Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Italian Merlots: San Giusto a Rentennano's La Ricolma (Chianti Classico, Tuscany)

The second of our Chianti Classico Merlots is San Giusto a Rentennano's La Ricolma. As is the case for Castello di Ama, San Giusto a Rentennano is located in the village of Gaiole in Chianti but is east and south of its compatriot in a position overlooking the upper course of the Arbia River.

The current estate site has had a storied life beginning as a medieval monastery for Cistercian nuns, then becoming a 9th century military fortress which served as the boundary between the formerly warring polities of Siena and Florence, and finally, passing into the hands of the Martine di Cigala family through a 1914 marriage.

The estate is 160 ha in size and is sub-divided into the following activity spheres: 31 ha devoted to vineyards; 11 ha for olive groves; 40 ha to woods; and 78 ha for cultivated and grazing lands. Management is the purview of Martini di Cigala family members Elisabetta, Francesco, and Luca.

The estate's vineyards sit at 270 meters on steep hillsides with southeastern exposure and is rich in sand, clay, lime, volcanic ash, and calcium. The vineyard -- certified organic since the 2008 vintage -- falls under the stewardship of Ruggero Mazzilli with Attilio Pagli as the consulting oenologist.

The overriding philosophy is an almost fanatic pre-occupation with quality. According to Skurnik Wines, San Giusto will sell off all or part of a poor vintage in bulk rather than place lower quality product on the market. Antonio Galloni, writing in the Wine Advocate, stated, "This small, family-run property is a great source for hand-made artisan wines that reflect the best of the Tuscan vigneron spirit."

La Ricolma -- appellation IGT Toscana -- is a 100% Merlot sourced from grapes grown on 1.5 ha of vineyards that sit on marl, limestone, and clay soils. The grapes are hand-harvested at full maturity and, in the 2009 vintage, was limited to yields of 50 quintals/ha. Yield is managed via green harvesting where between 30% and 50% of the fruit is dropped in July and August.

The grapes are fermented in stainless steel tanks for approximately 18 days after which the must is racked and pressed. After an additional racking, the wine is placed in French oak barriques to mature for 20 - 22 months. At the completion of maturation, the wine is bottled unfiltered and held for an additional 6 months before being placed on the market. Annual production averages 5000 bottles.

Galloni, writing about La Ricolma in the Wine Advocate (in 2012), said "San Giusto's Ricolma is differentiated from most other Tuscan Merlots for its firm sense of structure and generous tannin, both of which place it closer to Sangiovese than Merlot stylistically. There are more famous (and more expensive) Merlots being made in Tuscany but few that consistently reach this level of excellence."

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