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WOTM: Tenuta Castelgiocondo, Frescobaldi, Brunello di Montalcino 2015

Our February Wine of the Month is a classic style, from a world-renowned wine region and a family owned winery that dates back over 30 generations. This wine is Tenuta Castelgiocondo, Frescobaldi, Brunello di Montalcino 2015. Made at the producer’s Castelgiocondo estate, which is considered to be one of the most historical estates of Montalcino, as it was one of the first producers of Brunello di Montalcino during the 1800s.

Recently reviewed in Decanter Magazine, Monty Waldin awarded the wine 94 points, writing:
“2015 is Castelgiocondo’s first certified-organic vintage, making it Montalcino’s largest certified-organic estate. Poised red fruits demonstrate underlying power. Savoury and velvety in texture, the fruit is clear and juicy; smooth with inner power.”

In a nutshell:

A dense, warm, full-flavoured and complex Brunello with leather and earthy, savoury notes combined with violets and toasted coffee.

The producer:

A Florentine family with thirty generations dedicated to the production of great wines across six Tuscan estates. The Frescobaldi style brings together tradition and innovation. With the goal of being the most prestigious Tuscan wine producer, Frescobaldi firmly believes in respecting the local land while focusing on the highest quality grapes for its wines. The Frescobaldis own over 1,000 hectares of vineyard, all located in excellent areas for the production of fine wines. Directly managed by its family members, the Frescobaldi name is deeply connected with the history of art, culture, trade, finance and wine in Italy. Gambero Rosso awarded Frescobaldi with the prestigious ‘Tre Bicchieri Winery of the Year Award 2020’, in recognition of its uncompromising commitment to quality and innovation.

The wine:
CastelGiocondo’s unique location in Montalcino, with its varied exposure and terrain, offers infinite nuances to this Brunello. The soils comprise Galestro soils, which are rocky and schistous with a high presence of clay and calcium; and Pleocene sands which have a high presence of calcium. The high density vineyards are planted at between 250 and 400 metres above sea level, with 5,500 vines per hectare. The vines have an average age of 15 years and are Cordon spur and Guyot trained. Meticulous vineyard management takes place by hand, with autumn tilling of the soil, green manure sowing and careful canopy management to ensure good ventilation.

Winemaker profile: Nicolò D’Afflitto, Director of Winemaking, Frescobaldi

Overseeing the winemaking and viticulture of all seven of Frescobaldi’s historic estates is no mean feat. Yet, Nicolò D’Afflitto has spent more than twenty years doing just that.

Following a rural upbringing on a farm, Nicolò studied Oenology at Bordeaux University, graduating in 1982. His winemaking experience was enhanced spending time living and working in the US before he returned to Tuscany. It was there, in 1991, he joined Frescobaldi, working at Castel Giocondo in Montalcino. Four years later, he was managing all the estates, nearly 3,500 acres in total.

With over 700 years of Frescobaldi winemaking history and the 2020 Gambero Rosso Winery of the Year under its belt, producing consistently great wines is crucial. D’Afflitto believes the vineyard is the key with terroir creating wines with individuality. As such, attention to detail in the vineyard is everything. Nicolò takes a different approach with each of the seven estates and each vineyard needs different techniques to nurture its specific attributes. Each estate has a winemaker, general manager and viticulturist and D’Afflitto is also closely involved, all with the aim of creating something truly special, as well as unique, from every vineyard.

For Nicolò, his top priority is always the fruit. This philosophy is carried forward in both the vineyard and winery with the soil, climate, vine and human input all vital. Combining this care and dedication in the vineyard with assiduous use of oak in the winery allows Nicolò and his team to produce wines that show the grapes’ full potential. Frescobaldi’s long and illustrious history is not forgotten either and Nicolò takes pride in the part culture plays: great historical figures including Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo have passed through Frescobaldi’s vineyards and its strong connections to Italy’s art, history and culture remain part of its fabric to this day.

Decades of experience managing Frescobaldi’s wine production means Nicolò has presided over many changes, including the replanting of Castel Giocondo and the introduction of new wines to the market, including Tenuta Perano – the family’s first venture into Chianti Classico and launched in the UK in 2018.

His work sees him travel thousands of miles per year visiting each estate every week to ensure the quality of all 12 million bottles produced reaches the family’s high standards. An experimental vineyard allows Nicolò to work on new trials and explore disease resistant varieties. This experimentation and strive for improvement allows Frescobaldi to build on their centuries of experience and strike the perfect balance between tradition and innovation.

