View of villa surrounded by vineyards in Tuscany

~ Panorama of the Tolaini Estate in Castelnuovo Berardenga ~

It was 1956 and Pierluigi, “Louie” as he would come to be known to his family and friends,  was just 19 years old.  Growing up Lucca during Post World-War II Europe, the Tolaini’s were humble, poor farmers.  Life was a struggle.  The small plot of dusty farmland the family struggled to farm was barely enough to make ends meet.  One cart. One cow.  Those were the only tools which made their struggles easier.  Luigi was determined to help his family and one fateful day, with no more than $10 in his pocket and armed with a one-way ticket, he set out for the 30 minute walk to the train station.  On that determined walk, he kept repeating a phrase to himself that sticks with me to this day:  “I will never be poor again. I will never eat polenta again. I will never drink bad wine again and someday, I will make my own wine.”

Today, that dream is a reality so profound and certain that it may as well be etched in stone.  You might expect that time and success could effect some small change.  Yet every time I have the pleasure to see Louie, I always kid him about polenta, but he hasn’t eaten it since his self admonished pledge all those decades ago.

vineyard and trees in chianti classico

~ Peering at Vineyards from the Forest on the Tolaini Estate ~

That drive led to a successful and innovative business career in Canada and also to the realization of Luigi’s dream; making his own wine in Tuscany.  Today, those wines have never been better.  With a talented team that includes noted Agronomist Andrea Paoletti, consulting Enologist Michel Rolland and young talented winemakers Francesco Rosi and Diego Bonato, Tolaini is poised for the future.

Tolaini crafts typical, enjoyable wine at every price point.  Yet one of the estate’s goals is to produce a great wine without compromise, in the tradition of First Growth Bordeaux. For Tolaini, that wine is Picconero.  Produced in only vintages deemed to be exceptional and never without the approval of Rolland, Picconero has become the estate’s flagship wine.  It’s name means “black peak” a reference to the pinnacle of winemaking, where the ancient Etruscan word “nero” is used to refer to red wine grapes.  The most recent release of this wine is the exceptional 2011.

Man holding a glass of red wine

~ Pier Luigi Tolaini ~

The 2011 Tolaini Picconero is simply superb.   In the glass, the wine is a deep violet red with no fading at the rim of the bowl.  This Merlot heavy blend is smooth, polished and seductive.  The aromas are generous and showcase the ripe, refined nature of the vintage with lovely blue plum aromas, fresh menthol and mint, bright new leather and cedar notes and soft, almost powdered pepper.  I love smelling this!

On the palate, the wine is elegant, rich and refined.  After no fewer than three manual selections of the grapes, the whole berries are transferred to French oak fermenters for 30 days.  Once racked to new barrique, the wine spends six months on the lees and 18 months in total aging before being bottled and held for an additional year before release.

The juicy plum flavors in this wine coat the palate from front to back.  Bright, fresh mint notes play with cedar, sweet pipe tobacco and crushed minerals in rounding out this seductive, complex wine.  It possesses what I call, subtle power, for its depth and structure, yet its seemingly forward, elegant nature.  Balanced well with refreshing acidity, the tannins clamp down on the finish at the moment so open this now with appropriate food or cellar 2-3 years to soften out the edges.  Either way, you won’t be disappointed.   Picconero is 65% Merlot, 30% Cabernet and 5% Petit Verdot.   94 points.  Price varies widely, between $70-$100 so shop around.  Disclosure: This bottle was an importer provided sample.

Bottle of Tuscan Merlot

~ The 2011 Picconero is silky, elegant and blessed with subtle power ~

Want to find this wine?  Go here:  Wine Searcher

Salute! Enjoy the holiday!

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