Podere Castellinuzza

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Lamole is a ragged valley of terraced vineyards, woods, and a sleepy hamlet of 35 habitants. It’s often called il tetto del Chianti, the rooftop of Chianti, for its altitude and position. A stone’s throw away from nearby Greve, it’s a favorite place of ours for a quick day hike. No major roads run through the area, and even a shift in wind direction doesn’t bring road noise.

The vineyards of Podere Castellinuzza (castell-IN-ooz-a)* are located at 550 meters, just below the hamlet of Lamole proper at 600 meters. Owner Paolo Coccia was a mezzadro, a sharecropper, before his father, Gino, bought the property in 1961. He still maintains his daily habit of taking a small footpath from his house, past the chickens and fruit trees, to the vineyards. He comes home to eat pranzo and cena; otherwise you’ll find him in the vineyard. And he’s in good company there. The centenarian bush-vines — a few reaching almost 150 years old — are grown on native rootstocks. Vines this old are rarely seen in Italy, let alone Chianti. The principal reason the vines have survived phylloxera and continue to thrive today is due to the local soil called Macigno del Chianti, which is compressed sandstone (arenaria in Ital.) with traces of Silicon. The soil has a soft gray color, the same soil tilled will turn a shining ochre No matter the color, this soil drains so well that when you walk in the vineyards after a rainstorm, you won’t see your footprints. If these sandstone soils once saved the vines from Phylloxera, nowadays it’s the high-altitude and aquifers that are helping with temperature increases from global warming.*

Take the footpath back again (maybe plucking a fig for yourself), and you’ll find the cellar door that leads under the house. Paolo’s daughter Serena follows the wines in the cantina when she’s not helping her father in the vineyard. A natural and slow native yeast fermentation takes place in large glass-lined cement containers. There is minimal iintervention at all stages and no rush; the wine is released when it’s ready.

Castellinuzza produces two bottlings of ‘Chianti’, and although the first one is now labeled ‘Rosso Toscana,’ it could be thought of as a vintage Chianti, as it was labeled ‘Chianti’ for many years. It follows the local contadino (farmer) practice of vinifying Sangiovese di Lamole with a bit of Canaiolo, and, more importantly, the white Malvasia Bianca. This humble farmer wisdom was what led to Baron Ricasoli’s oft-quoted recipe for Chianti Classico. Call it vintage Chianti or Rosso Toscana — either way, it is drinkable-supreme at 12% alcohol. Its graphite and tart fruit are just the pairing for a juicy steak, especially in the summer. An equally satisfying pairing would be a bowl of the prized Tuscan Zolfini beans, simmered traditionally in a glass flask with garlic and sage. If you’ve never had the silky-skinned Zolfini fagioli, search them out. Toasted bruschetta all’olio toscano is a good side for dipping.

The other wine actually has ‘Chianti Classico’ written on the label and follows the relevant DOCG rules of not adding white grapes. It contains 95% Sangiovese di Lamole and 5% of the local Canaiolo. The depth, complexity, and articulation of the fruit of this bottling, using the best grapes and oldest vines, in no way diminishes its drinkability. This is one of those wines that drinks well when released from the winery but also ages with grace in the cellar. I’ve had bottles from the 1970s that were outstanding.

These are unadulterated, adult wines with structure built from acidity more than tannins. If you’ve become a disenchanted Chianti naysayer over the years, Sangiovese grown in Lamole’s high-altitude terroir may intrigue you enough to fall in love all over again. Taut fruit, complex minerality, and that classic leaping profumato Lamole nose of orange zest and graphite — it’s a racy Chianti. Maybe it’s the hiking we do there, but no other area in Chianti Classico makes our mouths water more.

*You’ll find three Castelinuzza wineries in Lamole. Podere Castellinuzza retains the original name of the winery from 1961.

*Global warming continues to dramatically change what was once considered the prized growing areas. The nearby and famous Conca d’Oro of Panzano has to contend nowadays with too much sun, whereas Lamole, struggling with ripeness in some vintages in the past, is now producing excellent fruit more consistently thanks to warmer temperatures.