The road to Querciavalle ~ June 1987
One of the great things about being on the wine trail in Italy for all these years is the precious opportunity to see the baton passed from an older family member to the younger generation. The first time I met the Illuminati kids, they were young teenagers. Now they run the winery and are my colleagues. One of my longest watched wineries in Tuscany is a little family winery, Querciavalle in Pontignanello near Castelnuovo Berardenga. Run by the Losi Family, the first time I went there was in 1987 with my friend Eugenio Spinozzi and my son Rafael, who was 10. It was June, the area was cool and sunny, and we sat on the second floor overlooking the valley all the way to Siena. The family brought out food, and I remember a little girl who was usually asleep in the arms of a mother or an aunt. Her brother was about the age of my son, and I remember they played around with a soccer ball while the adults tested the wine.
Querciavalle is one of those wines that I have never done justice to in my work. It is really a pretty wine, and it reflects the nature of the family. They are very unassuming, almost shy. They are Tuscans, but not the kind that forgot the land and their duty to it.
Yesterday I got an email from the little girl, who is now helping run the winery with her brother. Valeria wanted to let me know about the olive oil harvest, and she sent several pictures of the process with her short note:
“We have just pressed the new extra-virgin olive oil: people can taste the olive - fruity, bit of grass and leaves; it is a little bit bitter and spicy, but with a peculiar elegance and harmony. Finally, this is a really good year!!!.”
Every year when I go to Vinitaly I make sure to stop by and visit the family at their booth. Some of the original old brothers often show up; they are getting very old now. But the memories of them and their sons and now the young generation are a wonderful little piece of history in the making.
The wine is like a history lesson in the evolution of Chianti Classico. When I first encountered this wine, it was in the governo style, where fresh must is introduced into an already fermented wine. This was one of the original methods. White grapes were also used, Malvasia and Trebbiano Toscano, added to the Sangiovese and Canaiolo.
Over the years the family restricted the use of the white grapes for their Chianti Classico, although they now make a Rosso del Cavaliere Tranquilo IGT, which has the four traditional grapes in the blend. They also make an unparalleled Vin Santo and a priceless DOP extra-vergine olive oil.
Several years ago, they were really excited about some old vines they found in their property. The grape, which they called Grand Noir, was a teinturier, and the flesh was pigmented. We tasted the wine out of the tank and it was cave-dark and full of aroma. Could this be related to the Gamay Noir in Ricasoli's time?
Some of the older bottles of their Chianti I have go back into the 1980’s, when the wine was still made in that style. The wines are perfectly fine, reflecting the time and the temperament of the people at that moment in history. They are calm, bright, light and perfect. But they don't shout, they whisper.
What endears this wine to me is that it is not a blockbuster wine or a show boater. It is a wine that turns from the fashion and the noise of modernity. It has a timeless serenity about it. For that, it sometimes gets ignored. It doesn’t get regularly reviewed, and when it does by the likes of the writers who like beefy, jammy red wines, usually the reviews aren’t beneficial for broadening the base of their American clientele. Of course there are Italian writers who do praise the wine, but Americans have yet to read or take the time to plunge into the various levels of Italian wine-writing that is so much more intense than what we are offered in the States. But I am getting off course.
Valeria recently “friended” me on Facebook, so we stay in touch via FB and email. From the little farm in Pontignanello to the big cities in America, we are just a stretched-out neighborhood. I actually see Valeria and her family more often than some of my own cousins in my own town. But this thread of the vine life that stretches from her grandparents through her parents and now to her and her brother is a wonderful thing to witness. It is a relationship that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Nor should the wines be forgotten.
How are they tended? This is a family that has been stewards of the land for generations. They live in the land, are of the land and they depend on the land for their life and their future. Do they harvest by the moon and restrict poisons and artificial augmentations? I’m not sure they do the lunar cycle thing, but they do understand the ecosystem and work very hard to not damage the land. But they don’t make any claims to be biodynamic or even organic, at least not overtly. That is not the style of the Losi family.
If you ever have the opportunity to taste these wines, they are true Tuscan wines. No pretensions, nothing over-promised, nothing under-delivered. Wines, and friends, for life.
The road to Querciavalle ~ October 2006