- Published: 02 October 2023 02 October 2023
We are standing on the edge of the plot of vines called Madonnino (Little Madonna); vines laden with healthy tight dark bunches of Sangiovese grapes, waiting patiently for their divine passage through the pickers hands (mine in this case!), to the imposingly large red cement fermentation tanks, eventually seeking refuge in the large Slovenian oak barrels to begin the journey of maturation.
La Madonnino Vineyard - Tenuta Luce
The drive down towards Montalcino from Florence is a good opportunity to glance the Tuscan landscape, at times rising steeply into woodlands of chestnut and stone pine, and then spiralling down through gnarly groves of olive, horizons edged with cypresses. We circle in through the entrance to Tenuta Luce and a broad flank opens up with exposed vines, buffeted behind by a bright reflective exposed clay-schist bank.
It is the same clay and schist that cracks under our feet as we walk between the vines, squeaking in our new picker boots and, wielding our grape cutters. The temperature is getting up to a toasty 32ºC, perfect for a short stint in the open air. When I ask winemaker, Alessandro Marini, what the ’23 vintage has been like he says:
‘I will say it was quite a challenging vintage because of the pressure of mildew that we had in May and June. At the beginning, it started out very good. We had a cold winter with snow, which is very, very good to refill all the water reserves underground. But then, of course, during the spring, it rained quite a lot, especially in May, and during the flowering.’
|Tanya Baxter Art Advisory London|
Tenuta Luce is an organically farmed estate and when the rain comes, it raises fears of mildew that can spoil the grape clusters. Alessandro looks relieved:
‘At the Madonnina plot, you saw that you have beautiful bunches of grapes, and these grapes from Madonnina are going into our Brunello Luce. So we can say that, thank God, we have had big yields overall but with this kind of pressure, it was just reduced by about five percent.’
Alessandro compares the ’23 vintage to the ’14 and ’18, which he calls ‘French vintages’, notable for water pressure throughout the growing year. This water pressure means more work for the team fighting off the mildew but in times of climate change, it also denotes a cooler year, and that too leaves a finger print on the over quality of the vintage.
Brunello Luce 2018
We taste the ’18 vintage Brunello Luce at lunch and it is the aromas of roses and sweet spices with a touch of ripe juicy cherry. The tannins are fine, giving the wine a fabulously elegant structure; balanced with sweet spices lingering on the palate. Unlike the Luce and Lux Vitis, the Brunello is aged in large Slovenian casks. Alessandro says the Slovenian wood has larger grains, thus reducing the oxygen ingress and preserving the elegance in the wine.
Large Slovenian and French oak barrels
The balance and freshness in the ’18 bodes well for the ’23. I hope that my next encounter with the latter is not with the grapes passing through my hands but with the pressed juices, suitably aged, passing over my lips.
Also at lunch we taste the new release of Lucente ’21, made with twenty five per cent Sangiovese and seventy five per cent Merlot. This is an attractive youthful wine with less extraction in the winemaking process, preserving flavours of rich ripe forest berry fruit, smooth elegant tannins, with a fresh clean finish. A very pleasant contrast in the selection with more energy than complexity.
Luce 2020 and 2007
The Luce flagship wine is made from a fifty percent Sangiovese and Merlot, with the Merlot a distinct signature of the wine. It is interesting that Alessandro has a lot of experience working on the Merlot dominant right bank of Bordeaux. I ask him what he sees as differences in the Merlot styles between the two locations:
‘I will say that here the Merlot is more opulent. Of course, the ripening is faster than Bordeaux but that is why we use mainly the Merlot for our flagship wine, which is Luce. The Luce is made with Merlot and Sangiovese, so blending Sangiovese in Merlot, especially with the hot conditions like, for example 2017, really helps to bring the balance to the wine.'
With climate heating up, Merlot is ripening earlier and this can lead to much bigger wines that may eventually become to difficult to maintain. In Bordeaux as well as Tuscany, new varieties are being introduced. Alessandro does not see any immediate cause for concern from climate. As he says above, the later ripening Sangiovese is helping establish the desired balance in the wines. However, I press him a little to tell me what he might consider in a warmer future:
‘I would say Cabernet Franc, or, another local variety in the centre of Italy is Montepulciano and maybe this can work well. Or why not Petit Verdot? Because Petit Verdot is a very interesting variety. In Bordeaux they use it just like salt in their blends. Why not use it the same here, like five or ten percent, to give more complexity to the wines? It is a late variety that can bring some kind of freshness and a lot of colour.’
But for now, these are just speculations and the ’20 in the glass is shining my eyes back to me in its opaque dark reflectivity. The Luce ’20 was fermented in concrete and macerated for 22 days before being aged with eighty percent in new oak French barrels and twenty percent in one year old barrels. I immediately detect mulberry and feel transported to fruit stained summers in the garden of the Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London. The tannins are fine and very well balanced, although I detect a little youthful shyness in the wine.
To gain contrast I pick up the ’07 with its delicately frayed red meniscus and nose of damp blond tobacco leaf, thyme, dark olive and attractive woodiness. This older vintage was fermented in steel and macerated for twelve days, followed by two years in new oak barrels. Fascinating complexity with dried fruit elegance creeping out of the layers. The ’07 offer a range of sensations and raises the question of how the ’20 will evolve over time. Excellent wines and wonderful to taste.
Lux Vitis 2020
Tasting Lux Vitis 2020 in the wine library
Somewhere in the concealed subterranean chambers of Tenuta Luce, we find ourselves in the wine library. Given the logo of the estate has the flare and suggestive symbology of something Indiana Jone’s may brandish before a snake encrusted pharaoh, a room full of the estates bottles does give off the air of a walk-in treasure trove. The sunshine logo itself, I am told by another taster, is taken from a real-life alter ornament in the church of Santo Spirito in nearby Florence.
Tenuta Luce Logo in the cellar, inspired by Santo Spirito Church, Florence
In the chamber Alessandro pours us glasses of the Lux Vitis 2020 vintage. This is the small production baby of Tenuta Luce, being made from a small parcel of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in 2004 in mixed sandy soils, with a tiny amount of Sangiovese blended in. Fermented in concrete vats, it is macerated on the skins for twenty days and aged in one hundred percent new French oak barrels for two years.
For my personal taste, the Lux Vitis 2020 was spot on. It has rich dark fruit, hints of coffee bean, great complexity, all beautifully integrated with succulent ripe tannins, with a long elegant finish.
Summary and interview with Alessandro Marini
We were invited for what the organisers called a 360º tasting and I certainly left with multiple perspectives on the estate. It is interesting how, across Tuscany, different approaches at the top end of winemaking are responding to contemporary tastes and challenges.
I include the recording of the interview I recorded with Alessandro Marini, recorded after the excellent lunch served on the estate. It is my view that in the age of unstable climate, the cooler vintages will attract the most admirers. From what we tasted, I was certainly taken with the elegance and balance of the wines. Even with the Brunello Luce ’18 the alcohol was at 15% but remained perfectly balanced. Could that change as the climate continues heating? Only time will tell.
Alessandro interview on Spotify:
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