The Super-Tuscan Snafu: Considering James Suckling’s list of Top 12 Tuscan wines from over 10 years ago.

When learning Italian, I have been told many times the most beautiful accent to learn is from Siena in Tuscany because Tuscans are the poets of Italy.


The language of wine in Tuscany is also very rich, with a long tradition of culture and history with interesting local idiosyncrasies, yet the recent past, dominated by James Suckling, Wine Spectator and their lists of Super-Tuscans, has left many in Tuscany not singing but mumbling.


Before I go any further, let’s get this out of the way. James Suckling was not the person to coin the word “Super-Tuscan”. It was used in a book co-authored by Nicholas Belfrage and Jancis Robinson called “Life beyond Lambrusco” (1985). It’s a common misconception in the wine trade, perhaps driven by James Suckling’s enthusiasm of Super-Tuscans during his time at Wine Spectator.


On his website, Suckling recently published his 12 Most Collectible Tuscan Wines from over ten years ago (Question: How many of these wines are NOT made from “international” varieties? Answer at the end of this post ):

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Branko, Collio Pinot Grigio 2009

Some "Pinot Grigio" can taste like this, watery and nothing, but not all are the same. Especially Pinot Grigio from Collio in Friuli Venezia Guilia

Don’t tell me this is a Pinot Grigio. Apart from just learning the Collio region has recently been wiped out by violent storms; this wine is proof that we have accepted a feeble lie about the Pinot Grigio grape for far too long. This is the real deal. From the North-East of Italy, on the border of Slovenia in Friuli- Venezia Giulia, it is full of intense flavours and texture: maybe even too much for some used to the commercial, watery stuff. Ginger is a strong taste and it gives an almost hot, spiciness to this wine, but it is swiftly balanced by a soft creamy almond and pear character. And then the grippy texture grabs you back to the glass. It is more expensive than the average Pinot Grigio, but unlike most sad excuses for white wine, this actually tastes of something and somewhere. I hope Branko’s vineyards are okay, nearly 300 ha in Collio were wiped out last week, with many vineyards devastated by up to 80-100%. Best wishes to everyone in Collio.

Tasted at Vagabond Wines, 18-22 Vanston Place, London SW6 1AX, £17.95

Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino to be sold? Rumours from Montalcino

Rumours from the hills of Montalcino today is Colle Massari is acquiring Piero Palmucci’s Poggio di Sotto. An elderly gentleman with no offspring interested in taking over the vineyard, it could soon be in the hands of Claudio Tipa, winemakers from Maremma, part of the family who are also patrons of Alinghi team in the America’s Cup.

The tiny 8ha of vineyard (12 ha in total) produce some of the most mystical and benchmark expressions of Brunello in Montalcino. To say this a favourite wine of mine is an understatement. Not only is the flavour burned in my memory as perfect expression of Sangiovese in Montalcino, and I use it as a complete reference point, but it was also Read More »

Notes from Parma: My response to “What Food, What Wine” Competition’s Zero Score for Italy

Emilia-Romagna is strange. The train departure board could be a poster announcing a stadium tour of gastronomic rockstars – Parma, Bologna, Modena – and yet… as far as wine goes, the region is mostly known for its sweet fizzy Lambrusco.

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Letters from Montalcino: appeals on proposed changes to Rosso di Montalcino

The Brunello di Montalcio producers are meeting to vote and decide whether to change the law: to allow Rosso di Montalcino to become a blended wine, like other wines in Tuscany, (and in other parts of the world) or to remain as 100% Sangiovese. What do producers see as the problem with changing Rosso di Montalcino from 100% Sangiovese to 85% Sangiovese? A few days ago one of the bigger producers wrote an open letter to the consortium from one of the larger producers, Mastrojanni owned by Francesco and Andrea Illy (yes, the same Illy as the coffee):  Read More »

Spectacular Mount Etna DOC

This is what gives Mount Etna DOC wines their character.

Last night, Mount Etna erupted for 2 hours. Mount Etna is Europe’s most active volcano, replenishing the region’s soil every few years with hot lava music.

The black volcanic soil filters the strong flavours of grapes ripened under the Sicilian sun. This makes the wines from Mount Etna powerful, yet distinctly soft with a mineral taste.

Technical information: Mount Etna DOC

Red Grape Varieties: Nerello mascalese, Nerello mantallato

White Grape Varieties: Carricante, Catarratto bianco

Recommended wines:

Red: Etna Rosso DOC 2007, Cantine Nicosia, Sicilia (80% Nerello Mascalese, 20% Nerello Mantallato)

White: 2009 Planeta Carricante, Mount Etna, IGT Sicilia

Image and Link: “Red Sky at Night… Mount Etna erupts in spectacular fashion” (Daily Mail, 13 Jan 2011)

Changes in Rosso di Montalcino DOC race ahead

The red colour of Italian cars is not just any red. It comes from a long history of rules, mostly developed between the World Wars, when car racing began. Different countries were assigned different colours: blue for French cars, white for German cars and, of course, British cars were racing green. Red was assigned for Italian race cars and now, the red colour of Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Ferrari is instantly recognisable as a “race red” (or Rosso Corsa).

