Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Visiting Barone Francesco Ricasoli and his Castello di Brolio in Chianti Classico, Italy

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Owner Barone Francesco Ricasoli and Winemaker Massimiliano Biagi

Following the 2011 European Wine Bloggers Conference in Brescia, I spent 3 days in a beautiful and exciting location: In the Chianti Classico region in Tuscany, at the invitation of the Chianti Classico Consortium. We visited several wineries and tasted perhaps as many as 70 different wines from Chianti Classico producers, both big and small.

While in Tuscany, I dined and wined (1) with the Chianti Classico Wine Consortium at the Santa Maria Al Prato Convent in Radda in Chianti, at (2) Badia al Coltibuono, at (3) Barone Ricasoli Wine Estate and Castillo di Brolio, where Bettino Ricasoli came up with the original Chianti Classico blend, at (4) Castillo di Ama, where we saw an amazing Contemporary Art Collection, at (5) Vignemaggio, where Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was borne, at (6) Dario Cecchini’s Solo Cicca Restaurant in Panzano and (7) at Caparasa, with Chianti Classico niche wine producer Paolo Cianferoni.

This posting is the 8th in a series of postings. I have already posted:

Blogging, Wining and Dining at the European Wine Bloggers Conference (#EWBC) October 2011 in Brescia, Italy – A Tour D’ Horizont

Wining, Dining and Blogging in Chianti Classico (#EWBC), Tuscany, Italy

Dining and Wining where the Royals Eat: Dario Cecchini’s Solo Cicca Restaurant in Panzano – the Butcher of Chianti Classico

Meeting Wine Maker Paolo Cianferoni at his Caparsa Estate in Chianti Classico, Italy

Wining and Dining at Badia a Coltibuono in Tuscany with Wine Makers and Owners Roberto and Emanuela Stucchi Prinetti, Italy

Extraordinary Art and Wines at Castello di Ama in Chianti Classico, Italy

Tasting Wines where Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was Born – With Wine Maker and General Manager Francesco Nardi at Vignamaggio Estate in Chianti Classico, Italy

The couple of hours we spent at Barone Ricasoli Wine Estate and Castello di Brolio consisted of 2 parts: A tour of Castello di Brolio, where in 1872 the so-called Iron Baron, Bettino Ricasoli, created the original Sangiovese-based Chianti formula (blend), and a tasting of Barone Ricasoli wines with Barone Ricasoli.

Sienna, Florence and Chianti Classico

The Chianti Classico region covers an area of approximate 100 square miles between the city of Florence in the north and the city of Siena in the south.

Historically, the Chianti Classico zone is where the production of Chianti started. In 1716, Cosimo III de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, issued an edict legislating that the 3 villages of the Lega del Chianti, the village of Greve and a 2 mile hillside north of Greve as the only officially recognized producers of Chianti. This delineation existed until the 1930s when the Italian Government expanded the zone. Subsequent expansions throughout the twentieth century would bring the Chianti zone to cover almost all of Tuscany. The original zone of the edict of Cosimo III de' Medici would eventually be considered the heart of the Chianti Classico region.

Pictures: Owner Barone Francesco Ricasoli and Winemaker Massimiliano Biagi

The Chianti Classico zone is a truly unending source of culture, scenery, architecture, gastronomy and wines. Here lie the lines of defense of the two Republics, Siena and Florence, which have scowled at each other through its woods and vineyards for centuries. Interspersed with the countryside are castles: some are still occupied by the noble families whose ancestors built them in the feudal middle ages; others - ruined, perhaps in battle centuries ago, and abandoned - still dominate their hilltops with proud arrogance. There are numerous hill towns and hamlets, villas and farmhouses, guarded by sentinel cypresses, by people who may make their living tending the vineyards, or have already made more than a living and have retired to beautiful old houses. Be aware that the British, German, Dutch, Swiss, French and Hong Kong have bought up much of the Tuscan landscape. They too have become wine makers with a vengeance.

Sangiovese - the Soul of Chianti

Sangiovese is the signature grape of Chianti. It is the soul of Chianti wine. The Sangiovese grape, like the Pinot Noir, is not an easy grape variety, but has the potential of producing world class wines.

