Thursday, 31 December 2009
Let your mind wander, journeying amongst undulating hills, where dust speckled canopies of leaves shade you from the raw heat of Tuscan sun; flashes of sunlight then shade. Dry clay tracks lead the car between the columns of vines and hares scamper and scramble around to get away from the noise of the car. San Gimignano sits behind like a backdrop to this summer dreamscape, unchanged since medieval times (ok that is a bit of an exaggeration. They had more towers then. A LOT more towers). Tuscany, the birth place of the renaissance, and the setting of Azienda Panizzi (www.panizzi.it ), the home of award winning Vernaccia, for which the area is famous, and more or less the experience I had when I went to visit there doing a solo ‘tour’ in 2008.
However, it is now winter in Bath and the summer warmth has long died down, replaced by the more intense heat of log fires in the drawing room. And my Panizzi wine is a rich ruby San Gimignano Cabernet Sauvignon “Rubente” (14%) 2005 (a Latin based word for coloured or tinged with red. In other words, it does what it says on the tin!) one of twelve varieties that Giovanni Panizzi has in his portfolio (including a medieval style Vernaccio called Evoè, which smells as potent as a red but has a full and unctuous flavour).
This red is rich and plumy to look at, although it is starting to move from its ruby description towards a garnet hue. And whilst there is little rim, even swilling leaves a tide of red clinging to the glass.
So, I swill, and try to wake up the wine from its cold, hibernating state, drawing out some of the aromas and flavours. The strength of the alcohol is immediate, strong but without any sting. Then come the scents: cassis and brambles; spices and wood; liquorice and mint; cream and vanilla from the new oak barrels in which it has been aged (the tasting note described coffee, which would be a natural part of this spectrum of aromas but I didn’t get that. But then again, I am in a different environment, in other words cold England rather than warm Italy); and, an almost meaty earthy note hidden at the back. This is full of complexity and each dip of the nose brings another mouth watering element.
Savouring the moment, and seeing if this would bring back more wistful memories, I take my first sip. Strong prickles hit the mouth, ticklingly spicy. The fruit is strong, mixed with a light vanilla and cream that came to the nose earlier. The berry fruit, more damson than plum, seems rich and slightly stewed giving it a long finish. Wood and flinty minerals reveal themselves towards the end of each mouthful. That, and the high acidity and medium tannins mean that this pleasing moment stays in the mouth for a while.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a late ripening small grape variety that has the ability to burst with berry flavour in hotter climates, where cooler climates can give it a bell pepper bitterness. There is a unique mixture of clay, sand, volcanic tufo, and calcareous soil in the hills surrounding San Gimignano; the clay gives it enough cooling protection to allow it to develop at its own pace without over heating or drying out. This wine has also been matured in new French oak barrels, giving it those slightly more coffee, richer, nutty aromas and flavourings that the Panizzi tasting notes describe.
The wine has had more time to develop and breathe in the glass and returning to it an altogether richer, deeper and smoky aroma from the bluer fruits emerges; a teasing raspberry tinge and rosehip lightness that contrasts with the berry. Then, jamminess.
The warming up has given the wine a greater depth (Panizzi does recommend drinking it at 16-17 degrees Centigrade which is a lot more natural there than Bath). Now the palate has the sweetness of the berries, bringing out the pure jam that was on the nose. This is a prize winner in the WI jam competition! I suddenly get a ‘Rubenesque’ image of rotund, ripe berries, full of fruity flavour dancing on the tongue, teasing you with more to come (not quite a burlesque act for the senses, but something more subtle. Maybe a tableau vivant). Again, the cedar, the flint and the tannins follow, giving structure; framing the wine. And then there are the minty, even eucalyptus (seriously), hints that add to the spicy liquorice; this time though, they are stronger than before.
Like Botticelli’s Venus rising from the sea, these flavours have emerged from the cool temperature where the wine was stored, revealing the wine for its full beauty (I need atmospherics! Cue Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde!)
PS. Azienda Panizzi is going to be in the UK in March to promote their wines (and olive oils maybe). Check out the website for more details.