Malcolm Jolley meets Givanni Mazzei, whose family has been making wine in Tuscany for 600 years.
Last week I had lunch with Giovanni Mazzei, whose family, Mazzei, has been making wine in Tuscany for the better part of 600 years. We dined with Andrea Niño and Alessandro Bonucci from Mazzei’s importing agent, Profile Wine Group at Quanto Basto in Toronto’s Summerhill neighbourhood. Over shared plates of seafood and pasta we tasted four of the Mazzei family’s wines, from two of their properties: their original Castello di Fonterutoli in Chianti Classico, near Siena, and Belguado in Maremma, near the Tuscan coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The former has been in Mazzei’s family since 1435, and these lands are used to grow and make wine from traditional Tuscan grapes, not least Sangiovese but also Malvasia Near and Colorino. Belguado, the winery in Maremma, was established in the 1990’s and provide the Mazzei family with the opportunity of making less traditional wines, using grapes such as Alicante, and Cabern Sauvignon, as well as Vermentino from Corsican clones.
Giovanni Mazzei explained to the three of us that Mazzei does things a little differently than most other established wineries of comparably large size. Their Tuscan* vineyards are divided into five distinct sites, each of which has it’s own manager. These sites are further divided into 125 separate plots, which are monitored and managed individually, with vinifications made in 74 different tanks at their winery built in 2007. Verticals for each plot are held in library, indicative of what Giovanni Mazzei calls his family’s “dedication to research”. The family is active in trying different grape clones and viticutural techniques. Giovanni proclaimed that the “future is in the fields”, explaining that their philosophy of “precise agriculture” has meant, for instance, that they have recently managed to reduce copper spraying by 30%. After lunch, I spoke to Giovanni Mazzei more about his family’s approach for the short video embedded at the end of this post.
The first wine we tasted was the Belguado Serrata Toscana IGT 2014, which will be released into the LCBO’s Vintages program on June 10 for $19.95 a bottle. It’s a blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Alicante, a grape Giovanni called a “gift from the Spanish”. At a price point of under $20, I suspect this wine will sell out quickly, it’s both rich and clean, full deep crimson fruit and vibrant acidity. It’s relaxed and elegant and wants food and friends.
The second wine we tasted was the Fonterutoli Chianti Classico DOCG 2014, which is available through consignment from Profile at $30.95. This wine, Giovanni explained, benefited from a difficult year. The Mazzei family declassified their Riserva and Gran Selezione Chianti that year, so all the grapes from the top producing sites went into the baseline Classico. The result is a remarkable wine that’s bright, lush with purple fruit and silky tannins. It’s complex beyond its station and offers exceptional value for the price.
The third wine we tasted came from higher up the food chain: the Castello Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2013. The Gran Selezione is available through Profile on private order for $84.95 a bottle. This wine had a remarkable evolution over a little under an hour as it sat in the glass. Though still young and a little gripping at first, it exploded with dark red fruit complimented by earthy tones. It was great fun to go back to it every five minutes or so to see what was coming out of the glass.
Finally, we tasted the Philip Toscana IGT 2013, which is a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wine made from a blend of fruit from both the Castello di Fonterutoli and Belguardo estates, and is available by consignment through Profile t $54.95 a bottle. It’s really it’s own thing, defying Cabernet Sauvignon stereotypes with amazingly resonating blackberry fruit and a distinct touch of Mediterranean macchia (or garrigue). It is also remarkably made with 100% American oak, though with deft and light touch. This has much to do with the gentleman it’s named for, Filipo Mazzei, who was a friend of Thomas Jefferson and played an important role in the American Revolution: more on him here.
Can’t see the video? Watch it here.
*Mazzei also makes wine in Sicily at their Zisola winery in Noto.