Syrah is a wonderful grape which is planted in dozens of countries. Wine geeks are celebrating #ShirazWeek from February 21 to March 1, an event created by Wine Australia to promote Australian Shiraz. Most of you might already know this but in case you are wondering: Shiraz is just a synonym for Syrah. It is the preferred spelling in Australia and South Africa. In the Old World the preferred spelling is Syrah. Australia, however, is not the only country in which Syrah finds excellent growing conditions. Come and join me on a journey thorough Cortona, Tuscany, for #ShirazWeek as we explore the wonderful Syrah from Tenimenti d’Alessandro.
Cortona is a village in South-Eastern Tuscany which was founded by Umbrians many centuries BC. In 600 BC it was conquered by the Etruscans who built a stone wall around Cortona, which still encloses the town in present day. Not far from Cortona are the famous wine-producing towns Montepulciano and Arezzo. Arezzo is the the center of Chianti Colli Aretini and Montepulciano is known for Vino Nobile. So why am I dedicating a post to Cortona and not to Montepulciano you might be wondering? The answer is quite simple. Just like Arezzo and Montepulciano, Cortona is also an important center for wine production. Granted, abroad it is not as famous yet as some of the other Tuscan towns but Cortona is getting more and more attention from international wine lovers and wine critics.
Sangiovese is the the predominately grown grape variety in Tuscany – Brunello, Vino Nobile, Morellino di Scansano and Monteccuo are just a few Tuscan appellation for outstanding Sangiovese-based wines. Cortona is different. The appellation Cortona DOC was only established in 1999 and it covers a wide range of international grape varieties. This is because the soil in Cortona suits a number of grapes like Syrah, Gamy and Pinot Nero. Yes, Sangiovese is permitted, too, but the most famous wines from Cortona are produced with Syrah. Many wines from Cortona are varietally labeled.
White wines are also produced in Cortona but red wine is dominating. The preferred white varieties are Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Welschriesling. Cortona is also one of the many Tuscan DOCs in which Vin Santo, a dessert wine from Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes, is produced.
Syrah has been grown in the vineyards of Cortona for a long time, even before the establishment of the DOC. Credit has to be given to the d’Alessandro family who has been producing world-class Syrah since the early 1990. Their winery called Tenimenti d’Alessandro was founded in 1967. Their Syrah have often been compared to the outstanding Syrah from France’s Rhone Valley. The success of d’Alessandro’s Syrah inspired other wineries to switch most of their plantings to Syrah, too. Stefano Amerighi is another one of those Syrah wine makers. He produces just a single wine – a varietal Syrah.
The “big guys” in the Tuscan wine business wanted to have a share of the cake, too, and so it is no surprise that Marchesi Antinori purchased an estate in Cortona called La Braccesca. And guess what grape variety is grown at La Braccesca? Gamy? Nope. Pinot Nero? Close. Syrah? Yes! At La Braccesca, Marchesi Antinori process two varietal Syrah, Achelo and Bramsole.
While the Syrah of La Braccesca and Stefano Amerighi are great, I want to continue this post by highlighting three Syrah from Tenimenti d’Alessandro, the “founders” of Cortona Syrah.
As mentioned earlier, Tenimenti d’Alessandro was founded in 1967. They own about 40 hectares of vineyards and produce four varietal Syrah, two varietal Viognier as well as grappa, Vin Santo and olive oil. The winery has an estimated annual production of 120.000 – 150.000 bottles (depending on the source).
One of the first things you will notice when you visit the website of Tenimenti d’Alessandro is the reason why they produce Syrah:
“Because we have great faith in the relationship between Cortona terroir and grape variety. We know the potential and believe that our vineyards can produce not only the best Syrah in Italy, but also a Syrah that stands out the international stage.”
They sure sound confident, don’t they? Let’s take a closer look at three of their four Syrah.
2012 Tenimenti d’Alessandro – Borgo Syrah – Cortona DOC
The winery’s entry wine, Borgo Syrah, is produced from their youngest Syrah plantings which are about 15-18 years old. The grapes are harvested in the first and second week of September and get fermented in stainless steel vats. Afterwards, the wine ages for about one year mostly in concrete casks and in small parts in used oak barrels. 13% is the label-listed ABV.
In the glass, Borgo Syrah has a deep ruby red color. Fruit-forward nose with redcurrant, blackberries and blueberries. In the mouth, dry, vivid and youthful. Medium-bodied with a fresh acidity and mellow tannins. Good balance but not that complex. Notes of blueberries and licorice.
Top notch everyday wine with a very good quality price ratio.
