What are your impressions of the 2019 Il Blu?
On the nose you get blueberry, prune, some ripe fruit, herbs and tobacco, even dark chocolate. You will find very similar flavors in the mouth. As a winemaker and wine lover, I like finding the same, or even more concentrated flavors that are on the nose, in the mouth. With Il Blu there is a lot of mature tannins, and beautiful acidity for a round and smooth wine. The 2019 already shows its great potential, but will, of course, with some bottle aging show its entire beauty.
What can you tell us about the 2019 vintage?
It was a great year for all of Tuscany. In 2019, all the steps in nature that are necessary for making great wines, came together perfectly.
Wine, after all, happens first in the vineyard, and here the success is down to Mother Nature. As winemakers, many of the steps – the growing, the blooming, climate, a sudden frost – are not in our hands. All our work in the vineyards is focusing on the best possible quality. Of course, Mother Nature plays an important role.
The flowering was perfect in 2019, there was no late frost, and the summer was beautiful with some rain before the August heat, all of which resulted in fantastic grapes. In 2019, nature allowed us to make outstanding wines, from our Tre to Il Blu.
That must have been a relief, although I sense that you also like a little challenge.
Sometimes not having an easy year can be exciting; we have to work harder for the best possible results. As a winemaker you can prove your knowledge more with a challenging vintage than with an easy one. If you couldn’t make an outstanding wine in 2019, then you should probably give up winemaking.
I’m also sensing that one of the pulls for making wine for you is this serendipitous side of it, this dance with nature.
Absolutely, this is one of the many things I love about making wine. Experience helps, but there is always so much to learn, new challenges to face, and decisions to be made.
Can you speak to why Il Blu is the ultimate expression of Brancaia and the winery’s philosophy?
Il Blu is important to us for many reasons. Let me start with its unique label. Thirty years ago, few in the wine world were convinced this could be a wine label. Slowly but surely people started to see the beauty and the simplicity of its design. It still looks modern, which makes it timeless, and there is no bigger compliment than timeless!
The wine and its composition have changed since the first Il Blu, released in 1988. How do you see it evolving further?
Even though Il Blu represents where Brancaia likes to be, the wine has changed a lot in the last 30 years. Back then we wanted to show the best side of the Chianti Classico region which is without doubt Sangiovese focused wines. So we set out to do the best with this grape.
In the first years we made the wine using 80% Sangiovese and the rest Merlot, so as to give it more roundness, complexity and depth. Then slowly we added more Merlot, and in 1998 introduced some Cabernet Sauvignon. For a long while Il Blu was a blend of 60% Sangiovese, 35% Merlot and the rest Cabernet Sauvignon.
Our Merlot has improved so much: the average age of the vines in our Chianti Classico vineyards is 30 years old which means the fruit is more concentrated. This is also true of our Sangiovese vines.
Therefore, the new rules, the quality of grapes in our vineyards, and changes within myself as a winemaker, have led me to push Il Blu more on the Merlot side. So much so that the wine is now made with 80% Merlot, 10% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon – almost the opposite to what we did 30 years ago. Meanwhile, we were able to use the Sangiovese grapes to improve the quality of our Chianti Classico Riserva and add Gran Selezione to our portfolio.
How have these changes reflected on today’s Il Blu?
I believe Il Blu has become even more elegant and profound with time. But as a style of wine, it remains the same, representing the most elegant and complex wine in our portfolio.
What does the Merlot bring to the wine?
We grow Merlot in Castellina and in Radda. The Castellina soil is more profound so the grapes are very round and can over ripen. But in Radda, the higher altitude, cooler air, more rain and stony soil allow the grapes to gain beautiful blueberry flavors, to be more elegant, more classic, have higher acidity, be more powerful and retain a certain freshness.