A Stop at Brancaia and a Pizza Night #ItalianFWT



We saw a lot of beautiful views during our Italian road trip, but none were more spectacular than those we got to take in at Brancaia’s Poppi estate in Radda in Chianti property. We made our way up steep, narrow, rocky roads to reach the winery, but once we got there, the payoff was well worth it!



Brancaia was born in 1981, when a Swiss couple, Brigitte and Bruno Widmer, fell in love with an abandoned estate in Castellina in Chianti, about 20 minutes from where we were. The story we were told on our visit is that the couple fell in love with the area and were initially interested in just buying a vacation home. In turn, they found and fell in love with the house on the Castellina property, but there was no way to purchase just the house, so they bought the whole thing. What a dream! 

Within just a couple of years, they’d won first place award from a major Chianti Classico tasting. They quickly gained international recognition after this and began expanding, first buying the Poppi estate in 1989, which is now the family estate, followed by another property in Maremma
called Grosseto in 1998. They’ve now long since established themselves in the top tier of Tuscan producers.

The family is now in its second generation of winemaking, although Brigitte and Bruno’s daughter Barbara, was reluctant to take on winemaking as she initially wanted to be an architect. Wine eventually won her over though, and she went on to study enology and viticulture. She has been in charge of winemaking and the vineyards at all three properties since 1998. That’s certainly a huge task, so in addition to the help of a team of about 40 people, she also relies on advice from enologist Carlo Ferrini, one of Italy’s most famous winery consultants.


Barbara Widmer. Image borrowed from winery's website.

Our visit coincided with the 2018 harvest, and it’s always exciting to see wineries during harvest as everything is in full action mode! As we moved through the tour we could basically follow the winemaking process as it was happening. Follow the process via these highlights:


Grapes still on the vines.
Grapes coming in and being hand sorted.
Juice being piped via gravity-flow into stainless steel fermentation tanks.
Fermented wine aging in the barrel room.

Note: Our visit was comped as a member of the wine industry. No other compensation was received, and as always, all opinions are my own.


All three of the properties are farmed sustainably, all following the guidelines of integrated production, which offers principles for sustainable practices in the vineyard, winery, and even in packaging. They’ve also been restricting the use of fertilizers and chemical pesticides in their vineyards since 1996, and do not use any conventional insecticides. Instead, useful insects are allowed to multiply. The limit irrigation and all harvests are done by hand. The vineyards have also been converting to organic practices and are certified since the 2019 vintage.



SUPER TUSCANS

Brancaia makes a full range of wines, in addition to grappa and olive oil. In addition to a Chianti Classico and a Chianti Classico Reserva, they also have several Super Tuscans. Personally, I know them better for this class of wine.

What are Super Tuscans you ask? This is the unofficial name for wines from Tuscany that play with blends outside those prescribed for their appellations, particularly those that include non-indigenous, international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, etc. Interestingly, at one point this also included wines that were made from 100% Sangiovese, because at the time Chianti Classico, as one example, required that at least 10% of the blend be made of up other grapes that are generally considered to be of lesser quality. The rules have changed over time, but some wineries making 100% Sangio still prefer to stay IGT.


The origins story of how the Super Tuscans came to be is among my favorite bits of wine lore. In the 1970s, winemakers in Tuscany began to increasingly experiment with their blends. These were high-quality wines, however, because the fell outside the DOC regulations, they were classified as Vino de Tavola (VdT), or table wines. Producers decided to release these wines anyways. Sassicaia from Tenuta San Guido was the first to be released commercially, and it was soon followed up by Tignanello from Antinori, and others quickly followed. These wines very quickly gained international recognition and began commanding BIG bucks. Because they were still labeled as table wines, they basically made a mockery of Italy’s quality pyramid.

Whether intentional or not, their existence was a big FU to the regulatory system and the system was forced to accommodate them. The Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT, nowadays you'll also IGP) classification was essentially created in 1992 to accommodate them. Nowadays, you’ll find Super Tuscans in all tiers of the quality pyramid, and there are various appellations now dedicated to them. The underdogs are underdogs no more.


