Castello di Albola  is located in Radda-in-Chianti, an atmospheric medieval hamlet in the high, central part of the Chianti Classico DOCG region, midway between the Renaissance cities of Florence and Siena.

Owner: Zonin.

History: During its first 1,000 years of history the medieval village of Castello d’Albola belonged to some of the most noble Tuscan families, like the Acciaiuoli and the Samminati to the Pazzi and the Ginori Conti. The Acciaiuoli family were the first to plant vineyards here, in the 15th century as a symbol of their high status. The villa dates from the 16th century and has in its two massive towers the traces of the original medieval castle. In February 1979 Gianni Zonin visited the estate, as owner Prince Ginolo Ginori Conti [see Poggerino] wanted to sell. Having purchased the estate the Zonin family restored both the main villa, and the hamlet’s rural outbuildings which are now used for accommodation. The Zonin family has also enlarged both the vineyards and the estate, which today (2019) covers 900 hectares in total including vineyards, olive groves and woodland.

Staff: Manager: Alessandro Gallo. 

Vineyards: 2015 100ha of Chianti Classico and 40ha of IGT and that 7ha of vineyards were being replanted each year, at higher than before densities (Visit, 2015). | 2019 Alessandro Gallo told me there were 125ha of vines and 900 hectares of land in total. Named sites include Acciaiolo, Capaccia, Ellere, Selvole, Marangole, Madonnino, Mondeggi and Sant’Ilario and (the flagship) Solatio vineyards are located at an altitude of between 350 and 550 metres above sea level and are exposed to light, as they say in Chianti, “from sun to sun”. Alessandro Gallo added that the estate’s large size means terroir varies hugely, although ‘Solatio is on scheltro puro whilst other Sangiovese is on deeper soils (deeper fruit).

Elevation: From 350 to 700 metres where the castle is, in the highest part of Radda.

Soils: Either alberese (a fine-grained, compact yet friable calcareous marl, pH 7.5-8.0), which is prevalent in the vineyard used for Solatio or galestro (schistous-clay). Also rich in scheletro

Woodland: The vineyards are surrounded by woods of oak and durmast (Q petrea or Q sessiflora, the sessile, Cornish or Welsh oak which is deciduous and a member of the white oak or Quercus family) trees; they are dotted with very tall cypresses.

Ripening: At the estate on 05th May 2015 Denis Dubourdieu said ‘Here we are at the Northern limit of Sangiovese. The wine could potentially turn out very angular. 2014 is the peak of our work so far. Myrtille, grillotte. Fruit here is not to do with vine: we tweaked the pruning. Cleaner pruning cuts. We want the sap to go from the soil to atmosphere via the plant.) [I think Simonit & Sirch advised].

Viticulture: Originally the vines were planted at wide spacing with high yields per vine. Replanting the vines closer together means each vine produces fewer and more highly flavoured grapes.

Climate change: In an interview on 04th October 2016 Alessandro Gallo, who has managed Castello di Albola since 2004 told me “Globally, climate change may have brought a rise in average temperatures but Castello di Albola is not seeing a huge change in terms of the grapes easily becoming raisiny or over-ripe. Radda is still very much a cool zone in which ripening is not always a given. 2015 and 2016 saw cold, wet springs. There then followed a lack of water in summer. It is important rain falls at the right time like, in 2015. In 2016 rain did not come when needed in spring to early June. Then no rain fell in July or August. What is true is weather events are becoming much more unpredictable. Heat spikes occur–like in 2012 [de-leafing = burnt grapes]–but can be followed by bursts of rain so heavy that a week’s worth falls in one night like in a tropical rain forest. Dealing with this unpredictability has made us better, more pro-active farmers [Hard to deal with this water. Steep slopes here. Hydric management is very important. Erosion control. Take this into account when planting, draining.]. We let wild flowers and native grasses grow freely between every other vine row. [Sow cover crop in autumn like triticale or beans – favino]. They [prevent soil erosion and splashing of disease spores] act like sponges when it rains whilst attracting insects beneficial for the vines [and allow easier tractor acccess]. And we are more pragmatic about how many big or small leaves we allow on each vine branch. We want each grape bunch to get the right balance of shade, partial shade and full sunlight according to the season and the weather. Climate change means the rigid rules of wine-growing we learnt in wine school need re-addressing. You need a more nuanced, articulated, pragmatic approach now. Climate change is all encompassing. It’s not just about warming.”

Certification: Qualitas Sustainable Production Certification from 2018.

