[Cross-posted at www.popandpour.ca]

There’s nothing quite like listening to winemakers talk about their own wines.  You can learn a lot about a wine by reading labels, going to websites, talking to shopkeepers and (of course) reading blogs and online reviews, but nothing gets you inside the soul of a wine faster than hearing the person who created it talk about what led up to its birth.  On Valentine’s Day, a few of us were treated to this rarefied experience at Vine Arts on 1st Street and 13th Avenue SW, where Wine Boy Imports presented an interactive tasting with Piero Lanza, co-owner and winemaker at Fattoria Poggerino in Tuscany, Italy.  Lanza led us through his entire lineup of classically inspired wines and made most of us mentally pencil in a trip to central Italy at some point in the future.

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Poggerino is first and foremost a family venture:  it was purchased by Piero’s grandfather in 1940, and he and his sister are the third generation of Lanzas to work on the property.  The estate is comprised of 43 hectares of land, although only 12 hectares are planted to vines (11 to Sangiovese, 1 to Merlot), with the rest largely covered in forest.  Lanza described the relatively narrow spread of the vineyards as “human-sized”, stating that he preferred to keep the operation on a scale that allowed him to personally work on all the crops and “speak to my vines”.  His passion for maintaining, preserving and expressing the essence of the land is powerfully sincere and has led Poggerino to be both organic and biodynamic in its vineyard practices.  “This land is mine on a piece of paper, but it’s really for everybody”, Lanza explains; many of his decisions with respect to the handling of his crops paint him as a steward for future generations.  He is focused on ensuring that the soils where his vines grow are constantly teeming with life and that the grapes themselves are merely one part of a thriving ecosystem instead of a single disruptive force that creates imbalance with its surroundings.  Given Lanza’s dedication to the land, it is not surprising that his winemaking style is devoted to reflecting the unique footprint of the soil through its grapes.  He keeps any intervention in the cellar to a minimum and aims to produce wines of elegance and intensity without excess concentration, keeping them fresh and food-friendly.  In his words, “I work hard to produce simple wines.”  We were lucky enough to try 5 of them, each somewhat different from the others, but all reflecting a common origin.

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Wine #1:  2011 Poggerino “Aurora” Rosato ($20)

Available At:  New to Alberta — Coming to Vine Arts and Highlander Richmond Road Soon!

Everybody should drink more rosé — it is probably the most versatile type of wine on the market today, and the quality that is available for what is usually a rock-bottom price is stunning.  This one was more intriguing than most, because it was made in a unique way, as a blend of the juice of two batches of Sangiovese grapes picked at entirely different times.  The first batch of grapes is harvested very early, before anything else at Poggerino, and its lower degree of ripeness results in juice containing less sugar, very high acid and powerful aromatics.  This juice is joined by additional juice from the general harvest:  it is removed from the tank shortly after the grapes are pressed so that it only gets a trace of colour from the red grape skins, which has the effect of focusing and deepening the colour and flavour of the remaining red juice in the tank (a process called “saignée”, or bleeding off).  The saignée juice has more body and complexity than the early harvest juice, but in combination they really sing.  The most notable thing about this rosé was its surprisingly deep colour, a bright, vivid, purple-tinged pink that immediately grabbed our attention.  Slightly briny on the nose, it gave off tart fruit aromas of pink grapefruit and cranberry which foreshadowed the absolutely piercing acidity that jumped out on every sip.  Waves of pomegranate, citrus and strawberry rode this straight line of acid on the palate, but there was a roundness to the body that kept the Aurora easy-drinking, making it crisp yet creamy at the same time.  The surprisingly long and mineral finish on the wine showcased the craftmanship that went into its creation.  A great way to start any tasting!

88-89+ points 

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Wine #2:  2011 Poggerino “Il Labirinto” Rosso ($22)

Available At:  Vine Arts, Highlander North Hill

Il Labirinto is Poggerino’s entry-level red and the first of three all-Sangiovese red wines we had in a row at the tasting.  The primary difference between it and the two Chianti Classicos that followed it in Lanza’s tasting lineup is that Il Labirinto is made exclusively from grapes grown on younger vines, all less than 15 years old.  While it is still possible to make good wine from a young vineyard, older vines tend to produce grapes with a greater sense of identity and more developed and complex flavours.  Since this wine was grown within the confines of the Chianti region and is made entirely out of Chianti-approved Sangiovese grapes, Lanza could have chosen to label Il Labirinto as a Chianti Classico as well, but he opted against it, saving that historical designation for the bottles from his more mature vineyards.  This wine was a translucent blood red colour in the glass and featured an exuberant nose of juicy cherry fruit tinged with secondary notes of sweat, earth and pickling liquid.  It exploded with cherry, blueberry and leather flavours as soon as it hit the tongue, starting out soft and plush but with more verve and structure kicking in after a beat or two.  It finished slightly sour, thanks largely to its cheek-puckering acidity (a common element to all these wines), which exposed the wine’s Old World roots the longer it stayed in your mouth.  It seemed a touch disjointed, almost like it was an entirely different wine in the first half of each sip than the second, but my glass was still empty in short order.

