April 17, 2021

Uncorked: Frescobaldi vineyards tell story of Tuscany

Memories of mischievous childhood behavior arise every time Marchese Lamberto Frescobaldi returns to Castello Nipozzano.

When he was a child, the president of Frescobaldi Group, and 30th-generation winemaker, held a notorious reputation among employees in the vineyard.

“When I go to Nipozzano, I see myself as a young boy going to vineyards where all the workers are,” Frescobaldi said. “Very few people had cars. It was all motorbikes and mopeds. They all knew me as that small little boy who ran up the vineyards and took their motorbikes and drove around on them and played in the vineyard.

“I think that [growing grapes is in my blood] from staying in the vineyards and playing there. And, of course, I moved onto university at UC Davis in California. But, I see myself at 8 or 9 years old with one field manager going to a newly planted vineyard and planting roots after rainfall. I have amazing memories there.”

Today, as the president of Frescobaldi, he has cast a wide net over Tuscany and produced some of the finest wines from the renowned Italian region. While his family’s commitment to the wine industry stretched back 30 generations, Frescobaldi remembered a moment in recent history when he made a dramatic turn.

Just 20 years ago, grape prices went down and quality began to suffer across Tuscany. Demand had dropped, and an “endless cycle” started where corners were cut in the vineyards and cellars.

This is where Frescobaldi took a stand.

“It was like when you shave in [the] morning and look in the mirror, I wondered where are we headed and who are we, who do we want to be?” Frescobaldi asked. “These are certain questions one has to ask. The answer was straightforward. We are wine growers. We have our own vineyards. Often, wine is more expensive than vodka or other beverages, so it better be tangibly better. We cannot cut costs. We needed to look at certain consumers and find them to explain what we are doing. To be constantly of pleasurable quality year after year, that’s our requirement.”

The result has been wines like Frescobaldi Castiglioni Chianti 2019 ($17), a racy red with cherry and strawberry flavors. It’s mostly sangiovese, but for a dash of merlot that softened the acidity. On the western side of Tuscany in the hills of Val di Pesa, the vineyards are refreshed in the afternoon with a breeze off the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Because merlot has thrived in Castiglione’s clay soil, Frescobaldi said the blend is a “perfect combination with sangiovese … and there is the magic.”

From Chianti Rufina, Frescobaldi Nipozzano Chianti Riserva is perennially an affordable and delicious wine. Made of 100% sangiovese, its pretty red fruit flavors, along with the price tag, usually around $15, make it a candidate to be enjoyed everyday.

Both wines highlight the differences in the region and the potential for sangiovese when treated correctly. Often times, Frescobaldi has caught grief from colleagues when he’s suggested there’s too much sangiovese planted in Tuscany.

As the most planted grape in Italy as well, that’s not a surprise. But, sangiovese can be just as picky as pinot noir when it comes to location. Frescobaldi said it wants rocky soils with the correct exposure to the sun.

“Sangiovese is very demanding,” Frescobaldi said. “It shouldn’t be planted everywhere. When it’s planted in the wrong location, the end result is not so pleasurable, and it downgrades every producer.”

Yet, Frescobaldi has lifted the profile of wines from Tuscany. Its diverse collection of vineyards tells a story of a region.

“I am picky when it comes to Chianti, I am one of those people that find some wine too harsh and tannic,” Frescobaldi said. “When I go to a restaurant, I like to see the glass empty and people happy. That means they enjoyed the wine. That’s something, when someone has a second sip and didn’t even think about it. The wine is so pleasant and agreeable and embraces your palate. This is what we want when it comes to balanced sangiovese.”

• James Nokes has been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Email him at jamesnokes25@yahoo.com.