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The "Quiet" Wines of Arezzo
These lesser-known Tuscan wines are waiting to be discovered.
by Eunice Fried

In the tiny hill town of Monterchi, in the Tuscan province of Arezzo, there is a 550 year-old fresco of the Virgin Mary, pretty, young and quite pregnant. At the time the fresco was painted, it was considered immoral to portray a pregnant woman no less a pregnant Mary. On the occasion when such art works were discovered, they were most often destroyed. But Piero della Francesca, the famed fifteenth century artist of Arezzo, executed his fresco in a small obscure country church where only the local people came to worship, and the Madonna del Parto, as she is known, survived away from the eyes of the zealots and the politicians. And so, we have the pleasure of discovering her today.

Similarly, the province of Arezzo has been shielded from the popularity and exposure that has come to other provinces of Tuscany. Which is why there is so much to discover in Arezzo today. And topping the list of discoveries are the wines of the province.

It is not that Arezzo is an unknown entity; its history goes back to settlements that were there before the Etruscans arrived in the eighth century B.C. And art lovers have always come to the region's main town 45 miles southeast of Florence, also named Arezzo, where della Francesca's famous work, the ten frescoes called the Legend of the True Cross, can be seen in the Church of San Francesco.

But wine lovers who appreciate the wines of Tuscany are only beginning to encounter those of the Arezzo province. Just a few miles to the west of Arezzo lie such famous wine towns as Montalcino and Montepulciano and the Chianti Classico zone that lies between Florence and Siena. Yet, here in Arezzo, throughout the southern half of the province, are Tuscan wines many of which are quiet cousins of their better known relatives, often made of the same grapes, notably Sangiovese, often bearing a striking resemblance and at the same time, displaying a marked individuality, standing in the wings waiting to be discovered.

Proof that the potential of Arezzo has been recognized is that two of Tuscany's most distinguished wine companies have made sizable investments in the province. In 1994 Antinori purchased 400 acres in Arezzo, 60 percent of which are now producing grapes. Avignonesi has 220 acres in Arezzo near the wine zone of Cortona and another 85 acres in Cortona.

Clearly, the old province of Arezzo is primed for a new debut.

First, though, to understand Arezzo's wines, a few sentences about Italy's wine laws. Known as Denominazione di Origine Controllata, or DOC, they specify the geographical limits of a given zone, the grape varieties that can be planted, maximum yields per acre and other factors that affect quality. A zone must pass stringent tests before being granted a DOC. There is also a DOCG, the last letter standing for garantita, or guaranteed, which holds to yet higher and more restricted standards.

There is still another category, however, that carries neither a DOC or DOCG and yet includes some of the province's most interesting wines. These are wines labeled as Indicazioni Geografica Tipica, or IGT di Arezzo, that is, wines typical of the geographic area. Many are superior wines that can qualify for one or another DOC. Other equally superior ones are made by independent, often iconoclastic producers who use the prescribed grapes of the region but prefer to remain free of the restrictions of a given DOC.

What wines shine the brightest in each of these categories? Arezzo‚s newest DOC is Cortona, the zone in the southeasternmost part of Tuscany. Declared a DOC in 1997, it is about to make its first appearance with the 1999 harvest, and like all DOC, has strict rules. To carry Cortona DOC on its label, a red wine must be made of one or more of the six permitted grape varieties: Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Gamay and Pinot Noir. To have the grape name on the label, the wine must be made from at least 85 percent of that grape with the rest coming from the other five varieties. The Cortona DOC also includes white grapes — Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Grechetto and Italian Riesling. And all of the grapes must be grown in the limited zone spread out below the hill town of Cortona itself, planted at altitudes between 800 feet and 1600 feet.

Meanwhile, IGT di Arezzo wines continue to be the most exciting, most innovative category. A fine example of a high quality Arezzo IGT wine is Gratena Rapozzo da Maiano 1997, a product of a great vintage. Still a young wine, it is a robust 90 percent Sangiovese and 10 percent Canaiolo, with a lovely berry quality in the aroma, exquisite balance and long aftertaste. It shows promise of aging well.

Villa Cilnia Vocato 1996 is another outstanding Arezzo IGT. A blend of 90 percent Sangiovese and 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, it is a warm, inviting wine that is all silk and satin.

Also consider San Fabiano Armaiolo 1997 from Colli Aretini which combines 50 percent each of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, a harmonious wine with intense color, delicately scented aroma and medium body.

In contrast to these blends are two IGTs made 100 percent of Sangiovese. One is Fattoria di Petrolo Torrione 1996, an oak-aged wine of intense concentration and fine structure, it has beautiful color and at four years of age, is still quite young. Another is Tenuta Sette Ponti, Crognolo 1998. Sette Ponti means seven bridges and refers to the seven that cross the Arno River on the road between Florence and Arezzo. The name Crognolo comes from a wild bush, cornus, that grows on the estate. The wine, aged in oak, has a true Sangiovese aroma in which ripe cherries come to the fore and a fine, firm structure.

