Friday, July 13, 2012

Paolo di Marchi: The Philosopher-Peasant of Chianti Classico (Part 2)

Though 1976 proved to be a tragic vintage, Paolo still found some vines which did well and he tied ribbons on each of them. In subsequent years, he would continue to add ribbons to each vine that did well, and the best vines eventually possessed numerous ribbons. Thus, in 1997, Paolo planted his first vineyard of high density Sangiovese, collecting all the best vines into this one vineyard. He understands that "there are no short cuts," that the production of quality wine takes time. You must understand your vineyard, study its terroir, test and retest. As Paolo said, "we are in a very slow business."

Paolo started making his first 100% Sangiovese wines in 1977 and then produced his first Cepparello, a Super Tuscan, in 1980. By 1985, his Cepparello began to see success but that was also around the time that a terrible frost destroyed many of his olive trees. So, Paolo decided to keep the best olive trees but tear up the rest and replant that land with vineyards. It was also in 1985 that Paolo stopped making a Chianti Classico Riserva.

Quality has always been foremost in Paolo's mind, and over the years he has worked on careful clonal selections, replanting vineyards as well as increasing vine density, and might be one of the first to do so. His vineyards once had about 3000 vines per hectare but he has increased numerous vineyards to 5000 vines per hectare. He understands that "no single element makes quality" so he doesn't restrict his efforts to any single item. It is all important to him, the entirety of every aspect of the vineyard and cellar.

"Soil is the basement of the origin of wine" and Paolo prefers galestro soil for production of his Cepparello as he feels it is best for Sangiovese, a sentiment echoed by many in the Chianti Classico region. He has not yet created any single vineyard wines as he still feels, even after 36 vintages, that it is too early to decide what is worthy of such. He believes you can only create a single vineyard wine when you understand the perfect combination of soil, grape and climate. Terroir is important to him and he feels that "every vineyard has its fingerprints" though one must still fully understand the parameters of those vineyards.

In addition, Paolo believes that the soils turn his neighbors more into colleagues rather than competitors, as they should work together to protect the soil from erosion, to protect its integrity. They have a mutual interest in the protection of the soil so should unite their efforts. But, everyone is still free to compete later once the wines are in the bottle.

Paolo also believes that wineries require a strategy which includes both a long term view and short term targets. That is certainly good advice for any business and not just wineries. To him, "surfers" concentrate only on short term targets, especially what is hot and trendy, and that is a doomed strategy. Such a strategy oversimplifies a very complex matter, and Paolo stated that "people love to simplify what cannot be simplified." Consider your winery or other business and if you cannot identify your long term view and short term targets, then maybe you need to reconsider your strategy.

As wine makers must work with nature, Paolo stated that there is always the risk of a poor vintage. One of the ways to handle that risk is to properly handle your stock, which is the potential of your sales. That requires a long term view. He also noted that climate change has been significantly affecting his vineyards, and that milder winters are more destructive to vineyards than a hotter summer.

One of the most intriguing questions that Paolo raised was: "What is tradition in an area that has changed everything?" Though Chianti Classico is an old region in many ways, it is also new in many respects. So determining what is tradition is not always easy, as so much has changed. Paolo's answer to his question though is compelling: "Tradition is the gift we receive, which we keep and pass onto new generations." We need to know the past and then transport and deliver it to the next generation, yet that transport can entail change. Tradition is something dynamic, not static, and new traditions can arise all the time.

I recently discussed some of the changes coming to the Chianti Classico DOCG, such as the creation of a new qualitative pyramid. As I noted, there were a minority of members of the Consorzio del Vino Chianti Classico who opposed the new changes and Paolo was in that minority. Probably his main difference of opinion is that he believes the DOCG should direct its efforts more toward wines of origin rather than merely certification. He sees wines of origin, wines of terroir, as the future of Chianti Classico rather than simply elevating some wines above Chianti Classico in a qualitative pyramid.

We ended our visit with a tasting of the wines of Isole e Olena, including multiple vintages of the Chianti Classico and Cepparello. Paolo stated "I love Chianti wines" and "sometimes feel the forest in these wines." He believes that young Chianti Classico is a great table wine to accompany food and that it is vital that pairing is not lost. Paolo's Chianti Classico tends to be on the lighter side, in a more traditional style, and I find plenty of complexity within its depths. I have previously reviewed his Chianti Classico and won't repeat much of it here, though I will state they are excellent wines and should be on your radar.

I tasted three Chianti Classicos ($22), including the recently bottled 2010 vintage, the 2009 and the 1982 Riserva. The 1982 Riserva had held up well, though it was more brownish in color and possessed a little musty smell initially. Most of the fruit was gone but there were some nice tertiary flavors, leather, spice and earthiness. As the quality of his wines have risen each year, it is clear that his wines are going to age well.

We next tasted two of his Collezione Privata IGT wines, the 2007 Syrah ($45)and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($50-$60). Paolo may not continue making these wines for much longer, desirous of concentrating on Sangiovese. He began making Syrah on its own when he started using more Sangiovese in his wines, and feels that this Syrah reflects the Tuscan hills, the Tuscany of the 1980s. Though it is a muscular wine, it still has elegance with lots of spice and delicious red fruit flavors. A top notch Syrah. The 2006 Cabernet, which was successful in the 1990s, also possesses elegance, with silky tannins, ripe plum and blackberry flavors and a very lengthy finish.

I feel that the epitome of Paolo's wine making skills is expressed in his iconic Cepparello, a Super Tuscan which could now qualify as Chiantio Classico, as the rules now permit a 100% Sangiovese. The Cepparello is produced for aging and is a superb vine, showcasing the great potential of Sangiovese in skilled hands. We tasted through vintages 2006, 2007 and 2008, and I have previously tasted and reviewed older vintages on this blog. I cannot recommend the Cepparello enough. During the last ten years, the 2004 and 2006 vintages are considered the best but don't neglect the other vintages as each has something unique to offer. This is a wine which will impress.

We finished up the tasting with the 2004 Vin Santo, an amazing blend of Malvasia Chianti and Trebbiano. This wine has a beautiful golden amber color, with an alluring aroma and an intriguing flavor of honey, dried fruit, herbs and mild spice. Though it has 200 grams of residual sugar, its high acidity balances that sweetness quite well, and its length lingers for a very long time. Another superb wine from Paolo.

Kudos to the Philosopher-Peasant of Chianti Classico, Paolo di Marchi of Isole e Olena.

1 comment:

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