Since 2006, the use of white grape varieties such as Malvasia and Trebbiano has been prohibited in Chianti Classico. The share of Sangiovese can range from 80% to up to 100%, with the remainder either other native red grapes, like Canaiolo and Colorino, or international varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Wines that do not comply with these rules – of which we tasted a number during the trip - cannot be sold as Chianti Classico, though produced in the same area.

Picture: Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico Docg - The Barone Ricasoli Flagship Brand.

Barone Ricasoli Winery and Castello di Brolio

Owned by Barone Francesco Ricasoli, the 32nd-generation baron of his family, the Barone Ricasoli Winery is based in Gaiole, northeast of Siena. The Barone Ricasoli Wine Estate has 240 hectares of vineyards planted around the magnificent Castello Brolio, the castle at the heart of both the winery and property.

Castello di Brolio

Castello di Brolio was built in the eleventh century, destroyed and rebuilt several times because it is mid- way between Florence and Sienna – two powerful cities that were fighting all the time to define their border.

After the tour of the Castello di Brolio, we got to walk through the grounds of the castle.  The estate is a magnificent sprawling 1,200 hectare land. The beautiful sunny day let us have a clear view of the two Towers of Sienna and the hills of Montalcino.

Pictures:  Castello di Brolio

Bettino Ricasoli and the Chianti Formula

One name that comes up again and again at Castello di Brolio and the Barone Ricasoli Wine Estate is Bettina Ricasoli. Born in 1809, the “Iron Baron” was the Prime Minister of the United Italy twice, founded the newspaper “La Patria”, held the title of Gonfaloniere of Florence, was the Tuscan Minister of the Interior, started research on silk worms (thinking of an alternate industry to wine in the age of phylloxera), and is credited with establishing the original formula of Chianti wine (in 1872).

The Barone Ricasoli Wine Estate

The Barone Ricasoli Wine Estate is the oldest winery in Italy; it has a winemaking history dating back to 1141 when the Ricasoli family assumed ownership. The Ricasoli family was one the first to produce and sell wine in the region, starting in the 1500s. For many centuries, the Barone Ricasoli wine was a favorite of northern Italian royalty. More recently, it was by many called the Italian Chateau Lafite-Rothschild.

Pictures: Barone Ricasoli Wine Estate

Period of Foreign Ownership

The Barone Ricasoli Wine Estate’s history includes a recent period of 20 years, when the company was under foreign ownership.  In the 1970s, the family separated the Estate into vineyards and winery/brand, and sold the latter to Seagram's.  Subsequently, the Ricasoli brand went through several owners while the wines deteriorated, with some of the 1 million annual cases eventually being made in giant plastic vats.  By the 1990s, Hardy's owned it, but was losing a fortune.

Francesco Ricasoli and the Barone Ricasoli Wine Estate Today

In stepped the current Baron, Francesco Ricasoli, then a professional photographer with no wine experience.  Along with some investors, the family bought the winery back in 1993. Since then, the share of the family has increased to 95%.

Francesco Ricasoli reorganized the winery under an Italian version of chapter 11 bankruptcy. He invested in replanting with a view of improving quality and drastically cut back on production and the number of labels. The current production of 2 million bottles is still a whole lot of wine but it's a far cry from the 12 million under foreign ownership.

Pictures:  Barone Francesco Ricasoli

The flagship brand, Barone Ricasoli Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico DOCG, was first produced in 1997. Its 2006 vintage received Gambero Rosso’s tre bicchieri (three glasses), the highest award of the well-regarded Italian wine magazine, and was ranked #5 on the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines for 2009

Massimiliano Biagi

We also met Massimiliano Biago who has been the wine maker of the Barone Ricasoli Wine Estate for the last 15 years. 

Picture: Winemaker Massimiliano Biago

Wine Portfolio

Here is a short overview of the Barone Ricasoli Portfolio:

Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico Docg - The flagship brand.

Colledilà Chianti Classico Docg - 18 months of oak ageing.

Casalferro Toscana Igt - 100% Merlot that doesn't list the grape variety anywhere on the bottle. "This is Merlot, but it's speaking the language of Brolio," Francesco Ricasoli said.

Brolio Chianti Classico Docg - Mostly Sangiovese and a true Chianti Classico. 9 months of oak ageing. 