La Calonica Sangiovese Girifalco is an IGT that plans to become a Cortona DOC with the release of its 1999 bottling. A blend of 95 percent Sangiovese and five percent Merlot, the '98 has an intense aroma, assertive taste and, at this young age, still carries a bit of a tannic bite.

Le Ginestre Il Castellare, on the other hand, intends to remain an IGT. With 93 percent Sangiovese and seven percent Merlot in its 1998, its blend is not so different from La Calonica, but the wine itself is. With deep, concentrated flavors, vanilla overtones from its time in oak and warm vinous character, its tannin is beginning to soften into a velvet smoothness.

Luigi d'Alessandro Podere Il Bosco 1997 is different from all of the others in that it is made of Syrah, a grape brought to Tuscany from France's Rhône Valley. Dark in color with a bright aroma of pepper and fruit, Il Bosco is full-bodied with superb structure and depth of flavors.

Until the new Cortona DOC goes into effect, some of the wines that are eligible to carry it on their labels beginning with the 1999 harvest are those that have been under the more general DOC Valdichiana. Not many of them come to the United States.

While American wine lovers are just being introduced to Cortona and Valdichiana and IGT di Arezzo, they are well acquainted with Arezzo‚s best known wine, Chianti. And among Arezzo's finest are its DOCG Chianti produced in the province‚s vineyards closest to the Chianti Classico area. Those whose label identifies them as coming from Colli Aretini, one of the zones of Chianti, must adhere to more stringent rules particularly regarding aging time before a wine can be released.

An excellent example of Arezzo's DOCG Chianti available in the United States is Giacomo Marengo‚s Castello di Rapale Riserva of 1997, an outstanding harvest in Tuscany. It is an intense , well-knit, harmonious wine that is a blend of 90 percent Sangiovese and 10 percent Canaiolo; it is made of organically grown grapes as have all Marengo‚s wines since 1995.

Along with wine and della Francesca frescoes, Arezzo has other enticing offerings. It has long been known for its honeys which range from acacia and sunflower to linden, eucalyptus and chestnut, for its extra virgin olive oil and for its Chiana, the huge, white, horned cattle that supplies the best beef in Tuscany. It was home at times, in various centuries past, to Petrarch, Fra Angelica, Giorgi Vasari and Dante. It is the home of recently opened Etruscan burial tombs. It has a landscape dotted with old Romanesque churches and castles on its hills. And all of it is here, only a few miles from the bustle of Florence and Siena, waiting to be discovered.

Article Resources: USA

Among the many wine shops that carry the fine wines of Tuscany are the following:

California

    D & M Wine & Liquor Co.
    2200 Fillmore Street
    San Francisco, CA
    Tel: 415/346-1325

Florida

    Crown Wine Merchants
    6751 Red Road
    Coral Gables, FL
    Tel: 305/669-0225

Masssachusetts

    Busa Wine & Spirits
    55 Bedford Street
    Lexington, MA 02453
    Tel: 781/862-1400

New York

    Morrell & Company
    One Rockefeller Plaza @ 49th Street
    New York, NY 10020
    Tel: 212/688-9370

Washington State

    McCarthy & Schiering Wine
    6500 Ravenna Avenue N.E.
    Seattle, WA 98115
    Tel: 206/524-9500

Article Resources: Italy

Agriturismo in Arezzo
The way to experience fully the countryside of Arezzo is to stay in an agriturismo. In this program, which can be found throughout Italy, working farms can turn old buildings into guest rooms and apartments, many of which have kitchens. Some agriturismos also run restaurants. The important thing is that they are all active in some form of agriculture, from crops to winemaking to horse raising. Among the best are:

Via della Stella

    Valiano di Montepulciano (SI)
    Tel: 39/0575.62126
    Fax: 39/0575.613100
    Only six miles from Cortona, Via della Stella is one of the most beautiful agriturismos. It has two buildings (one from the 1600's, one from the 1800's) converted into apartments that can accomodate two to eight people; all have terra cotta floors and exposed beams. Swimming pool and gardens.

La Pievuccia

    S. Lucia, 118
    52043 Castiglion Fiorentino
    Arezzo
    Tel. & Fax: 39/0575.651007
    La Pievuccia has an estate house as well as four apartments; one of which can sleep six people while the other three accomodate two people. There is a small restaurant and a lounge, a pool and a children's playground.

Azienda Agricola Giacomo Marengo

    52040 Palazzuolo
    Monte San Savino (AR)
    Tel & Fax: 0575.847083
    A well situated agriturismo with swimming pool on the grounds of a working winery, 20 miles from the town of Arezzo, 12 miles from Siena.

Fonte Dei Serri

    S. Martino a Monte
    Tel & Fax: 0575.509.231
    A small agriturismo that looks out to the thirteenth century Poppi castle and is a working farm where guests can purchase fresh vegetables, lamb and veal for their meals.

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