Today, I will share with you my latest experiences visiting the venerated Italian vineyard Rocca di Frassinello. Pull out your best Italian red, enjoy the last of the summer sunshine, and imagine you are in the land that exemplifies savoir vivre…
The Rocca di Frassinello Vinyard
My expectations ran high as I approached the properties of Rocca di Frassinello in the Maremma region in Italy. Located in southern Tuscany close to the city of Grosetto, the vineyard lies a little more than 90 miles from the ever-popular tourist destination of Pisa. The grounds and the origins of the property are both notably pedigreed. Not only was the winery’s building designed by the most famous Italian architect of his time, Renzo Piano, but the venture itself was the first Italian joint-venture of Les Domaines Baron De Rothschild-Lafite, already world-famous for Chateau Lafite in Bordeaux. On top of that, the other half of the joint-venture, Castellare di Castellina, was founded by one of the most successful Italian journalists, Paolo Panerai, once editor-in-chief of Il Mondo.
As a result, two outstanding wineries were set to collaborate on a project of enormous dimensions: They bought 1235 acres (500 hectares) of land in the promising, yet still affordable, Maremma region and embedded a state-of-the-art winery in the middle of the vast property.
Design By Architect Renzo Piano
The winery consists of only one building, hosting the administration, production and storage facilities, each part painted in a different color to highlight the different functions. The building itself, with a thin tower, reminds one of a modern church and, in fact, it resembles another Renzo Piano design, the Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church in San Giovanni Rotonodo. T
he huge terrace is meant to be a meeting place for the “congregation”, but – according to Piano – also depicts a flying carpet, which has landed on top of the scenic hills. Still, the most impressive part of the building, literally its core, is far out of sight, well-hidden in the ground: the astonishing wine cellar, where hundreds of barrique barrels are stored whilst the wine is aging. Like in a Roman theatre, stairs lead towards the center “stage” at the bottom of the cellar, a room of enormous dimensions with blank concrete walls, which, in the absence of any pillars, has been stabilized by gigantic concrete beams anchoring in the surrounding hill. Most certainly, the architectural experience has been as expected and magnificently achieved.
Still, what made me travel all the way from Milan to Grosseto was foremost the wines and my eagerness to discover whether Rothschild has once again been able to apply its outstanding wine-making capabilities on foreign territories. The winery hosts a designated tasting room with a table, which has also been specifically designed for that purpose by Renzo Piano. Next to every seat is a stainless steal drawer with a constant flow of water in the table’s massive framework that allows the participants of the tasting to pour out leftover wine in their glasses without having to utilize a spitting pot. This technical feature impressed me, but the wines of the young Tuscan venture were yet to come.
We started with Rocca’s first white wine, which has been launched this year for the first time and is from vines of only 3 years of age. The white wine is light and fruity, but even now, one can taste and imagine the potential these vines will have in ten or twenty years, as the mineralic tones will increase in strength and the grape juice will become more concentrated and rich with every year. Still, the winery’s strength is certainly its reds. Even though I didn’t particularly like the youngest red (Poggio alla Guardia) for its strong herbal notes, Le Sughere di Frassinello and the “Grand Cru” Rocca di Frassinello are impressive ambassadors of Maremma and the Rocca di Frassinello winery. Since Le Sughere offers the better value, I will only present this wine to you in more detail.
Wine Review Le Sughere di Frassinello
Le Sughere di Frassinello is a rich, concentrated red wine with strong, but well-balanced tannins. The bouquet is dominated by dark berries, but in the elegant manner of a Bordeaux, nicely reflecting the influence of the Rothschild wine makers. The blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot is certainly not the typical Tuscan one (rather, it resembles, yet again, of the classic Bordeaux blend), but thanks to the Sangiovese, still provides the subtle rough edges every Tuscan red should have (in my eyes). For that, it is a worthy representative of Tuscany and can easily challenge the established wines from Chianti, which remains the most important part of Tuscany with regards of wine making. Gambero Rosso, Italy’s leading wine guide, has awarded Le Sughere 2006 with two glasses, hence putting it in the top ranks of its 2011 guide. Stateside, Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator have given this charming red an exceptional score of 93 and 91, respectively.
This quality comes at a price: a bottle of Le Sughere costs between $17- $36, depending on the online vendor. It’s worth it. Enjoy!