Perched on a hilltop in Tuscany, the towering red walls of Brolio Castle evoke images of Italian feudalism; its ramparts, stone walls, and gardens would be enough to make any Italophile swoon. Visitors to the castle also find themselves marveling at the fact that they have found the oldest winery in Italy (perhaps even the oldest in the world!), and with it, the literal roots of Chianti Classico.
Since 1141, the Ricasoli family has possessed this fortress and its surrounding lands, which include 240 hectares of vineyards. In 1872, after more than 30 years of dedicated research and experimentation, Bettino Ricasoli, “the Iron Baron,” wrote down what became the true formula for Chianti in a letter to a professor at the University of Pisa. In the intervening 141 years, Ricasoli’s Chiantis have been the standard-bearer.
With their elegant complexity, balance, and incredibly smooth tannins, Ricasoli’s wines are a great option for folks who haven’t before had the pleasure of drinking Italian reds. The Chianti Classico Brolio 2010 in particular is a good first foray into Chianti. It has a gorgeous nose of crushed berries with floral notes. Its longish finish doesn’t overwhelm, but rather pleasantly keeps the drinker’s attention as you enjoy a glass or two.
While Ricasoli is best-known for its collection of Chiantis, it also produces what may be one of the most unique and delicious Merlots on the market, Barone Ricasoli Casalferro 2007. After a recent tasting, I had self-proclaimed Merlot-haters approach me, declaring themselves astounded. The grapes that make up this Super Tuscan are a single vineyard cru and aged 18 months in new oak. Deep ruby in color, on the nose you savor notes of Balsamic, dark fruits, and a nice minerality. The wine opens in your mouth with a full-bodiness that brings forth tastes of blackberries, dried cherry, and undertones of new wood. Its beautiful, round finish puts an exclamation point on a revolutionary Merlot.
When I visited Ricasoli in October 2011, I had the opportunity to walk the vineyards, smell (and hear!) the grapes as they fermented, and see first-hand the devotion of the winery’s employees to their craft. This family-focused operation underscores the love and passion that Italians have for wine, and that care comes through in Ricasoli’s products. In drinking their wines, a bit of Italy comes home to you.