#YoungtoYoung17: The Next Generation Will Be Female!

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I was expecting to see ​Francesca Binacchi, from Poggio al Mandorlo at Young to Young this year but she had unfortunately been taken ill.

As it happens, I met her father instead and a very interesting discussion ensued….

He and his wife set up a winery in 2001. Originally from Lombardy, they fell in love with this area of Tuscany, 12 kilometres from Montalcino, near the Val d’Orcia, on the extinct volcano Amiata.


Their local denominazione is that of “Montecucco” and if you don’t know of it yet, you ought to! I often find the sangiovese of Chianti difficult to digest – the tannins and wood barrels tough and chewy bedfellows. Montecucco’s expression of Sangiovese is that of freshness, elegance and very integrated tannins. 
Anyway, back to Francesca. She’s 20 years old and studying sciences at university. Passionate about wine and oenology, and importantly, the only daughter, she looks likely to inherit the winery when her parents retire.

What I particularly liked, talking to her parents, was their conviction that a girl has the potential to take over a winery. It is far too common for a son to be the ‘chosen’ one to manage the estate – especially in such a traditional country as Italy. 

The right to be taken as seriously as a man is something I myself fight for all the time. 

They very much hope that Francesca will take forward their work.

The Poggio al Mandorlo have 12 hectares of vineyards from which they make 40,000 – 50,000 bottles per year. (To put this into perspective, it’s a very small winery for the area.) Half of their production is what they call “territory wines” – i.e. made with sangiovese grapes; the other half are international blends of merlot and cab sauv. 

We tried Le Querce 2011. It was a very interesting wine. Wonderful red garnet colour, an enchanting nose of redcurrant jelly and wild herbs. The beautifully balanced mouth, remarkably fresh is full of prunes and pomegranates. The acidity is very typical of sangiovese with rounded tannins and an impressive salinity at the end, hailing from the mineral soils of the extinct volcano.   

As I mentioned before, sangiovese is not my variety of predilection but this particular expression I liked very much. I look forward to following Francesca’s progress over the coming years.

Poggio al Mandorlo, Montecucco, Tuscany

Tasted at Young to Young 2017, during Vinitaly.

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Six Surprising Red Wines from the VinNatur Villa Favorita Tasting 2015

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I’ve done it countless times in France. In the UK too, but it’s not quite the same. This was my first time at a natural wine tasting in Italy.

There is a queue for the navetta which shuttles back and forth between the field where I left my car and the place where the tasting is being held. Eventually, I am able to squeeze myself into a seat, which happens to be slap bang in the middle of a group of wildly gesticulating sommeliers from Puglia. The accent from this region is very distinctive; they speak as if they have a large stone in their mouth, but with none of the gravitas of Demosthenes. Needless to say, I don’t understand a word. The minibus climbs up the steep driveway to the majestic Villa Favorita.

I step off the bus and am unexpectedly gripped by a moment of self-doubt. What the hell am I doing here? Why? Do I actually know anybody inside? This sudden isolation halts me as if I’ve just turned to walk head on into an icy gale.

However, my feet keep going and as I approach the steps leading to the Villa’s colonnaded entrance, I run into a winemaker I know. Giusto Occhipinti. “Ciao!” 

I smile and, reassured, I step inside.


Here are my six top discoveries (of red wines) from “The Tasting Room” at Villa Favorita 2015.

IL CANCELLIERE (Campania) “Gioviano” Irpinia DOC 2010 Aglianico (13.5%)

Aglianico is a hugely underrated grape variety. Bursting with aromas and acidity, this wine does not disappoint. A deep plum red colour, the bouquet explodes out of the glass as I swirl. Plenty of cooked, stewed fruit and berries. Oak aging has helped soften the tannins. The palate continues rich, balanced and finishes with a tangy acidity.

MARTILDE (Lombardy) “Il Gigante” IGT 2011 Croatina

This is an extravagant wine. Nothing like anything I’ve tasted before. It’s far more fleshy than some Lambruscos which might otherwise come to mind. It’s sweet, aromatic, tannic, acidic and bubbly, all at the same time. I don’t know where to start describing such complexity. Because of the residual sugar, most people would probably consider this a dessert wine. It doesn’t have to be though. There’s such incredible concentration of fruit. It drinks like a cabaret dancer: colourful and full of energy. You could fall in love with this wine. I think I just might have done.

