Monday, May 04, 2009

Badia A Coltibuono Opens a Window Onto The Past, and Judy Writes a Book: Being the 161st issue of Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Greetings! To begin, I haven't done much on the Italian Wine Review and apologize. On the other hand, I've been putting together a fruit and vegetables gallery on About Italian food, which has a ways to go, but is shaping up nicely.

Badia A Coltibuono: Older Vintages, Or, A Rare View Into The Past

Badia A Coltibuono is one of the older estates in Chianti Classico, and was one of the first to bottle wines -- they still have a very few bottles from the 40s (the occupying Germans drank everything pre-1945), and also bottles from the 50s and 60s. A few years ago I was fortunate enough to be invited to a tasting at the Badia that began with the 1946 vintage, so when Emanuela Stucchi Prinetti told me she'd be pouring a number of older vintages this year at Vinitaly, I made plans to attend.

This time she was pouring the 1965, 1970, 1979 and 1995 Chianti Classico Riservas, and before we get to them some background is in order. Like most Tuscan estates, until well after WWII Badia a Coltibuono was farmed through mezzadria, a share cropping system in which the land of the estate was divided into farms, or poderi, each consisting of farm houses and the necessary other buildings (haybarns, stables and such), fields, and vineyards. The poderi were worked by one or more families, and were pretty much self sufficient, producing everything the residents needed to live. But not money, and therefore the mezzadri paid Emanuela's family in kind, with a share of the crops.

This share included wine: The residents of each podere harvested the vineyards they tended, and made the wine in the podere's cellar, under the supervision of someone from the Badia. With the fermentation complete, the Stucchi Prinetti family's share was transferred to the cellars of the Badia, where it went into huge, ancient (centuries old) chestnut casks. And there it stayed: though the family did bottle some Chianti Classico Riserva each year (they didn't begin to bottle Chianti D'Annata until the 1970s), when Maurizio Castelli joined the staff as Badia a Coltibuono's enologist in 1980, he found cask after chestnut cask full of old wine. Good old wine, because the cool dampness of the cellar was such that the wood was in perfect condition, but he had been hired to help modernize the Badia's winemaking, and one of the first orders of business was to replace the old chestnut barrels with oak, which yields wines that are much more approachable. So all of the old vintages were bottled in 1981, and a significant percentage of the bottles went into Badia a Coltibuono's vintage archive.

And now they offer a fascinating look into the past. Everything was different then. Though Sangiovese was the primary varietal, the old wines also contain the white grapes that no longer go into Chianti. Rather than await polyphenolic ripeness (which helps insure concentration), people harvested when sugar concentrations reached a certain level, or -- if they didn't have the tool for measuring grape sweetness -- when the grapes seemed sweet enough to yield about 12% alcohol. There was no destemming and therefore everything went into the fermentation tanks -- seeds, skins, stems (with their vibrantly green tannins) and all. There was no temperature control, and fermentation was empiric. And finally, the wine, which was quite acidic by modern standards, went into chestnut, which -- though the wood was old and therefore didn't contribute much -- yields tannins that have a different, more vegetal feel to them than do the sweet tannins released by oak.

In short, trying to compare the wines made then with those made more recently is rather like trying to compare a one of those beautiful single-cylinder tractors from the 1930s with a modern high-tech tractor with air conditioned cab and living room-worthy stereo system. Yes, they both have four wheels, but... Looking at them for what they are is instead fascinating. So here we go:

Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 1965
Dealicate leathery almandine ruby with almandine rim paling to brown. Deft bouquet with delicate leaf tobacco and saddle leather mingled with some underbrush as well, and warm acidity. Mature but very much alive. On the palate it's full, with fairly rich sour red berry fruit supported by warm berry fruit acidity and by tannins that combine a deft burr with surprising silkiness and flow into a clean tart savory finish. Graceful, displaying considerable depth and great beauty; it's a wine for wine lovers that will also open the eyes of those who think Chianti inferior to other Tuscan wines -- an emotional experience.

Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 1970
Garnet ruby with leathery accents and garnet rim. Slightly more orange than the 65. The bouquet is fairly intense, with Moroccan leather and leaf tobacco supported by savory notes and some underbrush. Pleasant though not as rich as the 65. On the palate it's full, with minerality and tart sour berry fruit supported by considerable warmth that flows into a clean, long warm finish. Very fine, and has a lot to say; it isn't quite as deft as the 65, and this is an effect of vintage variation.

Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 1979
Tawny brownish almandine with almandine rim. The bouquet is quite tertiary, with bitter green leather and leaf tobacco that bring to mind old leather book bindings, together with tart chestnut leaves and wet underbrush. On the palate it's ample, and warm, with moderately intense warm sour cherry fruit supported by rather tart graceful acidity and by smooth tannins that flow into a tart leathery finish. Of the three older wines it's the weakest, but does display a pleasing lacy grace, and is a wine that still has quite a bit to say.
2 stars

Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 1995
A huge jump: Just Sangiovese, temperature regulation in the fermentation, and oak rather than chestnut in the cellars. The wine is deep garnet ruby with brown reflections and almandine rim; the color is deeper and more ruby/less garnet than that of the older wines, an this is an effect of oak as opposed to chestnut. The bouquet is delicate, with green leather and leaf tobacco supported by spice and deft dried apricot acidity, also pleasing savory accents, and it develops nicely in the glass, opening beautifully. On the palate it's full and rich, with cherry fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins and delicate lacy acidity that flows into a clean tart finish. The wine is quite different from the older wines: they display a greenish chestnuty imprint and the tannins are more biting, thanks to the stems; whereas here the tannic matrix is sweeter -- a mixture of grape and oak, and this translates into a more delicate wine. The older wines are brisker, and owe their long life both to acidity and to the tannic structure; the 95 (and other vintages made this way) will not be like the 65 when they reach its age. This said, even though 1995 was not the best of vintages, the wine has held up quite nicely.

Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 2005
Lively cherry ruby with cherry rim. The bouquet is deft, with cherry fruit supported by clean vegetal accents and spice, Nice balance, and pleasant to sniff. On the palate it's full, rich, and graceful, with pleasant tart berry fruit supported by clean fresh slightly splintery tannins that flow into a clean finish with some savory minerality. It is a slightly greener, cool weather wine -- the 2005 summer was wet and cold, after all -- but is a very pleasant food wine that will go nicely with succulent red meats of the grill or out of the oven, and will also age nicely for 8-10 years.
2 stars

A barrel sample of the 2006 Chianti Classico Riserva promises very well.

This takes care of the Chianti Classico Riserva Vertical, which was beautiful. Emanuela had another vertical as well, of Sangioveto, a barrique aged 100% Sangiovese they introduced in 1980, calling it Sangioveto to increase worldwide awareness of the Sangiovese grape, which was then relatively unknown. At the time Chianti Classico required the addition of white grapes, so they labeled it as a Vino da Tavola, or table wine (where it joined the ranks of other now classic Tuscan wines including Tignanello and Le Pergole Torte). With the changes that have taken place in the regulations governing Chianti production, Sangioveto could now qualify as Chianti Classico, if it weren't for the name -- the regulations prohibit the use of grape names. So Sangioveto is an IGT Toscana. To keep this from going too far into wine, I am posting the Sangioveto vertical and my notes for the other older vintages of Chianti Classico (1946, 1959, 1962, 1966, 1968, 1971, 1976, 1977, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1993) on the Italian Wine Review.

Secrets From My Tuscan Kitchen
And now, moving in a Very Different Direction: I have known Judy Witts Francini online since the early 1990s, and though we have written back and forth and live not far from each other, we had never chanced to meet. Until last weekend, when she presented her new cookbook, Secrets from My Tuscan Kitchen, up at Dario Cecchini's butcher shop in Panzano.

It's beautifully put together, with a pretty cover drawing and a nice subtitle -- Divina Cucina's Recipes -- a reference to her cooking school -- and the Tuscan Husband Seal of Approval, to say her husband Andrea has tried and approved of everything in the book. And, inside, there's a nice custom font that looks hand-written. Of course aesthetics will only take one so far with a cookbook; what counts is the recipes, and Judy doesn't let us down:

She begins with a section on organizing a Tuscan pantry, with the ingredients one should have handy (dried beans, dried mushrooms, canned tomatoes and so on), continues with notes on the organization of the day -- breakfast, snack times and meal times -- and continues with about a hundred recipes, beginning with antipasti and continuing with first courses, main courses, quite a few side dishes, desserts, and (finally) several bread recipes. The recipes are on the right-hand pages, while the left-hand pages are lined, for notes.

To give a better idea, here's:

Braciole alla Livornese, Twice-Cooked Beef
  • 4 thin beef slices, trimmed of any fat
  • 1-2 c flour
  • 1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt
  • 1 c breadcrumbs
  • Oil for frying

  • 1 garlic clove
  • extravirgin olive oil
  • 1 large can tomatoes
  • salt

Prepare the beef for frying:
Lightly flour, then pass in the beaten egg and dip in the breadcrumbs, pressing to be sure they stick well on both sides. You can do this twice if you like.
Refrigerate the beef.

Prepare the sauce:
Sauté the garlic and chili flakes in the olive oil.
When the garlic starts to get golden, remove the pan from the heat and add the canned tomatoes, crushing the tomatoes into small pieces.
Salt to taste. Let the sauce cook for 20 minutes.

Fry the beef slices in hot oil until golden.
Remove from the oil and let drain on a paper towel

Place the beef slices in a single layer in the tomato sauce and cook until tender, about 20 minutes.

In classic Italian style, Judy leaves the amount of chili flakes up to you -- if you're mildly tongued, like my daughter, you might omit them, whereas if you're asbestos-tongued, like a Livornese, you might want a teaspoon. The homey trattoria in Florence where I often enjoy this takes the middle route, and serves them up moderately spicy. They're perfect with a tossed salad and a glass of red wine, and the book is quite nice too; if you have a foodie friend it's the sort of thing you might want two of, one for you and one for the friend.

Practical Information:
Secrets from my Tuscan Kitchen
Judy Witts Francini, 2009
Nidiaci, San Gimignano
ISBN 0-9764066-1-6
For more about Judy, and to order the book, see

And for photos of the presentation (and Dario Cecchini's shop in Panzano) see James Martin's gallery, at

One recipe, and there will be more next time. This time's proverb is Tuscan: Se il prestar fosse buono, si prestarebbe anche la moglie - If lending were a good thing, one would even lend one's wife.

Until next time,

Kyle Phillips
Editor, The Italian Wine Review
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PS -- Please forward this to anyone you think would enjoy it! If you would like to read past issues (nothing in them really gets stale), you'll find recent ones at Cosa Bolle.Com,, and older ones at