Tag Archives: Sangiovese grapes

Siepi Chianti Classico wines shine

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Sieti Chianti Classico 2012 (photo: Mazzei Winery)

Luxury wines are in a category outside the experience of the average person in America, and perhaps in most countries. Chicago did get a chance back in 2021 to taste a few of these elegant wines, thanks to Palm Bay importers. Winemaker Francesco Mazzei brought some of his Siepi winery’s Chianti Classico treasures here to Chicago. The vertical tasting, with vintages from 2005 through 2012, was a remarkable experience..And I started this blog post a long time ago and never finished. So even though Acadia (see below) is closed, these wonderful wines are still worth writing about.

All the Siepi vintages were made with Merlot and Sangiovese grapes, yet all were different. He said Merlot is bigger than Sangiovese and produces less acid, but growing in the Chianti region of Tuscany it acquires the character of Chianti. He talked about the season and the harvest for each of the Siepi vintages – fascinating stories of battling frost, drought, storms and global warming rising temperatures.

Francesco said Mazzei’s farming is 99% organic because conditions naturally permit that, and their bigger concern is using sustainable growing practices. “It is about trust,” he said, “and respecting nature. Wines are moody.” Time and oxygen change wines as they age and, in Siepi’s case, makes for wonderful results. He said in a way, it’s unfair to compare vintages to each other since that is not the way people traditionally enjoy wine.

He also pointed out the difference between an intellectual versus a physiological appreciation of wine. Perhaps saying, in effect, people are moody, too. How and where and under what circumstances you taste a wine can have a powerful effect on how you perceive it.

The venue for the tasting was the former two-Michelin-starred Acadia Restaurant, 1629 S. Wabash, now closed, in an out-of-the-way area of South Loop.  I remember how remarkable the setting was: Flower boxes on stands marked the site of the restaurant (dinner-only service Tuesday through Sunday) on the otherwise-semi-empty street. Not promising, but once inside, you basked in the rich but sleek-and-simple decor. The cuisine, paired with three additional non-Siepi wines from Mazzei, was a delightful surprise. Sad to know this restaurant gem is no longer with us.

The green garlic/ramp soup was delicately flavorful, rich and creamy and served with flowers and flourish. Tasting the perfectly cooked farm egg yolk as it spilled over the truffled crispy potato basket was a distinct pleasure.  The wines paired beautifully with the dishes, and the service was unobtrusively excellent.

Read more about all the Siepi vintages here. Read about the many other Mazzei wines here, some as affordable as $15 (e.g., Belguardo Rose 2015 – light and easy to drink).

A couple of the standout Siepi vintages include:

Siepi 2007 – an outstanding vintage that produced excellent quality grapes, well-balanced with soft tannins and concentrated antioxidants and anothcyanins (which contribute to color and stability in a wine – good for aging).

Siepi 2011 – a difficult year with good rainfall but extreme heat and sun. Even the oak leaves were turning from green to brown in the summer.  The fight they put up ended up producing a lovely wine.

Siepi 2012 –  a challenging year with late frost and snow and a dry summer. Production overall was down by nearly 30%, but the quality is high with just a touch of sweetness. This is a good one to age if you have a cellar.

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Luce della Vite – luxury wines from Italian-American partnership

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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.
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