Top Tuscans

Top Tuscans

Wine of the WeekGualdo del Ray 2003 Frederico Primo ($41.95, 92 points,, 416-636-3534), Val di Cornia Suvereto IGT, TuscanyMade by rising star oenologist Barbara Tamburini (see below), this 100% cabernet sauvignon comes from Tuscany’s coast, home to legendary bordeaux-styled wines like Sassicaia and Ornellaia. It is as fine, rich and delicious as many high end Napa cabernets and modern Bordeaux, with very deep colour, lifted clove, cedar and mocha from new French oak, and ripe, almost floral, blackberry. Full bodied, plush yet still elegant with fine tannin and some Tuscan minerality on the finish. Excellent length.

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It was Tuscany’s turn in Toronto last weekend, first with Lamberto Frescobaldi, one of the region’s star winemakers, signing labels for shoppers at the LCBO’s Summerhill store for four hours on Saturday afternoon. His Toronto importer says they sold 18 cases of Frescobaldi wine during that afternoon—emptying the store’s stocks. He was in town to receive the honour of Winemaker of the Year, bestowed by the local VinCambridge Society. (There will be more on the highly influential Frescobaldi and his Tuscan wines in an upcoming Toronto Life column).

On Monday, he was one of several Tuscan producers pouring for a packed house of sommeliers at Jamie Kennedy’s Wine Bar on Church St. The seminar showcased some of Tuscany’s best wines, as determined in a competition grandiosely called The Seventh Selection of Tuscan Wines, under the auspices of the Ministry of Agriculture for the province of Tuscany. The “selections” are printed up in a fat 691-page softcover book—818 labels in the 2006 edition—for the purpose of promoting Tuscan wine, largely to foreigners. Twelve of the wines were brought to Toronto for this tasting, most by producers who are represented by agents here. A book like this makes one realizes just how few Italian wines actually get to the LCBO. I’ve always thought that an Italian-only wine store would do really well in our town—whether public or private, preferably the latter—and the interest in Monday’s seminar would seem to bear this out. But I digress.

Local wine educator and sommelier John Szabo emceed, and neatly set out the central themes and sticking points of Tuscan winemaking today. He asked the pros to try to identify, in a blind tasting, which were traditional appellation or DOC wines, and which were new wave, so-called super-Tuscan, wines—those that borrow grape varieties and techniques from France and the New World. Further, he asked us to consider whether there was an identifiable Tuscan style in the wines. Both were tough tasks.

They were Tuscan in terms of their core structure: firm acidity, tannin, and even minerality pieced together with considerable sophistication. But the flavours were much more variable based on vintage, grape variety and winemaking technique. And, with most now finished in new French oak barrels, there was even more sameness to countless other wines from New World areas, while those aged in older barrels did stand out as being more traditional.

The tasting was lead by oenologist Barbara Tamburini, who now consults to over 24 Italian wineries and often represents the region overseas. Her influence in this selection was apparent in that two of her wines were included (one of them above), but also in that five wines in the tasting bore a new designation called “vino del donne” (wine made by women) that began appearing on labels in 2004. The ranks of female winemakers, sommeliers and wine journalists are apparently on a meteoric rise in Italy, which is significant in what was almost entirely a male profession a generation ago. And when it comes to Tuscan wine, a woman’s touch is most fitting—a subtle softening and tweaking of the sophistication that already sets Tuscan reds apart from the rest of Italy.

My ranking of wines in this tasting (* denotes those made by women):

93 Gualdo del Re 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Frederico Primo (above)*93 Tenuta Guicciardini 2003 Vignare Bolgheri Superiore*93 Donatella Cinelli Colombini 2001 Brunello di Montalcino*92 Frescobaldi 2004 Montesodi Chianti Rufina91 Castellare 2001 I Sodi di Niccolo91 Montendoli 2005 Vernaccia di San Gimignano (white)*90 Avignonesi 2004 Desiderio90 Fattoria Del Cerro 2003 Antica Chiusana Vino Nobile di Montepulciano89 Casale-Falchini 2000 Campora (Cabernet)89 Fattoria La Pupille 2004 Poggio Valente Morellino Di Scancano*88 Biondi Santi 2004 Sassorallo88 Ruffino 2003 Chianti Classico Riseva Ducale Oro