| Meeting with the Marchesi
Italian wines from the Old Country
By Tom Cottrell
The history of the Frescobaldi family in Tuscany goes back more than 700 years. In that timespan, they’ve built castles and churches, commissioned artworks, and played roles in politics and industry. And, yes, they’ve made a wine or two.
Their list of customers is impressive, including King Henry VIII of England and a fairly long list of popes. More recently, as late as the 20th century, they even sold some wine to me.
I particularly recall a light, dry white wine from Tuscany called Pomino Bianco. I used to recommend it to one and all as a fine value. It was—and still is—produced at just one of the eight estates owned by Frescobaldi, this one in the town of Rufina, east of Florence (Firenze in Italian).
Recently I was invited to a luncheon with the Marchesi Ferdinando Frescobaldi during his visit to Seattle. He told me they still produce that charming little wine, and I was glad to hear it.
But that was not the wine he brought to lunch. Instead, he had us taste the 2007 Pomino “Benefizio” Riserva, $36.99, a lush, rich white made from Chardonnay that reminded me of an elegant white Burgundy crossed with a ripe, oaky California version of the same grape. It was delicious.
We also tasted a silky, unusual red from the Castello Pomino: 2006 Pomino Rosso, $30.99, a supple, complex wine with hints of both red Burgundy and Chianti Classico. Maybe that’s because it’s a blend of Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) and Sangiovese, the classic grape of Tuscany. It is one of the most intriguing—and pleasing—reds I’ve tasted in a long while.
A more traditional Tuscan style was the 2005 Nipozzano “Montesodi” Chianti Rufina, $49.99. The Castello Nipozzano is another Frescobaldi property, the one they call their “flagship,” perhaps because it dates back to the ninth century A.D. The wines are certainly impressive, and have been for many years. Rufina is one of the subdivisions of Chianti, and the wines from this region tend to be a bit more intense and full-bodied than those from other districts. The Montesodi bottling is impressively dark, sweet and showy, almost lush. You may even have a hard time recognizing it as a Chianti, but you’ll definitely love it.
The Frescobaldis also produce two of the most exotic and rare of Tuscan reds, the Luce della Vite and the Ornellaia. I enjoyed them both immensely.
If my poor Italian language skills don’t betray me, Luce della Vite translates as “light of life,” and it’s certainly a shining example of the new style of Tuscan reds. The 2005 Luce della Vite, $92.99, is from the vineyards of Montalcino, south of Siena, but may not be labeled Brunello because of the inclusion of Merlot grapes along with the Sangiovese. The famous name may be missing, but not the flavor intensity or the elegance and length.
Folks who are looking for a good value—folks like me—should go right out and pick up a bottle of their “second” wine, the 2007 La Vite Lucente, $27.99, a wine with most of the virtues of its expensive big brother, but just a little less finesse and complexity. However, it shows a lot of showy oak and rich fruit (there’s Cabernet Sauvignon in the mix) at a very attractive price.
The 2007 Ornellaia, $179.99, comes from the Bolgheri region near the Mediterranean coast of Tuscany. This classic Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot showed plenty of sweet oak, dark color and lush fruit that seems to last forever on the palate. It’s just crazy good.
We tasted four other Frescobaldi wines that afternoon, and all were pleasing. It seems to me that their wines have gotten even better over the last 20 years. Perhaps this is because the family, like the Marchesi, is modern-minded—he checked his BlackBerry several times in the course of our three-hour lunch.
Yet his wines, and he, are very traditional at the same time. He finished lunch with a glass of perhaps his most classic-tasting wine, the 2006 Castiglioni, $23.99, and a glass of limoncello. I had one too.