A visit to Terrabianca
Terrabianca is a medium sized winery in the heart of the Chianti region, in Radda, located just north of Sienna. It is owned by a German, Roberto Guldener, who now lives in Chianti, and who has strong historical ties to Italy. He also lists himself as the viticulturalist. The winemaker is Vittorio Fiore, a well-known and highly skilled oenologist from the region. The company produces 350,000 bottles annually.
The property consists of over 120 ha of land, comprising about 15 ha under vine and a significant olive tree plantation, at a level over 250m above sea level, in both Chianti, and Maremma, further south in Tuscany and closer to the ocean. Its name (Terrabianca) is derived from the whitish soils of the area in Chianti, due to the combination of sand, clay and chalk. My visit there was organized by a friend who knows the current marketing manager of the establishment.
As we drove towards the property, we passed busloads of most likely British, German and American tourists visiting large establishments in the area. Francesco, my friend and point of entrée into the tasting, lamented that many of the larger wineries made lakes, if not oceans, of mediocre wine, assisted by the “Chianti” name, and feeding off the resurgence of interest in Italian wine. Viticulturally, grapes of moderate quality are turned into half decent wine by paid consultants, producing Chianti with an unexciting sameness.
Our arrival at Terrabianca coincided with the final stages of a tasting involving a visiting Brazilian importer. After they had left the full range of wines that Terrabianca produce was open and at our disposal. Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot are the major grape varieties grown, with smaller amounts of Canaiolo, Malvasia and Trebbiano. We focused on reds at the tasting.
1) La Fonte 2007
This is a 100% Sangiovese wine with 6 months of oak, from vineyards further south in Tuscany, outside the Chianti region, in Maremma, Grossetto. My notes say “This has cherries and some savoury characters, good length and structure.” I can understand why this is their “house wine” – is a ripper. It has 13.5% alcohol, and I gave it 16.5 pts.
2) Scassino 2007 (Chianti Classico)
97% Sangiovese with 3% Canaiolo, this has spent 8 months in oak, it is the quintessence of Chianti Classico, with cherries and some plum flavours. At 13% alcohol, it seemed a bigger wine than the La Fonte, but still an ideal match for spicy food and even fish. 17 pts
3) Croce 2005 (Chianti Classico) DOCG Riserva
With the same grape combination as the Scassino, this has spent 15 months in oak, making it more mellow and softer. It was, however, a darker and denser wine with a greater dose of dark/stewed fruit. 17.5 pts
4) Campaccio 2005
A blend of 70% Sangiovese and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, the Cabernet component was immediately evident, with capsicum and cassis notes, but with a lovely meaty, savoury undertow. It has had 12 months of oak treatment, and needs time to allow the wonderful acid and structure to integrate. I loved this wine, and so did Robert Parker a few years ago. 18 pts
5) Campaccio “Selezione” Riserva 2004
With a higher Cabernet component (50%) and 24 months of oak treatment, this was a wonderfully deep and unctuous wine with chewy tannins and again that savoury edge. It struck me that Italians do with Sangiovese what we in Australia do with Shiraz – fill the Cabernet ‘doughnut’ with dark fruit while clinging to the structure that Cabernet Sauvignon offers, to create their Supertuscans. This has a long life ahead of it – 18.5 pts.
6) Cipresso 2005
We moved on to an interesting set of wines. The first was another 100% Sangiovese wine but not labeled as Chianti Classico and therefore not a DOCG, but an IGT wine. Savoury notes were evident as were the plum, cherry and berry flavours. This time, some liquorice and fennel added to the spiciness. The mouthfeel was wonderful, and belied the commonly held belief that extraction is difficult with Sangiovese. This too has a long life ahead of it – if waiting is possible. 18.7 pts
7) Il Tesoro (Merlot) 2005
This 100% Merlot was like few Australian Merlots I have tasted (barring perhaps the Three Hills Merlot from Happs). From their southerly and more maritime vineyards, the differences between day and nighttime temperatures have added to the acid and structure. The nougat and almond flavours probably derive from the oak treatment, and though not off putting, will further integrate with time. 18 pts.
8) Ceppate 2005
This is a Cabernet dominant wine (90%) with the rest being Merlot. This wine was closed and fruit flavours had to be coaxed out of it with heavy swirling and time. A classic Bordeaux style, with the addition of more perfume on the nose than I have been used to, this too demands time. 17.5 pts
We completed the tasting by sampling the extra virgin olive oil produced by Terrabianca – a classic Tuscan style – strong and peppery, with hints of citrus – to light up any salad or loaf of bread you would choose to have with it.
What did I learn from the tasting? Firstly, Sangiovese, with its many (13 clones) is a versatile variety, and in the right hands, extraction to produce complex and powerful red wine is possible. (Sangiovese is known by many names – it is the Morellino from Scansano, the Brunello from Montepulciano, and even the Sagrantino from neighbouring Montefalco in Umbria is thought to be related.
Secondly, if I were an importer, this is the kind of producer I would deal with. Expert viticulture, modern winemaking facilities, great quality fruit, and every wine in the stable exceptional at its price point.
What is the cost of the wine? Well, in Italy, unlike Australia, wine is cheaper at the cantina or winery. So the wines ranged from 10 Euro for the La Croce, to 36 Euro for the Campaccio Riserva and the Ceppate. What did I buy? A dozen each of the Cipresso and the Campaccio – at 20 Euro a bottle.
Until next time, ciao!