Revisiting the wines of Italy’s biodynamic star, Querciabella is something to look forward to. I revel in my second chance.
Five years ago during a trip to Tuscany we drove down a dusty road in Greve in Chianti into what was one of the most naturally lovely vineyards I had ever seen. This was Querciabella, Tuscany’s renowed biodynamic wine producer, known for its award-winning, elegant wines, both classic Chiantis and stunning IGTs.
What stood out during that visit wasn’t the perfect visuals of historic chateaux, manicured vineyards and grand cellars that one might encounter in many other parts of the world. Here was natural beauty – vineyards wrapped by lush green forests, a dedicated winery team, and finally a memorable tasting of a stellar portfolio of wines – from Mongrana (Querciabella’s ‘simplest expression’) and Palafreno (100% Merlot) to Chianti Classico, their outstanding signature red Super Tuscan, Camartina, and the luminous Burgundy-style white wine, Batàr. Here was something special.
Fast forward to July 2016, and Querciabella’s very articulate global export head Giorgio Fragiacomo is on a whistle stop-tour around major Indian cities with his Indian importer Vishal Kadakia of Wine Park, meeting wine lovers and fans, explaining Querciabella’s raison d’etre and offering sips of those memorable wines at dinners and tastings. We gather once again to taste Querciabella, this time in the glitzy Ritz Carlton bar in Bangalore, far from those Tuscan vineyards.
“Our biodynamic winemaking is more than just winemaking – it’s a belief system,” says Fragiacomo, comparing Querciabella to other famous eco-friendly wine producers – Domaine de la Romanée Conti, Chapoutier in the Rhône and Daumas Gassac in the Languedoc. “People thought we were bonkers when we began burying dung-filled cow horns in our vineyards, but when we did a vertical tasting of our wines from before and after we turned biodynamic, the difference was clear. You can feel the richness of the minerals, the extra depth of character in the biodynamic wines.”
Querciabella, owned by the passionate vegan and animal rights activist businessman Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni, went organic (1988) and then biodynamic (2000) with its vineyards in Greve in Chianti and Maremma (once mosquito-ridden swampland) way ahead of its time. It went about minimizing levels of sulphur, using 100% natural yeast, eschewing the process of fining or use of herbicides, harnessing the power of nature (mycorrhiza fungi grown to transport nutrition deep into the soil) alone to produce award-winning wines. The grapes are transported in impossibly small and, dare I say, economically unviable eight kilo crates just to sustain quality. Expense isn’t spared. It’s the end product that counts, sure, but also important is the process of getting there. That, in brief, exemplifies their belief system.
We started our tasting with the Mongrana 2012, my go-to favourite for everyday drinking, a juicy yet softly elegant blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Then came the Chianti Classico 2012, the perfumed red fruit softened with hints of oak; excellent balance and acidity, and crying out for a plate of pasta Bolognese on the side. “Sangiovese is like Pinot Noir,” says Fragiacomo, “Finicky and site specific.”
The flagship red IGT Camartina 2010 followed, decanted well ahead of our tasting, showing just how a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blend need not conk you on the head with untrammelled power. Rounded, elegant, flaunting fruit, finesse, and distinct yet not overbearing tannins, this was the born king of the castle. (Robert Parker called the 2004 vintage “irresistibly sexy” and gave it 95 points. Subsequent vintage ratings by top critics never drop below 90, going up to 97 on occasion). According to Fragiacomo, “Camartina is what we set out to do – make a first-class Super Tuscan as envisaged by Giuseppe Castiglioni (Sebastiano’s father) predominantly in Burgundy style. We only make it those years we feel the fruit is right to age for 20 years.” They didn’t hesitate to downgrade their 2009 Camartina to Mongrana when it didn’t sufficiently please their exacting standards (“still an excellent wine and a complete bargain”). Adds Fragiacomo with a chuckle, “We want ballet dancers not rugby players. It’s drinking gorgeously even now – I’d compare it to Audrey Hepburn showing a bit of leg or cleavage. A meditation wine.”
Finally, came the legendary Batàr, a stunning oaked Burgundy-style white, 50% each Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc with an identity and ambition quite uniquely its own (“a dream,” says critic Hugh Johnson). This, Fragiacomo told us, is actually a red wine masquerading as a white – a “platinum blonde” if you will. I recall being stunned by its purity even during the Greve in Chianti winery tasting 5 years ago, and it doesn’t disappoint now. It is among a few notable whites which need decanting (ours was).
Dr Giuseppe’s early favourite quaff was Bâtard-Montrachet, and thereby hangs a tale, in fact, several tales, revolving around Batàr’s conception and creation some featuring Querciabella’s reclusive winemaker Guido di Santi. Unsurprisingly, Batàr rapidly became a cult wine, quickly elevating Pinot Blanc to respectable levels and began ‘selling like hot cakes’ though rigidly strict allocation. “I haven’t served it with fish, but with veal, pork, spatchcock with foie gras, and pheasant stuffed with chestnuts and porcini mushrooms. We’ve served it in Matsuri, a Michelin 1-star restaurant in London with kobe beef,” says Fragiacomo.
Vegan wine, made with passion and commitment, yet suitable for every type of food and wine lover in the world. Without totting up individual points, it’s safe to say that with hitting 90+ points vintage after vintage, Querciabella holds high the banner for biodynamic wines.
Prices for Querciabella wines available in India…