Dream wines: Asinone from Poliziano

by Riccardo Viscardi 06/09/16
1043 |
I vini del sogno: Asinone di Poliziano

Between the 1980s and ‘90s a lot of wines were created that had a deep effect on the history and evolution of winemaking areas in Italy that were more or less famous. Among these were wines that underwent transformations equal to those of the estates that produced them. An even fewer number of wines were the product of a quest for ‘perfection’ by producers who sought to bring out their unexpressed potential and overcome certain territorial characteristics that compromised quality. These wines are the ones that have generated the greatest interest and allowed people like me to obtain a greater comprehension of territory and how to interpret its wines. I am glad the producers of these wines have had great success, both in the media exposure and sales, because they are the proof that those who follow a dream need to be technically prepared, be able to plan and have intellectual agility to best overcome difficulties.

A wine that certainly exemplifies this direction is Nobile dii Montepulciano Asinone produced by the Poliziano estate of Federico Carletti, who created it. The story of this wine’s birth and the technical changes it underwent over the years to become what it is today is one not only of the estate but also the past 30 years of winemaking in Tuscany. The Asinone project began in 1979 when Federico became involved in his family’s estate. His father Dino had planted this vineyard in the mid-1960s, not long after he had acquired the estate, with two innovative goals in mind: the first was to plant a specialized vineyard with only red grapes and the second was to graft on a selection of Prugnolo Gentile grapes from the best vines in the area. Both were unusual moves at the time. The choice of the soil was not casual and he preferred one rich in pebbles and gravel and that had more limestone than clay. In order words, an effort was made to create a terroir that could produce a better grape, an innovative idea at the time. The result? Not so good at the beginning according to the parameters of the era with the vineyard producing a very low yield in its first years while the grapes were difficult to work with in the winery.

Federico entered the family business at the end of the 1970s with his brand-new degree in enology and lot of ideas, even if he himself today admits “in reality, I didn’t know much about how to make a great wine”. His first ‘idea’ was to separate the grapes from the various vineyards the estate had, another novelty at the time, and it was this decision that led to Federico falling in love with the Asinone vineyard. The 1983 harvest produced the first Vigna Asinone Riserva which initially had a style involving lots of extracts, little attention paid to temperature during production and the use of large wood barrels for aging. It was an important wine that was not produced every year.

The first change took place with the 1988 harvest when 30hl French oak barrels began to be used for aging. The reason behind using French oak, even if the barrels are large, is to soften the tannins from Sangiovese which in Montepulciano are a bit aggressive. Barrels that aerate better allow for a superior polymerization of the tannins and stabilize the color substances and thus more juice can be extracted from the skins. This was a big innovation at the time. This approach was used for the 1993 and 1995 vintages, when experimentation began also with used barriques as well as the large French oak barrels.

With the 1996, 1997 and 1998 vintages, experimentation with aging techniques ended and only barriques were used, although now mostly those made of new wood. The extracts remained strong and the color was decidedly more intense but the wine was softer making it more interesting and a reference point in its category.

The wine’s evolution continued in 1999 with the inauguration of a new winery that allowed Federico to further ‘pursue’ his vision Nobile. New technologies were introduced including the use of temperature-controlled, truncated cone-shaped stainless steel vats, automatic punching down systems and a better control of the cap and the pumping over. This further softened of the tannins and made the wine easier to drink in its early years.

Many would have stopped there considering the economic and critical success the wine had around the world. Instead research and development continued with new and profound innovations in every step of the winemaking process. The advancements were later applied to the estate’s whole line of production and improved their ‘secondary’ wines, much the way Formula 1 technology is later used for motor cars. The improvements involved both procedure and detail including modifying temperatures during fermentation, lowering them on an average to better preserve the grape’s aromas, and adopting the use of select native yeasts. In the vineyard, cultivation has shifted over the past 10 years to eco-sustainable methods including an integrated approach to pest control based on sexual confusion. More attention is now paid to the grape itself rather than the bunch with the use of technologically advanced ties and a very selective destemming process. All this with a ‘small’ investment of around 200,000 euros which naturally reflects on the quality of the wine.

From its initial 80 hectares, the Poliziano estate now has over 120 of registered Nobile di Montepulciano vineyards. They have also diversified production by investing in the area of Morellino di Scansano (some 30 hectares of vineyards) and Cortona (about seven), a demonstration of the validity of the producer’s business plan. It should be noted that in some years Asinone also has some Merlot blended in, from grapes planted in the same vineyard during the 1990s together with some Colorino clones. The Asinone vineyard is composed of 12 hectares of which seven were the original ones, planted in 1963, and five planted in the 1990s. The vineyard has a density of around 3,300 rootstocks per hectare in the original area and 5,200 in the newer one. The vineyard produces in the neighborhood of 20,000 bottles per year.

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