My two children were supposed to fly out on Friday to Manchester, England, from Florence, Italy, but their flight was canceled, like hundreds of others in Europe thanks to the live volcano in Iceland. We were sitting around the small airport in a daze and I thought, let's go up and check out the winery of Bibi Graetz in the hills of Fiesole, just outside the Renaissance city. They didn't mind. They were happy not to go back to gray England. So we drove up and checked it out.
Bibi, 43, makes one of Tuscany's true cult wines, Testamatta. It's a pure Sangiovese that has the race and breed of a grand cru Burgundy. Think of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti's La Tâche. I like to go up and talk wine with Bibi every once in a while. He is a freak for old vines in Tuscany.
It's rare to be a lover of old vines in Italy's famous wine region, because most of the top names there have already ripped out and replanted their old vines a decade or two ago. They claim the low-density planting and old clones don't deliver the quality. But Bibi thinks and proves otherwise.
He spends a lot of time driving around the vineyard outside of Florence looking for old vines—1, 2 or 3 acres that local farmers grow along with other crops. Most of the time these growers give them to cooperatives that in turn sell the wine as cheap rosso in bulk.
"I have many different vineyards," he said, while tasting a few lots of 2008 Sangiovese and Colorino. He said that he doesn't have enough top-quality wine in 2008 to make Testamatta. So what he has will be declassified into the second wine, Grilli di Testamatta. "I still own the 3 hectares here. It goes into Colore or Testamatta, and then I have five or six core vineyards in the hills of Fiesole. And then I might find some others around."
"I am lucky that I don't have 50 hectares around my villa," Graetz added. "I can look around and find things. It's like dreams. They sell them to coops, or do other dumb things with them. So I take them and start working with them. I have 20 hectares more than 70 years old. It is insane."
Testamatta is made primarily from a small plot of 60-year-old vines near his tiny winery next to his family's castle on the hills overlooking Florence. His last two vintages on the market, the 2006 and 2007, are sensational. The 2006 was my top-scoring wine for all of Tuscany in my annual tastings two years ago. It's hard to believe the first vintage was 2000.
What I love is the handmade quality of the wines. They have such clarity of fruit, polished structure and personal style. Each bottle is like a tiny, polished sculpture. (I use the metaphor because Bibi's father is a well-known sculptor.)
Bibi makes his wines himself, after dropping his consulting enologist a few years back. "I didn't like how my wines were," he said. "They were big and powerful and rich, but could have been from anywhere. They were just other very good super Tuscan wine."
"Since 2004, I did everything myself," he said, while tasting his unreleased 2006 Colore, which is the bomb—superb. "I think that Testamatta is more pure. I don't know if it is better. I am not a monk. But I like what I make. I have something about purity. I like pure good stuff."
It can be hard to find such iconoclasts in Tuscany. I really appreciate what Bibi is putting in the bottle.
Michael Schulman — Westlake Village, CA — April 19, 2010 1:50pm ET
Scott Oneil — Denver, CO — April 19, 2010 2:42pm ET
Jonathan Rezabek — Chandler, AZ — April 19, 2010 3:49pm ET
James Suckling — — April 19, 2010 5:11pm ET
Michael Kedersha — Ridgewood,NJ — April 19, 2010 5:28pm ET
John Brody — Montreal Canada — April 19, 2010 10:08pm ET
Matt Scott — Honolulu HI — April 20, 2010 12:47am ET
Ross Ritterman — Bay Area, CA — April 20, 2010 3:50pm ET
Karen & Blair Francis — Mississauga, Canada — April 21, 2010 1:16pm ET
Jonathan Auerbach — Tuscany — April 24, 2010 5:54am ET
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