Log In / Join Now

Tuscany's Marvelous Merlot

Posted: Aug 4, 2006 1:14pm ET

I had dinner last night with Stefano Frascolla, who is the son-in-law of the owners of Tua Rita, the Tuscan cult wine producer in Suvereto, on the coast south of Bolgheri. Stefano oversees the estate, which is one of the best in Tuscany, if not Italy. What impresses me the most is how well-kept their 47 acres of vineyards are. They have to be some of the best maintained in Italy.

About seven acres are planted to Merlot, and this is where the legendary wine Redigaffi comes from. It continues to be one of the hardest bottles to find in Italy. About 500 to 600 cases are made each year, and about 50 to 100 cases of each vintage are exported to the United States.

Last night, I had the 1997 Redigaffi, which has always been a favorite. (It’s my foxy girlfriend’s all-time favorite red.) I gave it 97 points back in 1999. Here is the note:

A mind-blowing Merlot. Black in color, with superrich aromas of crushed berry, currant and a hint of grilled meat. Full-bodied, with masses of chewy yet ripe tannins and an amazing mint, berry, violet and earth aftertaste.

Last night, it was even better. It had lost all of its grilled meat character and maintained its pure fruit. It showed layers of raspberry and blackberry fruit with chocolate undertones. It was full-bodied, with velvety tannins and a long, long finish. It was so fresh and glorious. I was tempted to give it 100 points. Hell. 100!

An interesting point Stefano made was that the 1997 represented something special for him as well as the rest of Tuscany. “It was the vintage that made us understand how to work in the vineyard,” he said. That year, a spring frost throughout the region essentially reduced the production of grapes later on. “We understood that we had to produce less. It was so important.”

That’s why the 2004 Redigaffi, which should be on the U.S. market very soon, is also so outstanding. The 2004 vintage was an excellent one in Tuscany, but the big problem was overproduction. Producers who didn’t cut back grape bunches in the summer and keep their vineyard under control didn’t make great wines.

Frascolla certainly did. And his pure Merlot is incredible. The only problem will be finding some. Only about 100 cases are being shipped to the States, and it costs about $200 a bottle.

Steven Balavender
Tampa, Fl —  August 4, 2006 5:09pm ET
I enjoy reading the blogs here on WS. However I have a question James. Do not take this personal. Why does almost every one of your blogs have to have mention of either a good looking or foxy girlfriend of yours, a Ferrari that you drove in or a ride on your Ducati. IMO it cheapens your good work here. I don't see any other editor that does this on their blogs. Why not keep it wine forward and keep all the personal stuff out? If all of us here starting posting about how good looking our girlfriends are, about how we meet this hot chick at a bar last night, or about our fancy sports car this blog would get way out of hand. It might be fun, but defiantly not wine related and of and of little value. Why not keep it wine forward and keep all the personal stuff out? We know you live lifestyles of the rich and famous but do you have to throw it up every chance you get. Just my 2 cents.
James Suckling
 —  August 4, 2006 6:11pm ET
Steven: May be you are right. Just wanted to share. Anyway, the Redigaffi was great!
Mark Mccullough
GA —  August 5, 2006 12:52am ET
James, you're living the dream! Thanks for sharing the wine, the people, the places. Will the '04 Redigaffi be on par with the '01 vintage?
Apj Powers
Dallas, TX —  August 5, 2006 1:57am ET
No James. I say keep feeding the dream. The sleek bikes, famous friends, hot girlfriend add texture and nuance to the stories. Plus it gives the bookworm wine geeks like me something to aspire to.
Brent Shinyeda
Chandler, AZ —  August 5, 2006 2:34am ET
James-Keep it up! Your personal touches are what makes your blogs so interesting. I can find reviews and tasting reports in other areas of the website, what I expect to find here are the thoughts and wine drinking experiences that you and others have had. Also, getting ready to open a 96 Solengo-any thoughts as to a food pairing?
James Suckling
 —  August 5, 2006 5:42am ET
Mark: I think that 2004 is better than 2001 for everything from Tua Rita!Brent: Solengo 1996 would be great with some grilled meat. Keep it simple. May be I will have a bottle tonight and let you know how it is.
Michael Culley
August 5, 2006 9:37am ET
So, your girlfriend has expensive taste...good for her! Did you mean her favorite wine is the Redigaffi or the '97 in particular? Could you tell us more about the vineyard, how old it is, the slope or exposure, and is it always 100% merlot? Thanks
Chris Lavin
Long Beach, CA —  August 5, 2006 12:32pm ET
I was talking to the head of Winebow out here on the West Coast! Redigaffi '03 will be released next month - I don't imagine the '04 will come out until next year. As for information on the winery - go to their website or to Leonardo LoCascio's winesite (www.winebow.com - I believe).

