One day I may write a novel about a charming and impeccably dressed Tuscan gentleman who travels the world sharing his family's wonderful wines. Readers of that novel won't be wrong in thinking that the protagonist is inspired by Francesco Mazzei, estate owner of Castello di Fonterutoli in Castellina in Chianti. One of Tuscany's most ancient vineyard sites, vines were already planted at Castello di Fonterutoli when the Mazzei family inherited the estate in 1435. The family has been producing wine at this historic property in the heart of the Chianti Classico region for an astounding 24 generations and they are one of the ten oldest family enterprises in Italy. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Mazzei and tasting these storied wines at a fantastic luncheon in Manhattan hosted by Palm Bay International at Aureole restaurant.
Described by the prestigious Italian culinary organization Gambero Rosso as "one of the 50 wines that changed Italy's wine style," Siepi ($150) is arguably the most celebrated wine in the Mazzei portfolio. First released in 1992, Siepi is produced from a 50/50 blend of Sangiovese and Merlot that is grown on one of the estate's best parcels. Mazzei was one of the first families in the Chianti Classico region to plant Merlot as an ideal partner with Tuscany's signature grape - Sangiovese.
Blending Sangiovese with an equal proportion of Merlot creates a wine that is absolutely Tuscan but with a unique flavor profile. Unlike French Merlot that can be aggressively plummy, Tuscan Merlot has a more subtle yet luscious flavor that harmonizes beautifully with the higher acidity and subtle tartness of Sangiovese. This year’s release of the 2012 vintage marks the 20th anniversary of Siepi and a special limited edition bottle has been produced to honor this milestone.
Our vertical tasting of Siepi included vintages from 2005-2012. As expected, each vintage had unique attributes but the Siepi style shined through - full bodied with impressive freshness, vibrant acidity, rich fruit flavor balanced by earthiness, and dashes of spice and dark chocolate. More Armani than Versace, Siepi is not flashy but has a classic elegance and finesse that seems simple at first but astounds you with its complexity the more you sip.
Castello di Fonterutoli 2011 ($70) is like the timeless beauty Sophia Loren in a bottle - voluptuous, bold, and charming. A blend of 92% Sangiovese with 8% Malvasia Nera and Colorino; this sophisticated wine is classified as Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG - the top category in the quality pyramid. A beautifully balanced wine with flavors of ripe cherries and a hint of violet that is balanced by fine tannins and minerality; I could drink this wine everyday and not be bored.
A mix of 36 different Sangiovese biotypes, Mix 36 2011 ($85) showcases the expressive range of the varietal. Full-bodied with lovely flavors of cherry and orange peel with great acidity, this is a wine that uniquely captures the beauty and essence of Sangiovese.
Should your travels take you to Tuscany, Mazzei offers wine tours and tastings, overnight accommodations, and dining at Castello di Fonterutoli. I'll definitely be stopping by on my next trip to Italy to sip their fabulous wines and gather more material for my novel!