CASTELLO DI STEFANAGO (Lombardy) “Campo Castagna” Oltrepo Pavese DOC 2011 Pinot Noir (13%)

Antonio and Giacomo Baruffaldi make a racy wine. At first, the subdued fruit notes on the nose don’t capture your imagination but in the mouth, the wine comes into its own. It’s all perfectly harmonious. The tannins give a pleasant, soft, delicate finish.

RICCARDI REALE (Lazio) “Calitro” Cesanese di Olevano Romano DOC 2013 Cesanese (15%)

This tiny winery of 3 hectares, not too far from Rome, makes stylish, classic wines. I had the pleasure of sitting across from Piero and Lorella at the winemakers’ dinner on Saturday night. This, the most aromatic, is my favourite of their range. With notes of spice, meat, game, the wine falls perfectly on the right side of being “animal.” It’s a full-bodied wine and perfectly ripe for a whole range of food pairings.

NATALINO DEL PRETE (Puglia) “Nataly” Salento IGT 2014 Primitivo (14%)

A totally unpretentious wine – it’s straight-up, lip-smackingly good Primitivo. Heavily pigmented. Juicy. Cherry and very ripe blackberries on the nose; black pepper and cloves come secondary. Lovely length. A suave wine. I wrote in my increasingly indecipherable – and therefore utterly superfluous – tasting notes, “I do really quite like this one.”

CASA RAIA (Tuscany) “Bevilo” Toscana IGT 2013 Sangiovese Grosso, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot (14.5%)

Sangiovese Grosso is the noble strain of this most Tuscan of varietals that is most commonly used for Brunello. However, I was assured that the Bevilo is positionned at a more affordable price point than your average Brunello. Pierre-Jean is a native Frenchman (from Nice, if my memory is correct) who moved to Italy with his wife Kalyna. They took over and renovated the farm and its two hectares, which are situated one kilometre away from Montalcino’s mediaeval fortress. On the nose, this wine reminded me of Bonne Maman’s raspberry jam. The texture of this wine is particularly notable. It may be a super-tuscan blend, but it’s totally approachable. “Bevi lo” in Italian means “drink it” and, according to the old Tuscan tradition, the next line of this expression is “wine makes you sing!”

In The Vineyards with: Natalia Guicciardini Strozzi (Tuscany)

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In June 2013, even before the conception of this blog, I visited the Villa Cusona, home of the Tenute Giucciardini Strozzi, near San Gimignano in Tuscany.

It is a magnificent place to visit – for several reasons.

The first: wine has been made in this place since the 1200s – at least. You’ll see some unfathomably old machinery that was used for working the land and equipment for the cellar. The Villa Cusona can actually date its existence to the year 994 – (don’t believe what you sometimes read in third-party texts who, incredulously, change it to 1994…)

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Secondly, the house embodies the present day combination of two of the most powerful dynasties in Renaissance Florence: the noble Strozzi family, who require little introduction other than to say they were long-time rivals of the Medici family, and the Giucciardinis, of whom the most notable is Francesco Giucciardini (1483-1540) a statesman, philosopher, political writer and also a friend and mentor of Niccolo Machiavelli.

Despite their notable prowess in the mediaeval times – becoming the wealthiest family in Europe at one point – there are no living descendants of the Medici family. Time has since given the Guicciardini-Strozzi family the upper-hand! Visiting the Villa Cusona practically represents a pilgrimage in homage to the Renaissance.

Thirdly, the family are direct descendants of Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, who is better known as the Mona Lisa or La Gioconda by Leonardo da Vinci. This information had been passed down through fifteen generations but it was only in 2014 that DNA evidence unequivocally proved the link.

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Natalia is a fantastic burst of energy. Fluent in Italian, French, English, Russian plus other languages I’m sure, she is the international face of the winery but she is also an acclaimed ballet dancer and actress. On the day that I visited, she was nervously practising her lines for a play that was opening that night.


 

I have just one bottle of their wine left in my cellar. It’s the Chianti Classico DOCG 2010. This weekend, I’ll open it and update this post with my thoughts.

In The Vineyards with: Gabriele Buondonno (Tuscany)

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To what extent are our lives ruled by luck or labour? Do we end up in that job because we’ve worked blood sweat and tears for it, or because someone once gave us a lucky break?