I have not had the '97, but I carry '98-'02 on my list as well as '98-'02 Giusto di Notri. The wines definitely need time - I had a bottle of '98 Giusto a few months back and it is still very primary; albeit, hedonistic and intoxicating at the same time.

James - in regards to your comment on the '04 - what is your take on the release time? I have noted that many times, Wine Spectator reviews wines that are not out for a while (not futures or barrel samples mind you) or have already been sold out (take the Guigal Chateauneuf two years ago that was wine of the year - it had been sold our for quite some time).

BTW - my girlfriend is gorgeous too!
Mark Bata
Canada —  August 5, 2006 11:04pm ET
James,The wine sounds incredible! Why is it when I talk to producers in Italy, they often don't like the vintages like 1997 in Tuscany or 2000 in Piedmont? Do you think its because they are not typical vintages for their respective regions. Often times I find that the extremely hot vintages are the ones that North Americans seem to like, would you agree with this? How was 1998 vintage in Bolgheri? Would you say it was better than 1997 in this area?You lead an interesting life and I appreciate hearing about it on your blog!
Jim Nuffield
Toronto —  August 6, 2006 1:29am ET
James, I love your blogs and keep up the great work. I also enjoy the personal touches. It gives us a greater feeling of being on the 'inside'. I'd love to hear about your cellar sometime.
Trevor Witt
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada —  August 6, 2006 9:45pm ET
James,Keep the personal notes coming! I have been reading for some time, however, this is the first time I feel I should really say something (my first posting). Your personal comments make you who you are...personal and a real life person! Special thanks for all your instruction and education in the wine field. For me it is invaluable. Please continue and be rest assured there are some (myself included, and perhaps many) who like and appreciate your style. Don't change!!
Eric Kim
Prince William —  August 7, 2006 9:09am ET
James noone will ever agree on everything. It's definitely your personal touch that keeps be reading. You blog is the only one I read regularly and I think it has the most personality. BTW have any pics of those 2 Korean gals?...lol
James Suckling
 —  August 7, 2006 11:34am ET
Thanks for your comments. I do have pictures...Also, my girlfriend's favorite wine is the Redigaffi 1997...oh well. She's hard to please!
Tom J Wilson
Canada —  August 7, 2006 2:16pm ET
James, you are living La Dolce Vita, on those Tuscany hills !! Do not you ??For people like me, load of Mortgage, small children and heavy work, it is just a pleasure to know there is someone smart who keep up with style.And most important is to share your emotion with us . Can you have a bottle of Redigaffi by yourself ?? And can you open it for anybody ??No, you need right people, and right place !!
Chris Lavin
Long Beach, CA —  August 7, 2006 3:10pm ET
The 1998 in Bolgheri was excellent! Ornellaia 1998 (WOTY). The rain that hit inland in '98 missed the coast. I enjoy the '98 Super Tuscans right now - very Italian in style with seductive "terroir"-driven characteristics from the best producers (especially those that made wines with mostly, if not 100% Sangiovese) - Fontodi "Flaccianello" comes to mind, as does Podere Poggio Scalette "Il Carbonnaione".
Mark Bata
Canada —  August 7, 2006 5:47pm ET
Chris,98 Flaccianello is really exceptional, I really love this Super Tuscan. I'll be drinking some 2001 Fontodi Vigna del Sorbo Chianti Classico one of my absolute favorites, I love everything Fontodi does!
Chris Lavin
Long Beach, CA —  August 7, 2006 7:13pm ET
The Vigna del Sorbo is the one of the best Chianti Classico's I have ever tried!!!BTW - I have a vertical of Flaccianello ('95-'01). I have also tasted the '03 which will be released in the fall. A tad bit forward for this wine (due to the heat) but still intoxicating. The wine from Fontodi in 2003 has got to be the "Cru Sorbo" Syrah 2003 - the best they've made. SALUD!!!
Peter La Monaca
Ringwood, NJ —  August 7, 2006 9:06pm ET
no mention of the 2003 Redigaffi???? was it tasted?
Eric Kim
Prince William —  August 9, 2006 10:54am ET
James how you tease.... Where are the pictures?
James Suckling
 —  August 9, 2006 12:00pm ET
Not sure my buddy would appreciate me distributing photos....
Marc Temmerman
Belgium —  August 14, 2006 9:25am ET
James, you refer to the 2004 vintage being very good, at least if the producer had the discipline to reduce yields. As far as I can remember, there have not been any 2004 ratings published in WS so far. I will be leaving for Tuscany next week, staying over at a few fattoria-hotels, like Terrabianca-Il Tesoro and San Felice. Any 2004s I should try to pick up when being there?
James Suckling
 —  August 14, 2006 9:57am ET
MarcThere are not that many top 2004s out there yet but I would look for some of the hard to get ones from names like Tua Rita, Petrolo, and Bibi Graetz, to name a few.
Ralph Michels
The Netherlands —  September 5, 2006 12:07pm ET
I visited Stefano about two weeks ago with some friends and we had the Syrah, GdN and Redigaffi. All from 2004. Het told me also about your dinner and about your comments on the 1997. I am very curious what your opnion will be on the complete 2004 range of Tua Rita

