The Grand Tour rolls on: tales of Tuscany through the eyes of Berrys’ team…


Following a three day training visit to Maremma/Bolgheri, Chianti Classico & Montalcino last week, below are their unedited impressions…

Adrian Lancer (aka ‘Rocky’)

‘Overall, I was very impressed with the quality of the wines in the region. The prices compare favourably with wines from other areas of the Old World – it’s getting increasingly difficult to find wines from areas such as Bordeaux or Burgundy with the complexity of Rosso di Montalcino at the same price, with Brunelli for those special occasions priced at less than most classed growths from Bordeaux and Chiantis for the more everyday choice – our own Berry’s Chianti at little over a tenner truly is a bargain.’

Laura Atkinson, Private Account Manager

‘Tuscany offers such variety of styles and quality levels yet successfully remains true to traditional Italian values. Tuscan wines, as with many other areas throughout Italy, seem to show a crystal clear expression of soil, vine and grape. All of the wineries we visited (some more than others) had such strong personalities and represented the home turf truthfully whilst successfully retaining that Tuscan charm.

For customers who like Chianti, we can always find a style and price point to suit their tastes. I think Badia a Coltibuono in particular has such potential for increasing interest in the Chianti region. We can introduce the drinker to our house example and mature through their other offerings and indeed introduce them to new producers. Tuscany and perhaps in particular Montalcino can provide a transparent ladder of quality so customers can see their tastes develop and progress. Montalcino can also offer a broad selection of prices to suit many customers. Rosso to Brunello etc.’

Fergus Stewart, Private Account Manager

‘My overwhelming impression of the trip was the quiet confidence in which the winemakers go about making excellent wines that mostly express their sense of place. I was espcially taken by the neo-classical/contempory style of wines from producers like Badia a Coltibuono, Stella and Lisini. The 2007 vintage also impressed in the main, with a reshing purity and one I feel we can introduce customers to to give them an impression of what Tuscany is all about. There is defintely value to be found at all price points, from the likes of Bibbiano upwards and the wines would certainly appeal to many of our drinking customers.’

Catherine Owen, sales at No.3 St. James’s Street

‘There are serious producers of traditional Chianti Classico keeping the ‘brand’ going, growing and benefiting from current know-how and investment (Badia, Ama) and the same is true in Montalcino (Lisini, San Giuseppe, Cerbaiona); there is no reason to fear that these styles are doomed.  There are some producers in each denominazione who are trying to maintain traditional styles in the face of (1) pressure to use non-indigenous varieties in the blend to deal with vintage variation (2) higher natural alcohol levels. Non-indigenous varieties planted as part of the 90s fashion trend are being put into IGT wines leaving the trad wines trad, and various vineyard management techniques are being used to tackle ABV (pruning, planting density, yield).  The use of non-indigenous grapes in Tuscany is not necessarily a travesty as some snobs and purists (= me, before the trip) would have it. Both Colline Lucchese and Bolgheri regions have ‘legitimate’ reasons for using other varieties (history in the former case, terroir/climate in the latter), which are not to be scorned. I now understand that Bordeaux varieties are no more out of place in Tuscany than they are in California or Western Australia, and I can explain why – a big step forward, and worth the trip for that insight alone.  A small set of the wines we stock (e.g. Cerbaiona) are sufficiently ‘new world’ in style to serve more easily as substitutes Californian or modern European choices than they will for traditional Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone or Rioja or indeed other wines from Tuscany.  Sangiovese is very sensitive to soil and microclimate, producing a wide range of styles in the vineyard not to mention the winery and thereby creating  Burgundy-style scope for expert knowledge and influence (unlike Bordeaux where most information required to make choices is readily available).’

Charlie Bennett, E Commerce

‘I really enjoyed the Valgiano reds and they had a beautiful purity and freshness to them. They’re not the most complex wines but they have character, definition and interest! From a value perspective the Palistorti appealed. Not so sure about the bianco as at that price point it’s competing with village Puligny and Meursault and premier cru Chablis… Caiarossa was interesting and there is  a definite upward curve in quality from the 04 through to 05, 06,07 –  At £279 per cs there is value here to consumers even though our margin is small! Badia impressed and the BOS Chianti is streets ahead of its predecesor. Liked all the wines and would happily recommend – from a quality and value viewpoint the 07 Classico Riserva at £180 really impressed and I preferred this to the Ama Classico at £216.

The Montalcino was fascinating and complex and I found it difficult to nail down a single style and expression of Brunello as it all depends on the growers’s vineyard sites and the respective soils and microclimates. Quite a tricky one to convey to customers. Lisini and Cerbaiona impressed – loved Stella’s (San Giuseppe) 06 Brunello and 08 and 09 Rosso but was perplexed by the seemingly very light 07.

So overall very impressed with quality – the US export market was the constant theme running through the region and is seemingly the main driver in terms of style and points etc. (Ama Casuccia and Bellavista being examples although they were beautifully made and not over extracted or over-oaked).’

Martyn Rolph, Private Account Manager

‘In general I was very impressed by the quality of the wines and the variety of styles. Traditionally, the Sangiovese grape is king, but it takes on such different charcateristics depending upon the vineyard site, soil and its handling.

In my mind, the wines of Montalcino are the ultimate expression of Sangiovese. Fuller and fleshier than their counterparts in Chianti, they also have more tannic structure. Although on the whole they are less perfumed than Chianti the best wines still exhibit a lovely freshness and purity which I particularly enjoy.

Many wines stood out, but in terms of quality versus value I thought the wines of Carlo Lisini were hard to beat. A winery with a traditional feel, the 2006 is dark and brooding with generous, textured fruit. It has a lovely black liquorice character and will be drinking beautifully in 4-5 years time.’

Fairly conclusive I reckon!

Next week I will reporting on how our ‘Be a Berrys’ Wine Buyer’ winner Peter Turner got on during his three day stay in Piedmont.