Monday, April 9, 2012

The Italian Bordeaux: San Leonardo

In northeastern Italy you will find the region of Trentino. It’s a beautiful, mountainous region that is well known for its vibrant, mineral-laden white wines. However, what many people don’t know is that one of the great examples of an Italian take on the Bordeaux blend is made in Trentino. When we think of Bordeaux varieties grown in Italy, the first place that comes to mind is Bolgheri, in Tuscany. Tenuta San Guido’s Sassicaia has been the Italian standard bearer of the Bordeaux blend for decades, and its cost reflects its popularity, with new releases costing upwards of $160 a bottle. But what if you could buy a wine of equal pedigree with a truly unique, Italian stamp on the Bordeaux blend for a third of that price? That’s where Trentino and Tenuta San Loenardo comes in.

Owned since 1784 by the noble Guerrieri Gonzaga family, Tenuta San Leonardo has a storied past that goes back over 1500 years. However, it wasn’t until the early ‘80s that the Marquis Carlo Guerrieri Gonzaga decided to create a wine styled after the wines of the Haut Médoc, in Bordeaux.

It was at this time that local varietals were replaced by Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. The 740-acre estate, surrounded by mountains, dedicates 50 acres to vines in its well-drained soil of chalk, clay and sandy sediments. The climate can be unpredictable, and its frequent rain around harvest time is challenging; yet through vigorous vineyard management and grape selection, Tenuta San Leonardo continues to produce wines of prestige that can live for decades in your cellar.

The wines see six months in 60-hectolitre Slavonian oak and then into small French oak (some new and some once or twice used) for 24 months. This is followed by a year of resting in bottle before release. When the wines first hit the market, they can be difficult to understand, with their notes of tart berries and bell pepper seeming lean against the wine’s angular tannins. However, through aging, San Leonardo begins to truly shine. A recent vertical going back almost twenty years showed that these wines are truly gems. They are intense and focused with palate-coating fruit, earth and herbs, brisk acidity and remarkable length.

This is not the Bordeaux blend that you’ll find in today’s Bordeaux, California, or Tuscany. This is what it could be if fruit extract wasn’t the primary focus of so much winemaking today. And although it’s not for everyone, this wine is certainly worth trying, because it’s a pure expression of terroir, and it may be the exact thing that you’re craving. In this taster’s opinion, San Leonardo is one of the best Bordeaux blends being made today.

On to the notes:

1993 Tenuta San Leonardo Vallagarina IGT – The nose showed vibrant red currants, chalky minerals, green leaves, mint and a hint of spice. On the palate, it started bright and exciting with zippy acidity yet balanced against velvety textures with red berries, earth and a hint of green pepper. The finish lingered with greenery and crushed wild berries. (94 points)

1995 Tenuta San Leonardo Vallagarina IGT – The nose showed red berries, expressive dried flowers, red licorice, brown butter and earthy minerals. On the palate, it was lean yet focused with sour, tart red berries, mineral salinity and herbs. The finish lingered and slowly melted from the palate. (92 points)

1996 Tenuta San Leonardo Vallagarina IGT – The nose showed black currant, herbs, earth, chalk and minerals with intense exotic spices. On the palate, it was intense and focused with a rush of velvety texture that mellowed into sweet dark fruits and a contrast of mineral salinity. The finish lingered with notes of tea leaves, green pepper and herbs. (95 points)

1997 Tenuta San Leonardo Vallagarina IGT – The nose was dark and brooding, showing fig, black pepper and green leaves, with dark and sensuous spicy undertones. On the palate it was soft and inviting with medicinal herbs and red berries, green pepper and inner aromatic spices. The finish slowly faded with drier red fruits and herbs. (90 points)

1999 Tenuta San Leonardo Vallagarina IGT – The nose showed dark ripe berries, cherries, browned butter, dark chocolate, and a hint of pepper. On the palate, it was intense with mouth-coating black fruits that turned savory and earthy yet maintained its full body and rich fruit. Pepper and red berries lasted through the medium-long finish. (92 points)

2001 Tenuta San Leonardo Vallagarina IGT – The nose showed black cherries with chestnut, undergrowth, animal musk and a bit of greenness which did not detract but instead added an earthy element to the aromatics. One the palate, it presented a medium-bodied wine with perfect balance as more cherries, cranberries and cocoa showed through. The finish was finessed with red fruit and left the palate refreshed. I would recommend this wine to anyone looking to explore northern Italy and the red wines it is capable of producing. (92 points)

2003 Tenuta San Leonardo Vallagarina IGT – The nose showed red and black, slightly roasted fruits, a note like childhood vitamins, dark chocolate and buttery crust. On the palate, it was lean yet fresh with sour red berries and hints of herbs. The finish was staying with red berries yet tart. (89 points)

2004 Tenuta San Leonardo Vallagarina IGT – The nose showed a slight sheen of oak with ripe wild berries, dark chocolate, hints of manure and pepper. On the palate, it was intense with tart red berries, very dark chocolate, herbs and saline minerals. Mixed berries and pepper lasted through the long finish. The ’04 is still a baby and may one day rival the ’96. (94 points)

2005 Tenuta San Leonardo Vallagarina IGT – The nose showed ripe dark fruits and sweet floral notes. On the palate, it showed brisk acidity lending a juicy component to its flavors of tart mixed berries and wild herbs. The finish showed hints of green with peppery notes. (91 points)

2006 Tenuta San Leonardo Vallagarina IGT – The nose showed lean raspberry, mountain herbs and hints of manure. On the palate, I found lean red fruits, savory notes and rough tannin that stayed through the palate-coating finish. It’s an excellent example of cool-weather Cabernet and worth trying. (92 points)

Find San Leonardo on: Wine-Searcher!

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