Category: On the Road with the Grape Guy
(February 2023) ... For those of you who missed it last year, you can look up my Capezzana tasting and write up here ... There, you will learn that the winery was bought in 1924 by the current owner's great grandfather (amongst other pieces of winery history).
Today, we're tasting the Ghiaie della Furba wine that has been a calling card of the winery, since it's inception in 1979. It was designed as a Bordeaux blend made of equal parts Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. With more Cabernet Sauvignon being planted, the blend changed in 1992, when Sauvignon took the lion's share, at 60% with Merlot being 30% and Cabernet Franc reduced to a mere 10%. In 1998, the blend changed once again, this time it was due to the change of winemaker, which usually means a change of vision of what a wine should be. Benedetta Contini Bonacossi, took over the wine making in 1988; but it wasn't till 10 years later that Furba was transformed from a straight Bordeaux blend to a red blend that saw Syrah taking the place of the Cabernet Franc.
The wine, Ghiaie della Furba, takes its name from the pebbles (Ghiaie) along the bank and within the stream of the area (Furba). The first vineyards that were dedicated for the wine were planted in 1969; the Syrah was planted in 1985. The wine is produced in the Carmignano appellation of Tuscany, within which there are only 13 producers - they make up the smallest DOCG in Italy.
We tasted five vintages of Ghiaie della Furba, starting with the second ever vintage of the wine (1981) and ending with the current vintage (2019).
2019 Ghiaie della Furba
40% Cabernet Sauvignon/ 25% Merlot/ 35% Syrah - 14.99% alcohol.
Alcohol levels have come down from 2016; this is tough, tannic and woody, but has some nice smoky blackberry, cassis and coffee bean notes intertwined between those aggressive opening notes. This stands a chance to be another beauty in 10 plus years, like the 2006.
Ranking order (based on taste and drinkability) ...
2006 - 1981 - 1999 - 2016 - 2019
2006 Ghiaie della Furba
20% Merlot and 20% Syrah join the Cabernet Sauvignon in this vintage. This is really ripe, and the body shows very little in the way of age, nice acidity, black pepper, blackberry and cassis. The acidity just keeps on making this wine one to keep going back to. It's long and lush, pretty yet powerful. I could sip on this one all night long.
1981 Ghiaie della Furba
The original idea of one third of all three main Bordeaux varieties goes into this blend. It was also barrique aged (small barrels). It was very bottle dependent, as to what you got with this wine. There were two bottles opened - both tasted very different from one another. Nose of old shoe leather, dusty but the acidity is good and the dried currants, earthy and dried flowers seems to give it a little lift ... The second bottle, showed much younger, fresher, and livelier character with notes of figs, dates and a touch of red fruit; nicely balanced. Really showed the concept of bottle variation.
1999 Ghiaie della Furba
The hallmark of this vintage was the well-timed rains, this was also the second time Syrah showed up in the blend. 30% Merlot / 10% Syrah. Very black nose with touches of VA. Plus some balsamic, blueberry and licorice. Round in the mouth with subtle tannin bite and a licorice finish.
2016 Ghiaie della Furba
Syrah takes an even bigger bite out of this wine making up 35%, with the Merlot at 25%. This one has big black fruit and spice, lush and plush with a sweet and spicy finish. But it was still very aggressive in the tannin department.
Category: On the Road with the Grape Guy
(November 2022) … This historic winery brought its winemaker, Marcus Notaro, and five of their wines along for dinner at Epoch restaurant in Toronto. An intimate November affair in front of a roaring fire in a quiet room, where the noise of the world was shut out by the doors of the side-room that staged the event.
We started with a barely room temperature, Hands of Time Chardonnay and moved to a slightly cooler and more approachable, if not very Californian and "graceful" Chardonnay, called “Karia”. Then we were blessed with three reds, two current vintage Cabernets, and then a back vintage of one of the same wines.
My tasting notes are below, but first a little about Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. It's estate vineyard is 100 acres, growing 96% Cabernet Sauvignon and only 4% Cabernet Franc – so obviously this winery in Napa knows where it's bread is buttered. The other two vineyards are a 50-acre plot in Calistoga and a 70-acre plot in Napa - here again, the vineyards are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc - although numbers weren't given. Their whites come from a 40-acre plot that's planted to Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The winery was established in 1970. There was to be a celebration of their 50th anniversary, but something happened in 2020 to stop all that ... I will not mention it here.
Quote of the Night ...
Winemaker Marcus Notaro, while discussing the price of wine, versus whether or not they are worth their price: "The wines damn well better deliver.”
The good news is … they did.
The Wines ...
2020 Hands of Time Chardonnay
Everyone talked about the fruit here and how the neutral oak for 8 months helped shepherd the wine along. This is de-classified Karia fruit (their top end Chardonnay); but in truth, the warmth of the wine did little to make it shine: nectarine and peach joined hints of spice – to make it drinkable and tasty. But this wine definitely needed a little more chill to make it really sing. (*** 1/2+)
2019 Karia, Napa Valley Chardonnay
The chill here was perfect and brought out so many of this white's cool temperature loving characteristics. “Karia” is Greek for graceful and that's just what this wine was: super-pleasant from beginning to end. Rich, smoky, oaky, but with a fruit core, that doles out salinity and good acidity; vanilla and some butterscotch also join the show. The wine is made in what Marcus called “a less intervention style”. Only 9 months in barrel, 34% new, all French, with 8% going into stainless steel to retain a modicum of freshness. There's also 0.5% Muscat Canelli that sneaks in - just enough to give it a floral aspect. (****+)
2019 Hands of Time, Napa Valley Red Blend
Not really a field blend, as only Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc are grown, but the Hands sees 85% Cabernet Sauvignon meet with 15% Merlot (purchased fruit) ... The interesting part is that this wine pays tribute to the winemakers that have gone through the winery over the past years. And while considered a "second wine"; there are years that this wine is in more limited supply than one of their flagship bearer’s: Artemis. Smoky-dark fruit and blueberry skin on the finish, while the palate is fruit-forward and very tasty. Silky tannins help shape this wine into a real winter. (****)
2019 Artemis, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Marcus (winemaker) describes 2019 as a "challenging, but good. Vintage" overall. The wine has a drop (.5%) of Cabernet Franc and the blend spends 15 months in oak, 42%, new French and 6% new American, all the rest is in older French. The fruit is pure and robust: plum, black cherry, blackberry with notes of chocolate, white smoke and silky tannins. Through the evening, the wine opened and became even more silky and ultimately gorgeous for both sipping and sniffing – the grilled beef fillet was not let down by the wine, nor vice versa. Purity of fruit and complexity makes this wine and the cellaring potential sits at about 15 plus years. (**** 1/2+)
Our last wine of the evening was the 2014 Artemis, which was smooth, silky and luxurious across the tongue ... Marcus described that vintage as "elegant" - but despite the elegance, there did seem to be a consensus around the table that the 2019 stole the show - it's challenges brought about a more complete, complex and ultimately delicious wine.