When driving through Tuscany you’re confronted with postcard like vistas at every turn. Whether it’s olive groves, cypress trees, picturesque vineyards or woods, the rolling hills lure you with all their bucolic grandeur. Yes, there is Florence; but by and large, Tuscany is an agricultural region which is easy to see.
In contrast, there is Carmignano. Unique for many vinous related reasons, Carmignano is also unique for its geographical placement. Lying just northwest of Florence, Carmignano is a very small commune that lends its name to the DOCG region. Steeped on the hills overlooking Florence, the vineyards within the zone are easy to miss. Many are shoe horned among residential areas like secluded oases. One second you’re in a tranquil vineyard, the next, a bustling residential street.
Anecdotally, we were following directions to visit Piaggia. As we acquiesced to the GPS, we made our final turn and were told “you’ve reached your destination”…. but we were in the middle of a street with houses on either side? I thought, “this can’t be right”, and just as I was about to punch the dashboard, my wife says “keep going – through that gate”….. Sure enough at the dead end was the entrance to Piaggia and an oasis of vines. And off we were…
Once arrived and settled, we had the pleasure of touring the vineyards and winery of Piaggia with Silvia Vanucci and her father Mauro. As I mentioned, many of them are tucked away in places where you’d never expect to find a vineyard. Carmignano is unique that way. It’s the smallest DOCG region in Italy topping out at only 250 acres. However, it was the first DOCG to allow international grapes to be blended with Sangiovese thereby creating the original “Super Tuscan” well before Antinori brought the idea international attention. Piaggia owns 37 of those 250 acres, the majority of which were purchased by Silvia’s Father in the 1970s.
Mauro was busy grilling steaks for lunch, so Silvia asked us to hop into her car and we drove off into the vineyards for a quick tour. Some of her guys were working to green harvest; a process by which the flowering grapes and their shoots are removed from the vine. This allows the vine to devote 100% of its energy and nutrients into the remaining clusters thereby producing more intensely flavored grapes. It was hot, but her crew was not fazed in the least. Working diligently, they told me they expect to each complete about 7 vine rows per day.
We returned to the winery where Mauro was dutifully observing his steaks. Silvia and I toured the winery, a compact operation expertly arranged in the relatively small space available to the family. We sat for lunch in a lovely spot within the winery and began with a variety of focaccia, oil and other breads, along with cured meat and some of the best prosciutto I’ve ever eaten. Silky, perfumed and sweet. Remarkable. With this, we began tasting all of Silvia’s newest wines. She drew samples from the stainless steel tanks just outside the dining area. The wines were essentially finished and Silvia mentioned she expected to bottle them within a week.
The first tank sample she drew was the 2015 Il Sasso Carmignano. Il Sasso means, “the stone” and this single vineyard wine gets its name from the rocky, stony road that is used to enter the vineyard. This is a deep purple color. The nose is full of blue flowers, black fruits, spices and lavender. The freshness is amazing. Flavors follow the nose with wonderful purity and persistence. This may be the best Il Sasso I’ve ever tasted. Be ready when this is released. 94 points. Current vintages sell for about $23-$26 and at that price, this is an incredible value. Il Sasso is a blend of 70% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet and 10% Merlot. This was absolutely amazing with the prosciutto.
My regular readers will be very familiar with my impressions of the 2014 vintage. I was in Tuscany that year and I’ve tasted dozens of the finished wines. Some are ok. Most are not worth spending my money on. The 2014 vintage wines from Piaggia seem to have been immune from the vagaries of that year’s weather.
The summer started great, but in mid June the temperatures plummeted, the sky grayed over, and it began raining essentially until the end of August. Many producers harvested and salvaged what they could. Some sold off their fruit entirely to local Coops. Silvia explained that they decided to wait. In late September “summer returned” and Piaggia was poised to make the best of it. They did.
With the wonderful steaks that Mauro lovingly and generously grilled, we dove into Silvia’s two flagship reds.
The 2014 Piaggia Carmignano Riserva is a remarkable wine. Deep purple in color this displays a wonderfully fragrant nose of fresh flowers, crushed black berries and sweet fennel. On the palate the flavors feature ripe black plums, trace minerality and licorice along with spices and soft vanilla notes. This is the best 2014 I have had. Very fresh with excellent concentration and length. 93 points. The Piaggia Riserva shares the same blend as the Il Sasso. Current vintages sell for approximately $34 which is also a good value.
The final wine drawn from tank was Silvia’s 100% Cabernet Franc which in my opinion, is the best Cabernet Franc produced in Tuscany. The 2014 Poggio de Colli does nothing to change my perception. This is super dark in color – almost a black purple. Absolutely loaded with dark fruit on the nose and palate with fresh flowers, sweet pipe tobacco and spice notes. Amazing of its own right. Even more amazing to me that it’s a 2014. 96 points. A must buy. About $45-$50.
I encourage you to seek these wines out when they are released!
Buon fine settimana!