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Barone Ricasoli: A visit to the oldest winery in Italy and the one which created the Chianti Classico

The Brolio Castle in the heart of Chianti Classico between the communes of Gaiole in Chianti and Castelnuovo Berardenga is an imposing castle dating back to the middle ages. It houses the oldest winery in Italy, Barone Ricasoli and the second oldest in the world. Although I had already visited the castle some years back, the children on a recent trip to the area wanted to visit the castle given we were in the area.

The largest winery in the Chianti Classico area, it was in this castle that the Baron Bettino Ricasoli invented the Chianti Formula in 1872.

Francesco Ricasoli, Bettino’s great-grandson who has been at the helm of the family business since 1993 says that ‘the research we do today has almost one thousand years behind it’.

You get a sense of history the minute you step in the grounds of the castle.  This is one of the oldest standing family businesses in the world. The first stones of Brolio Castle date back to the middle ages. The castle passed into the hands of the Ricasoli family thanks to an exchange of lands in 1141. Brolio, on the border between the territories of Siena and Florence, soon became the stage for all the disputes of the period, representing the Florentine bulwark against the fearsome Siena. Through the centuries the castle has suffered attack and destruction in numerous historical battles, from Aragonese and Spanish attacks during the fifteenth century, to disputes in the seventeenth century right through to bombings and artillery attacks during the Second World War.

The views from here are stunning as you look at the 1,2000 hectares that surround the castle with valleys, hills, woods of oak and chestnut trees, 235 hectares of vineyards and olive groves.

 

But what is maybe more interesting is the story of how Chianti Classico was born. Because, this winery can claim to have created what we now know as Chianti Classico.

The story dates back to Baron Bettino Ricasoli who in 1872 wrote a letter addressed to Cesare Studiati, professor at the University of Pisa. He put down, on black and wine, the formula for what would become Chianti Classico. The legend goes that he had been working for more than 30 years in search for the ‘perfect wine’.

The creation of the Chianti wine formula took three decades of research. Called the ‘Iron Baron’ he developed a precise sequence and a strict percentage of 7/10 Sangiovese, 2/10 Canaiolo, 1/10 Malvasia or Trebbiano.

His work laid the foundation for winemaking in the Chianti region as he introduced innovations in economic and farming principles. His intention was to introduce Tuscan wine on the global market and compete with French wines which were the undisputed leaders at that time. To do this he went on a tour of France visiting Marseille and then Burgundy, Paris and Bordeaux.

 

A tasting of Barone Ricasoli wines
A visit would not complete without stopping at the wineshop for a tasting of some of their wines. We tried the following wines:

WhiteTorricella 2013: A surprising white from a region that is known only for its red wines. A blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Sauvignon Blanc this is a wine of great balance between freshness and acidity but you get the feeling that this is a wine that can age very gracefully. One to try.

RoseAlbia 2014: A rose wine made of a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot. It has a very delicate colour and is perfect as an aperitif wine.

RedBrolio Chianti Classico 2012: A blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, this is a really good entry level Chianti Classico. I found it very well balanced.

Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva 2011: Same blend as the normal Chianti Classico this wine is clearly more complex and has very good ageing potential. It is the perfect expression of what a Chianti Classico Riserva has to offer. A deep red colour, it is very mineral with good acidity and also balance.

Tips on visiting Castello Brolio: We visited the castle by car. It is extremely difficult if not impossible to visit the castle by public transport. The entrance ticket to the castle grounds (the castle is not accessible to the public as the family still lives there)  allows you to visit the wine shop at the foot of the hill for a tasting. On the grounds, apart from the stunning views of the Tuscan rolling hills, you can visit the chapel and the crypt.

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History

The family tree, reproduced in a print from 1584, is also one of the first images we have of Chianti. After centuries defending the lands and the signorial feuds, the Ricasolis dedicated themselves to the development of agriculture and vineyards. Already in the 1600s documents report the first exports to Amsterdam and England, whereas at the start of the 1900s Brolio wines were known and exported all over the world: China, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Guatemala, Costa Rica and the then British African colonies.

