It’s hard to believe that it’s been just over five years since I penned (do people say penned anymore?) my first Feature Article on Villa Capezzana. Therefore, when the opportunity to sit down over dinner with family ambassador Beatrice Contini Bonacossi presented itself, I could not bypass the moment.
Tuscany’s rich history is deeply rooted in the renaissance, the arts, culture and royalty. Many Tuscan estates trace their roots back for centuries, but when summarizing the history of these estates I’ve not come across many that can include the phrase: “Fast forward to the 1500’s” – yet such is the history of Capezzana. Despite documented wine production as early as the year 804, it wasn’t until the marriage of Catherine di Medici to the King of France that Cabernet vines were planted on the estate.
Since 1920, the estate has been helmed by the Contini Bonacossi family. Proudly leading the charge as family ambassador is Countess Beatrice Contini Bonacossi, but she humbly prefers to be called Bea. Pronounced Bay-ah, she is truly an ambassador. Fluently speaking no less than four languages, she represents the winery to the world and runs the family business along with her two siblings. Her sister Benedetta is the winemaker and her brother Filippo handles the winery finances and the family’s rather large olive oil business. Her late brother Vittorio was determined to make the entire Carmignano wine region organic and owing in no small part to his vision, beginning with the 2015 vintage, Capezzana has become Carmignano’s first certified organic producer.
Dinner began with convivial conversation and the presentation of the first flight of wines which were paired with assorted antipasti, homemade focaccia and the estate’s own olive oil. In addition to the estate’s recent releases, Bea had also brought along some of the estate’s Library releases which have been held on the property since being bottled.
Although the setting was a formal dinner, the atmosphere was relaxed and I was able to scribble some acceptable notes. We began with the newest wine from the property.
The 2016 Barco Reale di Carmigano takes its name from a sort of walled natural hunting preserve called a “Barco”. Though I’ve never been much of a fan for this wine, this vintage made an impression on me. It’s deep ruby in color with aromas of cigarette tobacco, salumi, smoke and red plums. Round and ripe on the palate with ample fruit and length. Fresh, lively and well balanced, this displays the wonderful hallmarks of the 2016 vintage. A blend of 70% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet, 10% Canaiolo and 5% Cabernet Franc. 88 points. About $15.
The 2009 Villa Capezzana Carmignano was the first Library wine to be poured. I last tasted this wine upon release in 2014. It hasn’t lost a beat since. The 2009 displays a lovely plum color. It’s surprisngly shy on the nose, but shows black plum, earth and wood notes. Full bodied, viscous and spicy. Gorgeous ripe cherry flavors with leather and hints of licorice are attractive. Very smooth, with nearly resolved tannins. 80% Sangovese, 20% Cabernet. Drink now. 91 points. About $60.
The 2015 Villa Capezzana Carmignano was the next wine tasted and the sibling to the 2009. Dark garnet, there is a strong black fruit nose that evolves to flowers and vanilla. Full body on the palate with focused black fruit flavors and lots of firm muscle. Much more tannic than the 2009, this is still a youngster. Wood and leather round out the back palate. Needs time but shows promise. 80% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet. 91 points. About $28.
Throughout the course of the evening, Bea fielded a lot of questions from the various guests. To begin with, she mentioned a fact that I thought was significant even though I was unaware. Since 2012, Capezzana has employed Franco Bernabei as consulting winemaker. Bernabei’s clients are some of the best in the industry and include Fontodi, Felsina and Sartori di Verona to name a few. I think this will end up being significant as wines he’s influenced are released.
Bea discussed the property in general. Since 2015, the estate has been certified organic for both wine and olive oil production. In addition to wine, Capezzana has a sizeable olive oil business. The estate is home to over 140 hectares of olive groves comprising almost 30,000 trees. Despite these seemingly gargantuan numbers, yields are low. The trees average 50-60 years of age and are hand harvested.
The discussion turned to the organic certification. Bea mentioned that obtaining the certification was incredibly expensive. Generally speaking, farming in this way uses way fewer chemicals and no pesticides but more importantly, almost double the labor – perhaps more. Given that’s the case, I wondered why they bothered to do it? Why not just farm that way without the certification? Why was it so important?
