When Cerreto Libri’s Andrea Zanfei passed away a few weeks ago, there was no great outpouring of recognition in the global wine press, and barely a blip of grief on social media. At SommSelect, the sad news hit us like an atom bomb.
Zanfei was the beating heart and the always-smiling face of one of Tuscany’s great, unsung estates. We’ve showcased Cerreto Libri’s deep, long-aged reds repeatedly over the years, and customers have always responded with rave reviews. These are the kind of wines that people get hooked on and buy every available vintage thereafter. Cerreto Libri’s hallmark dark fruit, sweet tobacco/spice box aromatics, and Brunello-like structure made it an important cornerstone of SommSelect’s Italian portfolio since day one. There’s really nothing like it. Today’s outstanding 2011 is one of the last Cerreto Libri wines to bear his indelible imprint, and true to form, he hit it out of the park. This has many years of evolution ahead of it and makes as strong a case for Tuscan Sangiovese as any wine we’ve ever offered—don’t miss it!
When I first wrote about Cerreto Libri in 2015, I said that enjoying a bottle of the estate’s red wine was “like drinking the history of Tuscan wine.” This small vineyard has been in the same family’s hands since the 1700s, and its breathtaking ancient cellar is built on top of Etruscan ruins that date back to 500 BCE. It is a truly magical estate. In addition to the property’s incredible depth of history, Cerreto Libri has spent the last quarter century bottling a microscopic amount of red wine in a style and class that is unique in the region. It’s the real deal, with power and depth that nods toward Brunello, but a complexity of aroma all its own. As if this was not enough, Andrea religiously upped the ante with extended cellar aging. Cerreto Libri’s reds were released in the US market only after many years of cellar aging, and today’s 2011 is no exception. Andrea waited until its prime to release it, and you can take my word that it is absolutely singing right now.
Although the estate’s top red wine is called “Liber” today, it is the exact same wine that was long bottled as Chianti Rùfina DOCG, and it remains my favorite wine from the region. Sometimes overlooked, Rùfina is the most northeasterly of all Chianti’s subregions. It is a sun-drenched hilly terrain with balmy summers and vineyards that can often reach altitudes of 500 meters and higher. The handful of flowing rivers that carve up Rùfina also bring cooler nighttime temperatures than the rest of Chianti, providing some added length to the growing season. The result is a terroir producing wines that are often more robust and masculine than elsewhere in the region, but that also possess impressive detail and finesse. I often think of the best examples of Chianti Rùfina as being a hybrid of the nuance and rusticity of Chianti Classico and the depth and power of Brunello di Montalcino.
Andrea did everything possible to accentuate the purity of this terroir. All fruit on the property is grown in strict accordance with organic and biodynamic principles. Furthermore, there is no sulfur introduced to the juice at any point during vinification. Andrea simply loaded grapes into a battery of ancient WWII-era concrete fermentation tanks. When fermentation was complete, the wine was transferred to enormous neutral French oak casks to slowly mature in until bottling. There was no filtering, no fining, and hardly any mechanized equipment in Andrea’s tiny cellar.
But as Andrea detailed in an open letter (posted on Cerreto Libri’s website), he and his wife, Valentina, decided to cease labeling their wine with the Chianti Rùfina DOCG denomination. This is something we’re seeing with increasing frequency across the wine world, especially among the more fiercely independent natural winemakers: Labeling a wine with a DOC, or AOC, or any denomination of origin, means having that wine approved by government tasting panels, whom many producers feel are applying the wrong principles in judging their wines. According to Andrea and Valentina, mass-produced, low-quality wines destined for supermarkets are deemed acceptable while others are rejected, which, in their view, diminishes the relevance of the “guarantee” implicit in a DOCG seal on the bottle. So, henceforth the wine is called “Liber” and labeled with the less-prescribed Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT). “We don’t assert it because we don’t trust these structures,” they say of the DOCG apparatus, “but because they seem to have lost their path to the necessary search for authenticity.”
So there you have it—and what I can tell you is that this is deliciously authentic Tuscan Sangiovese, buttressed with a small amount (10%) of the local Canaiolo. The 2011 “Liber” explodes with black cherry, red and black currants, sweet red tobacco, dried sage and thyme, and satisfying meatiness on the palate—this wine is a meal in itself! Please decant for 45 minutes before serving in large Burgundy stems. As with all of Andrea’s reds, this bottle evolves dramatically over the first few hours and long into day two. So, take your time. You won’t regret it, especially alongside carefully sliced, medium-rare bistecca. I can think of no better way to salute Andrea, his dedication to his singular property, and the wonderful wines he shared over the years. Grazie Andrea!
90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo
Large Neutral French
Clay and Limestone
Organic & Biodynamic