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Conversations with Andrea Franchetti–Tenuta di Trinoro

Before getting swept away by the Tour de France, we hosted a tasting of the wines of Andrea Franchetti, the proprietor of both Tenute di Trinoro in Tuscany and Passopisciaro in Sicily. As our staff and guests tasted through the selections, we watched Andrea on the flat screen via Skype, answering questions and chatting with us about his life and wine production.

A charismatic man, who lives life with great intent, Franchetti is the nephew of Cy Twombly and the heir to a textile fortune that threads his mother’s line. Described by Jancis Robinson in 2002, as “a youthful Yves Saint Laurent,” Franchetti once ran a restaurant in Rome, before moving on to distribute Italian wines in the U.S., from 1982-86. Before returning to Italy, Andrea went to Bordeaux to learn the art of wine making from his dear friends, Jean Luc Thunevin of Chateau Valandraud and Peter Sisseck of Domino de Pingus.

In 1992, he landed in the province of Siena, where Tuscany intersects with Umbria and Lazio, a remote region that hadn’t seen vines in years. Always a risk taker, Andrea planted Bordeaux varietals, in lieu of Sangiovese, at high elevations (500-700m) on the slopes of Mount Aniata. Then as now, he practices high density planting (approximately 9,000 vines/ha), and prunes heavily (60%) to produce low yields, while allowing the grapes to linger long on the vines for a growing season that can extend into November. Working with only free run juice and indigenous yeasts, Andrea’s production is quite small, and limited to, on average, a mere 750 cases a year.

In 1997, he released his first Tenuta di Trinoro, which showed brilliantly then and now, 14 years later. “I’ve always liked Cabernet Franc,” said Franchetti. In regards to the first planting, he added, “I planted the way I wanted the wine to be…the first time, you plant a little bit of everything. It was a mixture in proportion to what I thought would be the perfect wine–almost 80% Cabernet Franc…” Such great foresight resulted in a blend of 60% Cab Franc, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Petit Verdot, which we had the great fortune of tasting, in the form of a magnum. Incredibly aromatic with notes of horseradish (hello Bordeaux!), earth and musk, the wine’s mid-palate viscosity is lush, and balanced with acidity and fruit that will carry this vintage forward for years to come. “It could pass for a top-five Bordeaux,” said Greg, and indeed, all 30 tasters in the room agreed.

Not one to sacrifice truth or integrity, Franchetti admitted that 1999 was a wet and frustrating year. The fruit, he felt, was a little poor in quality, and so this vintage, which is muskier with riper fruit and a concentrated finish, is good for a few more years, but he doesn’t expect it to age as well for an extended period of time.

Speaking of how his methods have changed over the years, Franchetti said, “I still look for concentration and low yields. I bleed the tanks and I don’t like wood.” And while the 1997 Tenuta di Trinoro saw 100% new French oak, Andrea now believes that, “You can make more profound wines with less wood. My barrels are [now] 10-20% new wood.” If a vintage isn’t worthy, Franchetti has no problem bypassing it, leaving the grapes to the birds on the vines.

As the years passed, the arrangements of his blends changed too. After 1997, Franchetti started planting more Merlot, but then he had to wait. Starring in the 2006 vintage, Merlot dominated the blend coming in at 51.5%, followed by 30.5% Cabernet Franc, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 9% Petit Verdot. And while August was cool, the remaining weather was perfect until harvest. Up and down the mountain the grapes were gathered for a total of 35 pickings that were all fermented separately. With a deep berry nose and a touch of spice, there are age-worthy tannins and acidity here, knocking through a door of dense, ripe fruit.

The next vintage, and the last bottle on the table, Tenuta di Trinoro 2007 returned to a Cab Franc (40%) dominated blend. The Merlot (30%) here was harvested much later than it was by most other Tuscan producers; and with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot, the 2007 showed incredibly promising fruit and tannins. And though the 1997 and 1999 vintages are no longer available, the 2006 and 2007 are certainly collectable wines that Franchetti expects to peak for many years to come.

Stay tuned for our next post: Franchetti’s Passopisciaro in Sicily.

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