Tag Archives: Lamberto Frescobaldi

Interview with Frescobaldi owner, maker of luxury Italian wines

Lamberto Frescobaldi - noblesse oblige
Lamberto Frescobaldi – noblesse oblige

Tall, slender, and aristocratic in appearance, kind and gentle in demeanor, and full of wisdom about life in general and about the business and art of winemaking in particular, Lamberto Frescobaldi came to Chicago recently with a mission to introduce discerning wine lovers to his multiple collections of beautiful Tuscan wines. From Frescobaldi Toscana, Nippozano in Chianti Rufina territory and Castello Pomino hidden in Tuscany’s Sequoia woods – the latter two also with luxury lodgings on site – to Attems in Friuli and more, these estates produce luxury wines that have special appeal to gourmets and collectors around the world.

Lamberto – his father is the Marchese Frescobaldi – is dedicated to his work and deeply passionate about continually perfecting the art and craftsmanship of producing the highest quality wines. And he is, as well, a man who exemplifies the compassionate exercise of noblesse oblige. For example, his program to teach inmates of prisons in and around Florence the skills and professionalism needed to produce the superior oil from the olive trees growing on his family’s estates.

“Our goal is to give these prisoners the skills necessary to reintegrate themselves into the work force and society. Our hope is that this model grows beyond our Tuscan-based programs to become a best practice for penitentiary systems around the world.” He adds, “The evolution of the ‘Frescobaldi per il Sociale’ philanthropic efforts fills our hearts with pride and hope because it is a tangible sign that the public and private sectors can successfully work together for the common good.”

Signore Lamberto Frescobaldi embodies the style and grace of Italy’s noble men and women. As the 30th generation to operate the family winery business, he is pleased that his three children, 18, 22 and 24 are making their own choices about what to do. His eldest is studying wine and economics in Bordeaux, daughter 22 graduated in Italy and is now in Paris studying marketing. His younger son, 18, is in 12th grade and wants to study agriculture in England or U.S. He said when they were all young and he and Robert Mondavi began the first Italian-American joint-venture with the luxury wine brand Luce della Vite (reviews here and here), he was traveling like crazy, and the children told their mother they never wanted to do what he was doing because he was not home enough. “Then later, somehow,” he said, “things changed for them.”

Lamberto was deeply interested in agriculture from an early age, but his global education in wine began during the time he studied viticulture at U.S. Davis in California. He talks about one weekend when he decided to go to town and buy a bottle of his family’s wine to celebrate an academic achievement. At the store he introduced himself to the owner as a member of the Frescobaldi family. Duly impressed with the young man, the owner asked if he would come to work there. While he could only work weekends, Lamberto became the owner’s eager protégé, soon absorbing vast amounts of information about wines around the world. He said he also learned at that time that environmental awareness isn’t just up to winemakers; it’s also consumers who make a difference.

“Turn off the faucet when brushing your teeth. Don’t drive to the store and buy a single bottle of wine – buy at least three on each trip.”

After training and a brief stint as a member of the Italian police force, he joined the family business in 1989 where he began by managing vineyard investments and helping expand the family’s Tuscan estates.

The company was small then, but it’s since grown significantly. It doesn’t buy juice or fruit or anything else. Rather the winemakers prefer to depend upon their own estates for everything. “We want to control our own vineyards. We buy the land, plant, we have the tractors and equipment. Yes, it looks like a big operation, but it’s divided into a number of estates.” The goal is the same for each estate: always to produce the finest possible wine that truly expresses the land from which it is born.

No easy task, certainly. “We went once to a tasting of 5 different Merlots from different countries, South Africa, Australia, Calif, Italy, and Chile. It was a blind tasting and each participant had to try to place each wine correctly on the map.” He said he was able to hit only 3 out of 5, while two people actually hit all five. “Overly talented or very lucky,” said Lamberto. “And this sends a message about how important it is to make wines that express their terroir unmistakably.”

“Today many wines have a lot of residual sugar from having been picked when they were overmature. While this may taste good, it doesn’t make you so excited.” He likened the statistics about wine consumers to a pie chart, like a pizza. “There’s a big portion of people who don’t really care too much about what they’re drinking. And a small slice of people who really want to go beyond – that’s who I am aiming to talk to.”

“We should try to teach everyone to concentrate just a few minutes on what you are eating and what you are drinking.”

