Florence Tasting: Cults Versus Cults or California Versus Tuscany

Nov 27, 2006

It was an amazing tasting to say the least. I was invited to a tasting last weekend of California cult wines versus Tuscan cult wines at Cibreo restaurant in Florence, Italy. The American wines came from the cellar of Swiss collector Silvio Denz, who also owns Bordeaux’s Château Faugères in St.-Emilion, while the Tuscan wines came from their respective wineries. Two vintages were tasted, 1997 and 2001. The wines were tasted blind: one flight of the 1997s and one of the 2001s.

The American wines included in both vintages were: Abreu Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Madrona Ranch, Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Eisele Vineyard, Bryant Family Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, Colgin Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Herb Lamb Vineyard, Dalla Valle Maya Napa Valley, Harlan Estate Napa Valley, Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District Hillside Select.

The Italian wines included in both vintages were: Castello dei Rampolla Toscana Vigna d’Alceo, Castello di Ama Toscana l'Apparita, Fattoria Le Pupille Toscana Saffredi, Fattoria Petrolo Toscana Galatrona, Le Macchiole Toscana Messorio, San Giusto a Rentennano Toscana La Ricolma, Tenuta dell'Ornellaia Toscana Masseto and Tua Rita Toscana Redigaffi.

So which do you think won? I suspected that Harlan would be the favorite of all at the tasting. Or maybe the Masseto? Hell, I gave the 2001 Masseto 100 points! The Screaming Eagle might be another choice? These vintages of the Screamer sell for about $1,500 a bottle. Or what about the exotic and ultrarare Merlot from Tua Rita? Only about 100 cases are exported to the States.

No. Sorry. The winery with the overall highest average score combined from each vintage was Shafer. Yes, Shafer. A dozen tasters, mostly Swiss wine merchants, chose the Shafer after the scores were tallied and compared. And everyone had their jaws open when they heard the news.

The best wine of the 1997 tasting was the Shafer while the best wine of the 2001 flight was the Masseto. Stay tuned for a complete report in the magazine. I might give you my preferences here later.

What were some of my overall thoughts about the experience? Well, the Italians were stronger in 2001 overall, but not by much. Of course, 2001 was a better vintage in Tuscany than in California. Meanwhile, the general quality of the wines of the Golden State outdid Bella Toscana in 1997, but both areas had great harvests in that vintage. Interestingly, as Denz said to me, it was not as easy as you expected to pick out the California wines from the Tuscan wines.

This is significant, since the California wines were primarily Cabernet Sauvignon and the Tuscans, with the exception of Pupille, were Merlots. Tuscany is one of the few places on earth that produces structured and racy Merlots that compete well with big backboned Cabs.

I will let you know more as I digest all that happened in the tasting. It wasn’t earth-shattering like the 1976 Paris Tasting, when California beat Bordeaux. But it was a fascinating tasting all the same.


My Vino Today

1997 Fonterutoli Toscana Siepi: This came from my cellar for a dinner following the tasting on Saturday. It was a magnum and it showed beautifully. Aromas of blackberry, chocolate and touches of vanilla followed through to a full-bodied palate, with fine tannins and a caressing finish. It is all in harmony now. Wonderful and fresh. Lots of life ahead of it but so good now to drink. 93 points, in a non-blind tasting. (See my original note here.)

Red Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot

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