The Castellani family has been making some of the best Italian wines for over 100 years. That's a major achievement considering the failure or success of any given harvest is largely dependant upon the fickle moods of mother nature. Piergiorgio Castellani Jr., is now in command of the vineyards and he, among many others, are working hard to ensure this family business continues to grow and prosper for generations to come. Keep reading to find out a few of Mr. Castellani's best Italian wine recommendations and the exciting things going on at the vineyard.
An Interview With Piergiorgio Castellani Jr., Italian Wine Expert
The Pursuit of Indigenous Grapes
LTK: Please tell our readers a bit about Castellani's exciting pursuit to produce wines made completely from indigenous Italian grapes.
PC: Tradition means nothing if you don't work to renew it. Since man first discovered wine in 1000BC, we have lost a lot of precious information regarding vine growing and winemaking. Since roughly 800 BC, the Etruscans were producing good wines exactly the way I am producing my wines now. We know very few things about their wines but archaeologists have found thousands of amphoras used to export Etruscan wines throughout the Mediterranean. This means that Etruscan wines were so good and in demand that there was a market for them also outside of Tuscany.
We are trying to understand if in the last 100 years we discovered something in vine growing and winemaking that risks being lost in the constant quest to follow the latest global market trends. We don't want to lose our soul of local Tuscan production. Producing wine made from 100 percent indigenous Italian grapes is a way to survive in the market and distinguish yourself from competing wine producers around the world.
LTK: Is there a particular time frame in which you believe the wines will go to market?
PC: Maybe in one year, maybe never….we are working on it as an experiment. This is the other side of the chain that links our work to the market--it is linked in a certain way but it is very far from our objective.
An Experimental Vineyard
LTK: Can you give a few details about Castellani's "Experimental Vineyard"?
PC: It is a small beautiful vineyard at my family's Poggio al Casone estate located in Tuscany, near Pisa, Italy. It is populated by hundreds of indigenous vines divided in 10 varietals with fascinating names like Oliva, Uva Vecchia, Abrusco, Colorino, Foglia Tonda, Grand Noir, Giacomino, Canina, Santo Stefano, and Boggione. All of those varietals would have disappeared in a relatively short number of years if not for our intervention and the support of the University of Pisa, our partner in this project.
Some of the varietals produce low yields of incredibly good grapes for wine production. Most of them have been abandoned in the past specifically due to this reason: low yield! But this special and unique yield is exactly what are we looking for from a vine today.
During the Autumn months all of these vines have a different, beautiful color. When I see these different shades I appreciate even more the diversity of the vines and the risk of homogenization in the modern winemaking world.
LTK: You once said in an interview that one of the reasons why you began Castellani's "Experimental Vineyard" was a means in which "…the old world can defend itself from the aggression of the new." Can you explain that statement a bit for our readers?
PC: Wine history was born in Mesopotamia. There are beautiful stories regarding wine in Greek and Roman classical mythology. Wine means culture, our culture… the heritage of our population. The wine and the vine are strictly linked to Christianity in a very special way and at the same time, the wine is something that intersects with the soul of the human being. It also reveals something in us that is very deep and permits us to become conscious of our fragility.
Wine also has become a modern status symbol, people like to talk about wine…they like to know, they understand that there is something more beyond a glass of wine than a simple drink. This is demonstrated by a famous Californian varietal, the Zinfandel, which is the same grape as an Italian one, the Primitivo. The Primitivo arrived in Italy from Croatia were it is called Mali Plavac. And the same grape arrived in Croatia from the east…..Old and New worlds are linked with the same story…
All About Chianti
LTK: Seeing as how Castellani is one of the largest producers of Chianti, do you have any great Chianti vintages you can recommend?
PC: I can recommend the following:
- Genius Loci Sangiovese 2001
- Fattoria Travalda Toscana 2006
- "Brunaio" Brunello di Montalcino 1999
In addition, each wine and Castellani Estate has its own fine vintage chart:
- Tenuta di Campomaggio '97
- Fattoria Poggio al Casone '95
- Tenuta di Burchino 2001
- Fattoria di Travalda 2004
- Tenuta di Ceppaiano 2005 .
LTK: Speaking of Chianti, what do you think was the biggest downfall to its reputation in the wine community years ago?
PC: Chianti's reputation never dwindled in Italy and throughout Europe. In fact, over the last 20 years Chianti is resisting the pressure of the American market which has been strongly promoting sweeter and simpler wines. There has been a clear marketing strategy to approach the new wine consumer with sweeter wines which are more similar to other drinks they are used to. But Chianti is very close to coming back in a very big way. American consumers definitely understood that wine is for food and will see that Chianti is one of the best food-friendly wines in the world!
Best Italian Wine Recommendations
LTK: Italian whites are often ignored in favor of the reds, are there any Italian whites you've fallen in love with?
PC: Yes, Fiano..it combines the cold elegance of the Pinot Grigio with the warm aromatic complexity of southern Italian wine. Some people believe it to be the Pinot Grigio of the future.
LTK: Can you suggest one great bottle of wine that would be perfect for a person just beginning to explore the best Italian wines?
PC: Campomaggio Chianti Classico Riserva 1991 (the great ageing potential of the masculine Sangiovese in Purezza) for a woman and the Fattoria di Travalda Toscana cabernet/merlot/petit verdot 2004 for a man, the seductive feminine aromatic intensity of a Tuscan coastal Super Tuscan.
LTK: Food and wine pairing is always a hot topic, do you have any favorite Italian food and wine matchups you'd like to share?
PC: I would suggest to learn how to cook with wine. My wife Chiara makes a wonderful Brasato with my Genius Loci Sangiovese, "cooking" the meat in the wine for two days! And then I suggest for your readers to constantly experiment with cooking and drinking diverse wines… it helps to understand food and wine pairings in a more creative way.
LTK: Mr. Castellani, on behalf of LoveToKnow and our readers, we thank you so much for your time.
PC: Thank YOU for the opportunity to talk about this important and historical project of mine!