North of Siena you find yourself amongst the wooded hills and steep valleys of the land that produces Chianti Classico. Chianti is produced over a large area of Tuscany but only here is the wine allowed to be called Classico and only here are the bottles permitted to be emblazoned with the famous black cockerel.
Close to the town of Panzano is the winery Casaloste (www.casaloste.com) where we were met by Cristina. The winery takes its name from a 13th century tower that was both a military installation and a customs post. The name Casaloste roughly translates as hostile house for obvious reasons.
Giovanni and Emilia d’Orsi bought this small vineyard around 30 years ago when the tower, surrounding buildings and land were almost derelict and it has been their lives’ work to restore the building and develop the vineyard so that now it is a little piece of Tuscan heaven.
They have 10 hectares of vines and produce around 50,000 bottles of wine annually. Their production is proudly certified as organic and has been since 1994. They mainly grow Sangiovese, the principal ingredient of Chianti, but there are also vines providing Ancellota, Cannaiolo and Merlot.
Their production is exclusively red and, in the main, Chianti Classico. They produce a range of four Classicos and we started our tasting with the standard 2016. It is a blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Merlot. The Merlot is harvested first and the Sangiovese, when its turn comes, is fermented over the Merlot skins. It is fermented in steel before spending 12 months in already aged oak barrels in order to allow the flavours of the grapes to come through. The colour is light, which is what you can expect from a Chianti. On the nose there are cherries with hints of raspberry, clementines and even rosemary – heady stuff. Light acidity and tannins make it a perfect match for Tuscan salami, medium pasta dishes and cheese that is still fresh.
The top of the range at Casaloste is called Don Vicenzo in honour not only of Giovanni’s father but also his eldest son. This is 100% Sangiovese from a single vineyard that faces southwest. It is aged in barrique of French oak for around 18 to 24 months, 12% of the wine going into new barrels and the remainder going into barrels which are a year old. After this initial period, it then spends a further 18 months in large traditional oak botte.
We were granted a special treat and allowed a horizontal tasting, i.e. the same wine but from different years, in this case 2015 and 2013. The 2015 has the distinctive Sangiovese colour, verging towards brick red and has yet to develop the orange tinge typical of an aged example. On the nose, it is rich and deep with cherry and vanilla and on the palate the tannins are soft but strong. By way of contrast, the 2013 has a bouquet of cherry with notes of chocolate and tobacco. In the 2013 wine, the vanilla has disappeared. The tannins have softened and the finish is long. All in all, a wonderful experience.
To finish we tried something a little different. Giovanni’s son Frederico was born with a rare genetic condition in that the organs of his body are all inverted. This causes no problems, thankfully, but to celebrate, Giovanni has produced a wine that has reversed his normal Chianti blend so it is 10% Sangiovese and 90% Merlot. He has called it Inversus and I approached it with some trepidation not knowing what to expect. It is, in fact, quite a surprise. The bouquet is very Merlot with soft blackberries but on the palate the surprise comes with the tannins from the Sangiovese.
Casaloste is in a fabulous setting with some great wines. They even have a couple of apartments to rent so if you want a slice of real Chianti country, give it a try.