Rocca Guicciarda Chianti Classico Docg Riserva

Chianti Classico Docg 

Campo Ceni Igt Toscana - A Super-Tuscan, blend of Sangiovese and Merlot. 

Torricella Igt Toscana - Mostly Chardonnay in the blend. 

Albia Rosé Toscana Igt - Made from Merlot and Sangiovese.

Castello di Brolio Vin Santo Vinsanto del Chianti Classico Doc - 100% Malvasia. Orange colour.

Granello Toscana Igt - Sauvignon Blanc (90%) with a bit of Traminer and Chardonnay, with the grapes being laid out to dry after harvest (passito).

The Wines We Tasted

Fellow Blogger Alexandra Corvo from Sao Paolo has extensively commented on the tasting and I am taking the liberty of reprinting her notes.


BROLIO 2009

On the nose it has a leathery type of smell, a lot of oak and alcohol. With a bit of oxygenation it becomes more fruity, the Sangiovese becomes more evident but the vanilla touch still predominates, even though it’s delicate. The mouth is full, it has lots of good acidity, but the middle of mouth is a little tight, not too tasty. The finish is warm, a little aggressive, but the tannins are of fine quality.


ROCCA GUICCIARDA 2008

Very alcoholic on the nose, toasty aromas, roasted coffee. Only opened for a little more toffee, a touch of vanilla, but the aroma was predominantly toasted. On the palate it is very tannic, very full, flavorful, with a huge amount of tannins, but incredibly thin. Still missing roundness, the mouth is a bit disjointed, despite its good quality, it is still a bit tense.

CASALFERRO 2008 – IGT Toscana.

They have  produced this wine since 1993, when they started bottling wines from single vineyards. This was planted in 1996 on limestone, at  400-420 metres. It is a smaller portion of a larger 20 hectares vineyard. It used to be a blend of Sangiovese with Merlot but since 2007 it has become pure merlot. They think that the Merlot in this area expresses the minerality of the soil well , more than just the grape varietal aromas.

And really, I could feel it in the aroma. I’ll explain. I had been walking all morning in the castle, taking those stones on the ground, sniffing them . Is it a common habit of mine that most people find strange. Well, when I tasted the wine, I could feel exactly the smells that I felt in that soil, that mineral wine with a floral touch, something resembling talcum powder. When I asked Massimiliano if what I felt was right, he told me it was just what he was looking for in the wines and the stones that I picked up were near that vineyard. In short, besides the mineral, a floral touch of violet on the nose, the mouth is delicate, fruity, creamy, super tasty, flavored with spicy cherry and a spicy end.


Castello di Brolio is their Grand cru. The idea is to produce a wine with the house style: structured, elegant and with lots of strength. It is a wine made with the best grapes of the harvest, everything is done separately: vinification, ageing (which is about 1.5 years after harvest) and then they decide what will go in the blend. Then it stays  another year or so in bottle. Only produced in great vintages. For example, 2002 they didn’t produce. 2003  produced only a small amount. Finally, the wine has a very distinctive and muscular style.

CASTELLO DI BROLIO 2008

This has a roasted and alcoholic smell, reminds me of black pepper in the beginning. The fruit comes out slowly, needs a lot of oxygen to open up to fruit. In the mouth it is creamy, tight tannins, nervous acidity, alcohol is not yet well rounded. Maybe with some time in the bottle should melt in all the elements. Still very young.


CASTELLO DI BROLIO 2005

A little more open, with notes of marron glace, toasted bread and cherry liqueur. Also opens to more fruit with oxygenation. It needs lots of oxygen to open. The palate has good acidity, is very full, rich, alcoholic, fine tannins, the final is round, crisp (with lots of flavor) and alcoholic aftertaste, full of perfume and toasty notes.


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Dining and Wining where the Royals Eat: Dario Cecchini’s Solo Cicca Restaurant in Panzano – the Butcher of Chianti Classico

Meeting Wine Maker Paolo Cianferoni at his Caparsa Estate in Chianti Classico, Italy

Wining and Dining at Badia a Coltibuono in Tuscany with Wine Makers and Owners Roberto and Emanuela Stucchi Prinetti, Italy

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Tasting Wines where Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was Born – With Wine Maker and General Manager Francesco Nardi at Vignamaggio Estate in Chianti Classico, Italy

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