Fattoria Fibbiano: A Star Rising

After a busy day at SLOW WINE 2016, I met up with wine producer Matteo Cantoni to settle back in a friend’s New York City apartment and taste some new vintages along with a new wine from his estate Fattoria Fibbiano, a rising star among wineries from the hills around Pisa.

“The only rule is that there are no rules”, explained Cantoni partway through the tasting about producing good wine.

fibbiano, cantoniRuminating on that bit of vino philosophy, I paused to again fill my nose with the scent of *Fonte delle Donne 2014, Fibbiano’s new white wine, striking in its aromatic complexity for a white wine from Tuscany – mineral, savory, saline, detailed, wafting scents of apple, marvelously fresh. The wine is produced from 50% Colombana, 50% Vermentino. Cantoni explains that the vine roots go deep into sandy soil enriched with sea shells conferring to the grapes body and aromatic complexity.

We tasted new vintages of Fibbiano’s reds, too, wines I admire and have written about before: the estate’s Le Pianette 2013 IGT, a 70/30 blend of Sangiovese and Colorino impressed with easy, elegant drinkability; Casalini 2013 Chianti Superiore, with its arousing bouquet, is a unique take on Sangiovese with an addition of 20% of Ciliegiolo, full in the mouth, delicious acidity; L’Aspetto 2012 IGT, 50/50 Sangiovese and Canaiolo, is energetic, deep, intense, yet smooth in the mouth and final tannins, remarkably fresh; red, rich and ripe, Fibbiano’s Ceppatella 2011 IGT is a 100 percent Sangiovese mouthful of warm velvet finishing with persistent recollections of cherry, leather and tobacco.

fibbiano fonte delle donneWe tasted more. Talked more. As the evening wore on, I slowly got my brain around what Cantoni meant by the “only rule is no rules” comment: mindless repetition of what was done last year doesn’t necessarily achieve good wine results this year. A producer needs to be open to finding the best way to meet the current vintage, to be in the ‘moment’ of that vintage, to work without being limited by formula.

I haven’t yet met Nicola Cantoni, Matteo’s brother and obviously talented winemaker at Fibbiano, but it will be fun to perhaps hear his take on that conversation at some point.

In any case, whatever the approach at Fibbiano, it is clearly on target as the wines are … astonishingly good.

*Fonte delle Donne is a great introduction to the area and to the estate. Planned availability, I’m told, is for early March in Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.

You can read more about Fibbiano and find more detailed tasting notes in my recent article Expressive Sangiovese from the Hills of Pisa.

Expressive Sangiovese from the Hills of Pisa

Admittedly, when thinking of terroir driven Sangiovese, Pisa has not been on my short list of territories.

But, that all changed upon meeting wine producers Matteo Cantoni and Luca Tommasini of Fattoria Fibbiano and Azienda Agricola Sangervasio, respectively, whose wines have rather opened my eyes to the great potential of Pisa.

During an educational “meet the producers” luncheon at Lupa in New York City, I had an opportunity to taste the wines of Cantoni and Tommasini and talk at length with the producers whose wineries are located in the hills around Pisa.

Fibbiano wines

Although similarly located, the Fibbiano and Sangervasio estates see very different micro-climates. In the hills around Sangervasio, for example, says Tommasini, “…the wind is more fresh and we get less rain…”, than the more southerly Fibbiano location which experiences a hotter wind. The two estates, however, are linked at a fundamental level by shared similarities in basic soil composition – the area used to be under sea water and thus the sand and clay soils are enriched with marine shell material. The strong presence of minerals in the soil confers savory characteristics upon the wines.

Both Fibbiano and Sangervasio are working with a pervasive natural agriculture mentality, with Sangervasio being certified organic and Fibbiano working “biologico” (Cantoni). After some extended conversation with both Cantoni and Tommasini, it’s my sense that the choice for natural agriculture is a passionate one, not merely marketing tactic but rather committed, lifestyle decisions.

Sangervasio wines

Both producers employ some form of cement in raising their wines, a format I have long appreciated as it helps the wines to better develop, and this is especially true for Sangiovese. Cantoni mentioned that Fibbiano is experimenting with a vertical roto-fermenter. The process separates seeds and thus avoids green tannins. At Sangervasio, says Tommasini, they apply great attention and effort to working clean, eschewing chemical products, using only natural yeasts present on the grape skins to start fermentation. Tommasini notes, too, that sulfite doses are kept very low.

