acidity.

There were five wines from the estate of Marco de Bartoli, mainly from vineyards in the Marsala region. Grillo featured heavily, once in a cuvee called VignaVerde with its saline limey-leesy bite, then in the glorious Integer, another sun-kissed skin-contact wine reminiscent of small perfectly ripe yellow plums with a hint of chestnut puree and an acidity whipping the ensemble into shape. The Marsala La Miccia was hedonistic, a meditative sipper, all toasty walnuts with a finish longer than War & Peace.

Up on ashy Etna, Anna Martens and the bloke whose name we can never remember, are making some impressively pure wines. The Palmento, take 2, with Malvasia sitting aromatically high in the blend, is a joyously fruity quaffer. Jeudi 15 sits in the middle of the trio – Nerello Mascalese, part whole bunch, part destemmed, stirred gently rather than “pigeaged”, is a semi-wild-child but still very approachable, but Vino di Anna Rosso ramps up the palate volume. Still wonderfully drinkable – a dark red fruits Nerello from a single vineyard old vines selection with driving tannic power and acid precision along with crushed rock and wild herbs. Liquid vulcanicity.