Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Felsina: A Rave For Rancia

"As soon as one sets foot in this countryside, one feels a moral responsibility to the land."
--Giuseppe Mazzocolin

History, hunting, wine and olive oil. An intriguing combination that provides character to the Felsina winery located in Chianti Classico. The name "Felsina" derives from the name of an ancient Etruscan city, which is now called Bologna, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region. Around 1152, Felsina is first mentioned in documents and it was known as a "place of assistance for pilgrims." Many historic buildings still remain on the property, though some have been renovated for different uses. Each step on the estate seems to be a step into the past.

The Felsini estate is located in the southern most part of the Chianti Classico region, about 20 kilometers from Siena. In 1966, Domenico Poggiali of Ravenna purchased the Felsina estate from a group of hunters, who also were from Ravenna. At that time, the estate only contained about 25 acres of vineyards but within a few years, Domenico, who saw the potential of wine making on the estate, had expanded that to 100 acres.

Domenico also purchased the estate's hunting reserve and hunting, for boar, deer and other animals, continues to the present day. We saw some of their young and adorable Irish Setters, which are being trained as hunting dogs.

The current manager of Felsina is Giuseppe Mazzocolin, the son-in-law of Domenico, and he became a part of the winery during the 1970s. Giuseppe has a very classical background, being a former Latin & Greek instructor, who after 30 years decided to enter the wine industry. Now, the Felsina estate covers about 1454 acres and 232 acres are planted with vineyards. The estate is mostly biodynamic, though it is not certified, and they raise a number of animals, including chicken, turkeys, goats and small cows. Their wine maker is Franco Bernabei, a famed Italian enologist.

Felsina produces about 500,000 bottles annually, about half being Chianti Classico. Above, you can see one of their cellars, which once was an old granary and that later became stables. In 1980, Felsina acquired a second property, the Castello di Farnetella, located in Chianti Colli Senesi, which also produces about 500,000 bottles. The primary focus of Felsina is Sangiovese, though they produce a few other wines as well. They believe their Sangiovese wines have high acidity and are elegant, sometimes even austere.

We began our tasting of Felsina wines with the 2010 I Sistri, IGT, made from 100% Chardonnay, a French clone. The grapes were fermented in small oak barrels, matured on the lees, and bottled in the July after harvest. The wine was creamy and rich, with some nice apple and citrus flavors, some minerality and a decent finish.

The 2009 Chianti Classico is made from 100% Sangiovese, a blend of grapes from 11 different vineyards. It was barrel aged for about 12 months in medium-sized Slovenian oak casks and then aged for 3 more months in the bottle. It tends to be more in the traditional style, showing a rustic aspect with bright cherry flavors and some underlying spice notes. Very good acidity, this would be an excellent food wine.

The 2008 Chianti Classico Riserva is also made from 100% Sangiovese, but there is a stricter selection of grapes, aiming for a higher quality. It was barrel aged for 12-16 months in medium-sized oak casks and then aged for 3-6 more months in the bottle. It is also very traditional with a nice rustic element, with deeper fruit flavors, more black cherry, and stronger spice notes. It has a bit more tannins, good acidity and a longer finish. Also an excellent food wine, this is the style I prefer.

The next two wines, the Rancia, a Chianti Classico Riserva, and the Fontalloro, an IGT, were both begun in 1983.

The 2008 Chianti Classico Riserva Rancia is made from 100% Sangiovese, the grapes all from a single vineyard named Rancia. That vineyard derives its name from a historic farm that once was a Benedictine monastery. The wine was barrel aged for 16-18 months in new and one year old 225-liter oak barrels and then spent an additional 6-8 months aging in the bottle. The Rancia had such an alluring smell, a melange of wonderful aromas that beckoned to me like a siren. It too was in a traditional style, with a delightful earthy component, and a compelling taste of black cherry, blueberry, violets, spice, and hints of leather. It was elegant and intriguing, with a lengthy, satisfying finish. The Rancia was my favorite wine from Felsina.

The 2008 Fontalloro IGT is made from 100% Sangiovese but the grapes come from vineyards in the Chianti Classico region as well as the Chianti Colli Senesi region. The wine was barrel aged for 18-22 months in new and one year old 225-liter oak barrels and then spent an additional 8-12 months aging in the bottle. It too had an excellent aroma, with more subdued fruit flavors, some earthiness, and more spice than the Rancia. This is an excellent wine and it is hard to qualify exactly why I preferred the Rancia, though maybe it is because the Rancia, to me, seemed to possess certain depths that the Fontalloro lacked. Your preference over these two wines may vary, but you won't go wrong with choosing either one.

Vin Santo is very important to Felsina, and they consider it their most traditional wine. The 2003 Vin Santo is a blend of Trebbiano, Malvasia, and Sangiovese and was a very pleasing wine, with a nice mix of flavors including citrus, tropical fruits, a bit of dried apricot, mild nutty notes and enough acidity to balance out the sweetness.

Felsina has been producing olive oil for a long time, and in 2002, they identified three specific areas, Felsina, Pagliaresi and Boschi as possessing distinct terroirs. They now make four single varietal olive oils, including Pendolino (very fruity), Leccino (a fruity smell with a little pepper and spice), Maraiolo (fruit, floral and grassy notes), and Raggiolo (thick and savory).

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