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Raising a glass to noble Tuscan wines
By John H. Isacs

TUSCANY not only makes some of the world's greatest wines, it is also home to the oldest wine brands in the world. Since one of Tuscany's great winemaking families visited Shanghai last week, I thought it particularly appropriate to dedicate this week's column to the historic noble winemakers of Tuscany.

When the Princesses Natalia and Irina Guicciardini Strozzi arrived in Shanghai to host a series of wine events, they were representing much more than just wine.

As the Middle Age was ending and the early Renaissance was beginning, noble Tuscan families including Strozzi, Ricasoli, Antinori and Frescabaldi started selling wines under their own names. This was at a time when the great Chateaux of Medoc including Lafite, Latour, Mouton and Margaux were mere swamps.

Today these historic producers honor their heritage by continuing to make some of Italy's and the world's best wines.

Guicciardini Strozzi

Boasting over 1,000 years of history, the Italian winery Tenute Guicciardini Strozzi spreads over 530 hectares in Cusona. Situated among the green Tuscan hills, the estate dates back to AD 994 and is close to the medieval town of San Gimignano, which is sometimes referred to as the medieval Manhattan. The owners of this historic estate are the Guicciardini Strozzi family who boast a rich history at the center of Italian winemaking, commerce, politics and society.

Visiting Shanghai for the first time, the princesses Natalia and Irina Guicciardini Strozzi are related to Sir Winston Churchill and recently have also been documented as direct descendents of Mona Lisa. Both young ladies have beautiful smiles reminiscent of Mona Lisa and, even more important to me, they also make great wines.

New in the China wine market, three Guicciardini Strozzi wines of particular note are the Cusona 1933 Vernaccia di San Gimignano, VignaRe Bolgheri Superiore and Millanni Super Tuscan.

The Cusina 1933 is a white wine made from the Vernaccia variety that's considered one of Tuscany's most stylish white wines offering sensations of tropical fruit, almonds with delightful hints of bananas.

The VignaRe is a single vineyard red wine blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot that offers Bordeaux-style structure and depth with Tuscan exuberance. The limited production Millanni red wine celebrates the thousand- year history of the estate and is a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The wine offers typical Sangiovese dark cherry and red fruit aromas and flavors along with subtle notes of oak and soft tannins.

Barone Ricasoli

I first met Francesco Ricasoli over a decade ago when he picked me up at my hotel in Siena. I had a terrible cold that day and before bringing me to his majestic Brolio castle and adjacent winery, he took pity on me and we stopped for a delicious espresso coffee.

I still remember how he spoke of the challenges of rebuilding the grand reputation of Barone Ricasoli and their wines.

Of Longobard origin, the Ricasoli family first moved into Brolio in 1141 when the city states of Florence and Siena were in the early stages of their epic struggle for regional power that would last until 1478. Dating back to the 10th century, the castle was first a fortified village and later a fortress projecting the power of Florence in southern Tuscany.

In the mid-19th century, Baron Bettino Ricasoli invented the formula for Chianti Classico and also served as the second prime minister of a unified Italy. My friend, the 32nd Baron, Francesco Ricasoli, now oversees the historic estate and over the past two decades has successfully brought Barone Ricasoli back to its historic position as one of Italy's great winemakers.

A range of Barone Ricasoli wine are available in Shanghai. The Torricella Chardonnay Toscana IGT is a single vineyard white wine that in recent vintages has progressively become more elegant and balanced, exhibiting rich fruit flavors and good acidity.

The flagship Brolio Chianti Classico DOCG red wine is a classically styled Chianti Classico with plenty of red and black fruit flavors and well-integrated tannins.

The Super Tuscan offering from this estate is called Casel Ferro and has evolved from a Bordeaux blend style wine to a Merlot wine of wonderful depth and complexity.

My favorite Ricasoli wine is the Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico DOCG. This majestic red wine is a must-try for lovers of Chianti Classico wines as it shows the potential of the region to produce wines that accurately express the Sangiovese variety of this region while combining the traditions with the best of modern winemaking.

Two noble producers

Marcheses Antinori and Frescabaldi are two additional noble Tuscan producers that have become some of the most important ambassadors of Italian wines to world markets.

Both possess a rich history of making wine, Antonori from 1385 when Giovanni di Piero Antinori joined the Winemakers Guild of Florence, and Frescabaldi from 1300.

Just as significant as their long histories, the two families have helped revolutionize the style and winemaking methods of modern Tuscan wines, not only returning classic-style Tuscan wines to prominence but also innovating the use of international varieties to make Super Tuscan wines.

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