Montalbano sits to the west of Florence. The western slopes descend to the flat lands of the Arno valley as it slowly makes its way to the sea. On these slopes one finds the small hamlet of Vinci, home to some guy named Leonardo. The slopes to the east descend to the city of Prato, but not before passing through the vineyards of Carmignano. There is speculation that the history of Carmignano begins with Caterina dei Medici becoming queen of France through marriage around the year 1500, which is ssaid to be hwo the Cabernet Sauvignon grape first made its way to Tuscany, but it wasn’t until the Bonacossi family purchased the Villa di Capezzana in the 1920’s that things started to happen. The Capezzana family brought in vine clippings from Chateau Lafite Rothschild in Pauillac, began clonal research and started bringing in the latest technologies for both the vineyard and the winery.
Carmignano has similar soil to the Chianti Classico region, but is distinguished, at least historically, by the required use of a percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend, along with a preponderance of Sangiovese and a dollop of Canaiolo. Now that producers of Chianti are permitted to use a small amount of Cabernet in their wine, overall distinctions have blurred.
Barco Reale is a younger DOC that serves as a catchall category for wines from younger vines, much like Rosso di Montalcino is to Brunello. The name comes from the Medici family, who declared Montalbano a wildlife preserve aimed at protecting the game birds that the royalty so loved to hunt. The blend is the same as that of Carmignano, but the rules are less strict as to required percentages of the various varietals. Barco Reale is lighter than Carmignano, and morebeverino (easy-drinking) as the Italians like to say.
An excellent rosato can also be found in these parts, though very little is made. It is made through the saigné (French for bloodletting) or Solasso (Italian for the same) process in which juice is drawn off from the tank during fermentation to increase the concentration of the red wine. The drawn-off juice has a light pink color and makes an excellent rosé. The local term for this wine, Vin Ruspo, harkens back to the days of the Italian sharecropper. It translates as “stolen wine,” and was called that because that was the part that the sharecropper would pinch from the landowner before sending him the fruits of his labor.
This is not an area known for its white wine, but the dessert wine Vin Santo, seen elsewhere in Tuscany, also appears here and is very much worth seeking out.
We are talking about a small area here, so it is easy to mention producers worth your attention.
First and foremost is Villa di Capezzana, whose wines are exemplary. Everything from their Barco Reale to an exceptional Vin Santo represents excellent wine as well as value.
Part of the Capezzana portfolio is also the Trefiano line, which once was a separate property started by Vittorio Bonacossi, who left the family to try his own thing only to later return to the fold. Wine from Trefiano follows a slightly more biodynamic approach and shows a littole more elegance and earth.
The young and dynamic Enrico Pierazzuoli runs Tenuta Le Farnete as well as two other Tuscan properties owned by his family, but has really been turning heads with a more ripe and modern style of Carmignano. His Riserve are consistently among the best.
Ambra is another property to come on in recent years. They are most known for their single-vineyard wines, with the “Santa Cristina in Pilli” label leading the way.
Pratesi is another relative newcomer. Look for reliable Carmignano, though I often feel that their best wine isCarmione, which is a Bordeaux-style blend.
There are a few producers still in production that predate the Bonacossi family’s acquisition of the Capezzana property. Most famously is Villa Artimino, whose presence is not as powerful in our market, yet whose wines are very good representations of the more traditional style of Carmignano.
Il Poggiolo is yet another member of the old school, yet even less present that the aforementioned Villa Artimino.