A Vertical of Siepi

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When you're a "wine nut" (as many of our readers are), it's always enjoyable to taste wines with friends to learn about the different styles from the various regions of Italy. A particular type of tasting called a vertical tasting often ratchets up the level of enthusiasm a couple of notches. A vertical tasting is one in which the same wine is tasted in different vintages.

I recently had the opportunity to attend a vertical tasting of Castello di Fonterutoli's flagship wine called Siepi. This wine is made from Sangiovese and Merlot grapes. These grapes are grown in a 17-acre vineyard on their estate. All the vineyard plots have been researched and mapped to provide the optimum growing environment for its respective grapes. The goal of the resulting wine is to emphasize the rich and elegant characteristics of all of Siepi's fruit.

Siepi is the result of the Mazzei family's constant effort to allow their vineyards to produce wines that possess a uniqueness in the glass. They monitor the weather very closely, which allows them to use vineyard management techniques that allow the vines to express themselves very graciously even in the most difficult conditions.

The 2003 vintage would be an excellent example of this. Philippo Mazzei explained that this was a difficult vintage. The Fonterutoli estate experienced both lower than average rainfall and temperatures in the winter months followed by higher than average temperatures in the spring and summer months. This resulted in an earlier than average harvest. However, since all the grapes were not fully ripe at the same time, vineyard workers were instructed to pass through the vineyard on three separate occasions, harvesting by hand only the grapes that were sufficiently ripened. At six years old, this wine showed a very high quality with excellent balance.

On the other hand, Mother Nature was much more generous in the 2006 vintage. The weather was particularly excellent during the final ripening stages of the grapes. This wine was the first vintage produced in Fonterutoli's new winery on the estate. Although tasting it in its infancy, you can tell that this deeply colored wine with rich tannins will age into a spectacular wine.

My experiences with the Mazzei family wines had been limited to their two Tuscan properties: Castello di Fonterutoli and Maremma's Belguardo. I was excited to hear that they have expanded their interests into Sicily. They now make a wine on their Zisola property just outside the town of Noto. They are concentrating on the Nero d'Avola grape there. After tasting their latest release, I am happy to report that the Mazzei family has successfully transferred all their expertise in the vineyard and cellar to Sicily.

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