There are many romantic tales surrounding the winemakers of Italy, but few are as rewarding as that of the House of Baron Francesco Ricasoli. Thirty-second in the heritage the Ricasoli family tree traces its antecedents to the 12th century. Today they are the largest producers in the Chianti region and Brolio wines are well received domestically as also internationally. The Estate saw a wave of industrialisation with a period of takeover, but the family is now back as winners after recapturing their glory, writes Ameeta Sharma.
Baron Francesco’s father, who died last year, lived in the family castle that provides one of the most scenic views, on a clear day all the way to Siena. It was his ancestor who was largely responsible for taking Chianti Classico in the 19th century from a humble wine to a giant to reckon with. Winemaking techniques were pruned and rules laid so that these wines could be stocked next to the best the world had to offer.
The focus is not on too many labels but the quality ensured in each label produced by them. Enologists Carlo Ferrini and Marco Cerqua are part of the team here. Wine enthusiasts and wine critics, alike, give these wines high points which are unique in many ways. It was during the unveiling of the next vintage of Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva in Florence when the DOCG Castello di Brolio 2007 and Riserva Rocca Guicciarda 2007 were sampled. Of course the IGT and Chardonnay could not be tasted here but these have been tasted earlier and came up trumps for the style, balance and structure of the wines.
A few questions that Barone Francesco Ricasoli addressed with his trademark honesty for Sommelier India WINE magazine about his wines, estate and plans for India.Interviewed by Ameeta Sharma.
Your wine, Casalferro IGT, which I remember from tasting a few years ago is a wine of great character. How has that evolved?
Casalferro or the Iron House (as translated) is a very important wine. It is IGT and has been very well received and it changed the style of red wine (of the region). Late this year we will release vintage 2010 which will be the next step of this wine. It will change and be even better, the wine is different. It’s the natural consequence of evolution of the château in the last 15 years.
Is there anything else new being planned by you for the market?
Another new label to be launched later this year is 100% Merlot. It’s a merlot and yet not a merlot. It took 15 years for us to get to this wine as it is now. We used this merlot because merlot has more maturity. The vines are 17 years old and as a wine this is great.
Our white wine, we are going to make 100% Chardonnay. Again, we are known for the reds but we proposed chardonnay as it was a challenge and many years were invested in exploring the possibility. It is popular in Japan. You need to know it to be able to appreciate it. We are not known for these wines but each of the Brolio labels has been a challenging experiment.
While most Chianti Classico producers give exact an percentage of grapes other than Sangiovese you do not list them on the label. The nose on the sample tasted was indeed unique. Any specific reason for not mentioning other grapes on the label?
Only the principal grape is mentioned on the label because Chianti Classico has a recipe with Sangiovese. The chromosome of the wine changes every year as far as permitted grapes are used. We declare the 80% of Sangiovese but why do people need to know the other details? In Barolo too same rule applies. The rest should not matter as far as the rule is followed.
Being on top brings responsibilities. My methods were earlier considered risky but today they are applauded. My wine is now on Singapore Airlines, two years ago this was difficult to imagine. We have to go ahead but not without remembering the past. We have to face up to the competition and we have to go ahead.
What would you list as the main strengths of the house of Barone Ricasoli?
Our focus at the vineyards and winery is on quality. We now have the knowledge. The knowledge, whatever you do, makes the difference. Fine tuning with anything one does is important. This allows us to, today, vinify the same vineyard with experience and knowledge. Like the selection of old clones of Sangiovese that we have been working with – now we understand better. Hopefully, in two years, we will have results of that too. There is the job of certification, and if everything goes right, a new clone will be available. In 2013 the wine of this vine would be available. At the end, the need to do better is always there.
Any future plans for the property – rooms for visitors to stay? Or other future plans for the tasting rooms, winery visits, even allowing private weddings in your family Chapel?
My father passed away last year. I always keep an eye on the future but things are different with each generation. I try to do my best. The restaurant in the property is completely changed from what it was a couple of years ago. For the moment we do not have rooms to stay but maybe one day… even private weddings in the family chapel. Earlier my father was living in the castle. I do not live there as I live away. We will see what happens next.
Where does India feature in your future plans as a market?
I have not been in India yet. Surely wine popularity will take time but it will come. India is a challenge, I went to China and that is a challenge too. We have no distributor currently but India is important.
Brolio wines did make a brief appearance in the Indian market and it remains to be seen if they can continue. In the meantime Barone Francesco Ricasoli continues to do what he is good at – ensuring good quality wines and research for better products.