Few places conjure up images of romance and beauty like Tuscany does. A ruggedly stunning place of charismatic wines and tranquil scenes were imprinted forever on my brain (and heart) after visiting a few years ago. If the glorious landscape weren’t enough, the wines certainly stand on their own with their vibrant flavors and unique blends. Chianti and Super Tuscans (those red wines made by producers choosing not to follow strict regulations regarding crop yield and blending grapes) have always been a favorite of mine and I was thrilled to get to meet Victoria Matta and her brother Sebastian of Castello Vicchiomaggio last month to try a few of their dynamic wines.
Castello Vicchiomaggio is located near the town of Greve in Chianti, just 30 minutes from the Florence airport but worlds away in terms of its serenity. Wine has always been produced at the castle (castello) and owners John and Paola Matta continue to honor this tradition.
The well-preserved castle dates back to 1400 and is recognized as a national monument. Leonardo da Vinci himself stayed at Castello Vicchiomaggio during the period in which he painted his Mona Lisa masterpiece. Star power doesn’t get much better than that and If you’re someone who has always dreamed of staying in a castle, now is your chance as the Matta family has several lovely apartments and suites within the castle that visitors can stay in and enjoy the surrounding vineyards as well as the mesmerizing infiniti pool.
The estate itself encompasses 140 hectares which includes 34 hectares of vineyards and 10 of olive trees. The grapes grown here include Sangiovese (the driving force of Chianti Classico) as well as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Sangiovese is an old grape varietal that takes its name from the Latin phrase “sanguis Jovis” which translates to the "blood of Jove” (where Jove is the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Zeus).
The grapes are planted facing south in order to get maximum sun exposure in this hot and humid climate. The Galestro soils here are very unique and comprised of clay, shale, and large stones which contribute to the elegance and vibrant acidity found in Castello Vicchiomaggio’s wines.
The winery takes great pride and care with their grapes using hand-harvesting and hand-sorting to ensure that only the best fruit makes it into the wine. Fermentation is done in stainless steel to preserve primary fruit aromas and aging is carried out using French oak barriques and large barrels. The time in oak depends on the wine style being made and varies from 8-24 months.
Leftover grape skins are used to make grappa (a distilled spirit) so every effort is made to not waste anything in the wine-making process.
Castello Vicchiomaggio makes several wines including Chianti Classico, Rosato (rosé), Merlot, and Super Tuscans (red blends). We tried the 2016 San Jacopo da Vicchiomaggio Chianti Classico and the 2015 Ripa delle More.
The San Jacopo ($13) is made in the traditional Chianti style from 100% Sangiovese grapes. Aging for 8 months in large oak casks (25-50 hl) yields a full-bodied wine with flavors of raspberry and cherry, dried herbs, earthy minerality, and smooth tannins. This is an easy-drinking, classy Chianti that is perfect with anything from pizza to pork dishes.
The Ripa delle More ($36) is a powerhouse wine with heady aromas of blackberry, roses, leather, spice, and mint. Blended from 50% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% Merlot, this is a well-balanced wine with dense tannins, firm structure, and an opulent lingering finish. This wine (made in a more “international” style), spends 20 months in new French oak barriques which contribute to the wine’s silky tannins and spice notes.
Castello Vicchiomaggio also started making vegan wines four years ago with their first vintage (2014) released in September 2018. Their Vicchiomaggio Vegan Chianti Classico Riserva is made from 100% Sangiovese grapes and aged in large oak barrels for 12-16 months. Their vegan winemaking philosophy embraces all aspects of the wine from farming to bottling the wine with Vegan-certified corks.
This philosophy includes fertilizing the vineyards with cover crops (beans) in order to avoid any animal-derived substances as well as limiting fermentation skin contact to 5 or 6 days. Limited skin contact avoids over-extraction of the grapes thus eliminating the need for any form of fining product (egg whites are often used in fining but not at Castello Vicchiomaggio). A new label was also designed for this wine which is a beautiful trio of orange and yellow poppies.
Finally, you can buy several types of extra virgin olive oil on the Vicchiomaggio website. These small-production olive oils are made from traditional varieties of the area (Moraiolo, Leccino, and Frantoio) and are hand-picked and cold-pressed within 24 hours before being bottled by hand. Starting with the 2018 harvest, the olive oils are also organically-certified.
Castello Vicchiomaggio has it all with beautifully crafted wines and pristine olive oils (all made with the utmost care) from an idyllic setting just waiting for you to visit and explore.