All these rules have a history, which gain sense from the time, but most people today know what is meant by Ferrari Red. Just as with Italian car colours, and a lot of things in Italy, Italian wines have many rules. So it is worth considering what the proposed changes in the rules mean, especially when on the 15th December, the 15 board members proposed to change Rosso di Montalcino from 100% to 85% guaranteed Sangiovese.

Currently the law stands: Brunello di Montalcino must be 100% Sangiovese and aged for 4 years (Riserva for 5 years) with at least 2 years in oak. While waiting for the Brunello to age, the Rosso di Montalcino is released, made from similar grapes but only required to age for 6 months (up to 1 year in total) in oak. It also must be 100% Sangiovese.

Why would Montalcino want to change the law so they lose some of their uniqueness and become comparable to their neighbours’ wines in Tuscany? The simple answer is Sangiovese is a difficult grape. Sangiovese does not ripen consistently every year every where in Montalcino as a crop and the dry flavours are not enjoyed without a little understanding of the wine and food (which makes it less easy to sell to some non-Italian consumers). Some of the 250 wineries voting on the proposal when reconvening in January 2011 say, that for a Rosso, meant for early, easy-drinking, it does not make commercial sense to have it 100% Sangiovese every year.

In fact, before the mid-19th century the wines from the region were a blend, although of a dubious quality. Before then, the wine from the region was known as Vermiglio, and it could be a blend of varieties, Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Colorino, Tenerone, Gorgoteco, Terrbiano or Malvasia. Unlike Montalcino’s ancient neighbours, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Chianti Classico, the history of quality wine from Montalcino is very recent.

When 100% Montalcino Sangiovese has a good year it is ethereal, unique and the closest thing to art than any Grand Cru Burgundy. However, as much as that is good for the collector and wine lover, many larger wineries don’t agree it makes commercial sense to have so many inconsistent vintages.

There is a pressure for Rosso di Montalcino to become more commercially savvy and international. The “Modernists” believe blending with French varieties like they do in Chianti Classico may speed up the commercialisation of the Rosso di Montalcino wine.

Since 2008s Brunellogate (Brunellopoli), where the wines were found to have grapes other than Sangiovese and lost some face in the US market, the region has not been winning the race. But if the Ferrari is dented, would it be worth changing the colour for the whole car?

Will this mixed Rosso make the wine go faster?

Or, in the long-term, will the decision on Rosso di Montalcino skid the wines reputation into the region’s winner, Brunello di Montalcino, with the only result being one big pileup?

The issue was raised by 15 Consiglieri on 15 December and is now subject to debate in January to be voted by 250 producers. It will now be interesting to see what develops in the new year for one of the world’s great wine regions.

Link: Franco Zilliani “And then the Rosso di Montalcino disciplinary change” (In Italian)

Image: Bridget Bardot

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG vs European Union

Some headache! The morning after the party to celebrate 30 years of DOCG status in the ancient Tuscan town of Montepulciano, winemakers were making their way to Brussels to confront the European Union’s decision to change Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG to simple “Montepulciano”.

What’s the problem? Montepulciano has 6 syllables already, that is enough for a name isn’t it? And isn’t Montepulciano just a cheap red wine found in most supermarkets for around £5? What’s the problem with shortening it?

The problem is this: say Montepulciano and most people think Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, the cheap and cheerful red Montepulciano grape from the next state, Abruzzo. Not the Sangiovese wine from Tuscany, Vino Nobile. Change the name from Vino Nobile to just “Montepulciano” and suddenly the wine is something else for most people asking for it.

Already there is enough confusion between these two very distinct styles because they share the word in the name: Montepulciano.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG was one of the first regions in Italy to receive DOCG status in1980, next to Brunello and Barolo. The name of DOCG can be traced back to at least 1685 where, in the popular wine travel literature, Bacco di Toscana (Bacchus in Tuscany), it was said, “Montepulciano, of every wine, is king”. Even further back – bronze wine goblets from the 4th Century BC Etruscan era were excavated around the Tuscan town.

How can the blanching of cultural history be a benefit to winemakers, Italy or Europe? Snapping off the Vino Nobile part of the name, the European Union aims to iron out duplications in wine regions. The EU is particularly agitated by the sometimes fantastical names of Italian wine producers which can make it confusing for the customer. This is their beige dream, I will take the colourful one: a wine that says something of the place, not even so much as that, a wine that says something. Is this not also the purpose of the European Union after all, to protect cultural heritage?
Related link: What is vino da meditazione? (Featuring Vin Santo from Montepulciano)

Original post on my blog Wine Woman & Song