Franco’s small, family-run estate lies on the sand-clay coastal plain, just inland from the holiday area known as the Costa degli Etruschi. Between May and October, the weather is uniformly warm and usually rainless. Great for sunbathers; tricky for a vine.
DOC Bolgheri rules insist that local red wine be Cabernet Sauvignon based. Ever since the success enjoyed by Sassicaia and Ornellaia (and other Super Tuscans), international varietals have been Bolgheri winemakers’ mainstay. Tuscany’s staple red grape, Sangiovese, needs 300m or so of height to perform, and that kind of altitude just isn’t available round here.
Batzella’s inspiration are the similarly gentle coastal slopes of Bordeaux. Peàn and Tâm are blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, in an approximate 2:1 ratio. Tâm uses grapes from lower-yielding vines, more new oak barriques and spends longer aging in both barrel and bottle. The resulting ruby-coloured wine has a firm tannic structure that will stand up perfectly to rustic Tuscan mains. Wild boar (cinghiale) comes to mind as a pairing.
Even more radical, and still less typically Tuscan, are Batzella’s other offerings. Bliss 2007, a new addition made in limited quantities with 100% Syrah, is so radical it has to be sold under an IGT classification rather DOC Bolgheri. His Rhone-inspired 70:30 Viognier-Sauvignon Blanc blend, Mezzodì, one-third fermented on its lees in oak with the rest in steel, is modern, fresh and predictably perfumed. In a region whose whites can verge on the bland, it’s un-Tuscan in a very pleasing way.
Franco speaks good English and is happy to see visitors; just call or email ahead. His estate also produces small quantities of olive oil, for which the slopes around the nearby village of Castagneto Carducci are famous.
Elewhere at LIWF ’09 I discovered a Tuscan grape I’d never come across before: Fogliatonda (’round leaf’). Produced in Tuscany’s Val d’Orcia by Donatella Cinelli Colombini, Cenerentola (that’s ‘Cinderella’) Orcia 2004 is surprisingly light and savoury, and would be a great match for a lunchtime bowl of al fresco pasta.
Back on the Chianti trail, Campomaggio‘s Chianti Classico Riserva 2003, aged 24 months in oak, is ripe and hearty. Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 2005 is as refined as ever. That’s why it’s one of the tried-and-tested Chianti tasting stops recommended in my new Tuscany guidebook, out next month.
If you’re heading to Tuscany for a spot of wine tourism, don’t forget to read my review of two new Wine Travel Guides first. Buon viaggio!