Both producers’ wines drink with a unique elegance characterized by minerality underlined with a sense salinity, well-balanced wines that speak of Tuscany, of Sangiovese, yet present something different, something more.

As for me, I left the luncheon with a sense for rediscovery: rediscovery for Sangiovese from an area that had fallen off my radar; rediscovery that Pisa can be … is … more than a Leaning Tower.

Much thanks to luncheon host Charles Scicolone for getting these wines/producers on my radar.

PS Visitors to Fibbiano and Sangervasio can explore the Pisa area enjoying accommodation at either estate’s agriturismo.

TASTING NOTES

Matteo Cantoni, Fibbiano

Fattoria Fibbiano

Le Pianette 2011 IGT Toscana
Sensations of warmth and berry spice on the nose, Le Pianette has an agreeable Pinot Noir-like weight that swallows easy to a satisfying, smooth finish. Gorgeous to hold in the mouth. 70% Sangiovese 30% Colorino.

Chianti Superiore “Casalini” 2011
Intermingling scents of red and black cherries are seductive as a woman wearing two alluring perfumes. Big presence on the palate, smooth ripe tannins. 80% Sangiovese 20% Ciliegiolo.

L’Aspetto 2010 IGT
Complex aromas of ripe fruit, savory herbs and spice, underlined with a sense of saline, round and mouth-filling, silky finish. 50% Sangiovese %50 Canaiolo.

Ceppatello 2009 IGT
Intense notes of ripe fruit, tobacco, saddle leather, velvety rich palate, generous and persistent finish. 100% Sangiovese.

Luca Tomassini, Sangervasio

Sangervasio

Chianti 2014
Exceedingly fresh impressions of berries and violets, minerals, pleasantly grippy tannins, nicely structured and massively drinkable. 100% Sangiovese.

Sirio 2011
Another of the day’s wines that is just gorgeous to hold in the mouth, forest berries, herb, spice, big, supple palate. 95% Sangiovese 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.

I Renai 2008
Perhaps the more international in style, with a discernable ripeness of fruit, notes of tobacco, toasty spice, baker’s chocolate, and a big structure to wear it all very well. 100% Merlot.

Vin Santo 2014
Rich, complex aromas and tastes of almond, hazelnut, dried fig and apricot, honey, crème brulee. Glorious. 70% Trebbiano 15% San Columbano, %15 Sangiovese.

The Grandi Marchi Experience: Symphonic

The Grandi Marchi – visionary winemakers from across Italy – are here today at Del Posto Restaurant in New York City to lead attendees through a seminar and guided wine tasting of some of Italy’s best terroirs.

Like the Philharmonic minutes before a concert, the “orchestra” Grandi Marchi, is tuning up.

Barolo
As Grandi Marchi members take their seats, tasting glasses clink and jangle, papers rustle, polite chatter and excuse me’s whispered one after another.

Audience iPhone camera shutters clllick away.

Anticipation.

What follows is to be an immensely informative seminar, with each producer/representative speaking with subject matter expert authority about their respective regions, production methods, and unique terroirs.

I won’t kid you – the tasting segment is ridiculously pleasant. And massively instructive. The elegance, vigor, joy and pleasure of Grandi Marchi wines is remarkable.

Vistamare
But, for anyone who is familiar with the Grandi Marchi – member names that include the likes of Gaja, Masi, and Antinori – icons of fine Italian wine – that much is not unexpected.

What has so impressed me at this Grandi Marchi tasting – more so than any single wine or producer – is that, as a group, the wines braid together 13 different appellations and 15 wineries in a way that speaks so vividly, so sonorously, of Italy’s rich and diverse wine tradition.

To put it another way, perhaps in musical terms, the Italian wine tradition is composed not of a single tone, but from many different tones which, as in good music, allow us to experience the symphony.

There are no short cuts to understanding Italian wine. There are, however, some very good places to begin the Sassicaiajourney. Grandi Marchi wines represent a point of departure that grant you exposure to a highly relevant cross-section of Italy’s most important grape varietals and regions, act as model reference points for what wines ought to be like within their respective categories, and help to communicate the cultural values and traditions that unite them.

