Casa Emma, Chianti Classico, Tuscany (25/9/2011)

Towards the western edge of the Chianti Classico region, just south of the village of San Donato (which is about halfway between Poggibonsi and Greve in Chianti if you’re really that interested) lies the Casa Emma estate.  Casa Emma was bought by the Bucalossi family back in 1970 from the Fiorentine noblewoman Emma Bizzarri (hence the name) and sits amidst 34 hectares of land of which 21 hectares are vineyard.  They grow mainly Sangiovese here (surprise, surprise) but also have about 3 hectares of Merlot and smaller plantings of Malvasia Nera and Canaiolo.  There are the inevitable olive groves but also 5 hectares of botanical park where a Quercus Pubescens wood (or “oak” if you prefer to keep it simple – “downy oak” if you want to get more technical, but I’m stopping there…) is interspersed with plantings of cistus, broom, honeysuckle, privet, juniper shrubs and several species of wild rose and other herbaceous plantings.  Rose syrup, rose dressing and rose jam are produced here too.
Casa Emma
Casa Emma use the traditional grape blend for Chianti Classico of 80% Sangiovese with the remainder made up of Canaiolo and Malvasia Nera.  Fermentation usually takes about 20 days on the skins with the fermenting juice pumped over the “cap” to keep the maceration going.  The malo-lactic fermentation (the conversion of the harsher Malic Acid into the softer Lactic Acid which is encouraged in wine) takes about 6 months.  Once complete, the wine is moved to casks of French oak.  A combination of 225 litre (barrique) and 500 litre casks is used.  Casa Emma keep their barrels for 3 years using 1 and 2 year old casks for Riserva wines and the older ones for straight Chianti Chassico.
The 2010 Chianti Classico (tasted from cask) is clearly very young, but has good fruit and nice tannins underneath.  There is a hint of smoke from the oak and it promises well for the future.  A straight Merlot from 2007 was really showing unexpected youth for a wine that was already 4 years old while the 2008 Chianti Classico Riserva was full, rich and showed evident oak.  No doubt it promises well, but I found myself engaged in a bout of chin-stroking over the enthusiastic oak, wondering whether the fruit would be energetic enough to keep up. 
The 2009 Riserva, though really quite tannic, showed a little better I thought, while the 2009 straight Chianti Classico was slightly smokey and meaty on the nose compared to the others and on the lighter side in the mouth.  I suspect that this is nothing more than a common accusation levelled at Sangiovese though; I will explain.  If you’re far enough south in Tuscany in, say, Montalcino, Montepulciano or Orcia, you have less trouble getting your grapes nicely ripe and, in turn, produce fuller and more complete wines than it is possible to make in Chianti, which is that bit further north (different soil too) without the addition of other varieties to help the wine along.  Sangiovese is sometimes accused of seeming a little “hollow” somehow so the addition of other varieties makes perfect sense in some areas.  Sangiovese has plenty of flavour that’s for sure, but perhaps is sometimes in need of a bit body-building.  Some varieties do this better than others; Rietine use Merlot which works well, Casa Emma use Canaiolo and Malvasia Nera which tweaks the style a little in a lighter, some would say elegant, direction.  It’s all very subjective of course, but I generally found the Casa Emma style was less appealing.
We then tasted the 2007 Riserva and hit a problem.  Some were not happy and suspected a fault, but not one of the obvious ones, so a second bottle was brought forward.  The second bottle was better in the mouth but still had the same issue on the nose.  It was one of those frustrating experiences where the wine didn’t shine and no-one could quite put their finger on why.  The 2006 Riserva was a completely different experience, it had bigger fruit and was rounder and richer than the 2007.  The tannins were nicely ripe and there was a pleasant vanilla oak finish.  The 2005 Riserva again got us all quite animated.  It was savoury on the nose with a slightly cooked element (some spotted the prickle of sulphur) but in the mouth it was wholesome enough.
Casa Emma also make a Super Tuscan (see previous blog for definition) called Soloio.  It’s 100% Merlot.  The 2006 is much more New World in style and has a huge nose with rich plum fruit and a hint of smoke.  It’s quite round and grippy in the mouth with plenty of body and depth but, like so many such wines, it carries an overly-optimistic price tag and would be in the region of £40 a bottle in the UK.  Sorry chaps, nice wine, wrong price.  The 2005 Soloio showed evident age and had an odd nose, not faulty, but oddly whiffy in a meaty way.  Strange stuff.
Casa Emma make about 800 litres of Vin Santo a year made from air-dried Trebbiano and Malvasia picked in mid-October, once the main harvest is in.   The wine is aged in chestnut and cherry casks for 8 years before release.  We tasted the 2000 which has toffee and marmalade notes on the nose; a sort of Amontillado-meets-Rutherglen Muscat.  Fresh and fruity in the mouth it’s clean, pure and has good acidity to balance the concentrated sweetness.
The Casa Emma vineyards, just showing a hint of autumn.
A bit of a mixed bag here then.  Some nice wines, but also some that didn’t float my boat particularly.  The winery itself is modern and well presented, as are the staff with their Casa Emma shirts, and maybe this formulaic approach works for others, but as someone who has become accustomed to tasting in damp cellars the polished nature of the presentation seemed better suited to visiting tourists somehow.  Maybe Soloio works well for the Transatlantic market where mouthfilling oaky reds have a more immediate appeal, and where the preferences of Robert Parker seem to release many wine drinkers of the courage to formulate their own opinions, and the 2006 is good but I know we couldn’t sell it for £40 back home in Ipswich.  The Chiantis really come down to a preference in style and, of the two Classico estates we visited, Rietine get the nod as far as I’m concerned; Rietine’s wines are still elegant, but they have a bit more going on in the glass…
We can obtain the following wines from Casa Emma should you be interested – please contact us for details:
2006 Chianti Classico  £15.95
1998 Chianti Classico Riserva  £24.00
2000 Chianti Classico Riserva  £24.50
2001 Chianti Classico Riserva  £25.00
2004 Chianti Classico Riserva  £28.50
2005 Chianti Classico Riserva  £31.00
Vintages and prices correct as at 15th November 2011

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