I must preface by admitting that I am enchanted by all things Il Carnasciale. For me, the winery, its proprietors, collaborators and the wine itself embody what wine should be – meticulously crafted by passionate, dedicated people in respect of nature and the territory, with a constant eye to innovation and extraordinary quality. I could sing many the praises of the elegant mother-son duo Bettina and Moritz Rogosky as well as the rest of the team, including the animated German-turned-Italian winemaker Peter Schilling and his capable assistant Marco Maffei, but suffice it to say that the whole operation is pretty magical. Il Caberlot is produced from the Caberlot grape variety, a naturally-occurring hybrid of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, and Il Carnasciale is the only winery in the world to cultivate this unique variety. (For more detailed info and history of the winery, see the estate’s full profile here.)
I had received Moritz’ “save the date” email announcing the historic 20-vintage vertical just after the new year, but honestly didn’t think I’d be able to attend given my then 6-month old daughter. To be invited to such a memorable event was quite an occasion, however, and lucky for me, I found a babysitter in the form of a papà more than willing to play chauffeur and entertain the little lady around Florence while I spent the day sipping magnums of Il Caberlot and enjoying lunch. And so, we departed Milan amidst the too familiar gray and rain of winter, and were welcomed by an unseasonably mild 20°C and a pink-orange late afternoon winter glow, whimsically illuminating the 16th century Florentine buildings and casting a magnificent reflection on the peacefully flowing River Arno.
We booked a hotel on Via Ghibellina in the lovely Sant’Ambrogio neighborhood, just a few minutes walk from the next day’s venues – the Teatro del Sale and the venerated Il Cibrèo restaurant. Il Cibrèo could be considered sort of the birthplace of Il Caberlot and was therefore the logical choice as location for such a memorable event. Wolf Rogosky (Bettina’s late husband and author of Il Caberlot) was first introduced to Vittorio Fiore after having enjoyed a bottle of wine produced by the celebrated winemaker over dinner at Il Cibrèo; Vittorio would join the project as Il Carnasciale’s first winemaker shortly thereafter.
After arriving at the hotel we took a brief stroll around the charming neighborhood and, taking advantage of the exceptional weather, decided to sit outside at the Cibrèo Café for an early dinner featuring simple, typical Tuscan fare. The acciughe al verde (anchovies) and ribollita (a hearty Tuscan soup made with winter vegetables, beans and leftover, unsalted, bread – rigorously eaten with a fork according to tradition) made for a perfect meal. Even little Emma (just starting solids) enjoyed some fresh-baked bread dipped in anchovy and garlic oil!
The following morning I headed to the Teatro del Sale for the tasting. The Il Cibrèo Teatro del Sale was opened in 2002 just across the street from the restaurant. It is an absolutely unique and contemporary space featuring a small grocery shop, Circo-Lo, with a refined selection of some favorite delicacies, clothing and books; a buffet-style restaurant space, with dishes cooked on-site in the fantastic see-in kitchen; and, perhaps most interestingly, an actual theatre, featuring various cultural events (theatrical and musical performances) and workshops. The Teatro is directed by Maria Cassi, actress and wife of the dynamic Il Cibrèo chef Fabio Picchi.
The Teatro has a sort of circus feel in the décor, while at the same time recalls the grandeur of a cathedral. The tasting took place in the main hall, the long tables arranged in a U-shape with the 20 magnums of Il Caberlot taking center stage. Each place of the 64 tasters from all around the world, including journalists, clients, importers, and friends, was set with 20 glasses, a small notebook (hand inscribed by Bettina, of course) to document tasting notes and provide a bit of info about each vintage, and a sleek Le Pen pen.
The vertical included 20 vintages of Il Caberlot (rigorously in magnum) from 1988 to 2010. Only three vintages were not included: 1989 and 1992, because they were only bottled in 750ml bottles, and 1990 as the grapes were destroyed by wild boars that vintage.
After a few words of introduction from Moritz and Bettina, the tasting began, pausing after every four wines for a description of the vintage and comments. It was particularly fascinating to hear the stories of enologist Vittorio Fiore and agronomist Remigio Bordini recalling their first experiences with this unique grape variety and this very unique wine. In the first vintage, 1988, only 350 magnums were produced and all the grapes were crushed by foot, by Bettina herself.
While I don’t think this is the place to get into detailed tasting notes of each wine, let’s just say they were all very impressive. I’m a sucker for acidity and it was incredible to note how fresh these wines still were. Even in vintages that were generally less than wonderful in Tuscany, the wines exhibited elegance and balance and the unique personality that makes them so fascinating. In fact, in the difficult, wet 2002 vintage, Moritz pointed out a note of cannabis (described as such by Grand Jury Européen member Kevin Shin) – I think I had written something like orange peel, but wow, cannabis it was! Though difficult to choose a favorite, I particularly enjoyed the 1993 from the older vintages and the 2005 from more recent years, both highlighting the white pepper and mineral notes typical of the variety.
The epic tasting was followed by an exceptional lunch, just across the street at Il Cibrèo. Upon arrival guests were served a glass of not wine, but broth (!), to cleanse the palate in preparation for the meal. Each dish was paired with a French wine, carefully selected to include a wide range of pleasures from Sancerre to Grand Cru Burgundy. I have to admit, I was a bit worried that being a pescetarian (i.e., I don’t eat meat, but do enjoy fish) I might have some difficulty at lunch in Tuscany. To my pleasant surprise, however, very little meat was to be found and instead local, wild fresh veggies and fish (also local, off the island coast of Elba) played a leading role. The cuisine was exquisite, perfectly balanced, and while creative, still substantial.
All the Americans somehow ended up at the same table, and I counted myself fortunate to be seated at a table with a two truly exceptional journalists on Italian wine and food, Burton Anderson (author of must-own The Wine Atlas of Italy among other books) and Faith Willinger (who I just discovered authored the cookbook I have been using nearly daily this winter, Red White and Greens: The Italian Way with Vegetables). Great conversation was a perfect accompaniment to a wonderful meal. I think something Moritz said after the event really sums the whole thing up – “bringing all of us together, that’s also what it was all about.”
The opportunity to taste 20 vintages of a grand wine like Il Caberlot in a completely amazing setting is remarkable, but being able to do so surrounded by a group of people that all share a passion and appreciation for such a wine is really something special. I agree with Moritz, that’s what wine is all about.
Finally, this will be my last post as the Italian manager for VinConnect, as I have decided that this phase in my life is best served as a full-time mum to my spirited little Emma Juliette. The past three years with VinConnect have offered a truly wonderful experience, cultivating personal and professional relationships that I hope will last many vintages to come. That’s the magic of wine…salute!
* Photos © Sofie Delauw