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Star Interview : Baron of Brolio- Big getting Better

Baron Francesco Ricasoli, owner of the Barone Ricasoli wine estate is not perturbed by the sales decline in the Chianti Classico wines in 2009. He opened a museum in the Castello di Brolio, the 2006 vintage of the wine labeled after which made it in  the 2009 edition of the Top 100 List of Wine Spectator, writes  Subhash Arora who re-visited his estate recently.

Photos By:: Adil Arora

Francesco Ricasoli is man some people like to dislike-perhaps it is envy, jealousy or simply the aristocratic title he holds on his shoulders. He is a direct descendent of Baron Bettino Ricasoli the two- time Prime Minister of Italy who developed the formula for  producing the red Chianti Classico wine in 1872 with Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Malvasia. The winery went out of the family control in 1970s to Seagram’s.

But since he bought the company back with his father late Bettino Ricasoli, in 1993 and starting making wine with the assistance of the consultant winemaker Carlo Ferrini, he has been making higher quality wines and a recent award has been but a recognition of the quality improvement mission.

The 618 acres of vineyards out of which 531 are registered in Chianti Classico area make them the top Chianti Classico family run estate- it is the fourth oldest family estate in the world. Success can have its detractors..

So what had happened during the last two years since I had first met him at the Brolio? For one thing his father, the 31st Baron Bettino Ricasoli had sadly passed away at the age of 87 in May 2009. He had been actively involved in the business and had initiated the quality improvement drive for the Chianti Classico  and the Riserva-the Castello di Brolio. He was president of the Chianti Classico Consortium and served as mayor of Gaiole in Chianti, one of Chianti Classico's most important towns, from 1951 to 1960. He later became a member of the town council of Florence.

Museum

The project of starting a museum of the antique belongings of the family for the last several centuries was completed last May and it was opened to the public last summer. There are several armors and armaments, helmets and rifles that remind one of the fierce battles that Florence and Siena had been fighting for centuries.

Among many other interesting pieces displayed is a copy of the first day edition of the newspaper La Nazione which was founded by the 27th Baron Bettino, before he became the prime minister. He fought for the unification of Italy and the newspaper was to become the mouthpiece. Still an important Italian news daily, it recognised the services of the late Baron with a commemorative 150th anniversary last year.

Castello di Brolio Shines

It’s not only the Castello that is shining with the new Museum but so is the wine Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico 2006 was awarded number 5 spot of Wine Spectator 2009 edition of Top 100 with a 96 point rating.‘ This is the highest ranking achieved ever by Chianti Classico wine in this list,’ beams Francesco. The list which also takes into consideration the prices-cheaper wines get an advantage in the ranking, is even more relevant as the wine listed at $54 is in the ultra premium category.

As an icing on the cake, the April edition of Wine Enthusiast lists the wine in the bouquet of ‘15 ground breaking Italian wines that every wine lover of Old World classics must try.’ Monica Larner, the Rome-based Italian wine expert for Wine Enthusiast, includes Sassicaia, Tignanello, Gaja Barbaresco, Bertani Amarone, Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino, Radici Taurasi Riserva from Mastroberardino Ornellaia, Planeta and  Pio Cesare Barolo in the iconic list which also has Castello di Brolio..

‘We first brought out Castello di Brolio in 1997 and it represents 16 years of research and investment to introduce what we call a Grand Cru wine that is true expression of Brolio terroir with personality, elegance and individuality and represents a lot more than just a Chianti Classico or Sangiovese,’  says the 32nd Baron of Brolio, on the recognitions.

Research and investments

‘The research for the best plots for different grapes is still going on and we should have the final results this year. This is the first time such a scientific study has been done in Chianti Classico,’ says Francesco proudly while giving me the topographical map of his estate and adding,’ we did not even make this wine in 2002 due to poor vintage.’

The research is expected to give the Brolio estate scientific insight into what each parcel is capable of giving the best, based on its soil and terroir.

Choice of wines for self drinking

So what wines does he drink for daily consumption? Francesco laughs and says,’ obviously our own-as they are cheaper. But we do taste competitions’ wines regularly to assess and compare with our own.. I do drink Bordeaux and Burgundy frequently, but I stay mostly with the Old World wines.’ 

Incidentally, he did recommend that the wines can do well if they are left opened for a few hours or decanted for a short period before drinking.

Full Control of Restaurant

So what else has been happening lately? ‘Well, we took control of the restaurant a couple of years ago. We now control it fully. This gives the visitors to the winery an opportunity to taste our wines with local food in a relaxed atmosphere with a beautiful view.’ The Osteria located in the wooden climb, about 400 m from the winery does have a beautiful panoramic view from inside.
‘We have purposely kept a trattoria type atmosphere though we have made many innovations in the cuisine,’ he says.

Renovated Enoteca

Francesco is very fond of adding elegance and comfort for his visitors with modernism and continuously makes investments in these areas. The entrance lobby to the winery and the 2-floor tasting rooms are state-of-the art and can take a busload of passengers; over 30,000 visit the winery every year- same number visits the castle as well. The enoteca is quiet modern and makes a good source of revenues too. Therefore,’ we are working to install various computers with internet and other gadgets to give our visitors a more interactive experience.’ One can expect a new look enoteca next year with the possibility of holding seminars and wine appreciation events.

Wines of Brolio

The big estate size gives Brolio an opportunity to experiment with various grape varieties. Ricasoli is particularly fond of Torricella an IGT Tuscan Chardonnay that is matured in new and old barrels for a few months-just giving a hint of oak and spice in the wine, making it age-worthy too.It is a Burgundy style wine with a lot of elegance and complexity and can age for 10 years, and is an excellent wine.

Brolio is of course the basic Chianti Classico which is produced in volumes and finds its way in many 5-star hotels in India too. Casalferro is also an upper-end wine with Sangiovese and Merlot and one can spot it in some higher end Indian restaurants only because the prices are prohibitive.

Colledilá (hill on the other side) is an interesting wine we tasted-the 2007 was bottled last year but will be released this year. This unique styled wine is a pure Chianti Classico with 100% Sangiovese (Chianti Classico can now have 80-100% Sangiovese)

Brolio in India

What about the Indian market? ‘We were not doing too well earlier but surprisingly last year was much better. We are looking forward to an increasing sales year from our importer Mohan Bros and he has promised us bigger business. Mohan Bros has been more active in spirits and Moet Chandon but with infusion of his young son Suhail actively joining the business, the efforts have been escalated up in the wine sales and results are already showing.

One hopes to find more of the Brolio wines which are joining the growing ranks of iconic Italian wines-from Tuscany.

Subhash Arora

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