I should reiterate that the term "Super Tuscan" is completely unofficial. It was created by the media and now is used as shorthand for this rather large, broad class of wines, and it caught on with consumers. A lot of wineries would not use it themselves to describe their wines.  


TASTING


After our tour we had a chance to taste through the range of wines. We tasted mostly at the bar inside, but I’d recommend taking a glass to the patio outside where you can take in the beautiful views!



Here are quick notes on all the wines we tasted on our visit.

Rosé Toscana IGT 2017

Blend: 100% Merlot | 12.5% Alc
Nose: Pretty pink floral note, pink grapefruit, tangerine, bright cherry.
Palate: Floral perfume continues on the palate, grapefruit skin, peach, cherries, hints of stone on the finish.
Winery’s Recommended Pairings: Aperitif, salads, crustaceans, seafood, and poultry.




Tre Toscana IGT 2015

Blend: 80% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon | 13.5% Alc | Avg Price $19
This wine gets it name from the fact that it blends three different grape varieties coming from all three of their vineyards.
Nose: Rich black cherry, deep red plum, spices, cloves.
Palate: Savory herbs and tomato paste join the other notes on the palate. Good QPR.
Winery’s Recommended Pairings: Various pasta dishes, roasted and sautéed white meat, white poultry, fried and grilled fish.




Chianti Classico DOCG 2016

Blend: 100% Sangiovese | 13.5% Alc | Avg Price: $42
Nose: A bouquet of pink and red flowers, herbs, and bramble, followed by sour cherry and red plum.
Palate: Deeper on the palate with pepper and light tobacco notes, red plum. There’s an elegant smoothness to the finish.
Winery’s Recommended Pairings: Salami, cheese, pasta, poultry and grilled meat.




Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2013

Blend:  80% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot | 13.5% Alc | Avg Price: $43
Chianti Classico Riserva was the first wine the winery produced.
Nose:  Cherries that have fallen onto a forest floor, tomato leaf, a little cedar.
Palate: Plums, red licorice, fennel, tomato leaf, and a hint of lavender join the mix. One of my faves from the tasting.
Winery’s Recommended Pairings: Grilled meats, beef and veal roasts, stews, grilled fish and pasta dishes with strong sauces.




Cabernet Sauvignon IGT Rosso Toscana 2016

Blend: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon | 14% Alc
Nose: Pine, salt, cassis, and plums.
Palate: A mix of red and black fruits including strawberry sauce, black cherry, raspberry, and dark plums, with pine, and light spice on the finish.
Winery’s Recommended Pairings: Salami and aromatic cheese but for a more formal meal the ideal pairing is almost any red meat, especially served rare if grilled or slow-braised.




Ilatraia Rosso Toscana IGT 2014

Blend: 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Petit Verdot, 20% Cabernet Franc | 14% Alc | Avg Price: $56
Nose: Olive tapenade, cedar, forest floor, meaty undertones. Opens up considerably in the glass.
Palate: Red and black plums, cassis, star anise and other mixed spices. Velvety.
Winery’s Recommended Pairings: Food with balanced, intense flavours, meat and game dishes – fried or stewed – for poultry such as pigeon or pheasant.




Il Blu Rosso Toscana IGT 2015

Blend: 70% Merlot, 25% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon | 14.5% Alc | Avg Price: $77
Nose: Violets, black plums, black cherry, hint of mint.
Palate: Beautiful, bright dark fruits, a hint of chocolate, and black pepper. Long, lovely finish.
This is their top-end cuvée and was indeed my favorite.
Winery’s Recommended Pairings: Dishes with strong flavors, dark meat such as beef or lamb.
Game – fried or stewed – dark wild fowl.




