SommSelect Editorial Director David Lynch doesn’t always find Sangiovese and the “Bordeaux varieties” to be well-matched. But when they get the proportions right, as Caiarossa has here, it really puts the “super” in “super-Tuscan.”
After Ian Cauble and I visited Tuscany last October, I stopped eating beef indefinitely. They really like their bistecca over there in Tuscany, and I like it, too, but after having it at nearly every meal for a week I took a long hiatus—one that ended abruptly when I tasted today’s wine from Caiarossa. One sip of this Sangiovese-driven blend and I had an instantaneous, Pavlovian craving for a well-marbled ‘black-and-blue’ T-bone. It’s the same reaction a top-tier Brunello di Montalcino evokes, and while this wine, unlike Brunello, incorporates a small percentage of the ‘Bordeaux’ varieties, it is much more reminiscent of Brunello than Bordeaux. Unlike some Italophiles, I’ve got no problem with Tuscan Cabernet, or Tuscan Merlot—there are countless beautiful and terroir-expressive examples of both—but I get a little squirrelly when people try to blend these grapes with the more-delicate Sangiovese. I can see why they do it—add color and body, tame acidity—but the results often leave me cold, because the Sangiovese character gets trampled. Not so with this well-aged (and extremely well-priced) blend from Caiarossa, an impressive young wine estate in the hills outside Pisa, mere miles from the Mediterranean Sea. The Cabernets and Merlot are well-modulated grace notes here; Sangiovese is still the main attraction, with all its nerve and wild, almost feral woodsiness. The best comparison is to mature Brunello di Montalcino, but good luck finding one of those at this price—it cannot be done! We’re talking serious Tuscan red with a decade-plus of bottle age for less than $30. Need I say more?
Well, okay—perhaps you’d like to know more about where the wine comes from and who makes it. Caiarossa, like many modern wine estates developed along Tuscany’s lengthy Mediterranean coast, has a French connection. Founded in 1998 with a mission to implement biodynamic farming (which has since been achieved), the property was acquired in 2004 by Eric Albada Jelgersma, proprietor of Château Giscours and Château du Tertre in Bordeaux. Viticulture and winemaking is overseen by Julian Reneaud, a Toulouse-educated enologist who is hardly the only Frenchman plying his trade in this part of the world. As was initially proven by historic estates such as Sassicaia—which is in Bolgheri, a half-hour’s drive south of Riparbella, where Caiarossa is headquartered—the Tuscan coast is quite hospitable to the so-called Bordeaux grapes. The relatively mild, maritime climates and sandy, gravelly soils along Tuscany’s coast mimic some of what’s found in Bordeaux, though in the end the wines take on a resolutely ‘Mediterranean’ identity that roots them firmly in Tuscany.
While many point to Sassicaia’s marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta as the person who first popularized Bordeaux grapes in Tuscany (in the 1950s and ’60s), there’s no telling just how long these varieties have had a home in the region. There’s little doubt, however, that the ubiquitous Sangiovese was there first and in vastly greater quantity, even in the more southerly reaches of the Tuscan coast, where many producers believe the variety doesn’t really belong. I’ll say this: It’s a little more difficult to preserve Sangiovese’s trademark delicacy, nerve, and aromatic lift in warmer climates and more fertile soils, but it happens all the time nonetheless. Similarly, as noted above, the Cabernets and Merlot don’t always play nice with Sangiovese—they tend to step on it unless the percentages are kept modest, as they are in “Pergolaia.” In this 2006 they provide a perfect, subtle bass line underneath the Sangiovese high notes. Bring on the bistecca!
Overall, the Caiarossa property extends over 70 hectares, much of it woodland filled with cork and holm oaks; there are about 30 hectares of vines spread across two farms—both certified biodynamic by Demeter in 2005—one with more marl and sandstone in the soils and one more sandy/clayey. This 2006, comprised predominantly of Sangiovese, was fermented in large concrete tanks using only native yeasts and aged in 500-liter French oak tonneaux (mostly used) for a little over a year. It then went back into a mixture of concrete and large oak vats (botti) for another 10 months before bottling.
In the glass, the 2006 “Pergolaia” is showing good concentration after a decade-plus of age, with a still-deep garnet core moving to rust-orange at the rim. The aromas have evolved into a woodsy, wild potpourri of dried black cherry, wild strawberry, red currant, orange peel, underbrush, Mediterranean herbs, black pepper, and dark, humid earth. On both nose and palate the wine is reminiscent of classic Brunello di Montalcino, albeit with a underlying chord of darker fruit and a hint of chocolate. There’s still a hint of oak spice but that has largely receded in favor of tobacco and dried-flower savor; the tannins have softened nicely and there’s still lots of fresh acidity lending that mouth-watering twang that had me running to the butcher. It is ready to enjoy tonight: Decant it about 15 minutes (watching out for sediment) before serving at 60 degrees in large Bordeaux stems. What an amazing price for such a serious, well-aged Tuscan red—a multiple-bottle barbecue with friends would appear to be in the offing (or, if you’re like me and like the pan-sear technique, check out the attached). Cheers and buon appetito! — David Lynch
Province of Pisa
Sangiovese 85%-90% w/ Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot
Used French Tonneaux & 25HL Vats
Organic & Biodynamic
15-20 Minutes (Sediment)