Tuscany is a region of picturesque landscapes, delectable cuisine, medieval villages and of course their world-class wines. Sangiovese is King and some of the best expressions of this grape variety comes from Chianti. One of the most historic and oldest wineries in Tuscany is Ricasoli. Ricasoli is the first name in Chianti Classico making wines since 1141.
The legendary Ricasoli family has been making wine since the 12th century at the historic Brolio Castle in Gaiolo. Ricasoli is documented as the oldest winery in Italy and the fourth oldest family business in the world.
Set in the rolling hills of Chianti Classico, the 1200 hectares of the property comprises around 240 hectares of vineyard and 26 hectares cultivated with olive trees around the Castle of Brolio. The Ricasoli family devoted themselves to the development of agriculture and vineyards, realizing the great potential of the Brolio property. The family tree, reproduced in a print of 1584, is one of the first images of Chianti.
In more modern times it was Baron Bettino Ricasoli(Prime Minister of Italy), an illustrious and distinguished politician and a wine entrepreneur of great foresight, first formulated the Chianti formula in 1872 which is now the current Chianti Classico. After 30 years of experimentation, he developed the original formula for Chianti wine that became the standard for the region. The Chianti Classico blend was ideal for a wine that could be served every day but also capable of aging. His original recipe called for 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, 10% Malvasia (later amended to include Trebbiano) and 5% other local red varieties.
Today it is Baron Francesco Ricasoli(32nd generation Baron of Brolio and great-great-grandson of Bettino Ricasoli) at the helm of this legendary winery. Since 1993 Francesco has led the company to new challenges, with the deepest respect to his illustrious ancestors. The goal at the front and center was to revive the Ricasoli wines to its former glory and make the best expressions of Sangiovese in all of Tuscany.
I had the opportunity to meet the Baron Francesco Ricasoli, Massimiliano Biagi and Michael Mondavi in New York City. They shared their wines, their views on Chianti, their terroir and their special project dedicated to the research of the land and the best expressions of Sangiovese.
There is no better soils and exposure in Tuscany than that of Brolio. The terroir, exposition, and climate is ideal for Sangiovese. Francesco’s family has played a very important role in establishing the Sangiovese blend of the great Chianti Classico. Francesco says, “traditions need to be supported, but also need to change and be more dynamic, as life is constantly changing”. For more than 15 years, he and winemaker(Massimiliano Biagi) have been replanting their vines; they replanted over 230 hectares. This is a staggering number, as the average size of a vineyard in Chianti Classico is only 10 hectares.
They replanted very carefully and selectively with their own clonal selections and rootstock. They wanted to preserve their own heirloom strains of Sangiovese that are grown specifically at Brolio. The Brolio clones are entirely unique and have been recorded in the National Grape Register of the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies. These clonal selections are being used for their new plantings.
As Francesco and Massimiliano were replanting, they felt a need for a more precise and tailored approach. They found different vineyards yielded different styles of Sangiovese. This piqued the curiosity of Francesco, and so he appointed a specialized institution, The Italian Council for Research and Experimentation in Agriculture to study their different soils, zone by zone.
They took a methodological approach. To keep the characteristics of the Sangiovese grape, they separated and zoned parcel to parcel. It took them three years to zone their vineyards, so they can protect the land and traditions. They are now seeing the benefits of their work from the last few vintages
The project took great dedication, time, energy and resources. Sangiovese, the grape that is most at home at Brolio, has revealed its different personalities over the years in the three soil types where the three vineyards are planted. These different personalities are distinctly expressed in the three Brolio Crus(Colledilá, Roncicone, and CeniPrimo)
After nearly 26 years at Brolio, they are beginning to see the benefits of their replantings, studies, improvements, and investments. It was with great pride that Francesco presented his wines, “the wines have balance, beauty, personality, and great drinkability, they are wines that give great pleasure”.
The Crus of Brolio
The Colledilá Cru stands out for its structure, complexity, and elegance. The soils are calcareous clay, rocky, and rich in calcium carbonate. Located 390 meters above sea level it has southeastern exposure.
Roncicone Cru is distinctively floral and fresh with some notes of spice. There is nice acidity and prominent minerality. The land is on soil consisting of Pliocene marine sediments, with sandy deposit and rocks smoothed by the action of the sea, and clay at deeper levels. Roncicone is located 320 meters above sea level with southeastern exposure
CeniPrimo Cru has intensity on the nose that is filled with fresh fruit and violets. There is nice structure and volume. The wines are elegant with tannins that are supple and well-defined. CeniPrimo is located on an Ancient Fluvial Terrace geological formation. The smallest of the three vineyards, only 6 hectares, it lies at 300 meters above sea level and has a southwestern exposure.
During the tasting, it was evident that 2016 was an exceptional vintage, as most of my favorite wines were from this vintage. All the wines showed exceptionally well, but my top marks went to Colledilá. This single-vineyard Sangiovese was elegant, fresh and refined. There were bright notes of black cherries, currant, dried flowers, and spice. Silky tannins and smokey mineral notes rounded out the finish. The Colledilá 2016 is highly age-worthy and is a generous wine that will reward handsomely with patience.
It is Baron Francesco Ricasoli’s dedication and passion for studying soils types, clonal selections and remapping the Brolio estate, that have brought about a revival of the Ricasoli brand. The wines we tasted were a reflection of the nine hundred years of tradition, innovation, and dedication to winemaking at Brolio Estate.