Francesco Ricasoli interview, part two
Tommi | 17.3.2014 | 20:00

In the first part of the interview, Francesco Ricasoli (owner of the Barone Ricasoli estate in Chianti Classico) spoke about his background, how he purchased the old family winery back with his sisters in 1993, and how far the estate has come since. In this second part, the friendly baron discusses his wines, the new Gran Selezione denomination and the importance of terroir as well as serves a welcome reminder of the sometimes limited perspective of wine “experts”.

I have also included my brief notes on the Ricasoli wines that were on offer at the tasting arranged some months ago at Restaurant Nokka in Helsinki. Enjoy!

Fancy a tour of the Brolio castle? (photo: Barone Ricasoli)

Q: Let’s finally talk about the wines. Is there a recognizable house style you are seeking to promote or is it more about the appellation?

A: When we are talking about this topic, we are naturally talking mostly about Sangiovese [i.e. the traditional main grape in the Chianti region]. The appellation as such does not really give you a strong identity to track. Therefore we are following our own style, while there is of course a link between some of the Sangioveses as this grape shows different characteristics in different parts of Chianti Classico. Definitely, we are looking more into the kind of Sangiovese that delivers pleasure, length and elegance more than a huge body and structure. The texture and intensity are important, but only when combined with elegance, length and balance. For me this is key. And in the end, it’s of course about the pleasure of drinking wine instead of just tasting it.

Regarding balance, we are now facing the problem of having too much alcohol in the wines. How we can balance this is an interesting question. Considering that most of our vineyards are still quite young I think that each year we will get more and more satisfaction out of them.

Q: How are you tackling climate change – which is also related to alcohol levels?

A: I don’t really know because the changes we have made have a much bigger effect than climate change. Better handling of the clones, higher density of the vines, lower yields, more careful vinification… How much do they contribute to the characteristics of the wines – such as alcohol levels – and what is the effect of climate change? It’s very difficult to say. In vintages such as this one [i.e. the somewhat challenging 2013] – because it’s almost like the old times – we’ll have to wait and see even though we now have all those things I mentioned working for us.

Q: Would you describe your wines as traditionalist or modern, or something in between?

A: Depends on what you mean by traditional.

Q: Let’s say we are comparing to the Chianti style of the 1970’s or 1980’s. The new technology makes it possible to manipulate the wine more by enhancing extraction, softening it already before it reaches the bottle and so on…

A: Then I’ll definitely say our wines are modern. Everything has changed and the wines have a different character. However, the link with the past is Sangiovese. Maybe we make the wines in a different way now, but still they’re Sangiovese. And most importantly: it’s Sangiovese you cannot replicate elsewhere.

The wines of today must be technically well-made because the consumer nowadays has hundreds or even thousands of wine regions to choose from. It’s really a matter of style. Some are fond of Malbec – nothing wrong with that – and others love the spiciness and acidity of Sangiovese and the new Chianti style. But in the end, my competitor is really not Chilean or Californian or French – it’s my neighbour, my friend next door. A consumer chooses our [Chianti Classico] wine because he or she wants that kind of specific taste. A Sangiovese produced anywhere else in the world has a different taste. Good or bad, but different.

Q: This touches upon a very good point you made during the tasting and it’s also something many people – including myself – have not really thought about in depth. If you have a typical Tuscan blend in front of you, with the Merlot and the Cabernet Sauvignon blended with Sangiovese, the straightforward assumption is often that these other varieties should contribute to the blend some of that typical, fruit-forward and powerful New World style. But, instead they are really Tuscan Merlot and Tuscan Cabernet.

A: Yes, and this is key! Even the so called wine experts and writers don’t understand – or don’t want to understand – this concept. Presumably they have been tasting mostly varietal wines and not enough terroir wines.

I really invite you to taste our Casalferro because it’s a real cru. A 100% Merlot, but a Merlot that has been turned completely upside down and one you would never believe to be 100% Merlot. It’s a Tuscan Merlot and has some of the basic characteristics of the variety but at the same time a lot of freshness and acidity that typically don’t belong to Merlot. But they belong to our soil and culture – and Sangiovese. I warmly recommend this wine – the 2010 is fantastic and you will probably be surprised by the strength of the terroir in this wine. I mean, I could blend this with our Sangiovese and it probably wouldn’t distract the harmony, but if you’d get a typical varietal Merlot from Alko it would totally kill the balance. Blending is not a matter of percentages, but of what you are blending.

[Casalferro is currently not distributed in Finland, but is available e.g. in some of the online wine stores focused on Italian wine]

Q: This is certainly a revelation to many people as it’s not the way most are used to thinking about blending.

A: The rule of the Consorzio is that Chianti Classico can only be made with a minimum of 80% of Sangiovese [and up to 100%] and a maximum of 20% of certain other varieties. It is a completely wrong way to rule Chianti Classico!

It’s not a chemical process where you add percentages together. You should put the rules into the vineyards and not into the wine – rule where the vineyards can and should be. There are of course soils that are not well adapted to Sangiovese and so in that sense it’s already too late, but if you’d really want to take things seriously you’d first need to define the ideal soil for Chianti Classico and then say: ok – you must have 80% of Sangiovese and 20% of other varieties in your vineyard, but if you’re not happy with your Sangiovese in a given year you could then produce a Chianti Classico with 50% Merlot. But only if your vineyard is in the right spot. It is of course a completely different philosophy, but it really makes a difference.  In my opinion, forcing percentages in wine is not right.

