Monday, October 15, 2007

Barone Ricasoli - Brolio

Our visit to Barone Ricasoli was somewhat of a surprise – a pleasant one. For a winery that is one of the largest producers of Chianti Classico and that was at one time owned by the Canadian company Seagram’s, the estate has barrels full of soul. Apparently the Ricasoli family does not like to talk about “those years” — all 20 of them — during which Ricasoli was sold to Seagram’s who in turn sold it to Hardy’s of Australia. As you can imagine, the aim quickly turned from quality to quantity, a fact that deeply saddened a family that used to be considered by some the Lafite of Tuscany.

In 1993 the Ricasoli’s were able to buy the family property back and set things on the right path once again.
That was the year Francesco Ricasoli took over and, at the time, the estate was putting out a staggering 9 million bottles under 30 different labels. Francesco invested in replanting and in order to amp up the quality right away, began buying grapes from neighboring vineyards with high standards. The current production of 2 million bottles is still a whole lot of wine but it's a far cry from 9 million and the number of labels has been narrowed to six. The winery is once again receiving positive press and Francesco intends to cut back on the amount of purchased grapes as soon as his own vineyards are up to the family’s standards.

On our visit we saw some of the positive aspects of deep pocket ownership, including a “Laverne & Shirley” type bottling operation and massive storage facilities. The estate seemed to be picking their Sangiovese sooner than other producers in the Gaiole in Chianti area which we took as an attempt to cut down on over ripeness and produce an old world style Chianti. The winery facilities are beautiful and modern (some still in-progress) and the Castle above the winery, called Brolio Castle, is a quick step back to the 10th century with manicured gardens and stunning panoramic views.

Our tasting was with Sveva who assured us that although she had a German sounding name, she was 100% Italiano. Sveva was a perfect host with an impressive nose and palate, not to mention great restaurant recommendations and the like. She opened not two but three of the whites until she was satisfied with the bottle we would be tasting. (For the record, none of us noticed anything wrong with the first two.) She does not drink which just may give her a heightened awareness and advantage in tasting but she did admit that her tea-totalling status is a constant source of harassment from her friends in Siena.

We tasted the 2006 Torricella Chardonnay, the 2003 Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico and the 2001 Casalferro Tuscan IGT as well as a 2006 passito (sweet wine from raisinated grapes) called Granello. We enjoyed all of the wines. The 2006 Torricella Chardonnay was fresh and fruity at about $28 per bottle. The 2003 Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico is the “old school” brand (one step up from the Brolio Chianti Classico which is 100% Sangiovese) and is only made in the best vintages from Sangiovese, a dab of Cabernet and sometimes Merlot. It is rich yet elegant and was described to us as the Robert Redford of the Ricasoli wines ($35). The 2001 Castelferro ($40), which has an appropriately more modern label, is made from Sangiovese and Merlot and is more muscular and powerful. We dubbed the wine the David Beckham of the brands. The 2006 Granello was not to my taste but reminded me of very tropical Sauternes ($?).

All in all this is a reliable estate with quality wines. We had such a pleasant visit that we purchased both Robert Redford and David Beckham – I guess we’ll let them fight it out in the wine fridge! ;)

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