Monday, May 20, 2013

The Ultra-premium Querciabella Wines and a Taste of Tuscany at Open Kitchen in Virginia, with Querciabella’s Giorgio Fragiacomo

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller and Giorgio Fragiacomo of Agricola Querciabella at Open Kitchen in Falls Church, Virginia

Querciabella’s Giorgio Fragiacomo was in town (Washington DC area) and presented his ultra-premium Querciabella wines at Open Kitchen in Falls Church, Virginia. Open Kitchen Culinary Director Christopher Carey had prepared Tuscan food to complement the wines.

Agricola Querciabella

From the Chianti Classico DOCG region in Tuscany, Agricola Querciabella has become known among wine lovers for taking the concept of premium wines to the extreme. Agricola Querciabella is a leading winemaker in the Super Tuscan movement, i.e. ultra-premium wines sold as IGT wine as the wines are made outside of the DOCG regulations. Second, Agricola Querciabella has become a leading winemaker in the cruelty-free biodynamic movement, i.e. the 100% vegan approach to biodynamic winemaking.

Agricola Querciabella was founded in 1974 by Giuseppe Castiglioni, a wine connoisseur and fine wine collector from Milan, who had made a fortune in the construction business, including in Mexico. Giuseppe Castiglioni initially planted vines as a hobby, but soon set about authoring with his Camartina—the flagship wine of Querciabella - a Super-Tuscan success story.

Money was not an issue when Giuseppe Castiglioni bought a run down estate in the Greve region. His main concern was to make wines that could match with the fine French wines from Bordeaux and Bourgogne that he liked to drink so much. The shift to vegan biodynamic winemaking was engineered by his son, Sebastiano Castiglioni, who took over the management of the estate in the 1990s. Under Sebastiano Castiglioni leadership, the trend of perfection is still the utmost priority.

Pictures: At the Tasting at Open Kitchen in in Falls Church, Virginia

Only the best of everything is used, like stainless steel tanks with computer control, peristaltic pumps, 100% natural yeast and only the finest of the fine oak barrels. Quality is something that the Castiglionis do not compromise upon. Also, over time, they established an elite winemaking cadre, including winemaker Guido de Santi and famed consultant and Super-Tuscan specialist Giacomo Tachis.

Chemical–free viticulture was introduced at Querciabella  with the conversion to organics in 1988. This was followed by a transition to biodynamics in 2000. Today, Querciabella practices a farming and winemaking regime known  as cruelty–free biodynamics, which bars the use of animal–derived products from all phases of grape growing and winemaking.

With 74 hectares (183 acres) of prime Chianti Classico  vineyards – located in the municipalities of Greve, Panzano,  Radda and Gaiole – in addition to 32 hectares (79 acres) in  Maremma on Tuscany’s unspoiled Etruscan coast, Querciabella’ holdings represent the largest extensions of biodynamically  farmed (certified organic) vineyards in Italy, contributing extraordinary biodiversity to local and surrounding ecosystems  and serving as a sanctuary for thriving numbers of honeybee colonies.

Chianti, Chianti Classico and Sanghiovese

The Chianti region is split between Chianti and Chianti Classico. Accordingly, two separate DOCG designations apply to wines from the Chianti region: the Chianti Classico DOCG for the heartland of Chianti, and Chianti DOCG for all other Chianti regions.

Sangiovese is the signature grape of Chianti. The Sangiovese grape, like the Pino Noir, is not an easy grape variety, but has the potential of producing world class wines.

Since 2006, the use of white grape varieties such as Malvasia and Trebbiano has been prohibited in Chianti Classico. The share of Sangiovese can range from 80% to up to 100%, with the remainder either other native red grapes, like Canaiolo and Colorino, or international varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Wines that do not comply with these rules – of which we tasted a number during the trip - cannot be sold as Chianti Classico.

Super Tuscans

In the 1970s, a class of wines that became known as Super Tuscans emerged. These wines were made outside DOC/DOCG regulations, but were of high quality and commanded high prices.

