Sometimes its tough for an outsider to be welcomed with open arms. Such is the case with one particular Tuscan estate with a rich storied history that I visited last month called Riecine. Savvy 56 clients know the name Riecine as makers of ultra-fine Chianti Classico. But it is the work of Sri Lankan-born, Londoner Sean O'Callaghan, who made the move to Riecine in 1991 after finishing his studies in Germany, that has really set them apart. He was not exactly greeted to resounding applause by the Tuscan natives upon his arrival, leery of an "outsider" coming to the great Chianti Classico region. Were they worried he would tarnish the "straw flask" ideal that has done so much to "uplift" Chianti in the past? But his emphasis on the classic approach to vinifying Sangiovese, organic farming and now bio-dynamic practices, has won over just about everyone who ever comes in contact with his wines.
I was lucky to visit the estate last month and even luckier that the birthday party they had for Sean at the winery the night before left him still upright. A slightly hungover, but none-the-less charming and accommodating, Sean, showed us his wares in the cellar as we tasted barrel samples of some upcoming vintages. Later, we retired to a local restaurant, Badia a Coltibuono, for a serious test run of the 2007 Chianti Classico, the 2005 Chianti Classico Riserva and a special treat, of 2005 & 1994 Riecine La Gioia, a Super Tuscan-like Sangiovese based wine that is aged for 2 years in older and new barriques. The 2007 Chianti Classico is elegance personified. All of the roundness one could hope for juxtaposed with the acid tension that makes Sangiovese so alluring. The 2005 Chianti Classico Riserva ramps up the intensity without screaming, sorta like listening to Toto's Africa through super high-quality speakers and gently rolling the volume knob. There is a superb depth of fruit and spiced wild berries, smoke and white pepper with superior length.
Finally, the La Gioia is a Tuscan dream wine. The 2005 version was stunning; the wine reminding me of great encounters I've had with top vintages of Flaccianello or Cepparello. Powerfully made and structured for the long haul, this young wine struts out of the glass with brash, brazen black fruit, plums, raspberry and spice, leather and tobacco. Finally the 1994 La Gioia was seductive, self-assured and sultry...lots of lovely dark fruit, truffles, incense, pomegranate, pan drippings and aged balsamic notes melding in harmony. Very long finishing and a lustful, guilty pleasure, I hope like hell that we can get some of this in the near future as it's tremendous, aged wine.
Alas, the visit had to come to an end. And all intruders eventually return home. But maybe if you live in the fruits of the area long enough, you can create your own reality and subsequently, find a space in the world that is new and uniquely yours. I think Sean has done just that.
JCB the 4th