The Val di Cecina is a picturesque and unspoilt region of rolling hills toward the coast of Tuscany just north of the Bolgheri wine region, the new frontier for Tuscan wines over the past couple of decades. It is also known as Il Giardino (the Garden), thick with oak and cork trees.
The close proximity to the sea and an altitude of 150-250 metres make a local microclimate where the summer Mediterranean heat is tempered by onshore winds and cool nights.
What is now the Caiarossa estate was, until 1998, a farm known as Podere Serra all’Olio. Today it extends over 39 hectares, with 16 hectares of vines. The rest of the estate is virgin woodland and ancient olive grove. When the new vineyard was created, geological analysis uncovered a dozen different soil types and eleven different grape varieties are grown! Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre are the reds; while the whites are Chardonnay, Viognier and Petit Manseng. This is an unusual mix, even in Tuscan frontier territory, where the dominant paradigm is usually the Bordeaux grapes plus indigenous Sangiovese.
In 2004, Caiarossa was bought by Eric Albada Jelgersma, He is a Dutch entrepreneur that also owns two respected Grand Cru classé estates in Margaux, namely Château Giscours and next door neighbour Château du Tertre.
Today the estate produces four wines, two white and two red – all designated as Toscana IGT.
The flagship wine and the main subject of this review is the eponymous Caiarossa (a cuvée made from the very best red grapes that was first made in 2002), of which some 25,000 bottles are produced each vintage. As has become common on the Tuscan coast, Sangiovese does not play a leading role in this wine; rather it is the Bordeaux varieties that dominate. More unorthodox is to find a wine made from eight different varieties including those more common in the Rhône, these being Merlot (31%), Petit Verdot (20%), Cabernet Franc (17%), Cabernet Sauvignon (16%), Sangiovese (9%), Grenache (3%), Syrah (2%) and Mourvèdre (2%).
The second red wine is Pergolaia, also made since 2002. This is 95% Sangiovese with a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, a more traditional wine aged only in older oak.
Then there are tiny amounts of white. The dry Caiarossa Bianco is made of equal parts Viognier and Chardonnay and there are just 1,400 bottles made each year. Equally rare (1,450 bottles) is a late harvest dessert wine made from Petit Manseng called Oro di Caiarossa.
All are excellent, but the flagship Caiarossa is simply stunning. Here’s why.
Firstly, the farming method employed is Demeter-certified Biodynamic. Preparations of BD 500 cow manure and BD 501 silica are used, complemented by homeopathic treatments of nettle, willow, chamomile and horsetail.
All harvesting is by hand and yields are kept deliberately low to maximise quality. The grapes are taken to a purpose-built winery which is inspired by the tenets of Feng Shui! This influence manifests itself in the architectural design and the colours employed to encourage positive energy. Partially built into the hillside, gravity moves the wine gently through the production process without pumps. The grapes arrive at the top level, where they are hand-sorted and destemmed. The fermentation then takes place on the level below in a combination of oak casks and open barriques. After this is completed the wine matures in the barrel room on the lowest level.
Caiarossa is a skilful blend made by an experienced winemaking team, aged in a mixture of barriques and larger oak casks for 12-14 months. The philosophy is to let the wine express a sense of place, hence only 35% new oak is used – a relatively low percentage, particularly when so many ambitious operations tend to employ new wood at much higher levels.
All the Caiarossa wine labels depict a head of Dionysus that was discovered at the nearby town of Volterra. This dates back to the Etruscan 4th Century BC and is owned by Jelgersma. Fittingly, the Greek god of wine illustrates the no-expense-spared meticulous philosophy of Caiarossa.
Given that this is still a young red wine, it was given a two-hour decant prior to serving in order to help it show at its best. The colour is a deep concentrated ruby, opaque and with viscous pink legs in the glass. Clearly this is a super-ripe wine of extraction and power. A quick check of the alcohol level (14.5%) means this is a wine to be approached with no little trepidation, but the way the alcohol is hidden away and still in balance with the fruit, tannin and acidity is evidence of masterful wine making. Just a touch of alcoholic heat gives it away.
The nose is well worth lingering over, so postpone the pleasure of tasting for few minutes more. Dark fruits waft up, damson and black cherry, accompanied by traces of smoke, menthol, truffle and earth, something new to discover each time the glass is raised. Now finally, the palate: rich, velvety and lush as expected, but this wine shows great structure and cool control rather than the flabby jammy qualities of so many big modern reds.
The polished tannins seem to bind all that dense fruit together into a seamless melange of mouth-filling flavour without a hint of harshness, while the stony acidity is lip-smacking and keeps you coming back for more. An exuberant black cherry and damson fruit character is present, but other things are lurking deeply in the mix – liquorice, fig, tar and leather notes peep through and will probably become more evident with bottle age. Meanwhile the smoke and a hint of torrefaction on a long slightly bitter finish complete the package.
Caiarossa has the surefootedness of a Chamois, but is it a taste of Tuscany? Most certainly. It’s a Supertuscan star that occupies the same firmament as the likes of Ornellaia, Sassicaia and Lupicaia.
This graceful wine is ready to drink now and while there are not enough vintages to confirm how this wine will age, the anticipation would be that it will continue to develop over the next five years and still be at peak in ten.
And food? Heaps of mushroom risotto makes a wonderful combination.
Caiarossa is available in the USA at around $65 for the 2004, which has a little more Sangiovese in a superb vintage. Expect the 2005 soon.