The Italian DOC/DOCG system is a highly specific set of production requirements that is designed to ensure a certain quality and taste corridor for all wines from a specific DOC or DOCG. It is amazing, how detailed the production requirements are for a wine to qualify as a Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, for example. That the grapes come from the Brunello di Montalcion DOCG zone is just one of many requirements.

Pictures: Getting Ready - Open Kitchen Owner Hue-Chan Karels and Giorgio Fragiacomo

The advantage of such a detailed and rigid system is that consumers have a very good idea of what they get when they buy a bottle of wine, both in terms of taste and quality: No surprises, as the taste and quality range of Italian DOC/DOCG wines is rather narrow compared to other countries. But this may also be a disadvantage. If, as a winemaker, you want to experiment and try something new, you have to leave the DOC/DOCG system and sell your wine as a Vino da Tavola or as a Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) wine. And this is what a number of Tuscan wine producers did.

By the 1970s, the market for Chianti wines was suffering and the wines were widely perceived to be lacking quality. Chianti was typically associated with basic Chianti sold in a squat bottle enclosed in a straw basket, called a fiasco. In response, a group of ambitious producers began to experiment. Some of these producers wanted to make Chiantis that contained more Sangiovese than allowed. Others wanted less Sangiovese and experiment with blending French grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Many did not want to be required to blend in any white grape varieties. Thus, the late twentieth century saw a flurry of creativity and innovation in the Chianti zones as producers experimented with new grape varieties and introduced modern wine-making techniques such as the use of new oak barrels. These wines became known as Super Tuscans, had to be classified as a Vino da Tavola or as IGT wine, while the prices and wine ratings of Super Tuscans would often eclipse those of the DOCG Chiantis.

See more:
Wining, Dining and Blogging in Chianti Classico (#EWBC), Tuscany, Italy

Agricola Querciabella Portfolio

Agricola Querciabella produces four wines from its vineyards located in the  Chianti Classico zone: Batàr, a blend of Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay;  Camartina, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese; Palafreno,  a monovarietal Merlot; and Querciabella, a Chianti Classico DOCG  made of 100% Sangiovese. From the vineyards in coastal Maremma, Querciabella produces  Mongrana, a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Pictures: Giorgio Fragiacomo and his Querciabella Wines

Camartina—the flagship of Querciabella—was Castiglioni’s first contribution to the Super-Tuscan movement. Camartina continues to be a defining example of the Super-Tuscan genre. While Sangiovese was the predominant varietal for the greater part of Camartina’s early career, the percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon has increased gradually over the years, with recent vintages favoring Cabernet.

Batàr is Querciabella’s high-level Tuscan white, inspired by the white grand cru wines of the Bourgogne. Initially, Batàr was a Pinot Blanc and Pinot Grigio blend. Today, it is a 50/50 Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay blend.  Its stylistic orientation altered with the 1998 vintage, when the use of new oak was reduced, bringing Batàr within much closer range of its Burgundian archetype.

The portfolio’s penultimate wine, Palafreno, is monovarietal Merlot, debuting with the 2000 vintage. Its vinification regimen entails a fairly lengthy maceration period of 18 days and aging in 100 percent French oak (60% new and 40% first passage) for approximately 18 months.

The Wines we Tasted

Querciabella Mongrana Maremma Toscana IGT 2009

Sangiovese (50%); Merlot (25%);  Cabernet Sauvignon (25%).
Biodynamic (since first planting, 1997).
130,000 bottles

Bright red fruit and cherry give the wine a lively, cheerful personality and the wine's structure is perfectly balanced and smooth.  Market $31

Querciabella Camartina Toscana IGT 2008

Cabernet Sauvignon (70%); Sangiovese (30%).
Biodynamic since 2000; organic since 1988.
15,000 bottles
First vintage: 1981.   Camartina is made and released only if the vintage
 reaches a very high quality level. Camartina was not  produced in 1989, 1992, 1998 and 2002.

