Tenuta di Valgiano, “Palistorti Rosso”, DOC Colline Lucchesi, Toscana, Italy 2006

\"\"Laura di Collabiano welcomed me into the azienda kitchen of Tenuta di Valgiano, a sixteenth century estate some 250 metres above the river Sérchio, 10 km north of the lustrous town of Lucca. On a cold February night, a fire burned brightly within the huge open hearth, illuminating the room with a cheery glow. On the ancient farmhouse table stood a range of uncorked bottles reflecting the flickering light, guarded by Oscar, a large German Shepherd dog. Outside, nothing stirred in an inky darkness punctuated only by the distant lights of Lucca and an onshore breeze from the nearby coast. I had arrived to taste the wines from one of the most exciting properties in Tuscany, far from the dominion of Chianti or the Bolgheri.

The tiny Colline Lucchesi is an almost unknown Tuscan appellation, yet it has a long history stretching back to Roman times. The DOC has no tradition of pure sangiovese, Tuscany’s great indigenous grape. Instead that is just one example in a broad vinous palette that has Franco-Italian origins. This is attributed to the conquering of the independent city-state of Lucca by Napoleon in 1805. His younger sister Élisa Bonaparte governed the region until her fall from grace in 1814. During this time chardonnay, merlot and syrah were introduced and can all be considered native here, with syrah particularly well suited to the local terroir.

Tenuta di Valgiano is run by Laura, Moreno Petrini and winemaker Saverio Petrilli. They took over this once run-down estate in 1993. Their 16 ha of vineyards are predominantly south-facing, occupying a glacial terrace with steep forested slopes above. As well as old-vine sangiovese grown on calcareous soil, sandstone pebbles are ideal for syrah, while merlot thrives as usual on pockets of clay. After restoration they converted to organic methods in 1997 and progressed to biodynamics in 2002. Their objective is to produce wines (and olive oil) with a clear sense of place, handcrafted using only natural methods and a minimum of intervention. Laura told me that she has seen the vineyards return to life and that the resulting wines are far more vivid and pure than previously. In the winery, the handpicked grapes are foot-trodden; fermentation of the reds is in small wooden vats, the whites mainly in stainless steel. Maturation is in small French barriques but without much new wood used.

White grapes are grown to make Giallo dei Muri and Palistorti Bianco. There is a single-vineyard Sangiovese called Scasso dei Cesari, while sangiovese is blended with merlot and syrah to produce two red blends. The estate’s flagship red, Tenuta di Valgiano Rosso, is a very serious work designed for long ageing. Meanwhile, Palistorti Rosso is made in a lighter style for earlier drinking.

I was fortunate to taste all of these wines, including barrel samples and bottles from several vintages. All were stunning, yet it was the 2006 Palistorti Rosso that snagged in the memory, named after the crooked poles found in the old vineyards. In 2006 it was a blend of 70% sangiovese with 15% syrah and 15% merlot – slightly more syrah and less merlot reflecting the vintage conditions.

Back at BD Mansions over a year later, it was time for a road test. 2006 was a terrific vintage in Tuscany but its best wines are still on their long journey to maturity. Palistorti Rosso is no exception, yet it is drinking well now if decanted for an hour or so before serving, to remove a little sediment and to expose it to air. I suggest that it will reach peak in another three or four years and remain there for a similar period.

In the glass it’s a deep ruby-crimson colour with a lighter blue-ish rim, confirming youthful brio. Slightly leggy, this is the last time you will notice the alcoholic potency acquired from this vintage (1% more than in 2005). The nose is more open after spending a further year in bottle; the tea-caddy scent of sangiovese is mixed in with red berry and cherry, while a savoury note fleetingly appears. So far, so exciting.

On the palate, the tannins have softened though they retain a little attractive grip – a useful quality with food. The wine is sensual, without any excess weight or flab thanks to carefully balanced bright acidity and a silken texture. The first impression given is of violets woven into cherry fruit, with perhaps a hint of mint or verbena appearing on a slowly fading finish. There is no overt wood influence or over-extraction to mar the flavour profile. Over a relaxing evening more complexity is revealed; an earthy minerality, darker fruit tones, boxwood and scents of Earl Grey.

While delicious now, everything points to an even more complex and rewarding future, so my advice is to buy a few bottles, some to enjoy now and some to keep for later.

Palistorti shows the potential of the Colline Lucchesi and is a genuine taste of Lucca. Food pairing? It’s difficult not to suggest a simple pasta dish; a mound of fresh Spaghetti dressed only with olive oil, tomatoes and basil will do nicely. Laura suggested salsiccia, Italian pork sausage seasoned with fennel. Grander banquets will also be admirably served.


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