The Versilia, along the Tuscan coast in the province of Lucca, is a resort area generally known for its nightlife and as a hot spot for VIPs. Riviera locales such as Forte dei Marmi and Viareggio are legendary holiday destinations for some of Italy’s most famous faces with their wide, sandy beaches packed with umbrellas, beach chairs and tan bodies – the place to see and be seen.
Little did I know, however, that Versilia also happens to be the site of one of Italy’s most important tasting events for Tuscan wines. The now annual event (2012 marked the fifth edition) Terre di Toscana is held in Lido di Camaiore, a beach town situated between Forte dei Marmi and Viareggio. I randomly stumbled upon the event while surfing the net, and when I saw the caliber of the participating wineries I was shocked that I hadn’t heard about it before. The two-day tasting is organized by L’Acqua Buona, a prominent Italian online food and wine magazine, as a sort of Tuscan anteprima to the much more chaotic and immense Vinitaly held in Verona each year.
L’Acqua Buona was created in 1999 by a group of wine aficionados, journalists and professionals in the enogastronomic field ‘per amor di terra,’ for the love of the land. The group’s objective has always been to communicate personal experiences having to do with the world of wine, sharing stories, tastings, trips and encounters from a personal point of view.
Terre di Toscana is the result of several years of thematic events organized by the group, each focusing on a specific wine region or variety. As the Tuscany-centric events seemed to enjoy the most success, Terre di Toscana became an annual appointment, anticipated by wine lovers and trade alike. The event brings together about 120 carefully selected producers (this year 123) from all different areas of Tuscany, from the Maremma to Montalcino. There is a fantastic mix between well-known names and small, niche producers, each rigorously dedicated to producing wines that reflect the typicity of Tuscany. The entrance fee is a meager €20 (free for the trade if you pre-register), a great deal for the chance to taste some of Italy’s finest.
The event is mostly attended by Italians, a mix between wine lovers, trade professionals and journalists, but continues to become more international, including wine buyers, importers, and international producers. In response to my e-mail inquiry, I was generously offered, in addition to free entry, two nights accommodation at the swanky UNA Hotel where the event was hosted and invited to dinner on Saturday evening with a group of producers and journalists. (Thank you again Fernando and Luca!) Perks of the job I guess you’d say.
The evening’s dinner was accompanied by strictly non-Tuscan wines (with the exception of those offered by some of the participating producers), and included classics like Barolo and Nero d’Avola as well as an obscure selection of Pinot Nero from Tuscany and Pelaverga di Verduno. Interesting to say the least!
The 2012 Edition was held Sunday, March 11th and Monday, March 12th, allowing both wine lovers and trade to attend (many restaurants are closed on Monday in Italy). The tasting was organized between two different halls, while the next hall over hosted a Show Cooking demonstration featuring some of the local restaurants’ most talented chefs whipping up traditional and creative Tuscan fare. Alternatively, several local bread, cheese and cured meat producers offered abundant tasting plates of the local delicacies. I opted for the cheese (both days) and particularly enjoyed Naturalmente Lunigiana’s selection of fresh and aged sheep and cow’s milk cheeses. To top off each plate, a nice fresh glob of butter, or as Pier Paolo calls it “a straight shot of cholesterol.”
Ideally now would be the part where I shared my tasting notes of some of these 500+ fantastic wines with you, extolling the aromas, perfumes, structure and distinction of a selection of Italy’s enological treasures. Unfortunately, however, I cannot honestly do so. To my great dismay (and admittedly a bit of irritation toward my husband who had passed me his germs), the night before the event I came down with a terrible cold, leaving me runny-nosed and feverish without antihistamines and loopy with…neither an ideal situation for wine tasting. Choosing the glass half full scenario, not being able to properly taste the wines gave me the opportunity to talk with producers more about their stories, a behind the wines look at what makes these estate and these people special.
I was happy to see one of my favorite Tuscans, Maurizia from Castello dei Rampolla, who told me about a new experiment in the cellar, a 100% Sangiovese wine aged exclusively in amphora without the addition of any sulfur. Maurizia’s brother Luca introduced amphoras into the cellar in 2009, utilizing the characteristic ceramic vessel to age a portion of estate’s red wines, which are then blended with the wine aged in barrel. Castello dei Rampolla has long been a reference point in the area for the application of biodynamic methods in the vineyard and cellar and is continuously experimenting in order to produce the most pure wines possible. Eventually Luca would ideally like to eliminate the addition of sulfur from all the wines (there will always be some sulfur present as it is a natural byproduct of the fermentation process), but for now the production of this experiment is miniscule, only 1,000 bt. For those who are curious, a limited quantity of these wines is indeed destined for the U.S.
