Visiting Tenuta Sette Ponti

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Tenuta Sette Ponti vineyards near Arezzo
Before arriving in Italy, I reviewed my tasting notes over the years to survey which Italian wines I'd tasted that I'd like to learn more about. Being more of a new world kind of guy (that is to say wines from anywhere but Europe) the list was short.

In practice, I tasted more benchmark Italian wines at the 2011 Wine Spectator Grand Tour in Boston (full review) than I did most anywhere else so I looked closely at the Italian wines I liked there. One of the more impressive wines I tasted there was the 2008 Tenuta Sette Ponti Oreno, the $100+ release price flagship wine from Tenuta Sette Ponti.

We were staying just 35 minutes away from the winery so we paired a visit to Tenuta Sette Ponti with a stop at Cortona - the setting for the book and movie "Under the Tuscan Sun". Cortona was great and so was our visit to Sette Ponti.
Sette Ponti Export Manager Stefano Maggini
I always get a feeling I'm in for a good winery visit when the directions include notes about gravel roads and driving over bridges depicted in famous paintings. The one-way Ponte Buriano bridge you cross when driving to Sette Ponti from Arezzo is featured in the Mona Lisa now housed at the Louvre in Paris.
Ponte Buriano (photo credit)
We met with Stefano Maggini, Tenuta Sette Ponti's Export Manager. Sette Ponti derives its name from the seven bridges you'll cross driving between Arezzo and Firenze.

The Moretti family purchased the land in 1950 from the king's family. Antonio Moretti now owns not just Tenuta Sette Ponti in Tuscany but Poggio Al Lupo in Maremma and Feudo Maccari in Sicily.
Old vines, deep roots
The vineyards have a long tradition, but what drew me to Sette Ponti specifically was the international acclaim their wines have earned. Especially Oreno. 90% of the Sette Ponti wines are exported and the United States is their most important market.

It's been Sette Ponti's ability to build off their legacy while embracing the best of modern winemaking techniques that's enabled them to produce wines that can compete on the international stage. Check out this article from Wine Spectator (online subscription req'd) describing how a Sette Ponti consulting winemaker observed the conditions in Italy in the 1980's. Excerpt:
On a visit to a producer in Castellina-in-Chianti, Ferrini suggested crop thinning, a standard viticultural practice that lowers yields in order to increase the quality of the remaining harvest. The proprietor was incredulous. "Cut these vines and drop the grapes on the ground?" he said. "I'd sooner kill my own daughter."
Thanks to Sette Ponti's outstanding vineyards combined with forward thinking viticulture and vinification, their wines compare favorably with the best wines in Italy. But a more relevant comparison from my tasting experience is Bordeaux. For me, Oreno shows best as a serious sit-down wine meant to be savored with indulgent meals on special occasions.
Oreno and Crognolo aging in French oak barriques
Oreno is a blend of Bordeaux varieties. 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Petit Verdot. Although those varieties are familiar to California wine enthusiasts it's therefore surprising how much more accessible (that is to say easily enjoyable) its >90% Sangiovese sister wine Crognolo is.
Oreno and Crognolo - the cornerstone wines of Sette Ponti 
And Crognolo is much more affordable - it carries a release price of just $33 vs. $107 for Oreno.

Crognolo is big on the nose with rich fruit and supporting tar notes. It's fresh with subtle enjoyable toasty oak influence and firm but semi-sweet tannins. Very, very nice. 95 points James Suckling - great call.

I found it for around 17 euro at the supermarket in Italy but it's not much more in the US if you catch it from a discount retailer.
Try the affordable Crognolo, especially for immediate consumption
Don't get me wrong - the Oreno is terrific. Especially if you can catch it on a deal. But for me, for immediate consumption - Crognolo is the discovery here.

We tasted through other wines in the Moretti portfolio. Poggio Al Lupo (perfume,black licorice, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, firm tannins). Orma (situated between Ornellaia and Sassicaia, Merlot/Cab/Cab Franc, very nice, appealing purity of fruit). Good stuff.

And the Feudo Maccari wines from Sicily showing Nero d'Avola's juicy "drink now" characteristics very well. I spotted a great deal from Vino Divino on the Feudo Maccari  Nero d'Avola just yesterday. Definitely check that out if you're in Massachusetts.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Tenuta Sette Ponti was our first winery visit out of four while in Tuscany. It was a fantastic stop and it was great to taste Oreno on-site and compare it to other wines in their portfolio.

Crognolo was the discovery of the visit for me. Sort of the Clio to El Nido price and quality wise. Highly recommend. Find it on CellarTracker and Wine-Searcher.

Oreno is their flagship wine you've got to try. Find it on CellarTracker and Wine-Searcher.

You may notice that both of these wines sell in the US for significantly less than their release price. Especially the Oreno. For example (magnums for $111). I asked Stefano about this and he acknowledged that there's a bit of a grey market for their wines whereby distributors in some countries sell direct to retailers in other countries. My advice: Buy from retailers you can trust who care about the provenance of their wines.

So my recommendations based on this visit is to buy Crognolo for an affordable outstanding Sangiovese, get a taste of Oreno to establish a relatable frame of reference for the great wines of Italy, and explore the other bottlings in the Moretti portfolio.

Check 'em out:

On the web:
Follow them on Twitter: @TenSettePonti

Next up: A visit to Casanova di Neri. I'd love it if you subscribed to The Wellesley Wine Press for future updates.


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