For more information about the Grandi Marchi, I recommend you to follow the link to Grandi Marchi Institute of Fine Italian Wines.



Chianti Classico’s Gran Selezione: Toward Understanding and Appreciation

The steps leading up to the Fifth Avenue entrance of the New York City Public Library have a certain grandeur all their own. A climb, one might imagine, toward higher education, learning, knowledge.

chianti-classico-gran-selezione-20151Entering the library, my hopes are high that what I learn at today’s Chianti Classico / Gran Selezione 2015 presentation will replace skepticism with a better understanding and appreciation of the newly-minted Gran Selezione disciplinare belonging to Chianti Classico, one of Italy’s most iconic wine appellations.

Today’s presentation quickly sets about to introduce the Gran Selezione classification (wines launched in early 2014) as Chianti Classico’s “best of the best”. I do understand the intended sentiment, really, but the choice of words highlights one of the main market challenges facing Gran Selezione: does the category of Gran Selezione really communicate the importance suggested by its title?

In getting to know Gran Selezione, a savvy consumer or wine industry professional might look to sort things a bit by referring to the requirements for classification as a Gran Selezione wine, which include:

• Produced from 100% of grapes grown by the winery bottling the wine. This could be taken to mean sourced from a single vineyard or selection of vineyards (To be clear, a producer owning non-contiguous vineyards within the Chianti Classico territory is, I believe, permitted to use grapes from any or all of his in-zone owned properties.)
• Aged 30 months including 3 months bottle aging, non-specific guidance
• Minimum 80% Sangiovese (same as Chianti Classico Riserva)
• Can include other permitted varietals, i.e., Canaiolo, Merlot, Syrah, etc.
• Can be released as 100% Sangiovese

Unfortunately, between Gran Selezione requirements and certain requirements for other Chianti Classico wines – the Riserva wines come to mind – there exists a degree of overlap which rather obscures a clear differentiation for Gran Selezione, often creating confusion and questions.

Speaking of questions, here are some of the questions I heard walking around the tasting floor and during the course of the event:

Is it the intention to produce Gran Selezione wines every vintage or only in the best vintages?

What are the implications of re-structured ownership / acquisitions upon Gran Selezione quality?

Is Gran Selezione a marketing tool to promote and sell the Chianti Classico category?

What varietals really create Gran Selezione, that is to say, what varietal/s are driving the “quality upgrade” to Gran Selezione?

Which are the “new” wines created under Gran Selezione versus the existing wines that have been repurposed into the new Gran Selezione category?

Does Gran Selezione simply perpetuate the culture of Super Tuscans, giving them a different label?

Confusion (in the market) around Gran Selezione does exist and largely derives out of consumers trying to identify terroir-specific value. It is vital that market messaging and communication from Consorzio Chianti Classico address that gap.

chianti-classico-gran-selezione-2015-bibbianoOn the producer side, many producers are doing a good (read: serious, sincere) job to interpret to the Gran Selezione denomination, a classification that, at some level, is still figuring out what it wants to be when it grows up.

Now, 16 months after the inception of Gran Selezione, with 89 labels of Gran Selezione being produced, hailing from all communes of Chianti Classico, the central question seems to be whether the classification will be understood in the US market, one that represents 31% of the Chianti Classico market.

chianti-classico-gran-selezione-2015-castello-la-lecciaWhile still skeptical of its current configuration, I am as well optimistic about the future of Gran Selezione.

American writer/poet Nancy Willard said, “Sometimes questions are more important than answers.” In the case of Gran Selezione, in this moment in time, I couldn’t agree more. Here are two improvement oriented questions that may help point the way for consumers to more easily understand and appreciate Gran Selezione:

Would the decision to produce Gran Selezione wines only from single vineyard locations help consumers better identify terroir-specific value? (True, moving in this direction will require much consensus-building. But, hey, we are talking about a “grand selection”, “best of the best”, classification, right?)

Would the decision to produce Gran Selezione from 100% Sangiovese better differentiate the wines, reduce variation within the category, reduce confusion?

You can find my un-rehearsed comments from the Chianti Classico / Gran Selezione 2015 event in the IEEM video interview embedded just below: