What: There are so many good wines in Italy, it is difficult to focus on any one of them. Even within a region, such as Tuscany, there is a wide array to choose from.
The situation is much different than the past, when if you wanted a Tuscan wine in the United States, you pretty much had only Chianti. Usually in a bottle wrapped in straw, it was considered a pizza and spaghetti wine. Now even within Tuscany you have big choices to make.
Castello di Gabbiano is a great example of what is happening in Italy. They have been known for making great Chianti Classico for decades, and they still do. Now you also can try their IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) blend, often called a Super Tuscan.
The IGT classification is used to allow Italian winemakers to experiment outside the rigid rules of the country’s wine DOC classification system. And it carries more prestige than the vino da tavola class.
The IGT wines tend to be modern, big and fruit forward, and they can be expensive. Sales of these modern Italian red blends have been growing in the United States for several years.
If you try the Dark Knight, you will know why these wines are so popular. Deep purple in the glass, it has lush aromas of red berries, spices and chocolate. The wine is nicely balanced, with big red fruit flavors and silky tannins. The finish is long and slightly spicy.
This is a wine you can sip all night long.
This first vintage of the Dark Knight is 50 percent cabernet sauvignon, 30 percent merlot and 20 percent sangiovese. Fermentation lasted 10-15 days with skin contact in stainless steel tanks. Part of the fermentation was under pressure at low temperatures to preserve varietal aromas. Malolactic fermentation to make the wine smoother was carried out partly in barrels and partly in tanks.
The wine then was racked and aged eight months in oak. After bottling the wine was aged another three months before release.
The new wine also features a new label, with a dramatic image of a knight on a horse rearing up. Drawn in silhouette, the knight has his sword in hand, ready for battle.
The folks at Gabbiano said they wanted the label to “evoke a sense of daring and excitement that taps in to consumers seeking an Italian wine drinking adventure that is both authentic and approachable. It further telegraphs Gabbiano’s winemaking philosophy, one that embraces time-honored Tuscan winemaking traditions coupled with modern innovation.”
If you are a traditionalist you might like Gabbiano’s terrific Chianti Classico Riserva that sells for about $25. It starts with the best grapes from estate vineyards, fermented separately by bloc. Fermentation was in small lots in stainless steel tanks. Natural malolactic fermentation took place half in stainless steel and half in neutral French oak.
The wine was aged for 12 months in French oak casks and small barrels with only 20 percent new oak. The wine spent another 12 months in bottles before release.
The Chianti is a gorgeous translucent ruby red in the glass with aromas of cherries and strawberries. Strawberry, black cherry and spice notes are on the palate, balanced by crisp acidity. It is a powerful, elegant wine, 95 percent sangiovese and 5 percent merlot.
Like most Chiantis this wine is especially good with food.
Winery: Castello di Gabbiano is one of the oldest and best known estates in Chianti Classico.
The castle watches over more than 300 acres of vineyard planted mainly in sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and canaiolo. The estate is the second largest vineyard owner in Chianti Classico.
Even better, guests can stay at the castle overnight drinking the wine, touring the property and otherwise enjoying the countryside.
Tuscany is one of the most beautiful wine regions I have visited, with mile after mile of rolling hillsides, hilltop walled towns and stunning vineyards everywhere.
Like much of the Italian wine industry, Castello di Gabbiano has deep roots in the Tuscan countryside. The first historical reference to Gabbiano appears in the 11th century when work began on the square tower, built to defend an important trade route between Florence and Siena.
Those two cities battled over many things, including the lush vineyards of Tuscany. One would gain dominance for a while, then the other city would retake the land. Construction of cellars began in 1124, when the castle belonged to one of the most important banking families of Florence, the Bardi. They later built perimeter walls and battlements to extend the fortress.
In the early 15th century the castle was owned by the Soderini family, one of the most politically influential families in Florence. In 1505, the family built round towers at the four corners of the castle, which remain today.
In 1506, when the township of Bologna urged the rulers of Florence to send Michelangelo to Bologna, it was Castello di Gabbiano’s Pier Soderini who wrote a letter of introduction for Michelangelo. The letter said in part “… he is a very talented young man and second to none as regards his art in Italy and maybe in the whole world.”
Another friend of Pier Soderini was Amerigo Vespucci, one of the early explorers of what became North America.
The Soderini family fought with the Medici family, which led to them being declared rebels in the 16th century, and they abandoned the castle. They returned in the 17th century. From the 19th century on, the owners have carried out various restoration projects.
Gabbiano uses the most modern technologies in its production facilities.
Gabbiano wines are marketed in the United States by Treasury Wine Estates.
Goes With: We had these wines with a ham and bean soup, which used the last of the ham from our Easter dinner. I bought a bone-in ham specifically so we would have the bone for soup. I love this soup because it is so rich and creamy, full of flavor.
Both of these wines paired well with the hearty soup. The Chianti Classico really came alive with the soup. While the Dark Knight was fine as a sipping wine, the Chianti needed the soup to reach its peak.
Both wines also would pair well with roasted red meats or game in rich sauces and aged cheeses.
ham and bean soup
8 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 pound navy beans
1 pound black beans
2 cups cubed ham
1 ham bone or ham hock
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 bay leaf
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, sliced thinly
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 can tomato sauce (8 ounces)
Boil the dried beans in 8 cups water for two minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let stand one hour.
Add broth, ham, ham bone, pepper, bay leaf, carrot and celery. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until beans are tender, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. If soup is too thick, add a little water or broth. Remove ham bone and trim meat from the bone. Return meat to the soup with tomato sauce and salt. Simmer for about 15 minutes longer. Serves 6.