Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, grape varieties that result in wines that are among the most structured, long-lived and appreciated in the world. Fighting for the title of most important grape variety, they are similar on many points (they prefer warm climates to reach the best maturation, they tend to produce wines of great structure and consistency) but on others they present differences (they belong to different families and their profile polyphenolic is very different). Two heavyweights of viticulture who manage to give their all in our microclimate.
Syrah (or Shiraz as they call it in Australia) is a vine with an exotic and mysterious origin. Hypotheses about its origins have always been one of the main discussions among winelovers. Initially it was not a wine that aroused much interest (it was only cultivated in the Rhone valley), but in recent decades the great potential of this grape variety has been discovered in areas with a warm climate and now it has a large group of winelovers who adore it. One of the secrets to making a Syrah worthy of this name is given by the choice and wise use of the barrique (it is the only wine in which we use also american wood), which requires a lot of attention to give great results. Syrah is usually used in blends (those with Cabernet Sauvignon and in Tuscany with Sangiovese are very common) but with our microclimate we are able to vinify a 100% Syrah. At the moment our winery has 1 hectare of Syrah whose vines date back to 1997 and 1 hectare in which they date back to 1986. These two vineyards have different behaviors (this variety acts very differently based on age), so much so that they are harvested even 10 days later; precisely for this reason, in the 2019 vintage for the first time we made two Syrah: one from the 37-year-old vineyard and one from the 25-year-old vineyard.
CABERNET SAUVIGNON (SASSOFORTE)
Cabernet Sauvignon, the most famous and celebrated grape variety in the world. There is no wine area in which this variety is not present. Born from a casual cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc ( the cross between a red grape variety and a white one is truly anomalous), it is found in many important blends for its well-defined structure. Cabernet Sauvignon is the grape variety linked to the barrique more than any other, from which it manages to give its best. In our winery, thanks to our particular microclimate, we are able to do something that few can afford: a pure Cabernet Sauvignon. Making a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon worthy of the name is one of the dreams of a wine producer because the grape variety is very suitable for blends but in very few places there are the climatic conditions to vinify a great pure Cabernet Sauvignon. The main characteristic of Sassoforte, our Cabernet Sauvignon, is its great structure which, however, harmonizes very well with the other properties of the wine, without being tannic and aggressive: a real “iron fist in a velvet glove”.
Merlot and Sangiovese, one is the most famous grape variety in Bordeaux, the other the most famous in Tuscany. Both can produce large quantities of grapes but also, with the right skills and reducing production per hectare, very high quality wines. Initially considered second-class vines, the situation is now very different for Merlot and Sangiovese. It can be safely said that both have what it takes to produce some of the best wines in the world.
Merlot is the most widespread grape variety in France, there are very few wine-growing areas in the world where it is not present. This great diffusion is due to various factors including its excellent adaptability to both hot and cool climates, to the charm it evokes (it is one of the symbolic vines of Bordeaux) and to the fact that it is suitable both for those who want to make quantities and for those who want to focus on quality. The first source referring to Merlot dates back to 1783 with the name ‘Merlau’ in Gironde (South-West France), while the name of the vine ‘Merlot’ appeared more recently (1824) in a treatise on Médoc wines.
The origin of the name of the vine is curious, which derives from the blackbird, a bird that particularly likes its grapes.
For a long time it lived in the shadow of its older brother, Cabernet Sauvignon and if initially it was planted in the Medoc only to be mixed with the latter with the idea of lightening it, already in the 80s things began to change and nowadays Merlot is found in many of the best wines. Merlot tends to produce a lot but (needless to say) the greatest winemakers always recommend reducing production to around 40/50 quintals per hectare to obtain maximum quality. A great subject of discussion is its harvest date: the vine is relatively early and the harvest date becomes, to say the least, fundamental for having a great product (a characteristic shared with Sangiovese). Many discussions also focus on what the reference model should be: should it be more similar to Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon? We think that Merlot should be more elegant than structured and this is also why we tend to harvest it “early” (usually the last week of August/first of September) even if there is no rigid rule since each vintage is always a separate story. The winery currently has around 1.3 hectares of Merlot, a more “recent” part (23 years) and an older part (30-35 years).
