There are some invitations you just can’t pass up. The one I received some weeks ago was one of them. Bedford International hosted a beautiful luncheon at Del Posto to do a vertical tasting of Grattamacco wines and wines from the Colle Massari property, both owned by Claudio Tipa. Tipa was born in Tunisia to Italian parents from Sicily. Along with many other European families, he moved back to Italy when Tunisia became independent. He has had a long love affair with the wine business, particularly with French wines and their Domaine styles. He is looking to create the Domaine concept on his estates in Tuscany.
Colle Massari was founded in 1999 and makes wines under the Montecucco D.O.C. in Upper Maremma in Tuscany. Tipa said that this was the ideal place to make Sangiovese-based wines, nestled between the fruitier and more acidic wines of Morellino di Scansano D.O.C. and the heavier, more serious wines from Brunello. “We want to make wines with depth but we don’t want to lose that lightheartedness or allegria that comes from a Morellino,” Tipa told me at lunch. The first vintage produced at Colle Massari was the 2000.
Colle Massari’s vineyards are located at the foot of Monte Amiata, at 320 meters above sea level. The winery has 300 hectares or abut 740 acres, 40 of them planted with vines. The wines are made under the supervision of enologist Maurizio Castelli, a very well known winemaker who also works with the Bastianich family wines, among others.
Castelli explained to our group how the grapes were all hand selected on sorting tables and how Colle Massari wines are certified organic, a rarity in Italy. The picture above is of the Castello Colle Massari built by the Patrizi family during the Renaissance. In the not too distant future, it will be a private home with guest rooms and a conference center.
Tipa has built a 65,000 square foot cellar where none of the grapes are pressed or pumped but only gravitational forces are used. Tipa also told me that those that pick the grapes at Colle Massari are very familiar with the property and have been doing the harvest for years allowing them to have real familiarity with Sangiovese.
In fact, Castelli noted that one problem some modern growers have is that they don’t treat Sangiovese the way they should. ‘Sangiovese needs shade and many of the new generation take the leaves off. Sangiovese is very sensitive to sun and wind. This is why you don’t always see great Sangiovese on the coast,” he said. “Sangiovese can age for 10 to 12 years at least.”
We tried a Vermentino from Colle Massari, Melacce 2008 which had great white fruit aromas and flavors and was quite refreshing despite its 13.5% alcohol. Castelli said this clone of Vermentino which is different than those found in Liguria, Sardinia, and Corsica, produces wines with more body than perhaps those that we had tried in the past.
I particularly liked the Rigoleto 2007 made with Sangiovese, Montepulciano and Cigliegiolo. This wine aged in barrique, tonneau and stainless steel, was fruity with spicy notes and a velvety mouthfeel. It had beautiful acidity as a Sangiovese should and was a pleasure to drink with the food served.
My favorite of the Colle Massari wines were the Lombrone 2004 and the Lombrone 2005. These wines were 100% Sangiovese. What a beautiful expression of this grape which I adore. I’d be hard pressed to choose between one and the other. I thought they had great acidity, black and red fruit, ripe tannins with spicy notes and a long finish.
Both are made from selected grapes. They undergo malolactic fermentation in 40 hectoliter vats and are then aged in them. Only 6000 bottles were made of the 2004. The wines spend 18 months in the bottle after aging in the vats. I was very impressed by these wines which accompanied the meat dish quite well. Sangiovese is always an incomparable food wine for me and this was truly a wonderful expression of what it can do in the Montecucco D.O.C.
I loved the Colle Massari wines but the hype about the tasting was that we would do a vertical tasting of wines from Grattamacco, a very famous estate in Maremma, the second one to begin production there, around the same time that Tenuta San Guido made the famed Super Tuscan, Sassicaia.. Super Tuscan is short hand for wines made outside of the traditional D.O.C./D.O.C.G. requirements. These Bordeaux style blends are usually made with Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot and sometimes Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc, or any combination thereof. The first Super Tuscan to be called that, Tignanello, was made in 1978 by Piero Antinori.
