Mazzei In Chianti Classico, A Family Winery With 600 Years Of History But Still Creative
The Mazzei family owns Castello di Fonterutoli in Chianti Classico since 1435. The same family has owned it for almost 600 years. You cannot help being impressed. We recently spoke with Giovanni Mazzei about their new wines and new vintages. Together we tasted Chianti Classico but also wines from Maremma, the Tuscany coastal region, and Sicily. Because, despite being the 25th generation, which I suppose can feel like a huge responsibility, the current family members are not afraid to produce new styles of wines.
Maybe their inspiration comes from Philip Mazzei, an illustrious member of the family, born in 1730. Philip met Thomas Jefferson in London. They discussed the art of making wine and became friends. In 1773, Philip went to Virginia to plant vines. He arrived there with vines, olive trees and farmers from Tuscany and founded an estate he called Colle, near Jefferson’s estate of Monticello.
Mazzei now produces a wine called “Philip” in his honour. With 100 % Cabernet Sauvignon the wine, says the family, “embodies the ‘New World’ spirit of Tuscan wine-making”.
The family’s oldest vineyards are located in the three neighbouring Chianti Classico villages of Castellina in Chianti, Castelnuovo Berardenga and Radda in Chianti.
Starting with the vintage 2017, the Mazzei family decided to make three different Chianti Classico Gran Selezione to show the specific characters from these three villages. The wines are 100% Sangiovese. The Gran Selezione category was introduced in 2014. The rules state that it must have at least 30 months of ageing and be made only from the estate’s own grapes.
Vicoregio 36, 2017, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, Mazzei
The grapes come from the village of Castelnuovo. This is the southernmost and warmest part of the family’s Chianti Classico vineyards. The number 36 in the name refers to the fact that this is a selection of 36 different clones of Sangiovese (this is a grape with an unusually large number of clones). They all ferment separately in small oak barrels. “We do 36 small micro-vinifications, a big job, but it’s worth it,” says Giovanni.
There’s a lot of texture in this wine, also elegance and deliciously fresh acidity. There are tannins as well, just the right amount. I feel soft vanilla aromas from the oak in the long and savoury finish. (~70 USD)
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Badiòla 2017, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, Mazzei
The grapes come from Radda in Chianti, and the vineyards have one of the highest altitudes in the Chianti Classico. The climate is cooler, and the harvest is later, usually around mid-October. “This is an extreme location”, says Giovanni. “The soil is rocky and very modest in nutrients.”
The wine is superb with lots of fruit and dark berries, some oak and fresh, high acidity. Actually, this lovely freshness is found in most of the Mazzei wines. (~70 USD)
Castello Fonterutoli 2017, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, Mazzei
The vineyards of Fonterutoli are located in Castellina in Chianti, not so far away from the beautiful town of Siena. Here the structure is dense, but the wine is still elegant and light in style. I like the refreshing fruit and the vibrant acidity. (~60 USD)
For more everyday pleasure, Mazzei also makes a “regular” Chianti Classico:
Fonterutoli 2018, Chianti Classico, Mazzei
“This is our signature, our DNA, the heart of Fonterutoli,” says Giovanni. “We blend grapes from eight different places, with different types of soil and altitude. We can choose the best blend and get good results every year, even the slightly more difficult years, which is one reason why it is so successful. The cool September in 2018 gave us elegant, silky tannins and an extra layer of floral aromas, lavender, roses…” (~19 USD)
Siepi 2018, Toscana IGP, Mazzei
Siepi is a vineyard in Castellina with a special microclimate with significant temperature differences between day and night during the summer. The grapes are 50% Merlot, 50% Sangiovese. ”We thought that Merlot could grow very well at Siepi”, says Giovanni. “This is the blend of my grandfather. There was a fight over percentages, but at the end of the day, they decided for equal proportions; the best decision, no grape is dominant.”
Siepi is a powerful wine but still elegant with a long, intense taste and a pleasant freshness. There are aromas of red berries such as cherries and strawberries from Sangiovese, but I also find dark fruit from the Merlot. (~80 USD)
Maremma by the Tuscan coast was relatively unknown before Sassicaia, and the other Super Tuscans became world-famous. In the 1990s, the Mazzei family bought Tenuta Belguardo in the southern part of the region. Bordeaux grapes thrive here, and that was a big attraction. “Bordeaux blends are some of the world’s great wines,” says Giovanni.
Tenuta Belguardo 2017, Maremma Toscana DOC, Mazzei
The grapes are 85% cabernet sauvignon and 15% cabernet franc. The wine is spicy, peppery with lots of dark berries. It has a dense structure, and it is full-bodied and complex. Long, savoury finish and well-integrated oak. (~45 USD)
Codice V 2019, Vermentino Maremma Toscana DOC, Mazzei
Codice V is one of the top Vermentino wines from Italy. It is an exciting skin macerated white wine. “Vermentino is a variety of the Mediterranean”, says Giovanni. “The clones we use are originally from Corsica.”
50 % of the grapes ferment with the skins and stay in contact with the skins for nine months, partly in amphora and partly in steel tanks. The wine has a massive structure and a lovely mouthfeel. It is full-bodied but at the same time crispy, fresh and very dry with lots of citrus fruits in the aromas, a delicious and exciting wine.
“We are on a mission to find a way to make Vermentino a great wine”, Giovanni tells us. “A great wine means structure to age, extra levels of complexity, bigger tasting profile. With skin maceration we get this, the amphoras give the right level of oxygen exchange, the extra complexity.” (~30 USD)
The Mazzei family has also found a suitable location outside of Tuscany. They often visited Sicily and, of course, got to know the wine producers there. Among them was the well-known Planeta, who encouraged them to start making Sicilian wine. “In 2004, we found Zisola,” says Giovanni, “in the southeastern part of the island, the origin of the Nero d’Avola grape, and a stone’s throw from the beautiful baroque city of Noto.”
Doppiozeta Zisola 2017, Noto Rosso DOC, Mazzei
Doppiozeta is Mazzei’s top wine from Sicily, made with Nero d’Avola. The nose is expressive with soft, warm and sweet fruit. Ripe fruit and oak aromas come together in the taste. Surprisingly fresh.
Giovanni points out that Sicily is not just Etna, and he is right. Etna gets all the attention, but Sicily has much more to offer. “The Noto area is equal to Etna,” he says. “We arrived in Sicily with the dream to make a great indigenous grape. We love the Nero d’Avola; it is soft and sweet and gentle but also elegant if treated well. It can give a great wine. (~40 USD)
The Mazzei family have no plans at the moment to invest in other regions. “But”, says Giovanni, “we have many plans for where we are at the moment; we can still make better wines.”
Published at Sun, 23 May 2021 16:54:03 +0000