Tuscan Typicity Trumps the International Style

Andrea Cecchi and his brother Cesare constitute the fourth generation of their family, more than a hundred years devoted to producing Chianti Classico. Andrea was in New York last week to introduce their new wine, an IGT Toscano called Coevo. For so traditional-minded a family, a new wine is a major venture, especially when it is named “Contemporary,” which is a pretty exact translation of Coevo. 

The brothers: Cesare (left) and Andrea (right)

Like many Tuscan wine-making families, the Cecchi have a fierce devotion to Tuscan tipicità, that combination of characteristics that immediately identify a wine as coming from central Tuscany. Those traits are prominent Sangiovese fruit – black cherry or blackberry, depending on the harvest – bright, enlivening acidity, and a set of earth flavors that run from minerality to brushy and herbaceous. That may sound imprecise, but when you taste the combination, it is immediately recognizable.

The restaurant Del Posto was the venue for the presentation to local journalists. The chosen menu was straightforward: a series of hors d’oeuvre while we sipped Bonizio, which is a Sangiovese di Maremma IGT, then an antipasto salad, followed by spinach rigatoni with Bolognese sauce, then roasted lamb on a bed of ramps and chickpeas, to accompany the succession of Litorale Vermentino IGT Maremma Toscana 2008, Val delle Rose Morellino di Scansano DOC 2006, Villa Cerna Chianti Classico Riserva 2005, and, finally, Coevo IGT Toscana 2006.

The Cecchi acquired their Val delle Rose estate in the Scansano zone of the Tuscan Maremma about 20 years ago, because it afforded a stylistically different source for Sangiovese and a chance to experiment with other varieties. Morellino is the name in that region for Sangiovese, and the vines that have adapted to Scansano’s sandy soils and maritime breezes give a wine that is softer, more fruit-forward, and drinkable younger than do the rolling hills and calcareous soils of the Chianti Classico zone. That was apparent in both the Bonizio and the Val delle Rose Morellino, which because of its bright acidity and light black cherry fruit had as little trouble adapting to the flavors of the salad as did the bright, mineral Vermentino. That tells you a lot about Tuscan wine and why it is so outstanding as a companion to foods.

With the pasta, we had an opportunity to compare the Scansano Sangiovese with the Classico zone’s wine. The Villa Cerna Riserva revealed itself as a comparatively big wine, with a dark aroma and flavors of cherry and tea, finishing with long-lasting tobacco, cherry, and prune flavors. Everything was in excellent balance. A fine Chianti Classico, perfectly comfortable with the tomato acidity and meat sweetness of the rigatoni alla bolognese. Even though the Morellino was not in the same weight-and-importance league as the Villa Cerna, it remained enjoyable and partnered well with the pasta.

With the lamb, the same sort of comparison became possible between the traditional wine, Villa Cerna, and the innovative one, Coevo. Coevo showed indisputably fine and elegant. A few tastes were more than enough to make clear why its very first vintage won Tre Bicchieri, Italy’s top wine award.

It may be a contemporary wine, but it isn’t an international one: Coevo has a deep-dyed Tuscan soul inside its sleek modern body. The Cecchi vinified it from 50% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet, 20% Merlot, and 20% Petit Verdot. (The latter grape is enjoying a great vogue in Tuscany right now, even though it’s losing ground in Bordeaux. It grows differently in Tuscany and lends different characteristics to the blends in which it’s used.) Coevo’s nose was a delight – underbrush and cherry and herbs. In the mouth, it gave successive waves of blackberry (from the Sangiovese) and olive (from the Petit Verdot, I think), supported by great acidity and lovely balance.

Regular readers of this blog know how little I like tasting notes and how much I distrust them, so I hasten to tell you that the descriptions I’ve just given were valid for me only on that particular occasion. Another person, another set of circumstances might result in different perceptions. But I wanted you to know why I’m enthusiastic about Coevo.

Not that my enthusiasm is going to do any of us much good. Cecchi made only 5,000 bottles of Coevo, and only 500 are allotted to the United States. That means you’re not likely to find it at retail (if you do, it will cost about $58); probably good Italian restaurants will offer your best chance to taste it. Which I urge you to do, to discover how sure-handed winemaking can use international grapes to create a wine that nevertheless tastes deeply and truly of its own soil.

To my mind, the most important lesson of Coevo is that all modern wines don’t have to taste the same. Its Cabernet is firmly under the domination of its luscious Sangiovese, and even though the wine was aged 18 months in barriques and tonneaux, oak is present in it only as a nuance, not a flavor. The result is an elegant, restrained wine that speaks a modern language with a lovely Tuscan accent. To that I say Bravo!

One Response to “Tuscan Typicity Trumps the International Style”

  1. Alfonso Says:

    great family. Lovely to work with. Really, their wines are under-appreciated.

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