 

Baron Bettino Ricasoli (1809 – 1880), illustrious politician, researcher and far-sighted wine entrepreneur, was the promoter of the most famous wine in the world today: Chianti.

 

At just twenty years old, Bettino Ricasoli, known as the “Iron Baron”, began his research and experiments in Brolio, with the aim of producing a high-quality wine in Chianti, able to compete on an international level with the great French wines, the undisputed leaders of the time. Bettino Ricasoli accomplished his mission through his awareness of the potential of the Brolio terroir together with his faith in technological progress and science applied to vinification processes.

Bettino Ricasoli travelled widely, visited cellars, brought avant-garde knowledge and tools to Chianti, involved illustrious researchers and scholars of the period in his mission and was wise and far-sighted in attending to the marketing and placing of Brolio wines on international markets. His commitment to the economic development of Chianti is interwoven with the history of a political man who was one of the main players of the Italian Risorgimento and Prime Minister of the unified Italy after Cavour. His determination gave a direction to what can be defined as a Risorgimento in Italian winemaking.

Bettino Ricasoli’s search for the perfect wine was the beginning of the development of winemaking in the Chianti area according to modern economic and farming principles. The Baron boosted the development of roads and railways and worked with a great progressive spirit for that period to educate and involve farmers and croppers in a production philosophy that aimed at quality. In 1867 wine from Brolio was awarded the first gold medal at the Paris Exposition.

 

The Ricasoli family has Longobard origins and records exist as far back as the seventh century

They appeared among the feudal noble dignitaries in the Empire of Charlemagne. From the thirteenth century onwards the branches of the family multiplied and then reunited once more at the turn of the nineteenth century. Lining up with their armies to defend Florence since the thirteenth century, generations of noble Ricasolis have charted the course of history on the backdrop of Brolio Castle, from eternal battles against Siena until the unity of Italy. It was Bettino Ricasoli, the “Iron Baron”, who became Prime Minister of Italy after Cavour.

The family tree, reproduced in a print dated 1584, is also one of the first pictures there are of the Chianti area.

 

Baron Bettino Ricasoli was a far-sighted wine entrepreneur as well as a leading protagonist in the Italian Risorgimento and the promoter of Chianti. After years of research and experimentation, he wrote down his formula in a letter in 1872.

The development of viticulture in Brolio by the Ricasoli family has very old and well-documented roots; the business is one of the four oldest in the world and the oldest in Italy, as mentioned by the leading American magazine, Family Business, which deals with the world classification of family businesses. In 1141 Brolio Castle passed into the hands of the Ricasoli family. The family tree, reproduced in a print from 1584, is also one of the first images we have of Chianti.

Since 1993, Francesco Ricasoli, 32nd Baron of Brolio, has been putting together testimonies from previous generations and has been at the helm of the family winery pursuing the goal of renewing the quality and personality of great Brolio wines, which interpret the unique characteristics of the land and its history.

 

The first stones of Brolio Castle date back to the middle ages. The castle passed into the hands of the Ricasoli family thanks to an exchange of lands in 1141. Brolio, on the border between the territories of Siena and Florence, soon became the stage for all the disputes of the period, representing the Florentine bulwark against the fearsome Siena. Through the centuries the castle has suffered attack and destruction in numerous historical battles, from Aragonese and Spanish attacks during the fifteenth century, to disputes in the seventeenth century right through to bombings and artillery attacks during the Second World War.

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Vineyards

In the middle of the 1990s, Barone Ricasoli started a huge project to renew the vineyards in its Chianti Classico land, amounting to 245 hectares. They were old vineyards (all planted at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s), ripped apart by Esca, with low densities per hectare and containing all the varieties belonging to Chianti Classico, but distributed randomly.

 

So an excellent opportunity arose to renew and improve the vineyards, while introducing international varieties, such as merlot and cabernet, at the same time.  Considering that most of the land was made up of rock and that the breaking up of the land had to be done using ploughs and explosives, the problem of reclamation proved to be complicated and hard right from the start. So far 204 out of 230 hectares have been replaced in Brolio, using modern preparation techniques and genetically selected material, all aimed at obtaining long-lived vineyards capable of producing high-quality grapes. 