Much has been said about these wines which were heavily overvalued and sought after in the 1990s and then somewhat fell out of favor as a movement towards “indigenous” grape varieties began to take root. I have always tried to stay out of the debate about which wines are better: traditional Tuscan wines or Super Tuscans. I won’t say I love all my children equally, not owning any of these vineyards ahime’, but what I will say is that some of my most memorable experiences include wines such as Ornellaia, Masseto and Carmignano. Carmignano has been made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese for centuries. My point here is that a great wine is a great wine. I digress. Back to Grattamacco.
Grattamacco was created in the 1970s and Tipa bought it in 2002. It is part of the Bolgheri D.O.C. area about which so much has been said. The first wine from Grattamacco was a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangiovese blend made in 1978. The winery is quite close to the sea, one kilometer, which has a mitigating impact on the heat in Maremma and brings fog to the vineyards. The winery has 30 hectares with 10 hectares planted with vines. The vines are about 15 years old on average.
Fermentation of the wines is done using ambient yeast and with long maceration time, 25 to 30 days in cone shaped 800 liter oak vats. At the end of the maceration, the wines are put into barriques. After 12 months, they are taken out and blended and then are put back in for a further 12 to 18 months followed by at least six more months in the bottle. The wines are a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangiovese, just as they have always been.
The winery is located at 100 meters above sea level. Castelli said it is a golden area, somewhat like California’s coast. Some of the vines are quite old while others are newer and have been replanted. This is why the average age is 15 and not 30 years. Castelli said they often do green harvesting on the vines and always use sorting tables. According to Castelli, the best expression of the Grattamacco wines is after about 10 years. “Pure Sangiovese on the coast is difficult but we know how to work with it,” Castelli said. Tipa told me that the same people who do the harvest at Colle Massari come to Grattamacco therefore their familiarity with the wine maker, the owner and most important with Sangiovese can be a real help.
We tried six vintages of Grattamacco Superiore, the 1999 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, and the 2006. The color of all of the wines was the most brillant, glowing ruby red that I have ever seen. That’s a result of the long maceration they undergo on the skins. I was partial to the 2006, 2005 and the 2004. 2003 was a hot year all over Europe. The 2001 was also interesting but oddly enough I preferred the younger wines and would love to see how they age.
The 1999 and 2001 were ready to drink and quite different than the other wines. They had a barnyard or Brett-like quality which I like but many people do not. Brett comes about for a whole series of reasons which I will discuss in another post. Mostly, it was clear that the wine had been made by a different hand. It was put into the tasting to show the potential these wines have. I would be very happy to drink the 2004, 2005 and 2006 in a few years time, if I could wait that long.
Castelli said that 2006 was a perfect weather year and he had high hopes for that vintage in some years to come. It already had great fruit and pencil shavings, spice and oak on the nose but was too young to drink. The 2005 was quite closed at first but then opened up to reveal complex tertiary notes . Castelli loved this vintage and I would like to taste it again in a few years time. The 2004 was magical I thought, elegant and complex with black fruit, smoke and spice.
Each vintage is made with the same three grapes, in the same percentages. It is 65% Cabernet, 20% Merlot and 15% Sangiovese. Tipa is partial to French wood on these wines. I also learned the name of a new Tuscan herb I had never heard of Elicriso. Apparently this herb grows all over the winery and is a distinctive note in the wine.
Before starting out on our vertical tasting, we also tried two wines that Grattamacco makes, Bolgheri Rosso and Alberello. Alberello is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. I have always thought Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc are great grapes to grow in Maremma. This wine was delicious and round, smoky and earthy at the same time with spicy notes from the Cabernet Franc, a very sexy grape in my opinion. The Bolgheri Rosso was a blend with both Cabernets, Merlot and Sangiovese. It was a great wine to have with any meal although of the two, I preferred the Alberello.
A lot of care went into making these wines and that showed through in all of the vintages and all of the wines. The Bolgheri area is renowned for its rich heavy, stone soils and Mediterranean weather. The wines that emerged from the tasting, while somewhat different because of vintage, all shared certain characteristics whether it be black fruits, bramble notes, spice or oak. It was exciting to think what the wines would taste like in a few years.