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Marchesi de' Frescobaldi: A Tuscan Legend
By Ed McCarthy
Jun 13, 2017
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The Frescobaldi family is one of the oldest wine families in Italy--if not the oldest.  As far back as the 11th century, the family had vineyards planted in Castigioni, in the Chianti Fiorentini area.  By the 12th century, the Frescobaldis were established as a leading noble family in Florence, first as cloth merchants, and later as bankers and financiers.  Members of the Frescobaldi family actually started making wine in 1308.

Today, Frescobaldi winery is headed by President Marchese Lamberto Frescobaldi; his uncle, Leonardo Frescobaldi, retired as President in 2013.  The two family members best-known in U.S. wine circles have been Leonardo and Marchesa Tiziana Frescobaldi, Head of Communications at the winery.

On two separate occasions this year, I attended Frescobaldi wine tastings in New York, one with Tiziana Frescobaldi and one with Eleanora Marconi, Frescobaldi’s winemaker at the winery’s leading Estate, Castello di Nippozano--located in Chianti Rufina, near Florence.

The Frescobaldis have been very active in the past 25 years, and today have accumulated arguably the greatest collection of wine properties and estates in Tuscany, at least 10 in all. Their leading properties include:

--Castello di Nipozzano, including Montesodi and Mormoreto wines
--Castello di Pomino
--Tenuta di CastelGiocondo
--Tenuta dell’Ornellaia
--Luce della Vite

I will concentrate on Castello di Nipozzano in this column, but first give a brief summary of the other five wine estates and vineyards.

Castello di Pomino is probably Frescobaldi’s most interesting estate, definitely worth a visit. It is located about 21 miles north and east of Florence, in the Chianti Rufina district, on hillsides of the Apennine Mountains as high as 2000 feet in altitude.  Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Blanc thrive on the relatively cool but sunny hillsides. These “French” varieties are not newcomers; they were introduced in 1855 by French agrominist Vittorio degli Albizi and his sister, Leonia degli Albizi, who married Angelo Frescobaldi.

Benefizio Riserva Pomino DOC (Chardonnay), a forerunner of a new range of high-quality Italian white wines, was first produced in 1973; it is an exceptional Chardonnay, certainly one of Italy’s best.  I was totally surprised by the Pomino Pinot Nero DOC (Pinot Noir with a small amount of Sangiovese), never expecting such a high-quality Pinot Noir wine in Italy.  Other fine wines from the Estate include Pomino Blanco DOC (Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc), and Pomino Vin Santo DOC.

In 2012, the first Metodo Classico Frescobaldi, Leonia Pomino Brut DOC 2011, was produced.  It is dedicated to the Estate’s pioneering ancestor, Leonia.  The Leonia Brut is made mainly from Chardonnay, with a small part of Pinot Noir.  At present, it is sold mainly in Italy, but was retailing in the U.S. last month for $28.

Tenuta di CastelGiocondo is Frescobaldi’s Brunello di Montalcino.  It is a brawny, intensely flavored Brunello, 100 percent Sangiovese, that requires time, a decade or more, to mature and be at its best.  The currently released 2012 CastelGiocondo retails for $50 to $60 in the U.S.

Tenuta dell’ Ornellaia is Frescobaldi’s prized estate in Bolgheri, on the Tuscan coast.  Ornellaia, originally founded by Lodovico Antinori, was first purchased by the Mondavi family, but has been totally owned by Frescobaldi since 2005.  It is one of the prime Super-Tuscans, located next to the original Super-Tuscan wine, Sassicaia.  Ornellaia is mainly made from Cabernet Sauvignon (60 percent) and Merlot (25 percent), with typically about 12 percent Cabernet Franc and 3 percent Petit Verdot, but grape variety percentages change with each vintage.  Ornellaia, one of the great red wines of Italy, improves with age.  The current vintage, 2014, retails for $175 to $180. 

Even more sought after is the Estate’s sister winery, Masseto, made from 100 percent Merlot.  Masseto, one of the world’s truly great Merlots, makes you wonder, “Can a Merlot wine really be this good?!”  Then you remember Chateau Petrus and the other great Pomerol Bordeaux wines, and the answer is obviously “Yes” for the often unfairly maligned Merlot.  Masseto’s production is small, however.  The current 2013 Masseto retails for $500 to $600 in the U.S.  Don’t even ask about the cost of older vintages!

Luce della Vite is produced at the CastelGiocondo estate in Montalcino.  It was founded by the Mondavis, in collaboration with the Frescobaldis, in 1995.  Ten years later, Frescobaldi acquired full ownership.  Luce is a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot, and is easy-drinking shortly after release.  The current 2014 Luce retails for about $105.

Castello di Nipozzano, the general headquarters of the far-flung Frescobaldi estates, is located in Chianti Rufina, 15 miles east of Florence. Castello Nipozzano is actually a small village, with a castle dating back to the year 1000, guest rooms, and a restaurant.  Four wines are made at the Estate (see tasting notes below):

Castello di Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva, the flagship wine, sells for $18- $20; 

Nipozzano Vecchie Viti Chianti Rufina, made from old Nipozzano estate vines, is a new wine introduced with the 2011 vintage. It retails for $25.

Both Nipozzano Chianti Rufina and Vecchie Viti are made from 90 percent Sangiovese with 10 percent indigenous Tuscan varieties.

Montesodi, founded in 1974, is made entirely from Sangiovese grapes on the Montesodi Vineyard, and is part of Nipozzano Estate.  The vineyard is over 1300 feet in altitude.  Montesodi retails for $38 to $40.

Mormoreto is the “modern-style” Frescobaldi wine, introduced with the 1983 vintage.  It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, with a touch of Petit Verdot, grown on the Nipozzano Estate.  Mormoreto, aged for 24 months in new barriques, retaiis for $70.

In a recent tasting of Castello di Nipozzano Estate wines, conducted by its winemaker, Eleanora Marconi, I was able to establish definite impressions of the four wines:

Castello di Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva 2013 remains one of the most reliable typical Chianti wines available. It is medium-bodied, well-balanced, and a great buy at $19, less expensive than most Chianti Classicos in the same quality range. And it can be found in stores and restaurants across the U.S.

This tasting gave me the opportunity to taste Nipozzano Vecchie Viti Chianti Rufina for the first time.  The 2013, only its third vintage, is an intensely flavored, more concentrated version of the Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva, and it retails for $25, a real bargain. I will seek this wine out.  The problem is that it’s new and not much is available for purchase in the U.S. at present.
The tasting began with the first vintage of Montesodi 1974.  To its credit, this 40+ year-old wine was still drinkable and even enjoyable, although showing its age.  The 1985 Montesodi, on the other hand, was sensational, vibrant and lively, with no signs of aging. I never would have guessed that the wine was 30+ years old.  The 2013 Montesodi was very good, but just too young.  Montesodi needs aging to truly reveal what a great wine it is.

I tasted the 1991 Mormoreto subsequently.  It’s a competent wine, but not overwhelming.  I then tasted the 2013 Mormoreto, a really impressive wine, certainly one of the standouts of the tasting.  I concluded that the Sangivese-based Montesodi needs time to excel, but the Mormoreto can show very well in its youth.

I came away from the tasting with a very high impression of the Nipozzano Estate wines.  The discovery of the Nipozzano Vecche Viti Chianti Rufina and the amazing 1985 Montesodi were the highlights.  I look forward to my next visit to Nipozzano Estate in Chianti Rufina, even though I just visited three years ago.

If your plans don’t include a visit, you should know that Frescobaldi also has a restaurant-wine bar in Florence, and one in London--where you can taste many Frescobaldi wines.