I wonder if Cortona will one day become the Côte-Rôtie of Italy? Will it become one of the best places on earth to grow Syrah?
It already has a head start. And it’s made some excellent Syrahs already.
One of the best Italian Syrahs I ever tasted (drunk too!) was the Tenimenti Luigi d'Alessandro Syrah Toscana Podere Il Bosco 1997. I first tasted it in 1999, and I fell in love with its rich, fruity, spicy character and firm and powerful tannin structure. It was hard to believe that it came from vines that were only about four or five year old. But the wine reminded me of some of the great Syrahs from the Northern Rhône.
I actually had the wine again last week during lunch at the winery, and it was showing beautifully. Here is my tasting note:
Tight and powerful with blackberry, hints of minerals and black pepper on both the nose and palate. Full and long, with fine tannins. Just mellowing at this stage in its life. 96 points, non-blind (of course, it was lunch!)
It was the same as when I tasted it for my 1997 Tuscan retrospective report last year.
Renzo Cotarella, the technical director for Antinori, was also there, and brought some of the Syrahs that he's making at La Braccesca, their estate in Cortona, under the Bramasole label. His wines were a little lighter and rounder than the d’Alessandro, but stylish and very Syrah-like. I liked the 2005 Bramasole better than the 2004, and I thought the latter was outstanding when I tasted it last year.
Renzo had an interesting view on Cortona and Syrah that I want to share. “We make Syrah in many places: Puglia, Bolgheri, Chile, Washington, and Napa,” he said during lunch. “But the balance of fruit and flesh is fantastic in Cortona. In three or four years you’ll see it even more. It is a different music here.”
Check out my video so you can see the vineyards of d’Alessandro, with Cortona in the background, against the hills. There’s also about a minute’s worth of interview with owner Massimo d’Alessandro, who, besides being a vintner, is a hipster architect in Rome.
Massimo is currently working with Luca Currado of Barolo’s Vietti as a consultant, to help fine-tune his viticulture and winemaking. He thinks that Currado, the Piedmont genius, can focus more on the vineyards than in the winery. And the results were impressive, based on what I tasted from barrel. The 2007 looks to be the best ever Syrah from Cortona.
Massimo is also working with Christine Vernay, whose family, under the label of Georges Vernay, makes excellent Condrieu and Côte-Rôtie. “It’s just something friendly at the moment, but Christine is convinced we have great potential,” he explained.
The top Syrah from d'Alessandro Il Bosco, the 1997, is not cheap, at about $60 a bottle US retail. But neither are most top wines from Tuscany at the moment. Nonetheless, they will soon release the newest vintage of their simple Syrah, which is a blend of wines from young vines and lots not deemed good enough to go into the top wine. It’s simply called Tenimenti Luigi d'Alessandro Syrah Cortona. I enjoyed the 2005, but I think the 2006 will even better. It should be less than $20 a bottle, Massimo says.
I’m still not sure I can nail down what makes Tuscan Syrah different than other Syrahs in the world. Maybe it’s the rich and ripe character, with the fresh acidity and racy tannins? The same appears true in Tuscany with top Cabernets and Merlots or international blends. I need to think about it. But Cortona is already making a name for itself.