Unlike Tuscany’s most reputed vineyard lands—Chianti and Montalcino—which sit south of the Arno River and Florence, Podere Santa Felicita is situated east of Dante’s beloved river and closer to the Italian peninsula’s eastern shore than to its western one. In recent years, this stretch has been more olive oil territory than wine territory, but Federico Staderini of Santa Felicita is a keen student of history. He knows that long before the Roman Empire, the Renaissance, and the Risorgimento, the Etruscans made storied wine here, giving Federico the idea to plant vines in the area. As the enologist at famed Poggio di Sotto in Montalcino, Federico very easily could have been content to rest on his laurels there. Thankfully for us, he started this separate domaine, cultivating Pinot Nero and crafting a gorgeous, singular red from the unlikely eastern Tuscan border. Floral and sunny —without being overripe—this Pinot Nero is fresh, complex, and extroverted. Tannin gives it structure, but the tannin is incredibly soft, primarily due to Federico’s insistence on crushing the grapes with his feet (instead of by machine) and bottling the wine unfiltered, preserving the wine’s juiciness and long finish.
Several decades of work as an agronomist and enologist, not to mention being a native of Tuscany and an avid student of history, gave Federico Staderini all the tools he needed to ferret out this forgotten limestone terroir high in the hills of eastern Tuscany, known to the Etruscans long before him. We had known Federico when we collaborated at Poggio di Sotto and his Pinot Nero project at Cuna left our minds running wild with anticipation. After we toured his vineyards, which seemed abundantly healthy despite the tiny Pinot Noir clusters clinging to each vine, Federico’s pipette began to dip and tour through his small cellar of old barrels, each taste revealing a wine of strong, confident character and surprising finesse. Afterward, a vertical sampling of six older vintages confirmed what had to be tasted to be believed: Federico had unearthed the Holy Grail for producing age-worthy Pinot Nero in Tuscany, and we would import it to the United States for all of our clients to experience.
Perhaps no region is tied to Italy’s reputation as a producer of fine wine as much as Tuscany. Since Etruscan times, viticulture has played a prominent role in this idyllic land of rolling hills, and the Tuscan winemaking tradition remains as strong as ever today. With a favorable Mediterranean climate, an undulating topography offering countless altitudes and expositions, and a wealth of poor, well-draining soils, conditions are ideal for crafting high-quality wines. Add to that the rich gastronomical tradition—Tuscany is home to some of the country’s finest game, pastas, salumi, and cheeses—and you have the blueprint for a world-class wine region.
This is Sangiovese territory; in fact, it is arguably the only place in the world where Sangiovese reaches a truly regal expression. In spite of a rocky history with fluctuations in quality, traditionally produced Chianti has reclaimed its status as one of the country’s most reliable, food-friendly reds, while the rapid rise of Brunello di Montalcino shows the grape’s potential for grandiose, opulent reds allying power and finesse. Traditionally-minded growers have stuck to using only indigenous grape varieties and employing techniques like aging in massive wooden casks known as botti, creating wines of terroir that shine at the Tuscan table.
Tuscan wines have had a place in our portfolio since Kermit’s first visit in 1977. While the names of the estates have changed, the spirit of those first unfiltered Chiantis he imported live on through our current selections.
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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