“Some people can remember tastes. When you’re able to compare and decide if you like something or not is already a big accomplishment. Many people are scared to say if they like something. Sometimes I use as an example the idea that as you age, your taste in chocolate may change. You start to like dark chocolate more because your palate is becoming more developed – like working out in a gym.”

Lamberto spoke of the agriculture behind making wine and said that all vineyards benefit from significant day/night temperature differentials which are crucially important for the metabolism and development of aroma precursors in all the grape varieties.

Lovely crisp white Attems by Frescobaldi
Lovely crisp white Attems by Frescobaldi

As an example of a particular wine that was elevated by such differentials, his Attems Sauvignon Blanc 2015, served with appetizers at restaurant Piccolo Sogno, 464 N. Halsted, was beautifully fragrant and crisp. Winemaker tasting notes: Lovely impressions of sage and tomato leaf lead off on the nose, closely followed by notes of late-ripened peach, melon, and white plum. Rich fruit flavors heighten the palate and the wine has an alluring, superbly balanced finish. Between late August and September that year, the day/night differential was dramatic, ranging as wide as 14.5 C degrees (that’s 55+ F). It pairs beautifully with appetizers and light dishes.

Attems is also an example of how Frescobaldi honors the former owners of vineyards they purchase. Attems now uses Frescobaldi fruit to make its exceptional white wines, but this winery was owned by the Attems family for 500 years. The former owner remained a partner for several years after Frescobaldi purchased a major share. After his death, his daughter sold the final portion to Frescobaldi. “We want to honor the work that these owners did to develop the vineyard to a high level,” he said. He points out how critical it is to be good at managing land in order to try to transmit the spirit of that location through a bottle of wine.

“Although as much as I would like you to love all of the wines we make, it’s a fact that this is not ketchup or Coca Cola. We must be more strict with ourselves, as we want to communicate where we are.”

Another Frescobaldi white wine, Pomino Benefizio Riserva 2012 is a gloriously rich and fruity wine that’s part of Frescobaldi’s cru line. The 100% Chardonnay grapes grow on the sandy, stony, well-drained soil of land acquired years ago from a local church, and Frescobaldi still gives the church a portion of the finished wines and olive oils made there each year.

Tenuto Frescobaldi di Castiglioni 2014, is grown on the oldest land owned by Frescobaldi, located just south of Florence. Deliciously complex and an excellent accompaniment to Piccolo Sogno’s baked branzino with fingerling potatoes and roasted whole young carrots.

Mormoreto 2012, a blend of largely Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, with a touch of Petit Verdot, is exquisitely aromatic and elegantly structured. This wine presents an impenetrably intense ruby color and a complex nose: red fruits such as blackberry and raspberry meet the balanced floral notes of bergamot and the spiced ones of bitter cocoa, cocoa butter, roasted coffee bean, light vanilla, cloves, jasmine and grey tea.

In the mouth the wine is fresh, complex, persistent and balanced. The tannins blend well with the body resulting in a wine that is velvety to the palate. The acidic component is noteworthy and joins elegantly with the alcoholic content. Notes of mixed berries, black and raspberry, and a light liquorish note accompany a peaty whisky, tobacco and vanilla finish. SRP ~$80. Piccolo Sogno provided an ideal atmosphere to try these superb luxury wines on a warm early-autumn day on the patio. Excellent service in a comfortable country-Italian atmosphere. Bellisimo.

Brunello - Lamberto's dog awaits his master
Brunello – Lamberto’s dog awaits his master

It’s obvious Lamberto speaks with great pleasure and pride about his wines and his family. But he speaks, also, with wonder about his dog, a handsome Airedale mix named, aptly, Brunello.

“It is humbling,” he said, “to see that even when another member of my family offers to take him for a walk, Brunello takes no notice. He waits only for me.”


Luce della Vite – luxury wines from Italian-American partnership

Gold sun logo for Luce luxury wines
Gold sun logo for Luce luxury wines

Luce della Vite Montalcino is the name given to the providential partnership put together back in the ’90s between Frescobaldi and Robert Mondavi wineries – across the sea from each other, and each home to some of the world’s most highly praised wines. These two master winemakers joined together and decided to ignore the DOC/DOCG regulations and create their own magic. The resulting Luce della Vite wines are remarkably elegant and refined, each bottle emblazoned with the fiery gold sun logo that is a modern rendition of the sun design chosen by Margot Mondavi from the emblem on the front of the altar in the ancient church built for the Frescobaldi family in 1493.

