Bolgheri has a special place in my memory. We were on holidays in Tuscany in 2010 while my wife was pregnant of our son. It was also the time that my interest in wine started developing, so even though we were not based anywhere near Bolgheri, I still managed to convince my wife to head there and drive along the Strada del Vino, lined with majestic cypress trees, just to see the grounds where some of Italy’s most famous wines come from. The owner of a B&B in Liguria, where we were staying on our way to Tuscany, had glitters in his eyes when he heard where we were going. The way he spoke of wines such as Sassicaia and Ornellaia was with great reverence, but also a certain melancholy. Already then these were wines that fetched prices that occasional wine drinkers found undecent. So it was with great delight that we found a wine bar in Bolgheri where you could actually taste Sassicaia from a wine dispenser. 15€ for a quantity that allowed my wife and I each one sip.
I remember thinking : is this it? the great Sassicaia? In hindsight, it probably was the youngest vintage on sale, so close-knit and not very aromatic, and with a quantity like that, you’re literally not going to taste much. But at that time, it did not stimulate me to further explore Bolgheri and it was with great pleasure that I delved into Italy’s treasure trove of indigenous grape varieties.
The opportunity arose for a new look at Bolgheri when I was invited to attend an online tasting of Le Macchiole’s Bolgheri Rosso and their flagship wine, Paleo, a 100% Cabernet Franc. Le Macchiole was founded in 1983 by Eugenio Campolmi and his wife, Cinzia Merli, and is located a few kilometers from the coast. The first wine that appeared under the name of Le Macchiole was the Paleo in 1989. First made as a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese, they decided to add Cabernet Franc in 1993 to become a monovarietal wine in 2001. The exceptionally hot summer of the previous year had led the winery to add more Cabernet Franc to give more freshness and acidity. The result was so good that they decided to fundamentally transform the wine into a 100% Cabernet Franc, the first winery in Bolgheri to do so. And with great success, as the Paleo is a wine that receives much critical acclaim.
The Bolgheri Rosso of Le Macchiole is a blend of mostly Merlot and varying amounts of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, depending on the vintage. As Cinzia Merli, who leads the estate since her husband passed away in 2002, explains : the Bolgheri Rosso should not be seen as the “entry level” wine. It is made to stay true to its Bolgheri origins as a Tuscan expression of a blend of French grape varieties. What is quite remarkable about the Bolgheri Rosso is the lack of new oak. 20% of the grapes is aged in cement, the rest is put in 2nd, 3rd and 4th passage barriques.
The tasting was an interesting opportunity also to compare vintages; as we tasted the 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019 of the Bolgheri Rosso alongside the Paleo 2017.
Attractive cherries and cherry pith, with a hint of dried flowers. There’s a subtle layer of dark spice underneath, clove perhaps, that gives extra depth. On the palate the wine has good substance which is kept nicely fresh against a backbone of ripe tannins. In general the mouthfeel of this wine is rather soft and silky, but there is a dynamic quality that adds liveliness and makes the wine quite exciting. This wine is really good and enjoyable now, but has many years ahead of itself.
Sommelier Eros Teboni, who led the tasting, proposed the 2016 alongside the 2015. Both are outstanding vintages, but 2016 has that extra oomph and is generally considered as one of the best vintages of the last 10 years. The wine does not fail to demonstrate that it has that extra edge. Just after opening, there is something flowery, ethereal almost. With a bit of air it gains extra volume and offers salivating juicy cherries. Again there is lifting vein of acidity that makes every sip so refreshing. With extra time in the glass there’s also black pepper coming through in the nose. No hard edges or whatsoever, everything is just perfectly balanced.
The next pair we tasted was the 2018 vs the 2019. The summer of 2018 was very hot and there was little rain, making it very important to leave enough leaves on the vines for extra shade and to keep works on the soil limited to avoid ground water from evaporating. The nose of the 2018 is quite frivolous. An initial lactic touch blows off to make place for cheerful violets and cherries. The wine is quite supple and has a little less depth than the others, but its smoothness makes it ready to enjoy already now.
The 2019 is a bit shy upon opening. The nose is a bit hesitant but all ingredients are there with dark cherries, a hint of pepper and again that dark, spicy layer underneath the fruit, just as the 2015 had. A little bit of pine freshness gives a nice lift. As can be expected from such a young wine, everything is quite concentrated. And yet, the hallmark frehsness and silkiness of Le Macchiole’s Bolgheri wines are also present here. Interesting to add, by the way, that the 2019 had opened up considerably when I re-tasted it on day 2, so a few more years will be good to add extra aromatic appeal.
Paleo 2017, IGT Toscana
Blueberries and brambleberries, graphite and noble cedar wood, it is clear that this is a very different ballgame than the Bolgheri Rosso. The nose is incredibly refined and fresh with a hint of green herbs, but not a single trace of Cabernet Franc’s typical bell pepper aromas. The balance and elegance of this wine is impressive. Despite its youth everything comes together beautifully already now with pure and fresh fruit and incredibly fine tannins. There is a kind of restrained power in this wine that makes it so attractive to enjoy already now, but also for many years to come. The finish is long and makes you grab for another sip. This wine is definitely in a league of its own.
Just one suggestion if you want to enjoy this wine now : open it a couple of hours in advance to give it some air. There is a bit of new oak just after opening that will blow off and make place for all the nuances that this wine has to offer.
Le Macchiole has done an outstanding job with these wines. What I particularly liked in the line-up was the consistency. Despite the very different profiles of the Bolgheri Rosso and the Paleo there is a clear vision that transpires of elegance and freshness in all the wines we tasted. The Bolgheri Rosso is probably the opposite of a bombastic wine, with silky fruit and freshness, while the Paleo is simply one of the best Cabernet Francs I’ve ever had.
The great thing with the Paleo is that it has carved out an own identity for Cabernet Franc. As Cinzia pointed out : there is no 100% Cabernet Franc in Bordeaux, and Cabernet Franc in the Loire is very different, so there’s no real comparison to be made with the wines from France. Indeed, the Paleo was perfectly ripe and had no trace of the green and unripe notes that you can sometimes have in French Cabernet Franc. It ripens perfectly in the Mediterranean climate ànd can handle the heat better than Merlot. It is therefore no surprise that other wineries in Bolgheri have followed suit and also started making 100% Cabernet Franc.
On a personal note, this tasting definitely aroused my interest to have a closer look again at the wines of Bolgheri.