Grappa Invecchiata 2014

Blend: Pomace of Sangiovese, Merlot and a small proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon | 43% ABV
Nose: Vanilla, hay, light hints of flowers
Palate: Similar notes on the palate, along with grapeseed oil. Very smooth and brandy-like. 





BRINGING BRANCAIA HOME WITH A PIZZA NIGHT


We recently decided to open a bottle of the Brancaia Tre Toscana IGT 2016 for a quaranteam pizza night. (Wine purchased from Wine.com for $19.99.) The blend for this wine is exactly the same, but this vintage was considerably meatier than my notes from the 2015 vintage. On the nose it showed notes of tomato paste, smoked meat, and mushrooms.  It was likewise quite earthy on the palate, with black fruit, red fruits singed by the sun, stones, and black pepper on the finish. It was full-bodied,  and had medium + to high acid and tannins. (14% alc.)


I would highly recommend decanting this wine as it started out quite tight when we first poured it. We also had a glass the next night, and it was MUCH better. It was richer, smoother, more polished, and less gamey, showing notes of licorice, violets, pomegranates, and even a little blood orange joining the party that had not been there the first night. 



For our pizza night though, I made the dough based on this recipe from Breadtopia.com for Grilled Sourdough Pizza. I rolled out the dough quite thin for two pizzas, then Greg and Drew teamed up on decorating the pizzas with toppings and cooking them on the grill.  It took some creative maneuvering to get them on the grill, but they came out nice a crispy with a little char.










The guys took our pizzas in two different directions. One was what you might call a meat-lovers style pizza with steak, peppers, and onions, with more classically Italian flavors. The second had Asian-inspired flavors mixed in with spicy pork belly, jalapeños, corn, and onions. Drew liked the wine with the spicy pork pizza, but most of us preferred it with the steak pizza, as it resonated with the earthy meaty notes. We also had a couple of California reds open, and I definitely preferred the spicy pork with these more fruit-driven wines. 



I’d recommend having a pizza night of your own with a couple of different wines and mix and match for yourself!



Photo credits in this post are split between Greg and I, although as usual he took all the food pics, as well as the majority of the beautiful shots of scenery.
 

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The rest of the Italian Food, Wine, Travel blogging group is also exploring Super Tuscans this month. Check out Jill Barth's invitation post here. If you see this post early enough, feel free to join our Twitter chat on Saturday, June 27th at 8 am PT time. All are welcome, just hit up the hashtag #ItalianFWT. 
Be sure to check out the rest of the group's posts.
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Also check out these other posts related to our Italian road trip.


And to brush up on Italian Wine check out my Italian Wine 101 Cheat Sheet




Additional sources used for this post: 

Christine Havens : Brancaia: The Best of Both Worlds
Superiore.de : Brancaia
Decanter: Top Super Tuscans
Wine Enthusiast: What’s a Super Tuscan and is the Term Still Relevant?
WineFolly.com: Unofficial Star of Italy: Super Tuscan Wine - A good overview, but note that there is an error -- they mention Tignanello as the first Super Tuscan, but Sassicaia preceeded it by a couple of years.


This post contains affiliate links, including the following Amazon Associate links, from which I might receive a commission at no cost to you.



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7 comments

  1. Your pictures are just fantastic Nicole! Seems like your visit was amazing and very informative!

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  2. That looks like an amazing visit.
    I did laugh at..."they found and fell in love with the house on the Castellina property, but there was no way to purchase just the house, so they bought the whole thing." Ahh...the trials of looking for a house in Tuscany. LOL.
    Your pizzas look amazing. When it cools down a little in the fall, I may look at tossing a pizza on the BBQ!

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    Replies
    1. That was a good round of pizzas! Very tasty. And yes, that story really amuse med too!

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  3. Grape choice aside, I loved seeing your photos, and also happy they have moved to organic viticulture. Your pizzas look 100% delish!

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  4. Holy Cow...thanks for sharing this day with us. What great photos and information and the pizzas look amazing too.

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Thanks so much for leaving your comments and questions. I always love to hear from you!