Monday, April 8, 2013

A summary of noteworthy Tuscan Merlot offerings

In a January 2001 article on Italian Merlot (New Wave Merlot in Italy, Wine, Franco Zillani notes that the presence of Merlot in Italy was first documented by one Salvatore Mondini who identified the variety as being present "in various regions of the north as well as in Tuscany, Latium, ... and Campania ..." From these beginnings, Merlot, according to Zillani, spread through the northeastern zones of Veneto, Friuli, Trentino, and Alto Adige but, even though ranked fifth in vines planted in Italy, the variety was never taken seriously in the classic production zones. All of this changed in the 1990s, however, when non-traditional zones began to experience success with Merlot planted in the appropriate terroirs with tightly managed yields.

Kate Bailey (Italian Merlot Wine, agrees with Zillani's narrative, characterizing the "Merlot march" across Italy as having occurred in three distinct waves: (i) a late-19th-century initiative by vintners in the hillside region of Trento City and in the Vallagarina Valley: (ii) an early-20th-century spread through Veneto, Friuli, Trentino, and Alto Adige, the northeastern portion of the country; and (iii) a more modern advance in Tuscany, the former bastion of Chianti.

And it is with this "more modern advance" that this post is concerned. The Merlots of note in Tuscany are centered around Bolgheri and Suvereto in the Province of Livorno, Chianti Classico (Provinces of Florence and Siena), and Bucine (Province of Arezzo). A number of small-production, mono-varietals reared in this region have begun to gain critical acclaim. Names such as Masseto (Wine Spectator 100 points in 2001), Redigaffi (Wine Spectator 100 points in 1997 and 2000), and Messorio (Wine Spectator 100 points, 2004), among others, have grabbed the attention of critics and wine collectors alike and, in so doing, have led to steady value appreciation for those lucky enough to own these wines. The figure below shows the distribution of these wines-of-note across the Tuscan landscape.

Click to enlarge

Even though in pursuit of a common goal -- production of high-quality Merlot wines -- the conditions and approaches faced/applied by the relevant producers are, in many cases, markedly different. For example, locational differences mean that Chianti-based producers operate in a continental climate and with galestro and albarese soil while their coastal counterparts operate in temperate climates with stone- and rock-imbued clay soils.

With the exceptiuon of Petra, all of the producers have small Merlot vineyards and this fact, coupled with green harvesting, results in small final production numbers. It should be noted that at 30,000 bottles annually, Masseto has more than twice the production of the next highest Tuscan Merlot (Galatrona).

The majority of producers use stainless steel tanks for fermentation, age in new oak for 18+ months, and age in bottle for at least 6 months. The characteristics of the individual wines are summarized in the table below.

Click to enlarge

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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