Poise, elegance, balance – a Nureyev wine

You forget just how steep the vineyards can be in Tuscany. Rolling hills, lone cypress trees, hilltop villages and medieval fortresses, yes, they all spring to mind when you think of Chiantishire. But, crikey, this is a steep slope.

We are at the top of the hill and the vines on both sides are majestic, the patterned seersucker rows stretching hypnotically into the distance. This is EM Forster country, but all I can think of is: I hope this driver knows what he is doing. There are four Land Rovers in single file formation, and our driver waits until the one in front has negotiated the slope before engaging the gears. And away we slither.

But, of course, we need not have worried. Riccardo Giorgi and his team are not only excellent winemakers, but they are expert at manoeuvring four wheel drives around the vineyard. And what a vineyard!

Tenuta Perano lies in the heart of the Chianti Classico region in Gaiole. And the reason for the procession of four wheel drives is because Frescobaldi have invited 50 or so of their distributors from around the world to enjoy their first sight of the new estate. Later on there will be hot air balloons, a presentation from Lamberto Frescobaldi and a steak cooked by rock star Panzano chef Dario Cecchini.

Two things strike you immediately: the altitude (“it is 500 metres above sea level compared to 250 metres for Nipozzano,” Lamberto Frescobaldi tells me later, over dinner). And the estate lies in a beautiful amphitheatre which catches every last drop of the sun. This is balanced by the tramontana wind, which sweeps through at night to lower the temperature. It is this combination of altitude, vineyard siting and the free draining galestro soil that gives the Perano wines such character.

The estate now produces three wines, a Classico, a Classico Riserva and a Gran Selezione “Rialzi”. “There will be no IGTs from here,” says Lamberto. I can’t wait to taste them over dinner.

But first, I almost come a cropper in the hotel air balloon. It all looks a bit precarious and the wind isn’t helping, but I manfully haul myself into the small basket with three other distributors, all of us wearing looks of trepidation. The weather is playing up, and it takes a long time before lift-off, and when it does the hot flame which our pilot blows into the balloon seems to come perilously close to my head. These days I haven’t got much up top and for a moment I worry about getting my bonce singed. Meanwhile, one of the spectating distributors shouts up to the pilot: “Don’t lose that salesman – he’s my best man and sells thousands of cases!”

When we eventually make it back down – thank God – we are then taken on a tour of the winery – probably the most pristine I’ve ever seen.

And then comes the T-bone!

The legendary showman Cecchini (strapline: Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter) enters to a blaze of klaxon horns. “To the table!” he exhorts, kissing everyone, and dishing out huge wedges of beef. It is complete chaos but no-one seems to care. The steak is sublime – and doesn’t he know it! Later on I queue to get my photograph taken with him like some fawning teenager. But, then, everyone else does.

Meanwhile, I listen to Lamberto talk about the wines. “We are looking for poise and elegance, and balance here,” he explains. He tastes the Classico. “This is a Nureyev wine,” he says.  The Riserva has more weight, but the tannins are sweet and soft. “This is a feminine wine,” he says. And then we move on to the Gran Selezione, the Rialzi, which means rise in the land. “This one is masculine,” he says.

Talking of masculinity, here comes the marching Cecchini again, now singing. Best to keep my head down, eat his steak and drink the wonderful wines.

WOTM: Tenuta Ammiraglia, Alìe Rosé, Toscana 2017

Alìe Rosé, located in Magliano in the Maremma on the southern tip of Tuscany, the Ammiraglia estate boasts 150 hectares of vineyards that blanket gently rolling hills overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.

In a nutshell:

Aromas of white flowers, wild cherry and citrus peel, with
velvety peaks of minerality resulting in a dry and herbal

The producer:

The wines of Tenuta Ammiraglia represent the Frescobaldi’s expression of modern Tuscan wines: influenced and inspired by the Mediterranean sun, sea and coastal breezes. The modern Ammiraglia winery, designed by the architect Piero Sartogo, is reminiscent of the prow of a ship pointing towards the sea. Perfectly integrated amid the hills and covered with greenery, it combines the most recent technological innovations with respect for the land and surrounding nature. The wines of Tenuta Ammiraglia are distinguished by the freshness, minerality and richness of the fruit.