Sangiovese grapes in a vineyard of Montalcino,...
Sangiovese grapes in a vineyard of Montalcino, Italy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Luce della Vite wines must be made with Sangiovese grapes, either alone or with Merlot. The Sangiovese grapes grow in the flinty soils at higher altitudes of the estates and the Merlot grapes thrive in the lower areas in soil that’s a special clay mixed with volcanic ash. Unlike many other wines, Luce wines are blended before being put into barrels so that their flavors can be fully integrated during aging. The wines have been such a success that in 2017 Luce will be launching its own separate winery.

 Luce della Vite 1994, Merlot & Sangiovese – Only the second vintage to be made, this blend of Sangiovese and Merlot has a deep ruby ink color – bright, aromatic and highly extracted flavors display notes of raspberries, spices, violets and dried herbs. Complex nuances of roasted mocha and vanilla linger in the background. Elegant in structure with fine, well-balanced tannins and a long finish. Despite its low acid, its greatest potential will come with proper aging.
Luce della Vite 1999, Sangiovese & Merlot – This year was a particularly good harvest in Tuscany and especially in Montalcino. Wines from this vintage are delicate and refined with silky tannins and low acidities, but enough structure that they can age for many years. Luce 1999 is a dense ruby color with ripe aromas of dried plum and blackberry and hints of tobacco leaf, tanned leather, cinnamon and clove. Well-integrated tannins support the aromas and blend into a velvet-smooth savory and herbaceous wine that happens to be one of proprietor Lamberto Frescobaldi’s favorites.
Sangiovese grapes on the vine
Sangiovese grapes on the vine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Luce della Vite 2012, Sangiovese & Merlot – Almost ideal weather conditions after heavy spring rains brought this vintage to a 5-star completion. Dark ruby in color, it offers a forceful, complex and rich bouquet of remarkable depth with notes of wild blackberry and blackcurrants, with delicate hints of spicy clove and black pepper in the background and additional impressions of black licorice and balsam to complete the profile. This is a full-bodied wine with ripe tannins that yield velvety softness in the mouth, accompanied by a trailing aromatic expression with a hint of smokiness throughout its lengthy finish.

Luce della Vite 2013, Sangiovese & Merlot – Just released, the color of this wine is intense and impenetrable, the bouquet elegant and complex. Vibrant aromas include cherries and raspberries with spiced notes and delicate floral undertones. Well-balanced and fresh with persistent aromas, the tannins are silky and refined with a well-defined the structure and no sharpness at all.
The following Luce wines are made bear the luxury Italian designation Brunello (which may partly explain why Lamberto Frescobaldi named his dog Brunello – read his interview here).
Luce Brunello 2008, Sangiovese – Only 5 acres were planted for this wine in a year with the rainiest spring in ten years and below-normal temperatures early in the year, followed by an extra-hot and sunny summer through September. Perfect conditions for ideal ripening times, especially Sangiovese grapes. This wine’s deep ruby red color is accented with garnet highlights. Its bouquet has mellow aromas of blackberry, current and blueberry along with notes of violet and citrus and a lively spiciness starring fresh tobacco, cocoa, leather and star anise. Medium body with a persistent finish  and a fine and elegant tannin texture.
Luce Brunello 2009 – A deep garnet red color, this wine releases a variegated bouquet of blackberry, blackcurrant, balsam and black licorice with notes of iris and sweet violets. You may notice, too, notes of charred oak, clove, roast espresso and dark chocolate. Fresh, yet  rich and full-bodied, it has velvety tannins and a long finish. Powerful yet  elegant.
Luce Brunello 2010 – It is rare to be able to find a bottle of this top award-winning wine. A dark garnet red, this wine boasts an elegant yet dense bouquet of sweet violets, blueberry, blackcurrant and black licorice with touches of rosemary blossoms and notes of oak toast. A deep and well structured wine with velvety tannins and a very long finish. Perfect with red meats.
Luce Brunello 2011 – Just released in 2016, this wine is a deep color with light garnet lights, has a complex bouquet ranging from black fruits like sour plums and spices to tobacco and tea leaves. The complexity continues on the palate by starting soft and coming into balance with a strong tannic texture. Pairs well with steak.