Without any national unity to speak of until its unification in 1861, Italy began to have its own national wine legislation – modelled after the French appellation system – only in the 1960s, with the establishment of the DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) and later DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita). Within years after Italy’s national wine legislation came into place, some ambitious producers, finding the official requirements at best restrictive and at worst counter-productive, began to challenge the age-old establishment of Italian wine, namely Piemonte (“Piedmont” in English), Toscana (“Tuscany” in English) and Veneto, which boast amongst themselves such illustrious names as Barbaresco, Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Amarone della Valpolicella.
The result was the then revolutionary and now much sought-after Super Tuscan, which has been on a meteoric rise of since the 1970s. The term “Super Tuscan” generally refers to red wines from Toscana which include a significant proportion of French varieties – notably Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc – in their blend, with Ornellaia and Sassicaia as the poster boy. Out went the traditional large Slavonian oval barrels, in came compact French barriques. By using grape varieties back then not permissible under national wine legislation, Super Tuscan was initially labelled as humble Vino da Tavola (table wine). It was not until 1992, when IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) was established, that Super Tuscan parted company with the lowest designation in the pyramid of Italian wine classification.
Albeit admirably bold and adventurous, Super Tuscan is not the first Italian appellation to embrace French varieties. The honour indisputably belongs to the tiny Carmignano DOCG, with just over 100ha under vine. Exactly 300 years ago, in 1716, Grand Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici first delimited the Carmignano region and oversaw the introduction of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Hailing from the prominent Medici family, major patrons of the Italian Renaissance and which has produced numerous Grand Dukes of Tuscany, Dukes of Florence and not least Popes, Grand Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici’s wife was Marguerite Louise d’Orléans, daughter of Gaston de France, the third son of Henry IV of France and his wife Marie de Medici.
The Cabernet brothers have taken root centuries ago in Carmignano, which currently allows for a particularly low proportion of Sangiovese. In the early days, Carmignano wines were often sold as Chianti Montalbano, but since it achieved the DOC status in 1975 and DOCG status 1990, Carmignano now proudly holds its own as the precursor of the Super Tuscan revolution.
Tenuta Cantagallo Chianti Montalbano 2014
A single-varietal Sangiovese. Dark garnet with carmine-purple rim, the candid nose offers black cherry, mulberry, fresh herbs and spice box. With juicy acidity and bright tannins, the fleshy palate delivers blackberry, cassis, bay leaf and cherry wood. Medium-bodied at 13%, the fruit-driven entry carries onto a lively mid-palate, leading to a tasty finish.
Tenuta le Farnete Carmignano Riserva 2012
A blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. Deep garnet with cardinal-carmine rim, the perfumed nose effuses blueberry, mulberry, eucalyptus, liquorice and sous bois. With bounteous acidity and ripe tannins, the lush palate emanates blackberry, cassis, black pepper, coffee and graphite. Medium-full bodied at 13.5%, the herb-infused entry evolves into a spice mid-palate, leading to a lingering finish.
Tenuta Cantagallo Chianti Montalbano Riserva 2011
A single-varietal Sangiovese. Dark garnet with carmine-rosewood rim, the fragrant nose presents cranberry, red cherry, rosemary and spice box. With generous acidity and rich tannins, the aromatic palate supplies boysenberry, raspberry, liquorice and tobacco. Medium-full bodied at 13.5%, the expressive entry continues through a vivacious mid-palate, leading to a polished finish.
Tenuta Cantagallo Millarium Vin Santo del Chiant Montalbano Riserva 2009
A blend of Trebbiano and Malvasia. Bright tawny with copper-vermillion reflex, the exuberant nose furnishes tangerine peel, mirabelle, walnut and crème brûlée. With fruity acidity, the vibrant palate provides persimmon, ume, marzipan and butterscotch. Adorably sweet and full-bodied at 15%, the plush entry persists through a chiselled mid-palate, leading to a long finish.
To discover the well-kept secret of Carmignano, contact Ms Ada Leung of Cottage Vineyards; W: www.cottagevineyards.com; E: email@example.com; T: +853 6283 3238
Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain,
France, and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages