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Senior editor James Laube, Wine Spectator's expert on the wines of California, joined the magazine in 1983.
James Laube

A 1997 Tuscan Red at Its Peak

Isole e Olena Toscana Cepparello 1997

James Laube
Posted: February 22, 2010

My friend Chris came over for dinner the other night, which provided the perfect opportunity to pop open a 1997 Isole e Olena Cepparello. Chris worked at this Tuscan estate years ago, and I spent a month in Tuscany in 1997, which turned out to be a glorious vintage. I visited and tasted with Isole e Olena owners Paolo and Marta Di Marchi and liked their 1997 so much that I stocked up on it when it came out, as it fit my style and budget; I found it for about $35 a bottle and bought a case.

The 1997 Cepparello is made entirely of Sangiovese; the Di Marchis blend tradition with innovation, aging this wine in small oak barrels. This bottle was spot on (better than some of my experiences), a wine of grace and finesse, with subtle, complex, earthy-minerally cherry and anise flavors woven together, supported by crisp acidity and firm tannins. 90 points, non-blind.

WineSpectator.com members: Read the original blind-tasting review and find the current auction price for Isole e Olena Toscana Cepparello 1997 (96, $38 on release).

• Plus, get scores and tasting notes for more recently rated wines from Tuscany.

James Laube
Napa, CA —  February 22, 2010 12:06pm ET
To respond to a reader email querying how a wine is a super Tuscan if it is made entirely from Sangiovese:

When I visited Paolo in July 1997, before harvest, he had been tinkering with the concept of a super Tuscan blend, including perhaps Syrah and Cabernet. When I subsequently met Paolo at various events in later years it was never clear to me whether he had pursued that idea, yet somehow that stuck with me. James Suckling's note indicates the 1997 Cepparello is 100 percent Sangiovese.
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  February 22, 2010 1:34pm ET
There are plenty of "Super Tuscan" wines that are 100 percent Sangiovese. In the 1980s, when the term came into play, DOC Chianti required a percentage of grapes other than Sangiovese (principally Canaiolo but also Trebbiano and Malvasia) in the blend. Anyone who wanted to make 100 percent Sangiovese had to call it Vino da Tavola. The list includes some of my favorites, including Fontodi Flaccianello, Felsina Fontalloro and Montevertine Le Pergole Torte.

Today, the rules for DOC Chianti are different (no white grapes any more, Cabernet and Syrah permitted, and wines that don't conform to the rules can be labeled as IGT.) But the Super Tuscan nickname persists to identify a style of winemaking that is different from traditional Chianti.
James Suckling
 —  February 23, 2010 12:55am ET
Well-written Harvey. I have some mags of this wine in my cellar and I love it. Glad my old buddy James liked it. Look forward to drinking a mag with him, or Harvey, next time they are in Tuscany!
Eli Curi
New York —  February 24, 2010 5:04pm ET
In late 2007, James Suckling did a 1997 retrospective in which he said that the Cepparello was "youthful" and "still needs time".

James Laube -- do you disagree with this? I have a few bottles myself. I drank a few bottles in 2000 through 2004, and I always thought they needed some more time. And after reading James Suckling's retrospective, I decided to wait some more. But you seem to think it has peaked and that I should drink up, right?
James Laube
Napa, CA —  February 24, 2010 5:10pm ET
Eli, having drunk most of the case, I liked this bottle better than the past few by some margin. The in-the-middle bottles didn't have quite the depth and vitality of the bottles earlier on and I didn't expect it to show this well this time. For me it's ready and should go another five years.
Mark Antonio
Tokyo —  February 25, 2010 1:16am ET
I've been drinking my way through a half case of the 97 this past three or four years and finished my last bottle recently. I'd disagree that it's ready now. I think it was at it's peak two years ago when it displayed more vivid flavours and character. I scored it a 95 then. Recently the tannins have integrated even more fully but it's lost some of what it had and I'd say now scores a 91.

I think that James' review score is somewhat contradictory actually - how can this wine be at it's peak now with a score of 90 when it was scored 96 upon it's release? Of course this is all subjective - palate, storing conditions etc.- and that's the great thing about wine.
James Laube
Napa, CA —  February 25, 2010 12:01pm ET
Hi Mark, thanks for your note. The 96-point rating is the release rating by James Suckling.
Gary Amato
Warrenton, VA —  March 5, 2010 4:36pm ET
Well that settles it. I'm bringing one to a tasting party this saturday. I wasn't sure how it might stack up. I feel confident now it will fit in just fine. I've got three left.

I met Paolo several years back and have always been a fan of his big intense chiantis.


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