The wine:

The berries were carefully selected and immediately pressed without any maceration, capturing just a hint of the colour from the skins, resulting in the delicate rosé colour. The grapes were then fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel for three  months, retaining the purity of fruit and aromatic expression. The wine did not go through malolactic fermentation. The Syrah was blended with a touch of Vermentino and the wine spent one month in bottle, prior to release.

Serving suggestion:

The berries were carefully selected and immediately pressed without any maceration, capturing just a hint of the colour from the skins, resulting in the delicate rosé colour. The grapes were then fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel for three months, retaining the purity of fruit and aromatic expression. The wine did not go through malolactic fermentation. The Syrah was blended with a touch of Vermentino and the wine spent one month in bottle, prior to release.


A Tuscan tour of frescobaldi and the Defender of Sangiovese

Five-fifteen in the morning; a freezing black December day; Gatwick Airport. And, honestly, it’s like Piccadilly Circus. Where are all these people going?

For us, groggy and caffeine-craving, this is the incongruous launching pad for our visit to some of the finest estates in Tuscany: to the rarefied air of Pomino; to the grandeur of Castello Nipozzano; to Montespertoli’s Tenuta Castiglione, where it all began; and finally, to the fortress of Castelgiocondi in the deep south. The common theme, of course, is that they are all owned by the Frescobaldi family. Which guarantees that they benefit from unparalleled investment, care, and the collected wisdom of 700 years of experience. For some, that would be enough. But the Frescobaldi’s do not want to rely on the past, glorious though it is. The diversity of their estates (the greatest under one ownership), each representing a pinnacle of terroir fulfilment, and the restless search for excellence; these are the axioms of their yearning.

A couple of hours later, Giuseppe Pariani, Frescobaldi’s affable Export Director, is gunning the car through Pontassieve. Robin Knapp, our Director of Regional Sales and I are hanging on. The road is winding and vertiginous. “Lamberto Frescobaldi always jokes that you need a passport to visit Pomino,” says Giuseppe.

Castello Pomino

And it is a long way up. “We are now at around seven hundred metres, so it’s quite cold,” says Giuseppe. Cold but beautiful, we reflect, as a blanket of fog caresses the lower inclines of the Arno Valley, while a milky winter sun adds a gorgeous gloss to the sequoias, firs and chestnut trees of the higher slopes.

Francesca Pratesi, the winemaker (under Lamberto’s guidance), shows us around this beguiling estate. In his famous declaration of 1716, Cosimo de’ Medici identified Pomino as one of the four most highly prized territories of Tuscany for the production of wines, along with Chianti, Carmignano and Val d’Arno. Frescobaldi virtually own the denomination, with 98% of the production.

We spend most of our time in the drying room for Vin Santo – “the Rolls Royce of Pomino” – Leonardo Frescobaldi will later tell us. Francesca explains what she considers is the difference between a small barrique and a large cask: “The barrique is like an organ, a cask is like a drum.”

Vin Santo drying room, Pomino

The Pomino Bianco (2015) is always one of my favourite wines, easy to appreciate, the Pinot Bianco evident, although it is the junior partner to Chardonnay. The real standout of the tasting, however, is the Benefizio 2015. I’ve often thought that the oak influence is a little top-heavy with this wine, but today it is beautifully balanced, the oak still evident (it will be better in one year) but with the layered and textured fruit developing nicely. A very good competitor to Meursault.

Vats, Castello Pomino
Vats, Castello Pomino

Burton Anderson wrote: “The wines of Chianti Rufina, the smallest zone in the hills above the Sieve river, produce some of the most grandiose Chianti. Rufina’s vineyards lie at a relatively high altitude which can be sensed in the rarefied bouquet and lingering elegance of well-aged wines, notably Selvapiana and Montesodi.”

Well, it is only a short ride down to Rufina and the castle of Nipozzano and on the way we stop to look at the Montesodi vineyards. Nipozzano commands a stunning position on the mountain slope overlooking the Arno valley. Built in the year 1000, this is the most celebrated and historic property of the Frescobaldi’s. During the Renaissance, Donatello and Michelozzo Michelozzi regularly purchased wine from the estate. It is said that an ancestor of the Frescobaldi family invested 1,000 florins in 1855 to begin the cultivation of varieties previously unknown in Tuscany such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Those magnificent vines now make Mormoreto, the wine which in many ways defines the estate.