 

Plant spacing was based on high density and the number of vines varies from 5500 to 6600 per hectare. The training system is spurred cordon, 50 cm from the ground. There are 8 buds per plant and crop thinning enables a yield of about 1 kg of grapes per vine (65-70 quintals/ha). The white grape varieties, on the other hand, are guyot trained so as to exploit bud fertility to the full. The attention paid to the terroir, which influences Barone Ricasoli’s decisions, is at the base of the zoning study set up in collaboration with the Experimental Institute for the Study and Protection of the Soil in Florence, which is going to classify every single vineyard according to its soil and climate characteristics: physical-chemical composition, altitude, exposure, microclimate. This study will help us to choose the most suitable variety to plant, the most suitable rootstock, the best row orientation and so on.

 

Countless grape varieties have been studied and grown in Brolio for centuries, such as those that we refer to today as “non native” varieties, like merlot, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and many others, as well as an incredible array of sangiovese grapes, which through time have characterised, if we can say so, the DNA of Ricasoli wines. It is precisely this wealth of varieties, as a result of old studies gathered in the field, that Ricasoli has promoted a project of clonal selection in order to preserve the most interesting biotypes of sangiovese in Brolio. The clones selected have been used to make the most recent vineyards.

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Winemaking

The cellars of Barone Ricasoli are at the foot of Brolio Castle, separated from the main body of the winery, and used exclusively for vinification purposes. The modernisation of the old cellars in Brolio was done by carefully restoring the aesthetic value and function of the original nineteenth century parts of the building, while organising modern and technologically avant-garde spaces at the same time.

 

The grapes are taken to the vat room in containers with a maximum capacity of 200 kg; vinification takes place in small steel vats, enabling us to carefully control the fermentation process and to keep all the characteristics of every single vineyard plot separate.

Experiments and a thorough knowledge of the land have led us to vinify separately also within the same plot and according to the morphological similarities of the subsoil. The structure of the vinification vat room was devised so that the vats can be filled by means of gravity, which allows a gentle punching down so as to extract the noblest substances from the skins.

At the end of the fermentation process the wines are transferred to barrels and oak barriques. The frequent organoleptic and laboratory controls accompany Ricasoli wines throughout their development right up to the long (sometimes very long) bottle maturation, in appropriate heat-controlled rooms, before being sent off to the four corners of the earth.

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11 different wines with 33 vintages

Winemaking since 1584

  • Francesco Ricasoli

    We are one of the few wineries in the Chianti Classico area capable of producing wines with personality that are very different from one another, though all produced in the same area. The credit lies in its multifaceted-nature that allows us to bring out very different characteristics of a particular variety as well as its natural flair for quality. It is a very old concept: the Romans called it ‘genius loci’, today we talk about terroir.

Highlights

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Wine Moments

Here you can see wine moments from tastingbook users.    or    to see wine moments from your world.

 Markus Del Monego MW/BWW2022-Best Germany Wine Critic of the World, Wine Writer (Germany)  tasted  5 wines  from  Barone Ricasoli . In a tasting of  32 wines 

After two years without a fair, Prowein opened its doors on Mai 15, 2022. It was wonderful to see people "live and in colour", having good discussions and feel rather well. The fair has made everything, that visitors could feel at ease. Large corridors and therefore no "traffic jams" in the alleys were creating a very pleasant atmosphere. Although I am not a big fan of tasting on fairs, as the situation is often not ideal, this edition of Prowein with the more relaxed atmosphere invited to discover some novelties.

3m 11d ago

 Luca Gardini/BWW2022 -Best Italy Wine Critic of the World, Wine Writer (Italy)  tasted  1 wines  from  Barone Ricasoli . In a tasting of  17 wines 

Fonterutoli Chianti Classico 2019 is another strike from Mazzei family. Fonterutoli territory never ceases to amaze, and that’s the peculiarity of a Chianti that is shaped by blending 90% Sangiovese, 5% Malvasia Nera and 5% Colorino. 