Q: So how do you feel about the new DOCG Chianti Classico Gran Selezione appellation?

[Gran Selezione is a new denomination “above” the Chianti Classic Riserva, required to be made exclusively from a winery’s own grapes grown in its finest vineyards according to strict regulations. In addition to having the chemical and organoleptic characteristics of premium quality wines, Gran Selezione can be marketed only after a minimum 30-month maturation and an obligatory period of bottle refinement.]

A: I am in the board of the consortium so I’m also responsible for the Gran Selezione. I am in favour of it because in the quality pyramid you have the Chianti Classico, the Chianti Classico Riserva, and now also the Gran Selezione. This gives a new box in which to put the highest quality made within our appellation – a good idea because here you can also put many of those IGT wines that are currently “Super Tuscans” but can now return to the Chianti Classico appellation. Chianti Classico is too often perceived as a flat commodity whereas the Super Tuscans / IGT wines are the most highly regarded, and that is of course bad for the appellation. But, time will tell.

Q: I guess it’s up to the market to decide.

A: Yes, the market and the producers. On paper it looks good but there has been a lot of shooting against this idea. I don’t understand it because it can only benefit us. We are not downgrading anything, we are upgrading. Beautiful wines are being made in this appellation, better than the ones in Montalcino – really elegant, beautiful wines. We started badly because the communication was not done too well.

Our Castello di Brolio can in theory be a Gran Selezione [and is, now that the appellation has been officially launched]. But in the end, we are not producing varietal nor appellation wines. We are producing terroir wines. When you are talking about the grand crus of the most famous wine regions, most of the consumers don’t even know where the appellation is located. Instead they know the name of the chateau. So whatever the appellation rules are – ok – but we are working hard to deliver the best possible expression of the terroir.

Francesco getting his hands (not to mention a pair of white trousers) dirty. (photo: Barone Ricasoli)

Q: One final question on your wines: What is your single favourite Ricasoli wine?

A: I really cannot say as it depends on the mood.

Q: And how about the estate – visits, contacts… I’ve understood you get quite a lot of visitors.

A: Yes, and we have a lot of information on the website. We also have a popular restaurant but no accommodation which is abundant in the surrounding area: Siena, Florence, Chianti… plenty of choices from Relais Chateaux to simple B&B. We have a museum, different tastings and different tours so you can easily stay in Brolio for a whole day.

Q: Sounds good! Many thanks for the interview.

A: Same to you and my best regards to all Finnish wine lovers.


Among the wines I got to taste were the following examples of Ricasoli’s production.

Albia Rosé 2012 (see here, IGT Toscana, available in Alko’s order selection)

Delicate pink in colour, but rather rich and (to my personal taste) somewhat high in alcohol (13.5 vol-%). Sangiovese.

Torricella 2012 (see here, white, IGT Toscana)

Well executed Chardonnay-Sauvignon Blanc blend. Mineral, fresh, seems to even contain some tannin. Will certainly age well. The 13.5 vol-%  alcohol is well balanced in this one.

Chianti 2012 (see here)

Recognisable Chianti aromas of cherry, light dustiness, youthful tannins and nice acidity. Somewhere between the ultra-modern and more traditional styles with a hint of spiciness to top it all up.

Brolio Chianti Classico 2011 (see here, the 2010 available in Alko)

Compared to the basic Chianti shows some classy oak on the nose. Also slightly darker and much more versatile in character. Requires more time and a lot of the underlying potential is lost when drunk this young. Will shine in 5+ years. Delicious stuff and good value for money.

Rocca Guicciardia Chianti Classico Riserva 2010 (see here)

The additional ageing required by the Riserva denomination does not come through on the nose. Certainly rather good but, as is often the case within the Riserva category, the value-added provided by the higher price compared to the Brolio Chianti Classico is not too apparent to me.

Castello di Brolio 2008 (see here, Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione, the 2010 is available in Alko’s order selection)

Still quite closed on the nose, but surprisingly easy on the palate. New vines have produced this fruity wine that does not exhibit the typical sensation of dust. Somehow resembles certain high-quality Aussie or Californian Cabernets that are made in a more elegant style (yes, they do exist – although often at 100 euros per bottle).

Castello di Brolio 2003 (see here)

A vintage produced by a superhot summer. Heavier, darker, even a bit volcanic in character. Somewhat stingy on the palate, perhaps due to the higher alcohol content. However, not overripe and can take on several more years of bottle age. A bit shorter than the 2008.

Castello di Brolio 2001 (see here)

Both new and old vines, cement vats used. Already nicely orange-tinted on the rim and emitting delicious tertiary aromas. Has an amazing structure more than a decade from bottling and will age graciously for another. My favourite of the three Castello di Brolios.

Granello 2011 (see here, sweet, IGT Toscana)

Made with the traditional passito method from grapes that have been dried for one month to concentrate the aromas and increase the sugar content. Mainly Sauvignon Blanc but the blend contains also small quantities of Chardonnay, Traminer, Riesling… No oak, no botrytis. Very fresh and acidic with straightforward fruit. Tasty.

Castello di Brolio Vin Santo (Chianti Classico) 2005 (see here)

Trademark amber in colour. High in viscosity with heavy legs. The saliva-inducing aroma cloud exhibits nuts, dried fruit and slight oxidation. On the palate the sugar and high alcohol is nicely balanced by sufficient acidity. The somewhat drier style compared to many of its peers enables Ricasoli’s Vin Santo to better display its underlying personality.


So there you go. Many thanks to importer Vinetum for arranging the tasting and the interview.

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