Baron Ricasoli - Chianti Reconsidered

It is not for me to retell the illustrious history of the Ricasoli family – their ownership of the Brolio castle and its lands go back to the 12th century and the family. While talking with Francesco Ricasoli, the 32nd Generation Baron of Brolio, this student of humanities and history quickly moved from the discussion of wine to the Papal disputes and Tuscan medieval history. Surely we could have spent the afternoon in that discussion – Florence played an important historical role and those who flocked to her banners did so as well – like the Barons of Brolio. However, it is Baron Bettino Ricasoli that one must mention, the nineteenth century Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy and the man responsible for the modern Chianti wines, blending the Sangiovese grape with Canaiolo (for its gentler tannins) and Malvasia (in wines not meant for age, he felt it would add a lightness and drinkability).

The modern history of the Estate begins in 1993, when Francesco re-acquired the vineyards and launched into an aggressive program with the goal of reestablishing the Ricasoli name in the world of wine. The multi-pronged approach focused on replanting the vineyards and soil mapping. Replanting with high quality clones and rootstocks (especially a return to the Brolio clone), and higher density plantings have quickly returned the estate to prominence, and in 2002 it received the prestigious “Best Italian Winery of the Year” award from Gambero Rosso. The soil mapping allowed a new approach to vinification – a focus on plots that Francesco, bravely, called “Piedmotese Approach”. The Baron was referencing the already prevalent, by this point, interest in crus that has developed in Barolo and Barbaresco – a novel approach for Italy at the time, though becoming more and more prominent now. What this allows is a deeper focus on the different terroirs and microclimates within the larger vineyards – allowing the winemaker to either bottle by cru (as in their Colledila, Roncicone and CeniPrimo) or more control in the final blending for the more traditional Castello di Brolio and the Brolio Chinati Classico.

The soil studies showed nineteen different soil types and five different soil substrates within the Brolio vineyards. This allowed the estate to work the vineyards accordingly and lead to the cru approach. The study also brought Massimiliano Biagi to the Estate – where he has been crucial to the new efforts as the Agnonomist and, now, Technical Director. He is also responsible for converting the 26 hectares of olive groves to organic farming – and, having tasted the oil, I must applaud his work. The oil is thick, with a dark green sheen, and full of sweet floral aromas – a meal in itself. 

The 2016 vintage is looking spectacular throughout Italy, and that was evident in our tasting. It was evident even in the Brolio Chianti Classico and the Riserva, which were both impressive. The 2016s seem to have a lifted, juicy and mineral-laden note that keeps the wine fresh. While the Classico was ready to drink and showed lovely balance already, with sour cherry and darker fruit vying for dominance, the Riserva showed more intensity, with darker fruit and more powerful structure, perhaps requiring a bit of time. Both wines showed classic Sagiovese notes of iron and herb – unmistakable staples of great Chianti. 

Of the three Gran Selezione Crus, it was hard to pick a favorite. But if I had to, I have to give a slight nod to the CeniPrimo. All the cru wines spend 18 months in 132-gallon tonneaux (30% new and 70% second pass). The 2016 CeniPrimo a highly floral nose, spicy and with sour cherry dominating. The palate was deeply structured, with savory herb, sour red cherries and fresh blueberry. The wine showed more chewy, rustic power toward the back, suggesting excellent aging potential. Really impressive and should reward with a decade in the cellar if not more. The 2016 Colledila was the lightest of the three, earthier tones, with tobacco leaf and red currant. The palate showed some clove and savory herb in addition to the cherry and earthy tones. An elegant wine, perhaps more approachable than its siblings, but not less impressive for that. Last, but surely not least, was the 2016 Roncicone – the most floral and mineral of the three wines. Crushed flowers, high-toned nose, sweet cherry, mineral and a hint of spices toward the finish. Deeper tones, with serious tannin hiding under the fresh cherry fruit. Delicious indeed though will reward some patience. 

Thank you to Baron Francesco Ricasoli, Massimiliano Biagi, Gregory+Vine and the Folio Fine Wine team! 

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