Dark fruit, spices, leather and tobacco are some of the aromas and flavors that take shape in the glass. Mineral notes appear later to frame the long, vibrant finish.  Market $165

Pictures: Charlos pouring Querciabella Camartina Toscana IGT 2008

Querciabella Chianti Classico Chianti Classico DOCG 2008

Sangiovese (95%); Cabernet Sauvignon (5%).
Biodynamic since 2000; organic since 1988.
100,000 bottles
First vintage: 1974

Beautifully delineated with a crystalline finish, this Chianti Classico is 95% Sangiovese and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Deep red-ruby. Balsamic black plum, sweet milk chocolate and coffee liquor aromas on the captivating, mineral-accented nose.  Market $43

Querciabella Batàr Toscana IGT 2009

Chardonnay (50%); Pinot Blanc (50%).
Biodynamic since 2000; organic since 1988.
5,000 bottles
First vintage: 1988

Picture: Giorgio Fragiacomo pouring Querciabella Batàr IGT 2008

Opens with a beautifully intense bouquet of vanilla bean, peach cobbler and citrus mousse. White almond and toasted spice make for rich accents on the long fresh finish.  Market $97

Giorgio Fragiacomo

Giorgio Fragiacomo is a wine adventurer who hails from North Eastern Italy but grew up in Australia. A combination that led to his acquiring the simultaneous passions for yachting, fine wine and fine art (in which he has a degree from the University of Sydney) from a tender age.

After spending too long in the wrong career, he has now corrected his course and has been navigating the treacherous but exciting waters of the fine wine world for over a decade. Giorgio effortlessly earned his WSET Diploma with top marks, and is a qualified professional sommelier. He has worked in wine journalism as well as sales and marketing for leading wineries of the Piemonte, Veneto and Toscana. He currently steers the export sales of Querciabella.

Open Kitchen

Open Kitchen is owned by Hue-Chan and John Karels. "Our Mission" Hue-Chan says "is to create a unique culinary gathering space that celebrates the kitchen and the table as centers of pleasure and community. Open Kitchen is…

A full-service bistro that honors the farm-to-table spirit with seasonally, ingredient-driven menu of handmade, comfort food, using fresh, local and sustainable products as much as possible.

Picture: Giorgio Fragiacomo, Hue-Chan Karels and Open Kitchen Culinary Director Christopher Carey

An intimate, fully-equipped, commercial kitchen facility and dining space offering custom-designed, interactive, and engaging private events for business and social gatherings, life celebrations, and chef-instructed, design-your-own cooking classes.

A gourmet market and wine boutique that reflects our philosophy that there is a magical relationship between wines, foods, and human connections. An evolving concept that includes Open Kitchen’s newly launched Wine Club featuring weekly wine tastings, seasonal wine dinners, wine reward program, and wine shop with gourmet snacks and nibbles.

Amid the noise and haste of modern living, Open Kitchen aspirse to provide guests with a culinary retreat for gracious living…a place to relax, unwind and share in the joy of food, wine, and community."

Pictures: Open Kitchen

As its name suggests, the space is pretty much open, with the meal preparation going on in front of your eyes, especially if you snag a counter seat.

The decor of Open Kitchen is modern. When you enter the place, you see the "open kitchen" with the Chef and his team at work. The kitchen is surrounded by a large wooden bar. You have the option to sit at the bar, the dining bistro area, which includes pub style butcher block tables or the fully covered patio.

See more:
A German Riesling Dinner at Open Kitchen in Washington DC, USA
Back to the Roots in the Bourgogne: WillaKenzie Estate Wines in Oregon - Winemaker Thibaud Mandet Presented WillaKenzie Wines at Open Kitchen, USA

Special Taste of Tuscany Menu

Open Kitchen Culinary Director Christopher Carey prepared Tuscan food to go with the wines:

Fava Bean Crostini with Fresh Mint & Pecorino Shavings (V)

Chicken Liver Crostini

Grilled Lamb Meatballs with Shaved Fennel, Lemon Juice & Cold-Pressed Olive Oil

Pappardelle with Porcini Ragù (V)

Bistecca alla Fiorentina with Arugula & Shaved Parmesan (GF)

Bruschetta Prosciutto with Marinated Artichokes, Arugula & Shaved Parmesan

Spring Lemon Risotto with Asparagus & Peas (V, GF)

Panzanella (V)

Zabaglione with Vin Santo & Spring Berries

Chocolate Amaretto Tartlette

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