Making wine is not difficult. Indeed, in these days of mechanisation the production of a dull, sub-mediocre product that possesses no bouquet, little taste, and certainly no soul is too simple. So it was with a feeling of gratitude that I approached the medieval walled village of Suvereto which gives its name to a DOCG wine. This part of south-west Tuscany is not well known to tourists and the people who live here are, by and large, engaged in agriculture and are, to a greater or lesser extent, self-sufficient. They also have an independence and pride in themselves and what they do; no more so than in the Val di Cornia, a valley in the hills above the coastal plain. It is here that I found the winery called La Fralluca and met with Luca.
The story of Francesca and Luca is not one of a family tradition of wine-making. Economics graduates, they met when they were working in the fashion powerhouse that is Milan. Born in Pisa, Francesca had a deep-seated desire to leave the city and to return to Tuscany and the couple spent three years looking for the perfect spot before finding La Fralluca in 2005. This is not the well-ordered countryside of Montalcino or Le Langhe; there is a sense of the untamed here that particularly appealed to them but it comes at a price. When they arrived there was no running water – a culture shock to a couple fresh from possibly the most sophisticated city in the country. But they persevered, planting their vines in 2005/6 and completing the winery in 2009. They have 45 hectares of land of which 10 are planted to vines. From these 10 hectares they produce around 45,000 bottles of wine per year.
Luca was at pains to point out that their version of the Suvereto is very different from that made by the majority of the producers in the area. The reason is all about the land. They are at the northernmost point at which a wine can be called Suvereto and the furthest inland. Most Suvereto is produced on the lower coastal plain using international grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Here, higher up on stoney chalky soil that is not suitable for those varietals, Luca and Francesca planted the famous Tuscan grape Sangiovese that they use to produce their DOCG wine called Ciparisso. This is a wine that is 100% Sangiovese that has a 30 to 35 day maceration on the skins before being transferred to 500l tonneau of French oak where it matures for 20 to 24 months. They use only used tonneau of this size to avoid allowing the barrel too much influence on the flavour of the final result. After bottling, the wine rests for a further two years before being released. They produce about 4000 bottles per year of this delight.
I sampled the 2016 which has the bright garnet colour that is associated with Sangiovese. The bouquet was wonderful with bitter cherry, prunes, vanilla, and old books all in the mix. On the palate it was big with soft cherries, a bright acidity, and balanced tannins with a long finish. This is a deeply satisfying wine that would go well with red meat, in particular a steak grilled over hot wood ashes, a very traditional Italian method of cooking. The wine that I drank came from a bottle that had been opened for some time. By way of contrast, Luca opened a fresh bottle which perfectly illustrated the difference that allowing the wine to oxidise will make. This was much fruitier on the nose with more bitter cherry on the palate. Luca enjoys sampling the freshly opened wine and savouring the changes over time whilst I must say I preferred the fully developed complexity.
Luca and Francesca make a range of wines and so we were invited to enjoy a white called Filemone. This wine is 100% Vermentino, a Sardinian grape that is also grown in Tuscany. After a soft pressing the must is fermented at around 20 degrees for 3 weeks before maturing on the lees for 6 months and then resting for a further 2 months in the bottle. The colour is a pale straw with clementines and a touch of honey on the nose. On the palate there is a flavour of lemon with medium acidity and a good finish. Luca thinks this will age well, up to 10 years.
Luca has always been interested in mythology. and in particular Ovid’s Metamorphoses, so it is fitting that in a wild landscape like this he has chosen to name their wines after characters that were transformed by the gods into trees. Ciparisso was turned into a cypress tree, so beloved of Tuscany, and Filemone into an oak. A visit to La Fralluca is indeed like a visit to a land where the gods still walk.