85-87 points

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Wine #3:  2009 Poggerino Chianti Classico ($26)

Available At:  Vine Arts, Highlander (all locations), Brittania Wine Merchants, Eau Claire Wine Market

Now we move into Poggerino’s bread and butter, the Chianti Classicos that are the heart and soul of the estate (and the bulk of its production at 40,000+ bottles a year).  There is an immediate difference in how the Chianti looked and smelled as compared to its baby brother above:  it was slightly more rust-coloured, more delicate to the eye, and it had far more complexity on the nose, largely due to a series of Port-like oxidative aromas (raisin, almond, maple, burnt sugar) that were nowhere to be found in Il Labirinto.  The promise hinted at in the layered nose is realized on the palate, which was a seamless combination of equal parts fruit (sour cherry, blackberry), earth, caramel and a tomato-like herbaceousness, all in a body that was much more rounded and fleshy than many Chiantis on the market today.  Despite its generosity of texture, this Classico remained fresh and bright throughout thanks to a spine of scouring acidity and pinpoint balance.  Dollar for dollar, this was probably the bottle that delivered the most value for its price point, and it’s the one I walked out of the shop with after the tasting was over.  This is a great example of what modern Chianti should be.

89-90+ points

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Wine #4:  2007 Poggerino Chianti Classico Riserva “Bugialla” ($50)

Available At:  Enoteca

The pinnacle of Lanza’s Chianti production, the Bugialla is a single-vineyard wine made from old-vine Sangiovese planted in 1973.  The vineyard, named after a church on the Poggerino grounds, yields the best fruit on the estate and thus is vinified and bottled as a separate higher-end offering. The wine is aged longer in barrel and bottle before being released (24 months in large oak barrels called tonneaux, then at least 12 months in bottle) and produced in smaller quantities, usually only about a fifth of the volume of the regular Chianti Classico.  While the Bugialla resembled the base Classico in many ways, it was still strikingly different, with a deeper, thicker, more garnet-based colour and a more potent nose that leapt out of the glass, carrying aromas of bright red fruit, smoke, a bit of a secondary funk and clear hit of glycerol-like sweetness and heat that was suggestive of higher alcohol content.  Sure enough, the bottle clocked in at 15% abv, noteworthy for a Chianti.  Lanza is a winemaker focused on retaining elegance and delicacy in his wines, so y0u can imagine what this bottle could have turned into in the hands of someone focused on maximizing flavour and ripeness — it could have been a booze-laden monster.  Thankfully, one taste of the Bugialla revealed that it’s the exact opposite:  although it started out plush, opulent and silky, the wine’s acid grip quickly jumped in and, with some help from its subtle but grippy tannins, kept everything balanced and in check.  The result is a pure and majestic drinking experience, luxurious but still controlled, with a regal bearing, textured fruit and an elongated mineral finish.  This would be a match made in heaven with some fresh bread and hard cheese…I would pair it up with simple food to let the wine shine.  A true joy to drink.

91-92+ points

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Wine #5:  2008 Poggerino “Primamateria” ($50)

Available At:  Eau Claire Wine Market

I mentioned above that the Poggerino estate is 11 hectares of Sangiovese and 1 hectare of Merlot.  This is where the Merlot goes.  While all of the previous wines in the tasting were made exclusively of Sangiovese, this Super Tuscan-styled bottling is an equal blend of Sangiovese and Merlot, each of which are fermented separately and then placed together for 18 months of aging in small new oak barrels.  The resulting wine is the one most unlike its Poggerino brethren, stretching the boundaries of its family resemblance in search of its own unique profile.  Deeper and more purple in colour, it featured a darker nose of blackberry, plum and gingerbread spice (cloves, allspice, nutmeg) with a clean, almost soapy tinge at the edges.  While every single other Poggerino at the tasting was structured with acidity playing a more prominent role than tannin (an arrangement quite rare in red wines these days), the Primamateria placed its tannin at the forefront, rushing in on the attack and remaining aggressively in the spotlight throughout.  As compared to the two Chiantis, this blend had more dense fruit (blackberry, blueberry) but less earthiness and complexity.  It was lush, balanced, pure and packed with flavour, but in contrast to the standard-bearers for the region that we had tasted previously, it did not seem to possess the same level of “Italian-ness”, that distinctive mix of flavour, earth and soul that makes it clear that a wine could have come from nowhere else.  Great wine, but if you have $50 to spend and want to know what Poggerino is all about, I’d personally pick the Bugialla first.

88-90 points

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Many thanks to Wine Boy Imports for organizing and to Vine Arts for hosting such a remarkable event, and thanks especially to Piero Lanza for making his way to our fair city to share the labours of his love with us.  After Thursday night I would not hesitate to recommend Poggerino, especially its two Chianti Classicos, as land-driven examples of what good Tuscan wine should taste like and as ambassadors for a Chianti region that is still trying to re-establish its international reputation after decades of overproduction and lax quality.  These wines are the modern state of Chianti and should not be missed.

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