Stefano compared the 2004 vintage with the 2000 vintage and the 2005 with the 2001 vintage. The 2000 and 2004 are more complex and show more minerality, where the 2001 and 2005 show more concentration.

One year ago I was there aswell and I tasted the GdN and Redigaffi from barrel. Than I was very much pleased by the GdN, but during the tasting two weeks ago, it was even better. Last year it lacked somewhat of structure which was suddenly there after one year of barrel and bottle aging. The Syrah 2004 was incredible accessible aleady. The Redigaffi was marvelous. Even after an hour, when sitting in the car touring back home, I still had the Redigaffi 2004 aftertaste, which only disappeared after the Partagas Lusitanias :-)

Anyway, for them 2004 was probably the best vintage ever, he told me.

best, Ralph
James Suckling
 —  September 5, 2006 1:10pm ET
RalphYou will see soon enough in my report for the magazine. But I was very impressed with all Tua Rita's 2004s. As a winery, yes, it is the best ever. But Stefano compared the 2004 to the 2001 for me. The 2000 wss overdone due to the super hot summer. And the 2000 Redigaffi is losing it a bit. Thanks for sharing your visit with me.
Ralph Michels
The Netherlands —  September 6, 2006 3:47am ET
James, you are right. Sorry. He compared the 2000 with the prelimenary results of the 2005 and the 2001 with the 2004. It was the other way around.

He was very impressed with the results so far for the 2005 vintage. But, in his opinion, not as fine as the 2004.

Looking forward to read your comments soon.

Best, Ralph

P.S. Completely off topic as I don't know where to post it:
I know you are a journalist for CA aswell. Did you write any (blog)articles on (combination of) wine and cubans? I would be interested to read. thx.
Ralph Michels
The Netherlands —  October 14, 2006 5:40am ET
James,thank you for the Tuscany notes in the last WS issue.Considering this post in your blog I do not understand that you give Redigaffi 2004, 98 points when you say the 2004 reminds you of the 1997, perhaps it is even better.You gave the 1997 , temptend to give 100 points in the rebound...Can you explain the 98 points?best, Ralph
James Suckling
 —  October 14, 2006 10:47am ET
I think on a quality level the 2004 is very, very close but stylistically it has more finesse and length than the 1997. So it's 1998 for now. Could move up later. Does that help?
James Suckling
 —  October 14, 2006 11:29am ET
Oops. Jet lag. So it's 98 points for now. Let's see later.
Ralph Michels
The Netherlands —  October 16, 2006 3:54am ET
thanks James. it helped!

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.