Tuscan Delights and White Surprises in the Heart of Chiantishire

4 May

The Wine Wanderers were looking forward to drinking  decent sangiovese, which too rarely makes it to UK supermarket shelves, when they visited Tuscany last week,   At its most joyous, a fine Chianti Classico, at its grandest an austere Brunello from Montalcino, in the south of the region.

We were served both at Castello del Nero, an elegant wine-producting hotel whose list has been voted one of the world’s best by The Wine Spectator.   The estate is in the heart of the Tuscan Hills overlooking Antinori, known for its Super-Tuscans.  These are the fine wines which better producers fielded in the 70s to improve the rep of a region tarnished by a wealth of indifferent chianti in the preceding decades.

Antinori’s Tignanello was among the first of these – 80 per cent sangiovese tempered with 20 per cent cabernet sauvignon.  The 2011 vintage was the first wine served at the tasting the Castello lays on for guests – and the only one we actively disliked in three days of sublime tasting.  Tough and tannic, it was a relief to move on to Antinori’s Badia a Passignano 2009, one of the most delicious Chianti Classicos we have ever tasted, no doubt reflecting its age and 14 months in oak.   Even more toothsome than the Brunello of the same age from La Gerla which completed the tasting.

So much for the reds – it was the whites served during our stay which were the biggest surprises of the trip.  Who knew vermentino, more closely associated with Sardinia and LIguria, was also produced in Tuscany?   Not us, but now we’ll be on the lookout for La Pettegola vermentino from Banfi, a perfect accompaniment to spinach and ricotta-stuffed tortellini and tiramisu made that morning in  a cooking class with the hotel’s Michelin-starred chef, Giovanni Luca di Pirro.

Even more delicious – memorable, in fact – was a white which had nothing to do with Tuscany except pairing beautifully with chef Giovanni’s slow-cooked egg with asparagus and broad been salad served in the Castello’s fine dining La Torre restaurant.   The Confini 2012 from Lis Niris in Friuli Venizia Giulia  was an incredibly flocal blend of gewurtztraminer, pinot grigio and riseling grapes, a reminder of what elegant and fragrant wines are produced in that sometimes overlooked north-eastern corner of Italy.

Back to the reds – of the Castello’s own production,  the use of merlot in their blends gives them a certain seductiveness, and we particularly enjoyed the Levriero, which is 80 per cent merlot, with sangiovese and cab sauv added for a bit of structure.  But it’s also worth mentioning that the Castello’s own olive oil is good enough to drink, and supplies are dwindling fast, thanks to  the 2014 harvest having failed completely.

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