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Carmignano: Italy’s Best Kept Secret

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There’s not much call for Super Tuscan wines these days in California’s finer dining establishments. Which is too bad. There’s something to be said for any wine that has the word ‘super’ in its designation.

In case you’re wondering, the term ‘Super Tuscan’ was coined in the 1980s. It described a group of Italian wines that didn’t follow the traditional rules of Italian winemaking. Despite these vintners’ atypical ways, the wines they produced were so good that they couldn’t be overlooked. So, rather than insult the traditionalists, who refused to buy into the Jesuit philosophy that their modernist brethren had fallen for – that “the end justifies the means” – the powers-that-be concocted a brilliant solution. They simply put the non-traditional wines in a separate category. A category called ‘Super Tuscans.’

Everyone was happy.

Because of their superb structure and their easy betrothal to many foods, Super Tuscans gained immediate recognition, along with sky-high price tags. Since most wine-lovers subscribe to the belief that “you get what you pay for,” the outrageous cost of the Super Tuscans only confirmed their desirability.

One of the first – if not the first – of the Super Tuscans came from Carmignano, which is a tiny wine producing region in Italy, consisting of 279 acres and 13 producers. Along with being the first of the Super Tuscans, Carmignano also has the distinction of being the most obscure of the Super Tuscans.

It’s one of Italy’s best kept secrets.

Carmignano’s wines were officially recognized by the grand duke of Tuscany in 1716. Later, in the 1930s, Carmignano fell prey to the practice of consolidation. The region was included under the all-encompassing Chianti designation, where it remained effectively hidden until 1975. At that time the area regained its uniqueness, being once again officially acknowledged. Even so, it wasn’t until 1990 that Carmignano was elevated to the most prestigious level – denominazione di origine controllata e garantita (DOCG).

So why all the fuss? Simply put, the wines of Carmignano are divine. Blending is the secret. Composed of at least 50 percent sangiovese grapes, up to 20 percent canaiolo nero grapes, 10 to 20 percent cabernet franc or cabernet sauvignon, and 10 percent white grapes, Carmignano wanders from blithely acidic and risqué to voluminous and luscious. In other words, anyone who enjoys fat, robust California wines will fall head over heels for Carmignano.

The winemakers of Carmignano know what they’re doing. And well they should. They’ve been doing it for around 1,000 years. The result is lithe, elegant wines that most people have never even heard of, much less tasted. And adding to the attraction is Carmignano’s reasonable price. What’s in the bottle far exceeds the monetary expense. That means “more bang for the buck,” which is a vulgar way of saying that Carmignano is a heck of a deal.

In case your interest has been aroused, here are three suggestions to get you going:

2005 Villa di Capezzana Carmignano – $28. A blend of sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon, this wine reveals dark fruity flavors, with just a hint of tartness at the finish line.

2003 Trefiano Carmignano – $40. This wine combines sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, and canaiolo graps. The result is jambalaya spiciness leaning toward Cajun peppery pep, mixed with pulpy fruits. Lots of acidity gives it a tangy berry finish.

2007 Barco Reale di Carmignano – $15. Sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and canaiolo grapes coalesce to orchestrate a fat fruit flavor underscored by layers of black spices. Sparkling acidity provides a charming finish.

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About Randall Radic

  • hypnodude

    Very interesting article. Being Italian, and appreciating wine, well, not as much as beer though, I’ve found it very good. Also it’s a pleasure to see that someone who is not Italian knows this kind of things about Italy. But you know, we have so many wines that’s it’s pretty difficult to know all of them. Thumbs up.

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