Bea replied that it’s mostly marketing; mostly pressure from the market – especially from restaurants. They want to sell wine that is “organic”. Most of us at the dinner table agreed that it matters little to us, if the wine is good. And to an extent, Bea agreed. Though she agreed that the organic movement is important because with all types of food, people are seeking out organic produce.
The 2013 Trefiano Carmignano is a single vineyard selection and is 80% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo and 10% Cabernet. With a bit more time in barrique, you can sense that in the wine. Dark ruby, it exudes blue flowers, cloves, toasted spice and black fruits on the nose. Elegant yet masculine on the palate, this turns tight and tannic. Dark berries dominate with good length but still a bit austere. The potential is there. Again, another tightly wound 2013. 91+ points. About $50.
The 2015 Trefiano Carmignano is a notable sibling. Dark, almost black in color this has amazing floral tones on the nose with blue lily, lavender and rosemary backing the ample notes of crushed black cherry. Full bodied and viscous with loads of black fruit and toasted spices. Adds new suede, earthiness and minerality on the back end. Special wine. 95 points. About $55.
Finally, the intriguing one. Named after a local stream on the property, the 2012 Ghiaie della Furba is 50% Cabernet, 30% Syrah and 20% Merlot. Deep garnet in color and verging on black, this displays cassis, smoke and black plums on the nose. In the mouth, the wine is muscular and tannic but displays ripe fruit and licorice notes. Good length with fresh acidity and lots of potential. 92 points. About $60.
Whenever I get the opportunity to sit down with a winemaker or principle like this, I always try to let my readers know in advance to give them exclusive access as well. If you follow me on Social Media, you’ll see these announcements and have the opportunity to send me your questions directly. Here were some questions my readers sent for me to put to Bea…
Q: Regarding Ghiaie della Furba; specifically, what made the family plant Syrah in Tuscany?
Bea: My father was actually a big fan of wines from the Northern Rhone so it was something he always wanted to do. Since Carmignano always had a French connection, it was natural to marry Syrah to this terroir and see what would develop.
Q: The kitchen is the heart of many homes. What relationship does wine play with food and do you have favorite “go to” pairings for your wines?
Bea: Oh, for sure the kitchen is the heart of the home, especially in Italy. Though I don’t know that I ever thought any one pairing was the ideal match for our wines. In some ways yes, like tonight we are having NY strips which really work well with Trefiano. Later, we’ll be tasting the Vin Santo Riserva which for me, works much better with cheese than it does with any form of dessert.
Q: Where does Capezzana see the growth for their products; both wine and oil? Is it in China? and what challenges have been presented by climate change? How has it impacted their farming?
Bea: Well, the easiest part of that question is the oil. There isn’t much to go around and we sell out fairly quickly so in terms of growth into new markets it’s not really an issue. As far as wine, that is partly the reason for the organic certification. I mentioned the restaurants earlier and that is true globally. Climate change is a very real issue. What we’ve seen recently is more extremes. Very rainy. Very hot. Very dry. The concept of a “normal vintage” seems more and more like a thing of the past. So depending upon what the issue is, we react differently. We may remove more leaves or fewer leaves if grapes need to be shaded from the sun. We also have to plan to harvest earlier than what was once the norm. We are fortunate to be a bit further north in Carmignano but we seem to be harvesting a month earlier than usual for most years.
Finally we tasted what is, without question, one of the best Vin Santo in Italy.
The 2011 Vin Santo Riserva is 90% Trebbiano and 10% San Colombano. After the grapes are hand harvested in September, they are left to dry through the end of February in Capezzana’s specially designed Vinsantaia. Aged for at least 5 years in small cherry and chestnut barrels, once ready, the wine is bottled and aged a minimum of 3 months before release.
The 2011 is superb. Deep, brownish orange in color, the aromas explode with maple syrup, brown sugar, creme brulee, toasted almonds and orange rind. Spectacular! On the palate, the flavors echo the nose, but the joy is in the mouthfeel. Viscous, yet fresh. Lively yet concentrated. Deliciously sweet without being the least bit cloying. Served with nuts, various cheeses, dried fruit and honey, it simply stole the show. A dynamic display. 99 points. About $55 for a 375ml. Worth every penny.
With that, we bid farewell to Bea and parted ways the richer for being in her company. Special thanks to Bea and Mionetto USA for arranging this event.