At Fontodi I saw Silvano, whom I had met this Fall during a winery visit, as well as owner Giovanni Manetti. They were pouring pretty much the entire range of wines, but the one that really seemed to steal the show at 10:30 in the morning was the Meriggio, a white. Tuscany (Italy in general for that matter with the exclusion of Trentino – Alto Adige and Fruili) is not generally known for its whites, but this Sauvignon is quite popular and perfectly refreshing on a warm day. I had tasted it during my visit in October in a great little restaurant in Panzano, Il Vescovino, while enjoying the amazing view of the Chianti hills from the terrace. Though in a completely different category from Fontodi’s more famed wines like Flaccianello, simply delightful nonetheless.
Just outside of the Chianti Classico region, in Mercatale Valdarno in the province of Arezzo, you’ll find the tiny winery Podere Il Carnasciale. For the erudite wine enthusiast, Il Carnasciale is famous for its cult wine Il Caberlot, produced from the homonymous clone and available exclusively in magnum. This unique natural hybrid was discovered by agronomist Dr. Remigio Bordini in the late 60’s in the Veneto region and takes its name from its expression of varietal characteristics typical of both Cabernet and Merlot. The first vineyard of Caberlot was planted in 1986 and the variety is cultivated exclusively at Podere Il Carnasciale. Since 2000, the winery produces a second wine as well (a second selection from barrel made just prior to bottling) called simply Il Carnasciale. Incredibly charming and quadrilingual (English, Italian, French, German) Bettina Rogosky and son Moritz perfectly represent these ‘haute-couture’ wines. Like all gems, these bottles are quite rare. The production is extremely limited: 2,200 bottles of Il Carnasciale and 3,000 magnums of Il Caberlot, each hand-numbered by Bettina herself.
I’m pretty sure the Chianti Classico Riserva from Castellare was one of the first Tuscan wines I ever drank, back in my early days of Italian wine working in an Arizona winebar. Castellare di Castellina has a long-time reputation for producing some of the finest examples of traditional Chianti wines as well as superb single-vineyard Merlot, Poggio ai Merli. After speaking with an incredibly knowledgeable third generation local wine rep and his grandfather (first generation), I discovered that the classic estate in Castellina in Chianti had expanded to Maremma several years ago, common of many Chianti producers in the late nineties due to strict regulations in the Chianti Classico area. In a joint venture with Domaines Baron de Rothschild-Lafite, the Rocca di Frassinello project came about, the spectacular winery designed by famed Italian architect Renzo Piano. The barrel room is an amphitheater with a single ray of natural light filtering in from the sky “so the wines can rest peacefully.” The winery occasionally organizes concerts as well as other events. The wine-culture combo is increasingly popular these days, and I have to say I think it works.
Apparently there were some solar flares happening in the days proceeding and during the event. I attributed my light-headedness to my cold, but I heard other people complaining about dizziness and headaches as well (though I suppose day’s end at a wine tasting doesn’t necessarily provide the most reliable judgment…). In any case, peculiar astronomical events are an ideal segue to the Sesti winery in Montalcino. The estate produces a range of wines from Rosato to Brunello. The Phenomena (Phenomenon) Brunello Riserva has a uniquely fascinating story. Giuseppe Sesti, in addition to making wine, is an expert in the history of Astronomy, a subject about which he has also published five books. His studies have led him to consider how the cycles of the moon influence both agricultural and vinification techniques, which in turn he puts into practice at Sesti. The Phenomena Brunello Riserva commemorates a significant astronomical event that took place during the year of harvest. Elisa Sesti was pouring the 2006 – on March 29th of that year a spectacular total eclipse of the sun was observed, reaching its peak in Turkey while the sun was crossing the constellation of Pisces. In fact, the bottle’s label and its wooden box depict this phenomenon. Each year the graphics vary based on that particular year’s event. Intense.
In my writing this, I have realized that in talking about the people behind the wines, the wines themselves are an inherent part of the story. It’s difficult to separate one from the other. I think that’s what makes wine so fascinating for me, it is an incredibly social, and sociological, product. Particularly in countries like Italy , where some form fermented grape juice has been enjoyed and eulogized for centuries if not millenniums, this product is an absolutely integral part of the culture and thus, the people behind the wines make up an essential component of the cultural fabric. I’m reminded of this each time I uncork a bottle, and I’m grateful for events like Terre di Toscana that celebrate not merely wine, but the culture and the marvelous world that surrounds it. I’ve already marked my calendar for next year…