Sunday, January 13, 2013

Visiting Castello de Verrazzano in Chianti Classico Italy

Jan. 5, 2013 – The next day, we boarded the bus at 8:45 to drive to Chianti Classico and our scheduled visit with two wineries. On the bus, I provided a brief overview of the DOCG regulations for this region, including the mandatory 80% sangiovese rule with the remainder 20% up to the winery where they can use other grapes such as merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and the traditional caniolo and colorino. As of 2006, white grapes are no longer allowed in Chianti Classico red wine. We also reviewed the production method of the famous dessert wine of the region, Vin Santo, which means “holy wine” and is made from dried grapes.

The day was still cool and cloudy when we arrived at the Castello de Verrazzano for our 10am appointment. Despite the cloud cover, the view from the castle walls was still amazing, with a panorama of the Tuscan countryside complete with undulating hills, olive trees, vineyards, wheat fields, and tall green cypress trees. It looked like a picture postcard or something from a movie set.

We were pleased to be greeted by the owner, Luigi, who provided a 2-hour private tour and tasting that was excellent. Since the winery was closed for the holiday season (Christmas break last through Jan. 6 in Italy), we were very honored that he opened it especially for our delegation. Luigi described the history of the castle, which dates back to 1150, and the interesting background of Verrazzano who explored and mapped much of the Eastern coast of the US. The Verrazzano Bridge in NY City is named after him.

Viticulture and Production

The estate is a total of 250 hectares, with 45 devoted to vineyards. They produce 300,000 bottles, or 25,000 cases annually. The vineyards are sustainably farmed, and Luigi’s goal is to produce wines that have elegance and spice and reflect “the place”. The predominate grape is sangiovese, but they also grow caniolo, merlot, malvasia and trebbianno.

Trellising is primarily VSP with single cordon and spur pruning for the sangiovese. Soil is calcareous. Grapes are handpicked with gentle pressing. We did not receive much detail on production here, but Luigi did mention that fermentation temperatures are rather high. This was different from most other estates that reported they used more moderate temperatures for sangiovese, around 26 to 30 C. The castello ages primarily in large casks with only a small amount of new oak. We enjoyed touring the ancient cellars and seeing the huge wooden casks.

During the tour, Luigi described their Vin Santo production, which includes hanging malvasia and trebbiano grapes vertically to dry, and aging the wine a minimum of 3 years with no topping. Interestingly he was using 225 liter used oak barrels, rather than the smaller chestnut barrels.

Wine Tasting and Marketing

As we were running short on time, our tasting was limited to two wines. The first was the entry-level light and fruity Chianti, which Luigi called a minituscan, or 2010 Verrazzano Rosso with 45% sangiovese, 55% merlot and canaiolo, and 10 months aging in older oak. The second was the 2008 Castello de Verrazano Riserva Chianti Classico Sassello. This wine was my favorite, with sour cherry and earthy notes on palate, high acidity, and big tannins.

Castello de Verrazano has won numerous awards for wine tourism, and is a frequent stop of tourist buses. Because of this, they sell more wine direct than any other winery we visited – at a rate of 40%. The remainder is used for export and for sale to wine shops and restaurants within Italy. Overall, this was a delightful tour, and everyone was very impressed with the charm and knowledge of Luigi. Before we left, most everyone purchased wine or olive oil from the estate.

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