Another Italian arrives in Bordeaux
© Castellare by Castellini
| The wine sold out within 72 hours of its release in Bordeaux.
Few places are as quintessentially French as La Place de Bordeaux, a Bordeaux-based network of negociants – negociants specializing in fine wines – who buy, sell and distribute the region’s great wines on the world market.
However, in recent years, it’s not just fine wines from France that have caused a stir. Top wines like Opus One from California, Almaviva from Chile and Vin de Constance from South Africa have all made their way onto the revered platform – and now another non-Bordeaux has joined the fold, although briefly.
Domini Castellare di Castellina is an 80-hectare estate in the heart of Chianti Classico born from the union of four estates, the estate has vines ranging from seven to 45 years old. Founded in the 1970s by financial publisher Paolo Panerai – who once ran the no longer published Italian magazine Il Mondo, and which counted George Orwell among its contributors – the estate produces both the famous Super Tuscan I Sodi di San Niccolò as well as various other blends, Chiantis and whites.
The vineyards grow a particular clone of Sangiovese called Sangioveto as well as an indigenous grape, Malvasia Nera – both of which go into the blend for I Sodi di San Niccolò, with Sangioveto making up 85 percent and Malvasia Nera making up the rest. Since its first vintage in 1977, I Sodi di San Niccolò has been repeatedly featured in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 and has been championed by various critics and publications such as Gambero Rosso, Robert Parker and Decanter.
It is this regularly award-winning Super Tuscan that is once again making a name for itself since the 2018 vintage has just made its debut on the famous place in Bordeaux. According to Gérard Spatafora, general manager of the Bordeaux wine and spirits consulting agency E-Studi’OZ, the wine was sold out in 72 hours.
As Spatafora puts it: “If you sell your stock in 72 hours, it means there is a high demand from the wine merchant because they really believe in the quality, they really believe that they will be able to distribute the wine all over the the world. “
Spatafora goes on to explain: “We have a broker entirely dedicated to non-Bordeaux wines, it’s Timothée Moreau. [of Bureau des Grands Vins, a network of Bordeaux negociants]. This is how he managed to organize a meeting and a tasting with the wine merchant to present the wine. The wine merchants analyze the sales potential, what kind of wine to place in the first places in the world – very high-end restaurants, or very special wine merchant – to make sure that the wine will be placed in the deserved place.
The wines that make it to La Place de Bordeaux tend to be both limited, exquisite and highly sought after; as Spatafora says: “It’s impossible for everyone to access this type of wine”, but with the support of La Place, the wines are much more likely to end up in high-end retailers or restaurants corresponding at their price. As Spatafora explains, “Castellare di Castellina’s goal is to produce the best possible wine” and La Place will in turn give it the best possible platform.
The French Connection
For the Panerai founder, selling I Sodi di San Niccolò on La Place de Bordeaux is the natural extension of an already well-established dialogue that he maintains with France. Panerai’s other adventure, Rocca di Frassinello in the Tuscan region of Maremma, near Bolgheri, is a collaboration between Castellare and Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite), an idea born during a lunch between Panerai and Éric de Rothschild.
Panerai’s spontaneous purchase of a few hectares in Maremma eventually led to a partnership with Eric whose enthusiasm to bring Lafite’s vast knowledge and expertise to Italian soil resulted in a perfectly weighted Super Tuscan in both Italian and French heritage. Flagship Rocca di Frassinello wine uses both native Italian varietals like Sangioveto and classic Bordeaux varietals Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Where Castellare di Castellina remains undeniably Italian, Rocca di Frassinello is the ultimate mix between two proud wine countries. Like I Sodi di San Niccolò, Rocca di Frassinello is also widely regarded with scores that rarely – if ever – come out of the 90s.
Panerai would like to point out that “the relationship is the same now that Saskia, Eric’s daughter, is at the head of the company”. She is also, as Panerai points out, “half Italian, half French”.
Birds of a feather
I Sodi di San Niccolò is not the first Italian wine to make its way to La Place de Bordeaux. As Panerai explains: “The pioneer of Italian wine at La Place is Masseto, they started in 2008, a big step for our wine quality objectives, but also in terms of quality validation and now we know the price. of Masseto is very, very high.”
For Panerai to have I Sodi di San Niccolò leave its mark on La Place is a bona fide acknowledgment that a Super Tuscan that is purely Italian in everything from its soils to the grapes that compose it is as fine as the best Bordeaux – an equal to the Grand Cru Classé.
Although, as Spatafora points out, non-Bordeaux wines carry more uncertainty and La Place de Bordeaux must decide whether to “take the risk or take the chance of promoting an Italian wine in its catalog full of Bordeaux”. But if they do, it’s “that they really believe in the quality of the wines, and that they really consider it a premier cru like in Bordeaux”.
Stepping into an exclusive, elite and decidedly French network is daunting at the best of times, but with exorbitant confidence in 2018 wines, the timing seems fortuitous especially after having, with the 2017 vintage, celebrated 40 vintages. This milestone was also marked by the release of a book containing 40 illustrations of various songbirds and passerines by renowned ornithologist John Gould. Over the years, each vintage label has been decorated with a different iconic bird – the mascot for 2018 is a yellow crossbill.
Regarding the wine itself, winemaker Alessandro Cellai, a former student of one of Italy’s greatest winemakers Giacomo Tachis, describes this vintage: “The I Sodi di San Niccolò is the top of the pyramid in terms of quality for merit I Sodi di S The single vineyard of Niccolò, one of the oldest surviving vineyards in the Chianti Classico region, is over 50 years old.2018 was one of the finest vintages of the last 20 years, an amazing vintage, very balanced with the right rain at the right time. The wine is immediately recognizable – the freshness, the length, the taste – the wine is so beautiful. The sense of harmony in taste, from nose to mouth , that is the main feature of the 2018.”
For Cellai, the 2020 vintage is also shaping up to be “another perfect and classic vintage.” Maybe it will also find its way to La Place de Bordeaux.
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