The Winemaker’s Choice – La Scelta Del Vignaiolo

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To date in my own search for terroir driven wine producers in Italy, I’ve focussed mainly on the opinions of critics, bloggers and wine guides. Sometimes, as with the Slow Wine Guide, you can find a publication that hits on the sort of wines you are looking for but in the main, wine guides and mainstream critic reviews seem to hint at an old boys network with the same wineries excelling year after year. The whispers of impropriety you hear from producers all over Italy add further credence to this theory with small producers never seeming to get a look-in despite the fact that they are producing some of the most dynamic and terroir focussed wines around.

Relying purely on wine guides also omits from consideration the opinion of a very important group of people – the winemakers themselves. I’m often fascinated by what wines the winemakers themselves drink of a Saturday evening, when they aren’t drinking the fruits of their own labour of course, and have generally found that winemakers enjoy drinking wines that exemplify the qualities they are looking to achieve in their own offerings.

It was somewhat fortuitous therefore that not only did I recently come across such a methodology already up and running in Italy, but that at its source were the folks from Castello di Potentino, Charlotte Horton and Alexander Greene.

Driven by a desire to give winemakers a voice that they hitherto hadn’t been afforded in terms of recommending the wines that they themselves enjoy, Charlotte and Alexander set about challenging the existing collegiate and competitive approach employed by wine guides and began to develop a new philosophy. The result was “The Winemaker’s Choice” or “La Scelta Del Vignaiolo”, a means of identifying wineries, not wines, who strive for a true expression of terroir and are celebrated for such values as opposed to for the size of their PR department, or the acclamation they might receive from mainstream critics.

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The idea for the first selection was simple – Alexander and Charlotte identified two of their favourite wineries. For practical purposes the first selection was confined to Tuscany. In this instance the selections were Tenuta di Valgiano and Sesti, Castello di Argiano. Each of these wineries then selected two of their own favourite estates and suddenly, and without a pharaoh in sight, there were now three tiers to the pyramid. The process continued with eight wineries identified in a fourth tier and in theory could’ve kept growing and growing until the pyramid of Tuscany started to rival the pyramids of Giza, although I suspect that to do so would’ve diluted the core values of the methodology and one would end up being forced to include some of the megaliths of Montalcino or the colossuses of Chianti, none of whom could even jokingly be described as terroir focussed.

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Although the first iteration of the selection resulted in a hierarchical structure, the fact that these are personal selections from the winemakers themselves means there is no competition amongst the wineries; there isn’t an overarching Parker, Suckling character, or an editorial team overseeing the selections. This also means there isn’t a predisposition toward one particular style of wine within the selection, which is a refreshing change from the wine publication norm.

This is all very well in theory of course, but does it work? It was strangely reassuring to me for some reason to see that Castello Di Potentino had selected two wineries whose wines I particularly enjoy myself. My thoughts on Valgiano are already well documented and although I’ve only recently become acquainted the Brunelli from Sesti, I’ve been very impressed with what I tasted so far. From there it gets a little hazy. I’ve only tasted wines from one of the wineries in tiers three and four, but again it’s a positive outcome as I’ve enjoyed the wines produced at Riecine by Sean O’Callaghan.

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This is where the fun part of this project comes in because, for me, it’s very much a case of four wineries down and 11 to go. Despite the small sample size, the 100% hit rate from the four wineries I’ve tasted so far hints at the underlying value of this project in my search for terroir driven producers. The only downside I’ve encountered is that some of these wines can be tricky to come across outside of Italy, but that actually only adds to my desire to next seek out the wines of Podere Concori, Fabbrica di San Martino and Villa di Geggiano.

Castello di Potentino hosted a tasting of the wines in the selection last April and plans are well underway for another tasting this year. For future iterations, I understand that producers will be asked to select estates from outside their area and the physical form of the selection will organically evolve into more of galactic structure – perhaps even more fitting given the biodynamic and astronomical leanings of some of the wineries listed. For more information on La Scelta Del Vignaiolo and details of any future tastings, take a look here.

A big “thank you” to Charlotte for taking the time to provide me with more information on the project and to Alexander for allowing me to use the photos from the April 2012 tasting.

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