Summer Saga I - Bella Toscana

Over the next several weeks I’ll be releasing collections of incredible wines: exciting new discoveries, historical icons, and buzzy exclusives – sometimes all rolled into one! These offers will be comprehensive and well-populated, and as such will read a tad longer, but since life often slows down a bit in summer, a bit of wine reading may be welcome (especially if you’re drinking alongside, clink!). I’ll be offering wines from all over the world at several price points, so there will definitely be something that you want on these pages, read to the end and don’t miss an episode!!

Indeed, this summer will long be remembered for its sheer epic-ness of wine emails. Future troubadours shall sing its story to wide-eyed, disbelieving wine drinkers for decades to come: Lo, ‘tis the Summer Saga of 2019. We begin in Tuscany.

Tenuta Sette Ponti Oreno 2016, Toscana IGT. The now-legendary Supertuscan vintage of 2015 is experiencing a shorter time in the sun than expected, now that the shadow of the as-or-more-legendary 2016 vintage is creeping towards its lawn chair. Trading in its sharpened fangs for a little more girth, Sette Ponti’s flagship Bordeaux blend may be fatter and richer in 2016, but it still needs to hibernate for a bit until it no longer wants to eat you. 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot, with dark currents, lavender and licorice on the nose and a platoon of angry Tuscan boars on the palate. Stunning after 5 more years, James Suckling calls Oreno the “Ch. Latour of Tuscany” (it placed #5 on his Italian Top 100 last year), and this is the best version I’ve seen since 2010. 99 points James Suckling, 94 points Vinous, 94 points Robert Parker, 4 wooden 6-packs available, $99.99 +tax

Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve 2015, Colli Toscana Centrale IGT. The nice folks in Chianti had to invent the Colli Toscana Centrale designation for wines like this because the term Overperforming Chianti made everyone else look bad. Accordingly, Flaccianello is farmed in the famed Conca d’Oro (“Golden Shell”) near Panzano in Chianti Classico, but the yield they take from the vineyard is so low, it runs afoul of Chianti’s rules. Low yield means higher concentration, and Flaccianello is a much thicker sauce than its geographical contemporaries despite being made from Sangiovese just like everyone down the street. Dark cherries rule the fortress with licorice spears and vanilla shields, the mid-palate is abnormally round and the finish is elegant and persistent. If the Manetti family keeps topping themselves like this year after year, everyone’s gonna run out of points. 98 points Robert Parker, 97 points James Suckling, 96 points Wine Spectator, 96 points Decanter, 12 bottles available, $150.98 +tax

Bibi Graetz Testamatta 2015, Toscana IGT. Where to begin with Bibi Graetz? The artist-turned-winemaker still paints his own labels, and in contrast to all those wine-is-made-in-the-vineyard producers, Bibi is more than content to have is brash, unconventional wines reflect his considerable personality (the term “Testa-Matta” – literally “Crazy-Head”, means “Strong Personality”). This 100% Sangiovese, accordingly, drinks like street art – the loudness and brightness that command your attention overshadow the subtle sensibilities that must be looked for to be found. The body is huge, so you may not notice the beautiful, elegant landing on the finish. The dark fruit is intense on the nose, so you may overlook the soft toasted spices that surround it. Bibi staggered his harvest (8 times!!!) to layer his tannins and acids perfectly – indeed, beneath the Steve Vai guitar solo lurks a nearly flawless structure. Picasso had to learn to draw correctly so he could draw wrong. Perhaps the illusion in Crazy-Head is that it’s not so crazy after all. 99 points James Suckling, 2 wooden 6-packs available, $189.98 +tax

Fontodi Vigna del Sorbo 2015, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG. To call this statuesque Chianti “Fontodi’s traditional answer to its contemporary Flaccianello” overlooks the fact that – despite operating within the DOCG classification - Vigna del Sorbo spends 24 months in new French oak and is a Chianti so modern it’s practically an app. The Sangiovese grapes from the organic Sorbo vineyard (again in the Conca d’Oro) built this castle, an impressive structure with a large mid-palate and a nose of dark cherries baking in the sun on a hot stone. Rosewater and cloves close off the finish – this is a Gran Selezione that you only have to bury for 2 years, not 10. #60 – Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2018, 97 points James Suckling, 96+ points Robert Parker, 95 points Wine Spectator, 12 bottles available, $106.98 +tax

Castell’In Villa 2009/2010, Chianti Classico Riserva. Nothing modern about this operation, headed by the indefatigable Coralia Pignatelli della Leonessa in the hot, hot Castelnuovo Berardenga at the very southern tip of Chianti Classico. Indigenous fermentations in huge, open-top Botti and spending several years in bottle before coming to market – I can imagine them arguing amongst themselves about whether it was “cheating” to use new-fangled technology like pointed sticks. Whilst one could reasonably expect that such an old school method would produce Dirt Chowder, the wine itself is a gosh-darn revelation – gorgeously ripe fruit, bursting with energy and body and minerals – here be hidden treasure. Although the flavours aren’t similar, this wine reminds me of Chateauneuf’s Domaine Pegau in ethic and spirit: the earthen, traditional notes are more than balanced by an overabundance of fruit and happiness. Put this wine on your radar, it is a planet. I have a case each of 2009 (93 Vinous) and 2010 (94 Vinous) and that’s it, folks. Pounce now or forever wish you pounced. $75.98 +tax

Argiano Solengo 2015, Toscana IGT. I blind tasted this as Tignanello because a) it’s more focused and linear than a Cab/Petit Verdot blend usually is, and b) I am not good. Solengo is proof that you can staff your way to victory, the modest Brunello house hired Sebastiano Rosa (Lafite, Sassicaia) as G.M. and Dr. Giacomo Tachis (Sassicaia, Tignanello, Solaia) as Oenologist. Grown in the warmer southern third of the Montalcino region (I can attest to a 3C increase compared to the north side of the mountain), Solengo shoots for Bordeaux by way of Saint-Julien – picked earlier for peak brightness, it wants to make friends with future you, not you. Cassis and dried blackberries jump happily up your nose, followed by a sensation that the sun is shining up at your chin. Incredible energy, here, around a medium-to-full bodied mid-palate, and the finish is smoky, mineral and a tad hot. Fine tannins and a sneaking sense that you’re looking at a great store through the windows but the store’s not quite open yet. 97 points James Suckling, 95 points Robert Parker, 2 6-packs available, $107.98 +tax

Until next time, Happy Drinking!!