Sangiovese can be defined the main grape variety of Tuscany and central Italy. A vine with an ancient history, some studies claim that the origin of this variety dates back to the Etruscans. Sangiovese is a vine with an anomalous behavior compared to other varieties: it produces a lot and produces enormous bunches (thinning becomes fundamental here), it ripens early but it is harvested late. Work in the vineyard must be obsessive and choosing the right day to harvest becomes vital , under penalty of the risk of harvesting too early and having an herbaceous wine or harvesting overripe grapes. Furthermore, a noteworthy Sangiovese has a high acidity and a high quantity of tannins, which is why in our opinion it gives its best in oak barrels. Our Sangiovese, which my father called Vignavento, ages from 30 to 38 months in small wood, managing to maintain a certain elegance and obtains a consistency and structure that is not intrusive, but well blended with everything. There is also a lot of discussion about how long it should stay on the skins during alcoholic fermentation (some say 4 weeks and others 10/14 days). We personally, remembering that sometimes it depends on the vintage, tend not to keep too much on the skins since the grapes that are harvested have an acidity and tannin that alone are sufficient for a great pure Sangiovese aged in small wood.
Gamay, Pinot Noir and Malbec, three difficult, controversial vines that are not very widespread in Tuscany. When my father decided to plant these varieties in 1986 (Pinot Noir) and 1997 (Gamay and Malbec), there was much criticism and skepticism: Pinot Noir and Gamay in a climate very different from that of Burgundy? Malbec in Tuscany? Today I can proudly say that the choice made in the past by my father was as bold as it was right because with our terroir we are able to make Malbec, Gamay and Pinot Noir aged in high quality barriques. A truly bold choice.
In 1997 my father wanted to expand the winery by planting 2 hectares of Malbec but his nurseryman (Pépinières Guillaume) strongly raccomand him to also plant 1 hectare of Gamay. My father’s amazement was great, his goal was to make structured, long-longevity wines, not a wine to drink in a year like Beaujolais Nouveau; but the nurseryman insisted, saying that with our microclimatic position we would obtain a completely different wine from what is made in France. And against all odds we can now say that he was right. Originally from Burgundy just like Pinot Noir (of which it is a descendant), Gamay has always been a neglected grape variety since the Middle Ages. In 1395 the Duke of Burgundy Philip the Bold prohibited the cultivation of Gamay to favor Pinot Noir, considered more suitable for the production of quality wines. Considered a vine suitable only for cool climates, I can proudly say that this is not true: we have managed to make something completely different, a structured, long-lived wine that can withstand 3 years of aging in barrique without being overwhelmed by it. I don’t think there is another Gamay winemaker in Tuscany who vinifies it like we do, a truly unconventional wine that has nothing to envy of other much more renowned wines.
Pinot Noir, a grape variety that has been written about a lot in the past and which has evoked and still evokes an unparalleled charm. Symbol of Burgundy, making a Pinot Noir worthy of this name is a real challenge: this is because Pinot Noir is delicate, sensitive, precocious, difficult to manage both in the field and in the cellar but at the same time gives as a result wines that are among the best in the world. The benchmark remains Pinot Noir from Burgundy but if before there was a sort of veneration that led on fanaticism, today the situation has improved. It is said that it finds its maximum expression in cool climates but I don’t agree at all: the many studies done on clones and the skill of many winemakers have demonstrated that high quality Pinot Noir can be made even in hot climates. The advanced age of our vines (more than 35 years), their extreme sensitivity and the small number (500 vines) unfortunately allow for a very small production (around 400 bottles per year), but we are already organizing to increase production. A vine that I love very much, certainly the most difficult to work with but also the one that gives the most satisfaction, because making a Pinot Noir in Tuscany that can rival the greats is truly a great pride.
It is a common phrase that a good wine is born in the vineyard and in the case of a rough diamond like Malbec this statement is valid at least twice, because Malbec is a generous vine and very sensitive to diseases. If today Malbec is included in the firmament of great wines, the credit goes to Argentina of which it represents the main grape variety. In France its main area is Cahors (Gironde) but it is also present in the Medoc where it is mainly used in blends to give colour. Although this vine is known to most by the name of Malbec, its original name is “Cot”. Our first plantings date back to 1997 and my father’s choice at the time was very courageous: no one in Tuscany at the time had ever planted 1 hectare of Malbec with the idea of making a wine aged in barriques. A choice opposed by many at the time but which ultimately paid off. From Malbec we obtain an elegant and structured wine (the careful use of barriques is really a game changer), dark purple in color like no other and hints that are not often found, such as dark chocolate and damson skins.