Saturday, May 09, 2009


Last week I had the privilege of sitting down for lunch with Andrea Cecchi, fourth generation family winemaker for Cecchi Family Estates. Andrea, who shares management responsibilities with his brother Cesare, is driven by tradition and the pursuit of excellence.

For more than 100 years, Chianti Classico wine has been at the heart and soul of Cecchi. Cecchi has four estates located in the Italian winemaking zones of Chianti Classico, San Gimignano, the Maremma, and Umbria, but the Sangiovese grape is clearly the cornerstone of his heritage.

Not too long ago when people thought of Sangiovese, they thought of stereotypical wicker basket Chianti. Today, those images are a thing of the past and may not even register in the minds of the new, young wine generation.

Andrea Cecchi has a great understanding of the constantly changing wine demands of consumers. As we tasted countless bottles over lunch, the one thing that he seemed to be most concerned about was how he could make each one of them better. "The future should not be a repetition of the past, but an improvement over it," says Cecchi.

We started out with two signature white wines, the first being the 2008 CASTELLO MONTAUTO VERNACCIA DI SAN GIMIGNONO from Tuscany. Made from 90% Vernaccia di San Gimignano and 10% complimentary white grapes, the wine was straw-colored with floral aromas. Pear flavors were backed by good minerality and acidity with subtle hints of oak. The use of stainless steel and the allowance of only 30% of the wine in oak, helped keep the wine crisp and fresh allowing the fruit to trump oak. With a suggested retail price of $15, this is an 87 point effort and a unique white to experience. The alcohol content is 13%.

The 2008 LITORALE VERMENTINO was the second white wine poured. Made from 85% Vermentino and the rest complimentary white grapes, the wine was light gold in color with an intense floral and tropical fruit bouquet that reminded me of Torrontes. Crisp and fresh with minerality and a little more of a dynamic style than the Montauto, I found this to be an 87+ point wine. Both whites seemed to yearn for food where their acidity would allow them to show their best stuff.

As we moved on to red wines, I asked Andrea what made him become a winemaker. Although wine was the family business, his father never pushed him to follow in his footsteps. One of his earliest and most impressionable memories as child on the Cecchi estate was the smell of the fermenting grapes. That unmistakable signature aroma that never left him is perhaps what gave birth to his passion. As he did when he was a boy, he lets his children today take part in the grape crushing, and so the family tradition continues.

We tasted a few signature Sangiovese based wines like the VAL DELLE ROSE and the BONIZIO and even a terrific 2004 TENUTA ALZATURA SAGRANTINO DI MONTELFALCO which exhibited wonderful tannins underscored by black fruit, leather and spice.

Perhaps the two most interesting wines were the 2005 RISERVA DI FAMIGLIA CHIANTI CLASSICO and the 2007 NATIO CHIANTI. The Riserva di Famiglia is relatively new to the US marketplace. Made from 90% Sangiovese and 10% Colorino, the wine has aromas of violets, black fruit and spice with a more modern expression of earth and ripe cherry fruit on the palate. It retails at around $28 a bottle and has an alcohol content of 13.5%.

The 2007 Natio Chianti is Cecchi's new organic, vegan friendly (no animal products are used in production) wine. Natio, Italian for "native," is produced from organically grown, indigenous grapes and made from 90% Sangiovese and 10% Colorino as well. Robust with black fruits on the nose, good acidity and smooth tannins, this terroir-driven offering retails for around $13 a bottle. The alcohol content is around 13%, and it is also a new US debut.

Chianti remains one of the great value opportunities in wine during this tough economy. The quality, low alcohol and ability to compliment food extremely well makes them terrific buys.

As lunch came to an end, Andrea Cecchi said that his vision is to continue to expand upon the history that is already such an intrinsic part of his business. While other winemakers are chasing what's popular or creating over-the-top high alcohol reds, Cecchi continues to put his faith in his terrior. He believes one of the keys to great wine is to "control production" and to refine traditional techniques. That is his way of constantly responding to the ever changing wine world. He recognizes that his Chianti wines could be improved by longer finishes and believes he can make them even more accessible and easier to drink. Ultimately, he strives to capture the purity and essence of the vineyard so that it can be passed into the bottle and directly on to the consumer with as little manipulation as possible.


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