A bootful of wine – tasting notes from Italy
Cecilia Winery on the Island of Elba
Lorenzo Camerini’s uncle, Giuseppe, bought the vineyards and winery of Azienda Agricola Cecilia in 1945. At the time, the price of land and property was cheaper, before the big tourist boom of recent times caused prices to become astronomical, and for the most part, unattainable. Giuseppe set out to make wines of character and quality, and though originally from Milan, he attempted to maintain Elba’s long tradition of the passito or drying method, particularly in the making of dessert style wines.
Elba has a long and rich tradition of winemaking. As Lorenzo explained, at one time almost 50% of the 7000 ha of land that constitutes the island were under vine. Elba wine was well-known, and highly prized and sought after. Now less than 200 ha remain. Partly laid to waste in times of the post world war II economic crisis, the focus now on the tourism industry makes the reclamation of these areas for the vine both difficult and economically prohibitive.
Lorenzo has taken over the business from his uncle, and plays the role of viticulturalist also. He has contracted Vittorio Fiore to be the winemaker (enologo) and the results are impressive. Though there are other producers of quality on Elba (Sapereta and Acquabona in particular), Cecilia is widely regarded as the best producer on the island, selling most of its production on Elba, but exporting as far as New York. It is for this reason my Australian mate and I arranged a visit.
Elba is beautiful, and can be reached by an hourlong boatride from the township of Piombino, on the Tuscan coast. (If you are travelling by car, add another hour at least to join the disorganised queues to get on the boat!) It is probably volcanic in its origins, which explains why its tallest peak, despite its small size, is over 1000m in height. Nonetheless, it has very varied soiltypes, from clay to loam to hard rock rich in iron (which was mined in times dating back to the Etruscans).
Elba’s history is a rich one, and it is perhaps most famous for having been the place to which Napoleon was exiled by a coalition of his opponents. It must take an Emperor, even if self proclaimed, to be exiled to a place as beautiful as Elba. Nonetheless, about a year later, he escaped, to continue his conquests for almost another year, until he, quite literally, met his Waterloo.
Lorenzo met us out of office hours, and immediately took us for a tour of his 3 vineyard sites. The sites epitomized the soil differences above, and Lorenzo is experimenting with new varieties and clones in the different sites.
The principal white varieties at the moment are Trebbiano, Vermentino, Ansonica, and what we call Frontignac (or Muscat), with the reds being Shiraz, Sangiovese and Aleatico.
I have come to believe that it is difficult to produce a Vermentino or Trebbiano of interest, in Tuscany at least. Lorenzo’s examples were clean and crisp, lean and fresh, and would be great aperitifs. His Ansonica, another authoctonous grape variety of Italy, was fuller, with more tropical fruit flavours including pineapple, and would be an ideal accompaniment to an Asian or seafood dish. All whites were unoaked and from the 2008 vintage. My points for the whites were 16, 16 and 16.5 respectively.
The reds comprised an unoaked Sangiovese (called their Rosso, from 2007) which was the essence of cherries – light, bright and refreshingly crisp. 16.5 pts. Lorenzo plans to make a more sophisticated Sangiovese in the coming year or two, with oak treatment and greater extraction. For now his flagship red is his Syrah, and we tried the 2005. Having a palate accustomed to Shiraz, I was pleasantly surprised by the wine. It had plum and blackberry fruit characters which reminded me of moderate to warm climate shiraz from back home. Though without the leathery touches of a Hunter Shiraz, it had enough of an acid backbone to suggest it would only get better in the next 5-8 years. I liked it, and so too did Robert Parker. 18 pts.
The sweet wines were both made in the passito method. Grapes are left on the vine for as long as possible and then dried for an average of two weeks on wooden racks. The shriveled berries are then crushed – in the case of the Aleatico, fermented on its skins, and the Moscato, as per a white wine. The fermentation is stopped at 15% to produce wines of sweetness yet complexity. The Moscato (2007) had its usual floral nose but a lovely dry finish. 18 pts. The Aleatico’s (2006) complexity derived from a floral spiciness undercut by chewy tannins and wonderful length. I imagine the Aleatico will live for many years yet. 18.5 pts.
The future looks bright for Cecilia. Vine age of the Syrah vines is only 12-15 years so the best is yet to come. I called his establishment a “boutique winery” – it produces between 40,000 and 50,000 bottles annually, and the wines are of the highest order – Lorenzo liked that description.