|Barone Francesco Ricasoli (R) and his US agent, Giulio Galli (L)|
Barone Francesco Ricasoli was in Texas last week, crisscrossing the four major cities, San Antonio, Austin, Houston and Dallas. His estate, Brolio, is one of the oldest family businesses in the world and the oldest continuously operated winery in Italy. The property holdings are large, significant in fact. And the wines are varied, from a simple Chianti to a set of Gran Selezione Riserva Chianti Classicos. And the current Barone, Francesco Ricasoli, envisions a 21st century when Chianti and Brolio assume its rightful place at the table, in the world of Italian wine and in the homes and restaurants of America.
In the social structure of Italian society, Ricasoli and his Brolio are vested in the grande loge, and have been there for hundreds of years. But the 20th century upended the hierarchy of Italian life. Today, the title of Barone doesn’t convey the gravitas it once had in Italy. Still, there are all those hundreds of years of history and influence. And a couple of generations in the latter part of the 20th century cannot wipe all of it out.
And then there are places like Brolio. In the backwater of time, in a place where the energy of the land waits for the willing listener, the open heart. It can wait, has done so many times over the last millennia. Really the only ones to be deprived of this gem are those who don’t have the time or the patience, or the depth of emotional reserve to put down their mobile devices and step into a land with dirt, with spirit and with the blood of those who came before which come up through the vines and to be reborn as Sangiovese.
I’ve never been to Brolio, in all these years. Driven by it a time or two, on my way to a smaller, or trendier, place. I’ve traded in the wine going back as early as 1983, where I found a trove of older Brolio from the 1950’s for clients in Texas. I too, have been ignorant and remiss in stepping out of the moving vehicle of time and setting my foot on this land, this Brolio. That will change in the near future.
Odd that he would call it that, for earlier in the day I was staring at the label and I thought the label seemed familiar in a larger sense. Like a coat of arms, it was heraldic. Like Lafite’s. Not that the two wines share a similarly vinous heritage. But in fact, they do share a place in history and the families are important in the world of wine. And Chianti, like Bordeaux, is so far out of the mainstream of fashion in places where there are, as Geoff Kruth likes to say, “Hipsters drinking ironically.” For sure, you won’t find Brolio (or Lafite) in a natural wine bar. These are wines, as said earlier, totally out of touch with today’s tastes. Not cool. Not enough funk.
The surprise of the bunch, as it often is with me, was the Merlot, Casalferro. At a lunch when the Barone poured me a sip, I wasn’t paying attention to what he was pouring, talking to a colleague to my right. As I sipped, my palate lit up. I had one of those “What is this?” moments and went to look for the bottle. Again, Merlot seduced me. For the nth time.
Francesco and I talked briefly about house style vs. the cru. In Piedmont as well as Tuscany, house style traditionally would take grapes from different vineyards and make a wine year after year, with a consistent product. Think non-vintage Champagne. And then, little by little, people in the regions started separating the lots. Terroir was ascending in importance. And while the grand cru style can be more difficult to make and with unpredictable results year after year, there is high interest in these wines.
But as well, the “genius loci” of Brolio compels Ricasoli to research and experiment. And with a laboratory as expansive as Brolio, why not? This isn’t a little hobby for an investment banker or tech wizard who wants to retire to the quiet hills of Tuscany to reflect and make a little red wine for his friends. This is a farm, with scores of families, many of whom have been working the land for three or more generations. This is what Italy does. This is why wine became so important in Italy and for Italy in the world, because of a commitment that went beyond one generation. It was a livelihood not a lifestyle.
Barone Ricasoli’s family tree is staggering to observe. With that many ancestors on the present day Ricasoli’s shoulders, it can weigh heavy on one.
In the case of today’s Ricasoli, it is in good hands. The farm is going well, the estate is engaged, Tuscany, and Chianti is humming, waiting for the world to catch up with them.
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