I mentioned last Friday that Francois Thienpont of the well-known Bordeaux clan had been hanging with me for a few days in Tuscany. It's fun to get a well-regarded French vintner's view of the Tuscan wine scene. So, over two days he tasted a few dozen wines and met a dozen or so wine producers. He also saw a number of vineyards.
I think he was impressed with the quality of the wines he tasted, and he was always impressed with the range of prices, too. He thought that the quality was very good for wines that sold for as little as $5 ex-cellar to $60 ex-cantina. He had the idea that consumers are more willing to accept the price difference with Tuscan wines than with Bordeaux. "Many consumers just label all Bordeaux as expensive because of the 30 or 40 labels that sell for very high prices," he said. "It doesn't seem that way with Tuscan wines."
He may have a point.
But what really impressed him was the quality and character of the Merlots in Toscana. He even looked a little nervous. I guess I understand, because his extended family makes some of the top Merlots in Bordeaux: Pomerol's Le Pin and Vieux-Château-Certan. That makes them the best in the world.
I hope he didn't get the idea that all Tuscan Merlots are like the ones we tasted and drank, including the 2001 Masseto and 2004 Messorio. Those are two 100-point Merlots, both from the region of Bolgheri and next door neighbors. He also tasted from barrel at Petrolo, which produces the highly regarded Merlot, Galatrona.
During a lunch at the Chianti Classico estate of Querciabella, Francois drank a glass of the 2004 Messorio and was blown away. He liked it so much that he couldn't just taste it! Cinza Merli, the owner of Le Macchiole, which makes Messorio, was at the lunch. I asked her to say a few words about the 2004. "It changes continually," she said. "It's incredible, amazing."
And Francois said something very revealing about the Messorio and the Galatrona barrel samples. It made me think about Merlot in general. "These are great wines because they don't have the varietal character of Merlot," he said. "They are simply great wines."
Great wines are multi-dimensional in character and not just simply varietal in nature. And I think as a grape, exceptional quality Merlot is very hard to find outside of Bordeaux.
But taste a sip of a wine like the 2001 Masseto and understand what I mean. We drank a bottle of the glorious red with Lamberto Frescobaldi for dinner in Florence following lunch and it was amazing. What a wine! I think Francois almost had a religious experience tasting it, with its kaleidoscope of spices, black fruits, and chocolate character and full, rich and silky tannins. It was powerful yet balanced. 100 points, non-blind.