Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Making French-style Italian wine from France for a Dutchman

Dominique Génot on the Caiarossa estate
Is a French winemaker necessary for making elegant wines? Dominique Génot was hired for a Tuscan winery, Caiarossa, owned by a Dutch supermarket magnate for that express purpose, but he says that it may not be necessary anymore.

"That's something that's probably changed in the last 10 years," Génot told me. "When I first started in 2006, the idea was to look for elegance in the wine. Finesse. Not trying to make any blockbusters. They were a little bit afraid of working with someone more local. It was mainly this search for elegance and finesse that led them to choose a French winemaker. In the last 10 years, the style of a lot of Tuscan wines, they have been changing a lot. I'm not sure it's so important today to have  French winemaker."

That said, Génot has, if anything, become even more French. In 2015 he and his wife moved to Perpignan in the south of France, but he travels to Tuscany once a month to oversee Caiarossa.

Caiarossa is an interesting property.

The vines are grown biodynamically. The red wines are released a little older than most. The current release of the flagship wine is 2012; even the second-wine Pergolaia's current release is 2013. Because the property is in Maremma near Bolgheri, where Bordeaux varieties are the immigrant kings, the flagship wine is a blend dominated by Cabernet Franc and Merlot, while most of the second wine is Sangiovese.

Eric Albada Jelgersma
The owner, Eric Albada Jelgersma, also owns Château Giscours and Château du Tertre in Margaux. He bought Caiarossa in 2004 from Belgian music producer Jan Theys, who converted it from a grain farm after buying it in 1998. The winery was built according to Feng Shui principles, but the good luck did not transfer to Jelgersma, who according to a Dutch Wikipedia page broke his neck in a fall on his yacht the following year and is now partially paralyzed. That makes Génot's stewardship even more important.

He is still carrying out the mandate. Unusually for Maremma, he's not aiming for power.

"To keep the freshness that I'm looking for, I look for long maceration with very slow extraction. I do very few pumpovers during hte fermentation," Génot said. "Something that is helping us a lot, is that our wines have quite low pH. This is directly due to the type of ground. With the low pH, we don't have troubles with bacteria. We are able to use very small amount of sulfite as well. It fits with the philosophy we have in the vineyard with the biodynamic. Sometimes our wines may be a little bit austere. We need time before to show them. They are not very big, very sexy, very easy to taste while young. But after a few years, it's a lot easier to understand them, their potential."

I didn't have the opportunity to try aged wines, but I did try some of the current releases.

Caiarossa Pergolaia 2013 ($25, 13.5% alcohol) is the best way to taste the philosophy of the winery. It's about 80% Sangiovese with some Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It's light and fresh with lively red fruit on the palate and a slight floral note on the nose. 

"In terms of style it's very delicate, light Sangiovese," Génot said. "The reason we use some Merlot and Cabernet is to soften the tannins, make it rounder. This Sangiovese doesn't go through any new oak. It has oak aging but only in used oak cask. Even the Merlot and Cabernet that goes into this wine, they are oak aged but not new. After the blend, the wine spends one more year in concrete before bottling. This also helps to soften the tannins."

Can I taste the Frenchness? I'm not sure. Take your own shot at it by buying it here.

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