About a week back, I opened a bottle of a ten-year-old red wine, and I was immediately overwhelmed by how wonderful it smelled and tasted. You might not think that unusual, but for reasons I’ll explain below, my wine-and-food intake has been drastically curtailed through most of December and January, my palate hasn’t been all that stellar, and we’ve consequently been dining on — and drinking – fairly simple stuff. So this was for me a truly grand moment, an Aha! There Is Life After All! experience.
The wine was of a kind and producer I’ve not paid enough attention to in this blog, a Chianti Rufina from the zone’s premier producer, Villa Selvapiana: its Riserva Bucerchiale 2006 (boo chair k’YAH lay), to be precise. From the first swirl of my glass, the scent enticed me: rich cherry-based fruits, with woodsy, underbrushy overtones that cut right through my pain-pill-and-antibiotic fog. And the taste! Pure velvet on the palate, with a whole congeries of black cherry/frutta del bosco/funghi porcini flavors, all supported by an elegant earthiness – not minerality, mind you, but real earthiness. It was just lovely. It was attention-grabbing. It was a wine for even me, in my debilitated state, to pay serious attention to.
All that is exactly what I had expected, why I had chosen the wine in the first place. I needed to be reminded of some of the joys of living, and I knew Bucerchiale – a wine reliable in its greatness – could do that.
Let’s get down to basics. Chianti Rufina is the smallest (750 hectares in vines) of all the Chianti denominations, and by far the most different from the others – so different that many people think it should simply be called Rufina and not linked to Chianti at all. I’ve visited the zone, and I can tell you it’s a very different world from the zones of the Classico and the other Chiantis. It lies northeast of Florence, not really contiguous with any part of the Classico, and it has a totally different geology and therefore a distinctive wine terroir.
No cypresses and bay bushes here: It’s higher, hillier, wilder, more rugged, with pine trees and mountain laurel as its characteristic vegetation. It’s very easy to get lost here (I speak from experience) as what you thought was a highway dwindles to a road to a track to an end. There are castles here, to be sure – this is still Tuscany – but they look a lot more businesslike than any in the Classico, as if they might not too long ago have been working propositions. The whole feel of Rufina is of another age.
What Rufina does share with the Chiantis, and with most of the rest of Tuscany, is Sangiovese, but Rufina’s Sangiovese differs widely from the Tuscan norm. It has an underlying base of earth and clay that grounds the wine foursquare, so that, as beautifully soprano as the fruit may get in its best vintages, it never lacks a complementary bass to round it. In my mind, this is a great, great terroir whose potential has not yet been fully exploited, save by a few producers, most notably the Frescobaldi, whose Castello di Nippozano is probably their best wine, and Villa Selvapiana.
Villa Selvapiana is an ancient property that has been in the hands of the Giuntini family since 1827. There are 58 hectares of vines, and many more of carefully tended olive trees, as well as a large tract of forest. The cru riserva Bucerchiale was born in 1979, under the watchful eye of consulting enologist Franco Bernabei, then a young man and now one of Tuscany’s pre-eminent consulting enologists, who still oversees the production of Villa Selvapiana’s wines.
I’ve visited Selvapiana a few times, and Bernabei has given me several verticals of Bucerchiale, so I can honestly say I know this wine well. It has vintage variations, to be sure – some years are lighter, some heavier, some with bigger fruit, others more earthy – but part of the greatness of Bucerchiale is its consistency, its recognizability from year to year, even as it ages and evolves. It starts out drinkable and just gets better and better, more and more interesting. I truly think it one of Italy’s finest red wines. I know I’m heaping on a lot of praise here, but for all the years I’ve loved this wine, to me it feels as if I am finally paying a debt I’ve owed for a long, long time.
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Now for something completely different. I’ve been essentially out of commission for most of December and January because of a hip replacement that ran into some nasty complications, requiring a second surgery, hospital time, and a battery of painkillers and antibiotics that I seriously think could paralyze an ox. (Perhaps I flatter myself.) Anyhow, I am only now slowly returning to normal human functioning, and for some time yet I’m not going to be up to attending the wine events where I make many of the new discoveries that I tell you about here. Consequently, there will be longer than usual intervals between new posts on this blog, and I may have to outright take a few weeks off for R&R. So bear with me please: I promise you my usual irascible self will be back as soon as possible.