Montesodi Vineyards, Castello Nipozzano
Montesodi Vineyards, Castello Nipozzano

Eleonora Marconi, the ebullient winemaker, proudly shows us round, in between overseeing exacting preparations for the Frescobaldi Christmas party (no pressure, then!) “Chianti from here in the Rufina area is characterised by complexity and elegance. The vineyard soils of the area are mostly marl and chalk and we are very high up.”

We taste the flagship wine, the Nipozzano Riserva (2014). Textbook Chianti: bitter cherry and plum, then pepper and dark chocolate. A hint of acidity gives away the elevation. Then we move on to a newish innovation, the Nipozzano Riserva Vecchie Viti. This is an important introduction for the Frescobaldi’s; it is an attempt to showcase a Chianti made the way it would have been made 50 years ago. It is sourced from 50 year old vines and made using methods which were common 50 years ago, such as being matured in large oak casks, rather than barrique.

Marquis Leonardo de’ Frescobaldi, dressed impeccably in what looks like Scottish tweed, joins us for lunch and explains their aims. “We want to remove the vanilla influence from the barriques by going back to our ancestors, going back to highlight more the wine’s personality. We want the delicacy and freshness to be more pronounced.”

Castello Nipozzano

He then goes on to describe another innovation: the 2013 vintage of Mormoreto will be the first to include Sangiovese, joining the other more international varieties.  He proudly pours it for us. It is complex and dense, but lively, too. Coffee beans, blackberry and raspberry are evident. In the mouth it is persistent and well balanced and very long, with a touch of tobacco and cedar on the finish.

Making changes to a venerable wine is unusual, but as Leonardo explains: “There is a difference between tradition and habit. Tradition means you build on the experience you have inherited and try to develop that within your time. Habit means you simply do what has always been done. We are for tradition; we are not for habit.”

The philosophy is borne out with Leonardo himself. Now in his seventies, he has adopted three titles, two official and one unofficial. As Honorary President, his chief duty is to provide advice and be a figurehead. He is also now family ambassador for the top Crus – Montesodi, Mormoreto, Pomino Benefizio, and Castiglione’s Giramonte. (I mishear his announcement and think for a minute he has been appointed Ambassador for Cool!)

Unofficially, however, he has given himself the title of Defender of Sangiovese. “At my age I have decided to defend my home grape. This is funny, because for many years within the family I was known as the great advocate for foreign varietals such a Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet franc. So now I am returning to my roots.

“While I am a great supporter of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, in the Kingdom of Nipozzano, Sangiovese is King. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the Kings in Castiglioni. Cabernet Franc will be the King in Bolgheri.”

Castiglioni Vineyard
Castiglioni Vineyard

I cannot help but be amused at this lovely man. A septuagenarian returning to his roots. Well, the search for excellence was never achieved by the pursuit of mediocrity.

But now we are running late for our appointment at Castiglione, so after lunch Giuseppe throws us round the Florence ring road. Robin and I hang on.

The property of the family since the 11th century, Castiglioni is the point of origin of wine production for the Frescobaldi’s. Documentation indicates that wines were being produced here as early as 1300. The estate extends along the ancient Via di Castiglioni, built by the Romans to unify northern Tuscany and Rome. The clayey soil means that Merlot predominates, but an important fact is that there are 80 different clones of Sangiovese being cultivated here. No doubt Leonardo is pleased.

The Tenuta Frescobaldi di Castiglioni 2014 – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese – is soft, oak-ish and rich, with a coffee beans, cocoa and blackberry nose. Tannins are firm but not harsh. Satisfying.


Then we come to the masterpiece. First introduced in 1999, Giramonte is a wine of great richness and intensity The 2012 is serious, dark and broody and shows notes of blueberries and plums. In the mouth it is dense, textured and powerful. This will be an epic wine.

We struggle back through the Florentine rush hour traffic, before eating at the Frescobaldi restaurant just opposite the Uffizi. Florence feels eerily quiet, considering it is two weeks before Christmas, and there is a haunting, soft mist hanging over the Arno. I cannot get it out of my head that Hannibal Lecter once lived in a palazzo here in Florence!

Ah well.

The next day Robin and I drive down to Montalcino. Except that, acting as navigator, I get lost and then Robin has to fling the car around some seriously steep slopes of the Val d’Orcia. I hang on.

The village of Castelgiocondo, southwest of Montalcino, overlooks the historic estate, which was one of the first four to begin producing Brunello di Montalcino in 1800. In actual fact, we will taste two different wines here. The first will be those of Castelgiocondo, but then we will also taste the wines of Luce della Vite.

