About 40 years ago, it was considered daring when a handful of Tuscan winemakers gave up the Chianti designation to make blends of unauthorized Bordeaux grapes. They sometimes combined these blends with Sangiovese to create what became known as super Tuscans.
Yet, they were not the first vintners to blend their native grapes with French varieties. Credit for that dates back a few hundred years, to Chianti’s small, northwestern neighbor, Carmignano.
Carmignano produced wines during Roman times, and French grapes were first introduced in the 1500s during the reign of Catherine de’ Medici. In 1716, Cosimo III de’ Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, listed Carmignano as one of four superior wine-producing areas of Tuscany. Now in its fourth century as a recognized wine region, Carmignano uses mostly locally grown Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in its Sangiovese-based blends.
Small But Mighty
Named after the town of Carmignano, the region comprises approximately 270 acres of vines that produce about 360,000 bottles of wine per year. Despite its modest output, Carmignano is widely sold in the U.S. because of its history of quality.
“The Sangiovese in Carmignano is darker and has more body than Sangiovese in Chianti,” says Fabrizio Pratesi, winemaker at family-owned Pratesi winery. He blends 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 10 percent Merlot with Sangiovese.
Silvia Vannucci, winemaker at family-owned Piaggia, says that climate plays a key role in the identity of Carmignano’s wines: The Appennine Mountains lead to temperature swings perfect for creating ripe tannins and high levels of polyphenols.
A D.O.C. Takes Shape
Carmignano was incorporated into the Chianti Montalbano appellation in 1932. Under the leadership of Count Ugo Contini Bonacossi, owner of Capezzana winery, Carmignano gained separate DOC status in 1975, and it was promoted to DOCG in 1990.
A large number of red and white grapes may be used in making Carmignano (aged two years in barrel) and Carmignano Riserva (aged at least three years). The blends must contain a minimum 50 percent Sangiovese, with 10–20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc.
Other indigenous red and white varieties, such as Canaiolo Nero, Mammolo, Colorino, Trebbiano and Malvasia, are permitted in smaller amounts, but the Carmignano consorzio suggests that there’s a trend toward replacing those with Merlot and Syrah.
Beatrice Contini Bonacossi of Capezzana says that Cabernet “Sauvignon is better for the wine to age, and it has more structure and tannin than Franc, while Franc has more spice.”
The future of Carmignano looks as daring and delicious as its 400-year past.