Organics2015 At the estate in 2015 I was told they were working with Ruggero Mazzilli on organics. 2015 was the first year with no weedkillers, with weeds now removed mechanically using under-vine weeding machinery. Cover crops were triticale, rye (‘segale’) and beans. | 2016 No pesticides. No soluble fertilizers. IPM. Moving towards 100% organic.

Winery: The wine cellar is on two levels: one above ground to the north, where the vinification of the grapes and other technical processes take place, and one underground, two-thirds of which are used for storing the wine in stainless steel tanks (temperature-controlled) and the other third for the maturation of the red wines in barriques. The historic underground cellars–in the ancient hamlet of Albola–with their imposing vaults built in the past by the Pazzi family and by the Ginori Conti Princes, have returned to life and now contain large Slavonian oak botti as well as barriques of oak from the French region of the Allier.

Winemaking: 2013 Denis Dubourdieu began consulting, introducing a lighter touch in terms of tannin extraction and oak, with a move from 225-litre barrels to much larger ‘botti’. At the estate on 05th May 2015 Denis Dubourdieu said ‘the worst thing is to look for something which is not already there [when extracting in red winemaking]. Knowing when to pick is key, especially as this area is a marginal one for Sangiovese.’

White wines

Poggio alle Fate: This 100% dry Chardonnay comes from a single vineyard called ‘field of the fairies’. The vineyard is narrow, shaped like a long tongue and surrounded by forest. The trees and high altitude of 700 metres make this one of Tuscany’s coolest, most extreme sites. It is Albola’s highest vineyard. Red soils. Galestro that was ground up over time, so much so it looks like a beach with big pieces of red-coloured sand. ‘Un galestrone’, Alessandro Gallo told me. 3ha of vines. Planted in 1998 he thinks. Double guyot. 6,000 vines per hectare. Poggio alle Fate Chardonnay is made from the earliest and clearest juice from pressing only. No skin contact. Free run only. Settled. The wine used to ferment 100% in stainless steel but now the vines are older (planted 2005) around 15% is allowed to ferment in oak (with batonnage). MLF can occur, but not always, and only ever in part. Blended in spring. Then bottled. ‘It is a delicate wine, with a kind of alpine nerviness and inner vibrancy, a verticality and nervousness you could say, but as the vines are now maturing there is nevertheless a potentially creamy aspect to the texture which that little touch of oak helps brings out, ideally with from 3-5 years of bottle age,’ Alessandro Gallo told me, adding that it is most expressive if decanted. | 2010 <2g/l RS. Ageing well: nice straw colour and nose, exotic white peach fruit but well constrained, no fatness, very ‘sweet’ and savoury (Visit, 2015). Christophe says he wants better evolution in this, he is looking for more reductive notes, he says this is clay-rich, deep soils and high site and vigorous which is what you want for white wines capable of ageing. Christophe then added that he wants a white with the capacity to go through a phase of reduction as the wine finds itself. | 2014 2ha = 100hl. pH is 3.25 at picking. Don’t want tannic grapes. Main choice is how hard to press and when to cut. 50% MLF. Very small part was lees aged in large old oak. <2g/l RS. Clean tropical fruit with bright acidity and decent length, and just the right amount of body (Visit, 2015).

Chianti Classico DOCG wines

Chianti Classico DOCG, Castello di Albola: The Chianti Classico ‘annata’ is Castello di Albola’s signature wine. It represents both the Albola estate and Radda’s very distinctly cool, high altitude terroir which is at the limit of where Sangiovese will ripen fully. The wine is both very perfumed, and shows classic Sangiovese flavours of violets and red cherry. | 2011 500,000 bottles. Alessandro Gallo says they are really focussing on this annata wine rather than the Riserva. The mid-palate was very savoury and ripe (Visit, 2015). | 2016 100% Sangiovese. 13% alc. Fermented in stainless steel. Oak aged.

Chianti Classico DOCG, Le Ellere: Le Ellere is the name of the zone this wine comes from. 450 m, mainly galestro. 30-35,000 bottles. | 2011 Cool red fruit nose, seems young for its age. Nice direct style of fruit (Visit, 2015).

Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva, Castello di Albola: 100% Sangiovese. Castello di Albola’s Chianti Classico Riserva is an expression of the best Sangiovesse grapes from that particular growing season (vintage year). This means that the amount of Riserva made varies considerably each year. In spring following the vintage having a) seen the grapes at harvest, and b) having seen how each lot expressed itself after vinification, the final blend is made and is aged 12 months. Around 60% ages in large wooden vats, the rest in 500-litre tonneaux with little or no new oak. This adds barely any oak flavour whilst allowing the tannins to soften. | I| 2006 100% Sangiovese. | 2007 95% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo. Ripe clear round if simple fruit, very soft for Chianti and a bit monotone. Bronze at DWWA 29th April 2013. | 2010 Savoury, elegant tannins, crisp red fruit (Visit, 2015). | 2011 Bit green at end (Visit, 2015). | 2012 60,000 bottles. | 2013 13% alcohol. 60,000 bottles. Denis Dubourdieu consulted. I like the fluidity in this, youthful cherry and not to much oak (Visit, 2015). | 2014 Very youthful, very nice weight and clarity, more obvious Sangiovese (Visit, 2015).

Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione, Santa Caterina: Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Santa Caterina takes its name from a single vineyard covering just a little more than five hectares on a south-facing slope, at an average altitude of 500-550 metres, very close to and just below the main buildings and winery. It is a privileged parcel due to the composition of the soil, rich in galestro (a rocky, schistous clay soil), and to the quality of the Sangiovese grapes grown there. South-facing. Full-bodied, rich, ‘international’ for want of a better word. Vinified from a single variety, with a long ageing period in wood barrels, they turn into a shiny wine in the glass, with an invigorating scent and a strong, long-lasting taste that encapsulates the very soul of Castello di Albola. The clone used here gives a fruity style of wine, with width, softness. Production of this wine could reach 20-25,000 bottles.

Other red wines

Oso: Oso means ‘I dare to’ in Italian, in this case to defy traditions, in this case via a Tuscan-French blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Syrah. 60% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot and 20% Syrah.

Toscana Rosso, Acciaiolo: SuperTuscan. This SuperTuscan red blend is named after the aristocratic Acciaiuoli family who, during the medieval Renaissance, lived at Albola and constructed Castello di Albola’s cool underground ageing cellars. These are still in use there today. Blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese. Alessandro Gallo told me ‘Cabernet is normally used to give wine a structure, a verticality, a backbone, making this the wine which gets the most (albeit limited) exposure to 225-litre barrels. The growing conditions at Albola accentuate that, even if we have our Cabernet in the lower, warmer sites, at around 400m, just below the centre of Radda itself. The vines are now (2019) over 30 years old, our oldest vineyard at Albola, and so are mature. Small berries, low yields (4 tonnes per hectare). Old vines (30 years old in 2019 I think). Not easy to get ripe. Give it 7-8 years in bottle. ‘Cabernet at its climatic limits.’ | 1988 The debut vintage was 1988, a year after Zonin bought the estate. | 2006 Roughly half each Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese aged in French oak, one third new, and one third each one and two years old. | 2009 65% Sangiovese, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon. £15-29.99. Ripe, minty blackcurrant nose, showing clarity and balance plus concentration of both oak and fruit, with the alcohol in the background; lovely ripe red cherry aftetaste, delicious. Gold at DWWA 1st May 2013. | 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (Radda, low vineyard…) and Sangiovese. Tasted at the estate on Wednesday 06th May 2015.

Toscana Rosso, Le Marangone: Pinot Noir-based.

Il Solatio, Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione: Castello di Albola’s flagship red is a 100% Sangiovese from a single vineyard comprising just a single hectare (2.47 acres) of vines. South-east facing. Very steep slope known as Solatio meaning ‘sunny, sun-facing in Tuscan’, illuminated from sunrise to dusk. The falling light makes the sand grains in what is otherwise a flaky limestone soil sparkle. Rocky soil. Surrounded by forest. 550-580 metres. Very much an alberese terroir here, says Alessandro Gallo. Very scheletro he adds. Alessandro Gallo told me ‘Solatio shows deep rather than heavy red fruit, with spicy cranberry fruit with a touch of spicy-savoury cinnamon. It benefits from around four to eight years in bottle.’ Part-aged in small barrels. Around 3,000 to 3,500 bottles roughly. | 2006 Debut vintage. | 2010 Gran Selezione The first vintage bottled as a Gran Selezione. | 2011 3,500 bottles roughly. Oak not yet settled yet (Visit, 2015).

Vin Santo

Vin Santo del Chianti Classico DOC: Made from Trebbiano toscano and Malvasia del Chianti. | 2004 Walnut-like (Visit, 2015).

Olive oil

Over 4,000 olive trees. Frantoio, Leccino and Moraiolo varieties.

Bibliography

Visit to Castello d’Albola on Tuesday 05th and Wednesday 06th May 2015.

Contact

Castello di Albola

Via Pian d’Albola, 31

I-53017 Radda in Chianti (SI = Siena), Italy

Tel+39 0577 738793 | www.albola.it