I first tasted the wines of Tenuta di Valgiano in March 2006, at the third “Return to Terroir” event in New York. I returned to that city at the end of February this year for the latest manifestation of that gathering of biodynamic wineries and tried the wines again. Happily, I see no reason to reject my initial notes, which followed the lines of “wonderful … fabulous… great character & tone & balance … vibrant … resonant…”
The estate, distinguished by a handsome 16th Century house, lies about 10 kilometers northeast of Lucca, in one of Tuscany’s neglected vineyard regions. Most people, that is, wine consumers, know about Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino and perhaps Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, but fewer realize that wine is also made around the ancient towns of Siena and Pisa and Lucca. Tenuta di Valgiano is owned by husband-and-wife Moreno Petrini and Laura di Collobiano; she seems to be the face of the winery, traveling, officiating at tastings, giving interviews.
Tenuta di Valgiano has been run on biodynamic principles since 2002. In an interview with earthwine in April, Laura di Collobiano listed the methods utilized in the estate’s vineyards: sowing of various herbs and green manure, clay, copper and sulfur treatments, biological action against parasites, and careful management of the leaf canopy – hence yield, quality, health of the vines, and aromatic characteristics of the wine have improved. I find this recitation fascinating, because the practices di Collobiano mentions are, it seems to be, only common sense when farmers, vineyard managers and winemakers approach their jobs in truly thoughtful fashion. Of course one would want to exercise “careful management of the leaf canopy;” that has nothing to do with the philosophy of biodynamic farming.
“Green manure” is not the fresh poop of young cows; the term refers to the use of cover crops sown between rows of vines to retain nitrogen in the soil or to suppress weeds. Among the first group are cowpeas, soybeans, sweet clover and vetch; among the latter are such non-leguminous plants as millet, sorghum and buckwheat. I have trod the earth of many vineyards around the world that employ “green manure” techniques — the rows also look very pretty — and most of them did not operate by the methods of biodynamism but under the assumption that cover cropping made sense economically and agriculturally.
“Biological action against parasites” generally means using good insects to fight bad insects — sort of like good cholesterol and bad cholesterol — the approved predators including dragonflies and damselflies, mantids, lacewings, beetles and some species of wasps and ants. Again, many practitioners of sustainable or organic farming employ the techniques of “biological control”; they are not limited to biodynamic followers.
So while Petrini and di Collobiano subscribe, according to their statements, to the principles, the philosophy and the practices of the biodynamic movement, it sounds to me more as if their procedures embody a sensitive deployment of discrimination, deliberation and common sense as applied to the health of the vines and the well-being of the soil.
The property produces four wines, a bianco and rosso Palistorti di Valgiano; the single-vineyard Scasso dei Cesari, 100 percent sangiovese; and the simply named but powerfully framed Teunta di Valgiano, a blend of sangiovese, merlot and syrah.
Imported by several small companies. Cropped image of Laura di Collobiano from bbrblog.com.
The winsome and terrifically appealing Palistorti di Valgiano 2010, Colline Lucchesi Bianco, is a blend of 50 percent vermentino grapes, 25 percent trebbiano and malvasia and 25 percent chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. It’s fresh and clean and bright, an amalgam of almond and almond blossom, roasted lemon and lemon balm with a touch of lime peel; there’s a hint of hay, and a touch of the sea about it in an intriguing whiff of sea-salt and salt-marsh. Spare and elegant, permeated by flint and limestone-like minerality, Palistorti Bianco 2010 still yields a gorgeous, almost golden texture as it unfurls aspects of dried spice and flowers, citrus and stone-fruit flavors and frisky acidity. Now through the end of 2012 or into 2013, with grilled fish or shellfish or marine-based pastas and risottos. Excellent. About $17 to $22.
The blend of the Palistorti di Valgiano 2009, Colline Lucchesi Rosso, is 70 percent sangiovese, 20 percent merlot and 10 percent syrah. The wine is clean, fresh and very spicy, deeply imbued with scents and flavors of ripe black and red currants, blueberries and plums permeated by elements of briers and brambles and undertones of dried fruit and flowers, orange zest and black tea. Moderately dense but well-behaved tannins, vibrant acidity and a touch of mossy earth and granite-like minerality support juicy but not lush or blatant fruit, all this devolving to a mineral-packed and slightly austere finish. This calls for burgers, red-sauce pasta, barbecue brisket or a steak. 14 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $17 to $22.
The flagship Tenuta di Valgiano 2008, Colline Lucchesi, is a serious wine with a structure that’s almost brooding in its intensity and concentration, yet it comports itself with finely honed dignity and a sense of resilience and expansiveness; in other words, great character, tone and presence in a wine that will begin to unfurl from about 2014 onward. It’s a blend of 60 percent sangiovese grapes and 20 percent each merlot and syrah that even in this state of youthful power and darkness manages to feel elegant in its balance and dimension. It’s not easy to spend time with a wine at a trade event, but I happened to take my meager glass of Tenuta di Valgiano 2008 to a fairly secluded corner and swirl, sniff and sip for a few minutes. Even that brief acquaintance allowed the wine to bloom a bit, so while the color of course remained deep kingly ruby-purple, my nose detected beguiling elements of lavender and violets, dusty graphite, a hint of iron and iodine and, almost more implied than in evidence, spiced and macerated black and red currants, plums and mulberries. Enormous potential, but the patient will give it two or three to five years. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $55 to $60.
Image, much cropped, from magnusericsson.wordpress.com.