8m 12d ago

 Markus Del Monego MW/BWW2022-Best Germany Wine Critic of the World, Wine Writer (Germany)  tasted  1 wines  from  Barone Ricasoli . In a tasting of  5 wines 

Some exciting new arrivals were tasted on November 23, 2021. Two great wines from Tuscany and some truly typical wines from Bordeaux.                 

9m 27d ago

 Christer Byklum , Wine Writer (Norway)  tasted  1 wines  from  Barone Ricasoli . In a tasting of  33 wines 

2018 Ornellaia /Ruby. Blackberries, anise, spices, detailed, fruit driven nose, intense. Floral high notes. Fresh acidity, ripe tannins, dark fruits, anise, liquorice, detailed and intense, bit high alcohol, long finish. 94p

1y 5m ago

 Markus Del Monego MW/BWW2022-Best Germany Wine Critic of the World, Wine Writer (Germany)  tasted  2 wines  from  Barone Ricasoli . In a tasting of  22 wines 

This blind tasting features a number of Italian wines, which just have arrived on the German market as well as some cask samples of exciting new vintages.

1y 5m ago

 Juha Lihtonen / The Best Scandinavian Sommelier 2003, Pro (Finland)  tasted  6 wines  from  Barone Ricasoli . In a tasting of  28 wines 

It is impressive to experience how Vega-Sicilia has been able to push the  limits of superb quality wines to hyperb level where ever they operate! Their "late comers" – Macans, Pintia, and Alion – showed better than ever, while Valbuena 2014 and Unico 2010 have pushed the boundaries thanks not only for the best vintages ever but also with the parcel by parcel vinification process debuting in 2010. So impressive wines. As were Barone Ricasoli's "super-chianti" Colledilà and "super-tuscan" Casalferro which charmed with their impeccable mouthfilling smooth character.

2y 7m ago

 Pekka Nuikki / Editor of the Fine Wine Magazines, Pro (Finland)  tasted  1 wines  from  Barone Ricasoli . In a tasting of  16 wines 

Some lunch wines in a beautifull city of Tallinna!

3y 5m ago

 Hiroshi Ishida, Sommelier (Japan)  tasted  4 wines  from  Barone Ricasoli . In a tasting of  14 wines 

This is one of Barone Ricasoli's two Grand Selezione wines. The 2013 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Colledilà is a delicious wine that excels in terms of its generosity and pureness. The 2013 is an excellent one for the 7.5 hectare Colledilà vineyard that dates all the way back to 1832 (it is older than Italy). The 2012 vintage was not produced. Poor soils consist of marl limestone and alberese stones, and the wine does indeed present evident mineral tones that add balance and elegance. It feels etched and shapely in the mouth. I loved the muscle and sheer power of this beautiful wine. It requires ample decanting time, but it should age gracefully. This wine will be released in 2016.

4y 4m ago

 Tess Murray / Sommelier, Pro (Australia)  tasted  2 wines  from  Barone Ricasoli . In a tasting of  28 wines 

“1990 Barolo Cannubi Boschis by Luciano Sandrone. The vintage 1990 marks the beginning of a new era in Italian wine production. Modernisation and new innovative producers made their final breakthrough in this outstanding vintage. Hot and dry summer with cool night time temperature created wines of high quality and perfect phenolic ripeness. The third good vintage in a row in Piedmont!
Luciano Sandrone is one of the heroes of the Italian wine renaissance having contributed significantly to the modernization of Piedmont wines. Sandrone bought his first vineyard from the Cannubi hill in 1978. It was tiny in size - less than a hectare - but large enough to start lifting Sandrone on to the Piedmont wine map. 1990 was a successful vintage for the single vineyard Barolo Cannubi Boschis.
Developed, glossy medium-deep browning colour. The nose is lifted and nicely maturing; great expression of tar and roses, roasted and earthy notes. The mouth-feel is silky and smooth, firmed attractively by ripe tannin and refreshing acidity. This wine is harmonious and evolved today but no doubt will keep and improve for another decade.

6y 4m ago

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