Tasting 5 Lesser-Known Tuscan Wines
Carmignano was once a separate Tuscan wine region, then it was part of Chianti, then it became independent again. That may be one reason why few wine lovers have heard about it. But they should pay attention, as Carmignano produces some great red wines at reasonable prices.
The hilly region is just a few minutes northwest of Florence and borders the Chianti Montalbano classification of which it was a part between 1932 and 1975. Rich in history, it was traditionally considered an equal of Chianti, and it shares the same sangiovese base to its wines as Chianti, although it also has a significant percentage of cabernet sauvignon.
Recently, over a private lunch in New York, I tasted five vintages from perhaps the best of the Carmignano wineries, Capezzana. For almost 100 years, the estate has been owned and operated by the Bonacossi family, and Beatrice (Bea) Contini Bonacossi was on hand to tell us about the wines. Four siblings run the estate —her sister is winemaker —which includes a major olive oil facility as well as rental farmhouses for tourists.
We started with the current vintage of the primary red wine —the 2008 Villa de Capezzan —a blend which normally has about 80 percent sangiovese, 10 percent or more cabernet, and lesser parts of canaiolo and other grapes. Generally speaking, I was impressed with the beautiful, dense ripe fruit of all the vintages —which stretched back to 1968 —which was nevertheless well-structured with healthy amounts of tannins and other acids and not in the modern, fruit-forward manner. They are all big wines, but yet manage to be smooth and silky at the same time.
Not all the vintages of Villa di Capezzana are immediately available—you would have to visit the estate (not a bad idea) or look for online sources to get some —but the prices reflect what they are fetching wherever you find them:
♦ 2008 Capezzana ($30). Very ripe, rich purple fruits such as cassis and dark cherries with a chalky, moderately raspy and tangy finish which one expects with high levels of sangiovese. It is a very perfumed wine with a pleasant hint of eau-de-vie from the 14.5 percent alcohol. Just a lovely wine to sip or to have with cheeses and serious meats, the equal of many wines twice the price.
♦ 1998 Capezzana ($150). You begin to taste the old oak overtones here, but it still has very lively fruit with good tannins and is aging quite well. It still has pleasant puckery qualities with a hint of anise in the aftertaste.
♦ 1988 Capezzana riserva ($280). The weight is a little less here — it has become a leaner wine, developing what Bea calls "the secondary flavors of aging, " such as brown butter and a little brown sugar, which would make it pair well with smoked meats. However, it is still very lively and fruity.
♦ 1977 Capezzana riserva ($350). Those secondary flavors of leather, cured meats and tangy tannins make this a great wine for those educated in appreciating the lean qualities of older vintage. I would still take it to the table, but it would go well sipping with very aged cow cheeses and better grades of aged blue cheeses.
♦ 1968 Capezzana reserve (not commercially available). There is an earthy undertone in this wine that some will like and some not of root cellars and aromas of baked potatoes, yet it still has firm fruit, especially for a 45-year-old wine!