Scenes from a Tuscan castle and dinner this week with Baron Francesco Ricasoli in Houston.

In January of this year, before the lockdowns began, I made my last trip to Italy (on behalf of my client Ethica Wines, an importer). My visit to the Castello di Brolio and the Ricasoli winery and tasting room in the heart of Chianti Classico was one of the highlights.

That’s a portrait of Bettino Ricasoli (1809-80) above: the “Iron Baron,” the second prime minister of united Italy (1866-67), and historic champion of Sangioveto (Sangiovese). Not only did he transform and elevate Sangiovese into Italy’s quintessential red wine, but he was also one of the earliest Italian growers to favor native grape varieties. He was arguably Italy’s most influential winemaker and the impact of his studies and experimentation still shapes Italian wine today.

The Ricasoli family and winery hold a special place in my heart. More than a decade ago, Francesco Ricasoli (the current generation) and his father Bettino received me at their Castello di Brolio to discuss my then ongoing research into their namesake’s famous “Chianti recipe.”

Francesco’s father pointed me to an archive where I could find a transcription of the “recipe,” a letter published in the late 19th century. See my translation, the only English-language version of the “recipe,” here.

He also treated me to a wonderful tour of the castle and estate.

At one point, he recounted how he was embedded with British soldiers as they tried to re-take the castle from the occupying German forces toward the end of the Second World War. It was incredible to retrace his movements with him as he described the final battle: because of his intimate knowledge of the castle’s design (he was born within its walls, after all), he was able to provide the British with a layout of the structure’s battlements. Amazing!

I’ll never forget that day and visit. I felt like a 12-year-old kid watching his favorite movie. We ate tripe and drank Sangiovese at lunch.

Here are some photos from my visit. I’ll be hosting Francesco Ricasoli at Roma restaurant, my client, this Thursday for our weekly virtual wine dinner. Francesco is one of the most magnetic and engaging winemakers you’ll ever taste with. We’re expecting this event to sell out. See menu and details here. I hope you can join us!

The Ricasoli family chapel. Magical.

A view from the castle. It’s hard to take a bad photo in Tuscany.

Renaissance garden. Note the vineyards that practically touch the castle’s walls to the right in the image.

Francesco’s studies of Chianti Classico soil types are astounding and extremely useful. Note the ancient sea shell, a trace of ancient seabed, a red thread in many of the world’s greatest appellations.

The Iron Baron greets King Victor Emmanuel II at the Castello di Brolio. The two statesmen were eager to compare notes on their viticultural studies and findings.

The night before my winery visit, I drank the Ricasoli 2012 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Colledilà (single-vineyard designate) paired with creamy veal spleen and chicken liver crostini at a forgettable trattoria in Greve in Chianti. It was one of the best wines I drank this year. Highly recommended.

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