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A Taste of Tuscany: 2004 Brancaia Ilatraia

"Tell me what you drink, and I'll tell you who you are," he said, paraphrasing Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the famed French gastronome.

The romance of travel is very alluring, and a trip to Tuscany is at the top of most folk’s to-do list these days, it was for us. Who could blame us, it's the home of the romance language, is also home to some of the best food, art, and wines that have come together over many centuries, to wow even the most jaded of tourist. 

Every time I visit Italy; I come away with a new sense of awe and wonder about the people and the depth of their history which in many ways just reaches out to you, pulls you in. It’s that awe, which brings me to this story about one of my many trips to Tuscany. This adventure involved an excellent restaurant and a fantastic bottle of wine.

This story started at a small, but obviously, upscale restaurant located just on the outskirts of Castellini in Chianti. This place is a gem in a sea of sameness. The wine service at Locanda di Pietracupa [San Donato in Poggio (FI) Via Madonna di Pietracupa] was a bit on the unusual side; as the waiter came to the table to show us the wine, then turned to the table behind us to uncork the bottle and then sniffed the cork. 

He then returned to pour the glass, for my evaluation, to see if I agreed with his assessment he derived from the cork, nodding in approval, he poured us both a glass. Taking my first slurp from the glass, wow, I knew Mrs. Cuvee, and I would be in for a treat; as the wine was in a word, spectacular. The service was first rate, the menu was well planned, and the food was extraordinary, and their wine list was "top-notch," many wines there caught my eye.

Vino da Tavola: This term used to be the catch-all category for everyday wines until the super-Tuscan revolution hit Chianti and Maremma. The creation of I.G.T. was made necessary by the inadequacies of the D.O.C. regulations. As a result of the widespread revolt against by many famous and politically influential wine producers the Super-Tuscan was born, following the old adage; when in doubt just follow the money.

Location, location, location: Brancaia, located in the Tuscan Maremma, is made up of two estates, Brancia and Poppi, which have been owned by Barbara and Martin Kronenberg-Widmer since 1981. The consulting oenologist Carlo Ferrini; oversees winemaking at Brancaia, and they also own vineyards in the Chianti Classico and Morellino di Scansano zones.

The Wine: 2004 Brancaia Ilatraia Maremma Toscana IGT [Italy, Tuscany] and the blend; It's what they call a proprietary blend, meaning this wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (60%), Sangiovese (30%) and Petit Verdot (10%).

Wine Makers Note: 2004 shows elegant Maremma warmth in its expression of sweet dark fruit, herb, tobacco, and earthiness, with good length and excellent overall balance.

Aging: It spent 18 months in French oak and bottle-aged another 4 months before its release. This wine can be kept in the cellar or your wine storage unit until 2016, but you probably can't wait that long as this wine is drinking fantastically right now.

Price and ABV: You will find this wine sells in the $49 - $65 price range; again depending on where you shop. This wine weighed in at a mere 14.4% abv, I found it generously balanced in each and every slurp.

Swirl: The waiter put our freshly poured glasses on the table, grabbing the glass, tilting it ever so slightly to the side against the bright-white tablecloth, revealed a deep, dark garnet core fading to a brick tinged rim.

Sniff: This wine had tremendously fragrant and complex nose: A veritable bramble bush of dark fruit aromas on the initial whiff that transitions into ripe plum, blackberry jam, burnt tar, and a fate whiff of cinnamon.

Slurp: While dining alfresco, we slowly, sipped on this lovely wine, abundant fruit, tar, and rich Tuscan earth were eager to meet us. A nuanced mouthfeel, comingling nicely with a tangy spiciness and sweet dark blackberry, spicy earth tones and round, rich tannins. The finish was long and lasting, blending ever so nicely with our meal.

Other Voices: The Wine Advocate gave this wine a mere 88 points, which good, but I thought it deserved better, easily 92 points in my book. The folks at Wine Speculator gave this wine high marks, in fact, this wine had made James Suckling's Recommended Wines from Tuscany list and awarded the 2007 Brancaia Ilatraia Maremma, Toscana with a whopping 96 points. I became an instant fan of Brancaia after tasting 2004 while dining on my trip to Italy. I had no idea that Mr. Suckling thought so highly of 2007 until I wrote this review of 2004. So now, of course, the whole wine world will be doing some trophy hunting on this bottle and driving the prices up.

Where to buy: You may still be able to find this wine at JJ Buckley where this wine may still be available for USD 50 each. That's a reasonable price, considering I paid about 56 euro’s for my 2004 at the restaurant, so do the math, this is a great deal, but you may want to hurry.

My Recommendation: I would grab some of 2007 if you can and also some of the 2004 vintage which is still available. This is one of the best examples of Super Tuscan you are going to find priced below a 'Benjamin' anywhere. So if you want to see what all the fuss is about, just use the wine-searcher link on my page to right on your screen and type in the name, it will give the name of all the shops or online stores who stock this wine, along with the prices. So this is another of my "run don't walk" recommendations. Until next time sip long and prosper Cheers!


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