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A Classic Chianti Tale

Posted by Martin Cahnbley on

This is why I am in the wine game: the opportunity to mix business and pleasure and to develop great friendships. When I visit Tenuta Di Riseccoli, in the heart of Chianti Classico territory just 45 minutes south of Florence, I feel like I am combining all three. 

The Romanelli family, who’ve owned the property since the early 1900s, have made me feel incredibly welcome since my first visit in 2002. Riseccoli was a major catalyst in the creation of Planet Wine.

A few exploratory emails to me from Benoit Faure Romanelli in 2002 set the ball rolling; I had planned a trip to Corfu with a group of card-playing Bostonian friends that year and it was a cinch to add a week in Tuscany.

It helps that I usually stay in one of the two beautifully restored case coloniche, or traditional farmhouses, that afford spectacular views across the Tuscan countryside to the Apennine mountains in the distance. The two restored stone villas each boast a large swimming pool and expansive gardens that flow into the vineyards and are rented out as ‘agriturismo’ villas. They are a short walk away from the winery and the cellar door. (Please contact me for more information. I can connect you directly with the owners.) 

Florentine sculptor Romano Romanelli acquired the 17th century country house and surrounding grounds in 1902. The third generation of artists and sculptors, Professor Romanelli was a member of the prestigious Florence Academy of Arts and his works can still be seen in public spaces across Italy, and in museums around the world.

Outside of art, Romanelli had always held a keen interest in agriculture and winemaking.

From making wine for friends to fame for quality wine-making

The property was a working farm when he took it over, with olive groves and orchards as well as vineyards. Initially, wine was made solely for the private consumption of the family and their closest friends in Florence, but Romanelli soon took to modernising the estate, adopting the latest viticultural and winemaking methods.

Riseccoli rapidly became known for its quality wines, first in Tuscany (visitors to the present winery can see the awards the Estate received dating as far back as 1927) and then beyond Italy's borders.

For much of the latter part of the 20th century and the start of the 21st, it was Romanelli’s daughter Illaria and her now late French husband Arnaud Faure, who kept up the family tradition at Tenuta di Riseccoli. Now the baton has been passed to their four sons – Nicolas, Benoit, Laurent and Thomas Faure-Romanelli.

Their ongoing dedication to maintaining the family legacy and producing outstanding wines has positioned the small-scale estate as one of the most acclaimed in the Chianti Classico sub-region of Tuscany. The family and its team have more recently carried out several major transformations to the estate – restructuring the vineyards, improving the clonal selection and diversifying into other grape varieties, as well as upgrading winemaking techniques and cellar equipment.

But they maintain an artisanal approach to winemaking and take advantage of the varying climate conditions of the region to let each vintage reveal its own unique expression of Riseccoli’s terroir. Their Chianti Classico is now certified as organic.

Petit Verdot grapes and extra-virgin olive oil

One of their most adventurous initiatives has been the planting of petit verdot grapes for a single varietal wine. After they ran into some issues for naming the wine Petit Verdot, it is now called Piccolo Verdot and is receiving rave reviews. About 25ha are in production, mostly planted to sangiovese with smaller crops of malvasia, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot spread across the original family land.

The original vineyards are located 500 to 700m above sea level, the cooler air allowing for a longer ripening season. In the latter part of the year, when harvest takes place, fog is a common occurrence. This is when wild boar (source of the famous local cingiale sausage) and deer roam the vineyards in search of sugary ripe grapes. The remaining 115ha consists mostly of olive groves and forests.

Tenuta Riseccoli is one of just a handful in the Chianti Classico region that also produce the highest quality extra-virgin olive oil, harvested solely from their own groves and farmed with traditional organic methods.

But back to the wine – while sangiovese provides the backbone to Riseccoli’s Chianti Classico and also to their range of Tuscan red Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) wines, the family’s connections to Bordeaux (through Arnaud) influenced them to use French grape varieties with easy confidence, resulting in appealing blends.

Yields for the sangiovese grapes are kept at the lowest level (40 to 45hl/ha) in the Chianti Classico area, enhancing the complexity of fruit. The well-drained soils, consisting essentially of galestro and clay sediment, add distinctive terroir characteristics.

Five red and a dessert wine

Riseccoli’s full range presently comprises five reds, from the entry level fruit-forward Rinascita through to their cult Super Tuscan Saeculum, and a dessert wine, Vin Santo.

Three members of another local family, the Barbieris, also play an integral part in the business. Highly respected agronomist Valerio has planted the majority of the Riseccoli vineyards. His daughter, Elisabetta, is the consulting winemaker, and niece Serena is responsible for administration and shipping, as well as the tasting room.

Cellarmaster Simone Franconi is from the nearby hilltop village of Montefioralle, where he produces miniscule parcels of his own excellent wines. The team at Tenuta di Riseccoli is an extension of my own family. I travel there regularly, my wider family has visited to celebrate significant birthdays and friends of mine have also been introduced to the heart and splendour of true Chianti Classico.

Check out their wines in New Zealand and/or (hopefully in 2021) head over to the Tuscan countryside and sample their wines and olive oil in situ.

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