Brunello di Montalcino
Brunello di Montalcino

To recap: Luce was launched in the early 1990s between Vittorio Frescobaldi and Robert Mondavi. Their common goal was to offer the world a truly exceptional wine, grown in Montalcino. Their sons, Lamberto and Tim, made the first vintages, blends of Sangiovese and Merlot, and the wine that was given the name Luce, as tribute to an element essential for the flourishing of every new being. The first two vintages, 1993 and 1994, were released together, in 1997, and with the 2004 vintage, the direction of Luce was entrusted solely to Lamberto Frescobaldi.

Teresa Giannelli, based at Castelgiocondo, shows us round. She explains that the new Luce winery will be completed in 2017. Meanwhile, of the 1,000 hectares that the family owns, 77 hectares are devoted to Luce and 242 hectares to Castelgiocondo. Lying at elevations ranging from 350 to 420 metres, the vineyards are some of the highest in Montalcino. The higher sections of the estate display galestro-rich, well-drained soils with little organic matter, ideal conditions for growing Sangiovese, while in the lower areas the soil exhibits more clay and sand, in which Merlot flourishes. The long, dry, sun-filled summers characteristic of this area, plus the vineyards’ south-facing exposure, guarantee the grapes a gradual and consistent ripening, which in turn yields wines of superb concentration and vigour.

Castelgiocondo Barrels
Castelgiocondo Barrels

Vineyard management practices follow the canons of sustainable agriculture, which favours organic practices that ensure the vine’s health and balance. “We do not wish to assault the customer with Organic credentials just for the sake of it. They simply need to know that we are involved in the honest toiling of the soil,” she explains.

We taste an epic selection of wines during a lunch of broccoli flan, spinach lasagne and wild boar.

The Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino 2011 is looking stunning: ravishing, seductive, soft and silky, a touch of vanilla pod, red and black cherries. Powerful but not over-assertive.

Although we do not taste the Ripe al Convento Brunello, sourced from a single vineyard lying at 350-450 metres’ elevation, Teresa explains that from the 2015 vintage this will be biodynamic.

We then turn to the Luce wines, with Teresa telling us that demand for the old vintages is really booming.

The Lucente 2015 has a luscious, silky feel, with masses of sweet fruit and a hint of desiccated coconut. Hugely attractive.

Then onto the last wine before we dash for the plane, the Luce 2013. Immediate thoughts: God, this is a serious wine! Structured, complex, lots of different nuances – raspberries, dark cherries, floral notes. On the palate it has magnificent balance and great acidity. It is serious but not overpowering. A beautiful wine, in keeping with its heritage.

Unfortunately, after this seduction of the senses, it is a mad dash over to Grosseto and then along the E80 up to Pisa. We just make the plane, thanks to my incompetence.

Sitting on the runway, I think about the visit and about the Frescobaldi’s, especially Leonardo, my new Kind of Cool. Yes, it is important that we emphasise their continuing commitment to producing wines which best express the terroir from their extraordinarily-sited vineyards. But there is no denying that another factor comes into play here, which is this: when you buy one of these great wines, you gain access to an exclusive club, one which has stood the test of time for seven centuries; you become a keeper of the flame, an involuntary ambassador, an endorser of a cultural import and social obligation that remains as strong now since it did in the time of the Renaissance.

You become part of the history of wine.


A Tour of Italy – From North to South

From the Dolomites in the north east to Calabria at the toe, Italy produces world class and world-famous wines from each one of its regions. Many, like Barolo from Piedmont or Soave from Veneto, need little introduction, but there are dozens more grape varieties and styles from up-and-down this rich country that deserve just as much attention.

Here we take a look – from top to toe – at 10 outstanding Italian wine producers.

Continue reading A Tour of Italy – From North to South

Frescobaldi Bag a Trio of 90+ Point Reviews from Wine Spectator

Three wines from Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi have scored highly in the latest issue of American wine magazine Wine Spectator.

The Castello di Nippozano Mormoreto 2012 top scored with 93 points, while the Castelgiocondo Ripe al Convento Brunello di Montalcino 2009 scored 91 and the Castello di Nipozzano ‘Vecchie Viti’ Chianti Rufina Riserva 2012 was awarded 90.

Check out the full reviews below.

Castello di Nippozano Mormoreto 2012

Castelgiocondo Ripe al Convento Brunello di Montalcino 2009

Castello di Nipozzano ‘Vecchie Viti’ Chianti Rufina Riserva 2012