Wednesday Wines – Episode 214 – A pair of high-scoring spectacular Italian Reds

2019 San Leonardo, Marchesi Guerrieri Gonzaga, Tenuta San Leonardo, Trentino, Italy (£438.00 for 6 bottles – £73 each, www.honestgrapes.co.uk).

I have long enjoyed this heavenly northern Italian icon red wine.  I particularly loved the 2016 vintage I wrote up in MoneyWeek many moons ago.  The 2018 vintage was another sleek and polished beauty, and my pulse quickened when I uncorked the latest release, which moved me so much that I felt compelled to lodge it in your memory banks.  San Leonardo is a slightly tweaked version of the time-honoured ‘Bordeaux blend’, employing Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère and Merlot in its recipe.  2019 was a spectacular vintage at this dazzlingly beautiful and enviably isolated property.  I urge you to search online for images of this 1000+-year-old monastery, which is lovingly protected and respectfully celebrated by owner Marchese Anselmo Guerrieri Gonzaga.  Thirty hectares of vines in this 300ha property are farmed organically in a microclimate like no other on Earth.  With the perfect amount of winter rainfall topping up the water table and a long, warm (but not too hot) summer, it was evident that this looked like a perfect harvest.  Classical winemaking is followed by 24 months of maturation in 1, 2 and 3-year-old barrels before bottling, and then it is released after a further two years of bottle-ageing.  While I have had the pleasure of drinking old vintages of San Leonardo (I remember a stellar 2004), and I can attest to its ability to age slowly and confidently, I was spellbound by the deliciousness of this newly released 2019 vintage.  It is stunningly lush and smooth with joyous freshness, which comes in early on the palate.  I love wines that taste unique, those with clearly defined hallmarks that come from their precise place on our planet.  The Alpine climate ensures that while the grapes are physiologically ripe, thanks to the bright sunshine, the acidity and vivacity on the palate are arresting, thanks to the cool nights.  This dramatic counterpoint of sleekness and freshness is enchanting.  Trying to track down this wine is often tricky (Honest Grapes is a reliable source and they stock magnums, too), but if you find some, you must buy it immediately.  While many of the world’s great vineyards must adapt their thinking on account of relentless climate change, San Leonardo appears untouched, tasting as elegant and sophisticated as ever.  19/20 (drink now – 2035)

2021 Cepparello, Isole e Olena, IGT Toscana, Italy (£540.00 in bond per case of 6 bottles, www.jeroboams.co.uk)

Paolo De Marchi first made Cepparello in 1980. It was a ground-breaking monovarietal 100% Sangiovese, which did not conform to Chianti laws, and so it joined the band of so-called Super Tuscans.  I cannot remember tasting the first few of this celebrated Super-Tuscan’s vintages, but I certainly tasted and, on many occasions, bought almost every wine from the mid-eighties onward.  There is something intangible and magnetic about Paolo’s character, and his wines are a testament to his sensitive nature and incredible vision.  He graciously welcomed me at his vineyard on a couple of occasions over the years, and when he sold up and moved on in 2022, it felt like the end of an era.  Fear not, though, because this spectacular property was bought by Christopher Descours, owner of Charles Heidsieck and Biondi Santi, among others.  Christopher’s dedication and attention to detail will undoubtedly build on Paolo De Marchi’s incredible legacy.  So, this must be the final ‘Paolo Cepparello’, and I must admit it is utterly stunning.   It was released on 1st April in Italy and is now making its way onto the market in the UK.  Made from only the finest bunches of Sangiovese, from the best plots on the property and seeing 18 months in French oak (one-third new), the 2021 vintage did not run particularly smoothly, with issues during flowering and fruit set.  These challenges reduced yields, and while the Isole accountant might be grumbling, I am cock-a-hoop, because this is a slightly more concentrated and boldly juicy style of wine.  One might shudder at the 15% alcohol level, but you need not worry because this is a dramatic and epically balanced wine.  It is seamless and silky, and you can drink it now at only three years of age!  Of course, its best years are to come, but a wine with this level of equilibrium at this early stage is very special indeed, not least because Sangiovese is a grape that can often look awkward and edgy in its youth.  So, where does it sit in the great pantheon of Cepparello releases?  As my regular readers know, I am a balance freak, and I favour wines with pin-sharp acidity offset by lusty, sumptuous fruit.  This 2021 vintage ticks all the boxes, so it is easy for me to put it in the highest echelons of Cepparello’s history.  If you want to own a ‘Paolo Cepparello’ that you can drink now or keep for a couple of decades, this is it.  This wine is destined to become a collector’s item before we know it!  19/20 (drink now – 2038)