Amongst the world’s oldest wine making regions, Tuscany is widely renowned for its historic Chianti estates, many nowadays producing on an industrial scale. But look a little deeper and you’ll find numerous innovative winemakers returning to traditional methods and forgotten varieties, to produce intriguing and beguiling wines. Two mavericks in the region are island newcomers Castellari Isola del Giglio and historic Azienda Agricola Casale, both of whom follow minimal intervention philosophies to make long skin maceration ‘orange’ wines.
Castellari Isola del Giglio Calzo della Vignia Toscana Bianco IGT 2015
Castellari Isola del Giglio is a joint venture between Simone Ghelli and South African Manfred Ing, the latter better known as cellarmaster at the Querciabella estate in Gaiole. Simone had been visiting the granitic island of Giglio since the 1990s, its landscape formed by the winds off the southern Tuscan coast. Together they rediscovered the abandoned ancient Castellari and Finocchio vineyards, their steep terraced hillside slopes characterised by loose granite soils and cooled by the sea breeze.
Beginning with their first vintage in 2013, they hand pick indigenous Ansonica (Insolia) grapes from the two vineyards in early September. The grapes are destemmed and naturally fermented on their skins for up to 3 months. Once pressed off into old French oak barrels, the wines continue maturing for several months before bottling, which in the 2015 vintage has risen to just over 900 bottles.
Appearance Bright medium golden orange.
Nose Somehow this manages to smell textural, with real concentration while remaining savoury and understated. There’s a lovely leathery earthiness, with stone fruit core, and the sinewous, chewy flesh of dried apricot and mango. White floral elderflower brings some prettier character, along with a hint of marmalade sweetness.
Palate Authoritative though understated, with astonishingly concentrated complexity. Superbly textural, fibrous and leathery sun baked apricots meld with under ripe apricots, and is that a hint of fatty saucisson meatiness? Orange juice citrus and gingery spice give an edgy freshness and great acidity, and there’s a lasting mineral and saline backbone reminiscent of salty crustations and shellfish.
Conclusions Outstanding. Superbly balanced complexity, this has the structure to be fantastically food friendly, while it’s seamless integration makes it effortlessly comfortable in it’s own company.
Azienda Agricola Casale (Giglioli & Rinaldi) Trebbiano 2004
The Gigloli–Rinaldi family’s winemaking story begins in 1770, from whence they keep old accounting ledgers started by founder Giuseppe Giglioli, showing crop production up until 1915. Situated in the quintessential Tuscan province of Florence at the heart of the Chianti appellation, the Casale winery is nestled amongst uninhabited rolling green hillside at the northern end of the Elsa valley, 7 kilometres from the old city of Certaldo.
In a region better known for for bulk wine production from the white Trebbiano and red Sangiovese varieties, 24 year old descendant Giuseppe Giglioli radically changed the estate’s direction in 1959. He switched from co-planted vineyards to single variety vineyards, planting more Sangiovese, Trebbiano, Malvasia and Canaiolo vines, alongside olive trees. Despite this revolution, they take a traditional approach with little modernisation, advocating minimal intervention methods, with long ageing to concentrate the wines natural tannins and fruit. The estate were early Italian adopters of organics and biodynamics in 1979, becoming certified by Demeter in 1995, and are now members of VinNatur.
The grapes for the estate’s Trebbiano 2004 were from 50 year old vines, hand harvested in early October, fermented on the skins at a controlled temperature of 20°C for 30 days, then aged in 20 hectolitre chestnut botti for 7 years and for a further 2 years in stainless steel before bottling in 2014. Given the extended ageing and limited production, this wine retailed at an unexpectedly reasonable price upon release, and now has 3 further years bottle age.
Appearance Deep and vibrant, coppery, reddish orange
Nose Intense and extroverted, a slightly eccentric old relative. Overripe and slightly rotting orange, with hints of balsamic and red wine vinegars. Intense and chemical, concentrated perfume notes suggest distilled fushia and lilac oils. There’s musty and leafy autumn forest floor, roasted chestnuts and old brazil nuts.
Palate Fabulously textural chewiness on the palate, almost gritty and rusty, with underlying saline minerality. Intensely savoury, with bitter orange zest, brine, soured apple and orange juice, followed by a perfumed, bitter rose water and dried cherry sensation. Quite developed notes of roasted chestnuts and slightly past their best brazil nuts, though still nice balancing acidity.
Conclusions Puzzled by this one, it’s certainly showing plenty of development, though there’s still good fruit character and acidity to give some vibrancy and keep the structure in tact. This has rusticity in heaps with a little refinement keeping things in check, and it’s rather stubborn on the finish. A typically Italian food friendly wine, that’s still holding up with ease on the second day. Undoubtedly a fantastic wine, challenging and thought provoking, if lacking in mass market appeal.