The same question can also apply to our love lives: are you in a relationship because you’ve made every compromise and sacrifice to make it work or because you found The One that made everything else fit into place?

For me, I definitely had my lucky break when I was given my first job at the Cave Augé. Admittedly we all know how that turned out, but it was Marc being ready to take a risk on me that gave me my leg-up in the wine industry. (I’ve worked my ass off since then… just for the record!)

Buondonno Winery

For Gabriele and his wife Valeria, it seems it was a dream that came finally true.

They bought the Casavecchia alla Piazza in 1988. It is situated in the heart of the beautiful rolling countryside that is Chianti Classico, perched on the hilltop, and can trace its history back to the 1500s, when it was owned by the Michelangelo family.

The estate comprises a total of approximately 20 hectares of which only eight are planted with vines (Sangiovese, Colorino, Canaiolo, Merlot and Syrah.) The rest is given over to olive trees and farmland.

One of my first questions was to ask Gabriele why two born-and-bred Neapolitans would come north to make wine.

Chance played its role apparently – that the estate would be up for sale, that they were able to move with their three children. Nevertheless, being agronomists, they were certainly up for the challenge. They had a clear vision of how the vineyard should be managed, becoming organic from the very get-go (1989).

Buondonno Tasting

The resulting wine is a far cry from the astringent liquid that they used to serve in Italian restaurants with red-checkered tablecloths from a fiasco. The range is made up of the Chianti Classico DOCG, a Riserva, a Syrah-heavy Campo ai Cilegi and a Merlot. Relatively long fermentations, vinification in barrels and barriques… each has its own character and personality but every one I tasted was solid and well-balanced.

Watching Gabriele in the vineyards, everything starts to fit into place. The pride he takes in his wine, the fondness he has for his dog (who follows him everywhere) his horse and the chickens. You see how the winery plays host to his family-life (cf. the skateboards and basketball hoop by the winery) and equally how his family is implicated in the winemaking (his daughter started with the last vintage.) This is no fluke. He was made for the job.

http://www.buondonno.com/

In The Vineyards with: Helena Lomazzi (Colombaia, Tuscany)

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Picture the scene: It’s June and you’re in the beautiful Tuscan countryside. Near Colle Val d’Elsa, to be precise, which is just south of Poggibonsi in the province of Siena. Chiantishire.

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Despite the straightforward instructions – “follow the long stone wall and turn left after the postbox” – the house was not easy to find. I realised that I’d gone too far, when the only option available to me in this little Fiat 500 was to hurtle down a very steep slope on the other side of the hill, back down to the river. After a (rather embarassing) nine-point-turn on this tiny, tiny road, I was able to backtrack up to the top to the hill and relocate that infamous postbox. The turning that I needed to take was not so much a road, as a gap between two walls. Fortune favours the brave however, and yet I’m sure I heard this city car take a gulp as we turned into the winding track. Upon turning a bend, I saw a bright rainbow flag and instantly, I was sure that I had made it to the right place.

All that doesn’t matter anymore. Sitting under a fig tree, with a glass of unfiltered Trebbiano-Malvasia in hand, it is a natural paradise. The tasting cellar is to your right and there are still half-a-dozen more wines left to try.

Spring and early summer 2013 saw a lot of rainfall in this part of Chianti. As a result, the ground is still very muddy under-foot but the vegetation is looking fantastic. Fifty shades of green. There are a couple of WWOOFers moving carefully from row to row, making sure that the vines stay healthy.

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During a brief pause in the rain, Helena leads me through the two vineyards (which are differentiated by the age of the vines.) On a gentle, south-westerly facing slope, fully exposed to the elements, they are so full of life. There are only four hectares of vines here so it doesn’t take long to do our little tour. Sangiovese, Colorino, Canaiolo, Trebbiano and Malvasia. Helena and Dante have been working organically since 1999 and biodynamically since the mid-2000s.

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After a quick cup of tea and a slice of Helena’s delicious cherry tart, it’s time to leave. Just as I’m pulling out onto the road, next to that postbox again, my attention is drawn to the rear-view mirror. Right over their family house, as bright as day, is a rainbow. A real rainbow, with all its refracted colours distinctly visible – red, orange, yellow… Now that’s biodiversity in action.

For more information, check out their website: colombaia.it