Monday, March 02, 2009

Travelling in Super Tuscan Wine Country!

Say Super Tuscan and surely Sassicaia and Ornellaia come to mind. In 1968 the first Sassicaia was introduced to the market and thus the Super Tuscan phenomenon was started. They are produced with non native varietals, using instead Cabernet Sauvignon and other grapes to make up a Bordeaux style of wine. So successful was the vinification with these Bordeaux grapes that in 1994 Bolgheri was officially recognized with its own DOC status.Today there are some 40 producers on 1300 hectares of vineyards.
Bolgheri is a very picturesque town and to get there you travel along 5 km stretch of road,the Viale-dei-Cypressi, lined by magnificent two hundred year old Cypress trees.The 19th century Nobel Prize-wining poet, Carducci immortalised this "sunlit green avenue" in his famous poem Davanti a San Guido. Italian school children are taught this poem at an early age.
Side roads will lead to the Bolgheri wineries. My trusty driver and friend Sanjoy had managed to get us here from Florence faster than we had anticipated for our appointment at Tenuta dell'Ornellaia. So we decided to visit Bolgheri and as luck would have it we met the wife of a local winemaker. She insisted we meet her husband and that turned out to be the best part of our visit. The Castello di Bolgheri winery is located right in Bolgheri and its winemaker is the brilliant Alessandro Dondi. Allessandro gave us the grand tour of the winery and the vineyards.
The Castello vineyards are located on the farm surrounding the castle. The farm consists of 130 hectares and 50 hectares are planted to vines. The vineyards were planted beginning in 1997 using the principle varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot, specified for in the DOC Bolgheri wines.All the grapes had been harvested except for the Cabernet Sauvignon and had been fermenting in stainless steel for about two weeks. So we tasted straight from the tanks and I have to tell you, I have tasted freshly fermenting wines many times before but never anything this delicious. Allesandro drove us out into the vineyards where the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were waiting for his decision as to when to be picked. Gently squeezing a few grapes, he announced tomorrow would be picking time. Besides lab analysis, he feels the grapes and just when the firm skin begins to soften slightly,that is when it is optimum time to harvest for him. Back at the winery we had the opportunity to taste the Varvara, a very impressive entry level wine. But Allesandro beamed with pride when he saw the big smiles on our faces after tasting the flagship Castello wine, the Castello di Bolgheri.
This Super Tuscan is an amazingly well crafted wine made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Aged in oak for 18 months and then a further 12 month aging in bottles. Rich, silky, smooth, this extremely well balanced wine is a pure pleasure to drink. What a fortunate stroke of luck to "discover" the Castello di Bolgheri and meet this very talented wine maker. Certainly a high light of our trip to Tuscany.
Since we still had time to go for lunch we asked Allesandro where he would recommend we go. So he took us to a restaurant a short distance from the winery and introduced us to the owner.

That was another great experience. Tourists and locals are treated to traditional Tuscan cuisine and of course wines from Bolgheri. If you happen to find yourself in Bolgheri be sure to visit the winery and have lunch at the enoteca Tognoni. You never know, you might find Allesandro taking time out for a super Tuscan meal and enjoying a truly super, Super Tuscan wine from the Castello di Bolgheri.

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