Average price on Wine Searcher: €12
2010 Tenimenti d’Alessandro – Vecchievigne – Cortona DOC
The name Vecchievigne is composed of the two Italian words Vecchie (old) and Vigne (vines). This wine is produced from some of Tenimenti d’Alessandro’s oldest Syrah vines from the Il Borgo vineyard. All grapes are hand-picked in mid-September and fermented in steel tanks. Once the fermentation is completed, Vecchievigne aged for about 22 months in parts in French barriques and in parts in large used oak casks. The label-indicated alcohol by volume is 14%
In the glass, the wine has a ruby red color. Vecchievigne opens with aromas of marasca cherries, toasted coffee and cocoa. Followed, after some additional time, by hints of black pepper and plums. On the palate, the wine is dry and of good balance with powerful tannins and a medium body. Notes of espresso, dark chocolate and sour cherries. Vecchievigne has a good strucutre and quite a strong acidity. The balance is alright. Long-lasting aftertaste.
Average price on Wine Searcher: €17
2010 Tenimenti d’Alessandro – Il Bosco – Cortona DOC
Il Bosco is one of the two flagship wines of Tenimenti d’Alessandro with the other one being Migliaria. This wine is produced from the winery’s very best Syrah vines grown in various vineyards. None of the vines are younger than 20 years and some plantings are even older. These vines have a very low yield and are handpicked in late September. The low yield is in parts achieved by green harvesting grapes in July. The grapes are fermented in wooden vats for about two to three weeks. Once the wine gets transferred into French barriques, the malolactic fermentation takes place and during this phase periodic batonnage are made. After this process, the wine continues to age for another 20 months in large oak casks. The barrels get sampled multiple times and only the finest lots are being selected for Il Bosco. The wine has a label listed ABV of 14%.
Il Bosco has an opaque ruby color in the glass. The nose opens with blackcurrant, blueberries, blackberries and leather, followed by aromas of plums and coffee as well as hints of salty bread crust and black pepper. In the mouth, Il Bosco is dry, very elegant, warm and complex. Excellent, earthy structure. Perfectly balanced with good depth and powerful tannins and a full body. Notes of dark chocolate, coffee and ripe red fruit. Breathtaking, never-ending finish.
Outstanding describes this Syrah best.
Rating: 4.5 /5
Average price on Wine Searcher: €36
There you have it, three Syrah from Cortona, Italy. Il Bosco is my absolute favorite out of the three followed by Borgo Syrah and Vecchievigne. In my personal ranking Borgo Syrah is slightly ahead of Vecchievigne because it has a better quality-price ratio (€12 vs €17). Il Bosco is must-try and I highly encourage you to try this Syrah.
That’s it then? No, I have one more wine for you. It is not a Syrah. Since I also tasted the Tenimenti d’Alessandro Bianco del Borgo I thought I give you my tasting notes for it, too, since it fits our topic Cortona well.
2013 Tenimenti d’Alessandro – Bianco del Borgo – Toscana IGT
Bianco del Borgo is one of the two varietal Viognier that Tenimenti d’Alessandro produces. The grapes are harvested between late August and the first days of September. The grapes are fermented in stainless steel tanks and afterwards the wine ages in stainless steel for six months. Depending on the vintage, small quantities of the wine may also age for six months in used oak barrels. 12.5% was the label listed ABV.
Bianco del Borgo has bright pale yellow color with greenish hues in the glass. Green nose with aromas of olives, kiwi, green bell pepper, oregano and flowers. On the palate, the wine is dry, fresh and mineral. Good acidity. There are intense notes of bitter almonds and hints of fennel. The finish is of medium length.
Typical similar Viognier similar to those of the Rhone. Perfect with an asparagus risotto. The QPR of the Bianco del Borgo is pretty good.
Average price on Wine Searcher: €10
This concludes my post about Cortona Syrah. It got a little longer but I felt it was better not to split it into two parts.
Don’t forget about Cortona the next time you’re looking for a Syrah (or Viognier) and celebrate #ShirazWeek with a bottle of Cortona Syrah.
Tenimenti d’Alessandro will showcase their wines at ProWein in Düsseldorf (15.-17. March) and at VinItaly in Verona (22.-25. March).
I had planned to only attend ProWein this year but a few days ago I spontaneously decided to also travel to Verona to taste some excellent wines and take part in a very promising looking master’s class on methodo classico sparkling wine. March will be a busy month but one I am looking forward to.
Feel free to share your thoughts about Cortona Syrah in the comment section below. Cheers!