When you think of the Tuscan wine areas, chances are that Montalcino, home to Brunello, and Chianti Classico come to mind. Both are rich with scenic beauty, history and, not least, fine wine — but there are other areas that are of note. I’m exploring Carmignano today: it’s an area that has a story and wines that make it the most unique reds produced in the region.
Located within the boundaries of Chianti Montalbano near Florence, Carmignano is a mere 270 acres. It was awarded Denominazione di origine controllata status (DOC) in 1975. Fifteen years later, Carmignano was elevated to DOCG, beginning with the 1988 vintage, years before other top Italian wines received the same honor.
Now that the vital stats are out of the way, let’s look at what makes Carmignano so unique.
Long before Super Tuscans made their splash, cabernet sauvignon was a mainstay in Carmignano. Some credit the Medicis for introducing it to the region. At the very least, they protected Carmignano’s already-superb reputation when Cosimo III de Medici, the grand duke of Tuscany, released an edict naming Carmignano as one of the four best wines made in the region.
Since that time, cabernet has been planted alongside Sangiovese and became more prevalent in the 20th century. This is what led to the creation of its own DOC. Today, DOCG stipulates that Carmignano must be composed of at least 50 percent Sangiovese, but up to 20 percent cabernet sauvignon or cabernet franc may be added.
Cabernet helps lower the acidity and round out the texture, so Carmignano tends to be less astringent than the surrounding Chianti wines. As it ages, the cab-like qualities gain prominence and the wines often pick up notes of chocolate and cassis.
Ultimately, the wine’s terroir is the most important factor in determining its character, and the best wines reveal the cigar-box dusty earth that marks much of Tuscany.
Here are three to seek out:
Le Farnete Carmignano DOCG, 2008: Le Farnete is one of the oldest estates in Carmignano. Made from 80 percent Sangiovese and 20 percent cabernet sauvignon, this is an enticing, juicy wine. I grabbed a bottle to serve at a party several weeks ago and it was the hit of the evening. For the money, it is the best buy the area has to offer. Suggested retail: $16.99
Ambra Carmignano DOCG Elzana, 2006: Owned by the same family since 1870, Ambra’s wines have finesse without betraying their more rustic roots. Made from 90 percent Sangiovese and 10 percent cabernet, this is a medium-bodied wine with notes of tobacco, spice, cocoa, licorice and blackberries. Suggested retail: $29.99
Tenuta de Capezzana DOCG Carmignano, 2005: This is one of the biggest estates in Carmignano, and it is as well known for its olive oil as it is for wine. Now at five years of age, this wine is slowly starting to come into its own and mysteriously reveals itself a couple of hours after opening. Suggested retail: $29.99
Pamela S. Busch is the owner of Skrewcap.com, founder of CAV Wine Bar and a Bay Area wine consultant. Please submit your questions to Pamela@Skrewcap.com.