Carnasciale & Caberlot
The Caberlot Grape and its Story
Podere Il Carnasciale
One of the top visits to a wine producer that I have experienced was on a recent trip to Tuscany. While most visits on this trip took me to Chianti Classico based producers, this one was not a Chianti producer and stuck out among them for the different grape they make their wines from: Caberlot.
Podere Il Carnasciale is well known within most geeky wine circles for their exclusive use of the Caberlot grape. Caberlot is a little-known grape and is only used to make wine here at Il Carnasciale. Besides Il Carnasciale, there are no records or instances of the grape being used in any production capacity. The vines that existed where the grape was found growing wild a few decades before the Carnasciale story began (more in its origins later). The wines we tasted were excellent and quite unique in their combination of wine styles that draw from Tuscany of course, but also Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Loire.
Il Carnasciale winemaker Peter Schilling discussing the Caberlot story with us in front of the original Carnasciale Vineyard. Part 1 above, Part 2 below.
We were met by the Carnasciale enologist Marco Maffei and winemaker Peter Schilling. Peter showed us the home vineyard “Carnasciale”, healthy and green in the warm June sun with shoots and leaves rising from the small goblet trained old wood of the vines. Peter walked us through barrel samples of the 2015s from each Caberlot plot. Each was evidently different in aroma, flavor, and texture from the different vine age, soil and exposure. Yet, you could also comprehend a common thread in each wine as there was a clear sense they were the same grape. This was a great lesson in terroir and viticulture as each wine is vinified and aged in the same way, so the only possible cause for variance is terroir or vine age.
Later, we tasted the current vintages in bottle outside under a beautiful old veranda overlooking the Val d’Arno. The “grand vin” is the Il Caberlot bottling that only comes in magnum format, but restaurants have been able to get 750ml sized bottles for the first time with the newest vintage. We tasted the spectacular 2013 Il Caberlot and then the 2014 second wine “Il Carnasciale”. 2014 was a cooler, but very good vintage for Caberlot. As a treat, we also got to taste a new third wine made from 100% Sangiovese called Ottantadue from the 2015 vintage. This was also very good, but clearly a different grape and a different spin on Sangiovese. In a clear glass bottle that reveals the pure, vibrant red color it is a stripped down, pure version of Sangiovese, unlike anything I have ever tried. The Ottantadue showed little influence of wood and instead focused on the fruit, spice, texture and raw components of Sangiovese.
It is of no surprise to find out that the winemaker Peter has a deep background making wine in Burgundy. The terroir impact is indeed on display in these special wines based on the barrel samples I tasted. In bottle, the overall impression of the wines is a beautiful density and purity, with a persistence and energy in youth that mellows and broadens over time. I have had vintages 5-14 years old of both Caberlot wines and can say they age gracefully, with beautiful tertiary notes and soaring aromatics. Similar to how great Bordeaux ages, the Caberlot wines deepen in complexity, mellows in structure, and broaden the nose and palate with more aroma and flavor dimension.
The History: Wolf & Bettina Rogosky
The winery was founded by Bettina and Wolf Rogosky with the first plantings in 1986 and the first vintage made in 1988. Wolf sadly passed away in 1996, but Bettina and their son Mortiz have carried the torch on for Wolf, possibly exceeding the goals that Wolf had envisioned for Carnasciale. Moritz currently travels most of the year to support the brand and continue to share the wonders of this special wine.
The Rogosky family owned Carnasciale for a while before making any wine as the property was purchased in 1972. In a bid to try to plant vines when they moved back from the USA in 1982, they would have had to uproot olive trees and thus were denied by the local authorities to do so. While tragic, a lucky twist of fate allowed them the opportunity to do what they had been seeking. A deep frost in 1985 killed off a swath of the olive orchard and allowed Wolf and Bettina to finally plant a vineyard.
With the ability to plant vines, Wolf wanted to be different, and not do what everyone else was doing. He decided against Sangiovese and other popular Bordeaux varieties and settled on Caberlot which he found with the help of his enologist friend Vittorio Fiore. This was a huge gamble as no had ever made wine from Caberlot so Wolf did not really know what he was going to get. The rest, as they say, is history, but the wine’s meteoric success is a tribute to the forward-thinking vision and hard work of the Rogosky family and their team of winemaker Peter Schilling and enologist Marco Maffei.
The Vineyards – Podere Il Carnasciale
Deep in the southeast of Chianti in Tuscany, high up in the southern Chianti mountains at 420 meters near Arezzo is Podere Il Carnasciale. Technically it is located in the Valdarno di Sopra DOC, but it does not qualify for the DOC status as the Caberlot grape is not one of the allowed grapes of the DOC, thus it is an IGT wine. The greater region is the Val d’Arno, a place that was recognized centuries ago as a source for excellent wines that has an ideal climate for viticulture. The cooler effects of northern Italy meet the warmer climate of the Mediterranean in Tuscany, while the higher elevation here and a mix of different soils give it a different character that other parts of Tuscany.
While the estate vineyard at Carnasciale is the highest and oldest, it is a tiny .3 hectares of a total of 4.6 hectares spread over 6 different sites planted around the Val d’Arno. The 6 sites planted today are composed of the following (other websites and articles are outdated/inaccurate on this detail). I confirmed this first hand from Moritz’ daughter Carla Elle.
Carnasciale: .3 ha at 420m planted in 1986; poor in nutrients, rich in iron with limestone and albarese sandstone bedrock, some clay topsoil.
Selva: .8ha at 170m planted in 1999; characterized by a warmer site composed of alluvial river sediment soils (sand, rock)
Vincaie: 1.0 ha at 150-175 meters planted in 2004; limestone with chalk and sandy components, *subdivided into 2 adjoins sites*
Perelli: .9 ha planted in 2010; seaside sediments, cliffs with stones, planted in 2010
Le Volpaie: 1.6 ha planted in 2013 and is mostly loess soils.
The Grape: Caberlot
So, what is Caberlot like you ask? That is a good question that, quite frankly, no one really can answer besides what is made at Carnasciale. Most people tend to think it resembles Cabernet Franc in aroma and flavor, but the plant’s biological blueprint is more like Merlot. So, it is thought the grape is a hybrid of the two grapes that at some point naturally crossed in the wild. Based on the vintages of both wines I have tasted, I agree with the sentiment of the Franc and Merlot characteristics that seem to be embodied in the wine. Depending on the kind of vintage, more seem to appear over the other. For example, a cooler year will show more Cabernet Franc typicality. Peter did mention that Caberlot can drop acid very quickly after peak maturation, so the timing of the harvest is critical.
The story of the Caberlot grape is shrouded in mystery as the facts of its origin are not actually known. What is known, is the original vines were discovered in the 1960s near the village of Padua which is located between Verona and Venice in northeastern Italy. It was discovered by agronomist Dr. Remigio Bordini growing wild in the countryside. Caberlot was then refined and developed in a nursery by Dr. Bordini for use in vineyards. With the assistance of Wolf’s enologist friend Vittorio Fiore, he introduced Caberlot to the Rogosky family.
In the Cellar: Winemaking
The winemaking is 1 part Burgundy and 1 part Bordeaux, as the gentle processing of the grapes and wine are then aged in French oak barriques. Each parcel is vinified and matured separately from the other parcels.
Grapes are sorted and cleaned after picking in the vineyard, no sorting table is needed as the crop size is manageable without one. The picked grapes are cooled to 13-14 Celsius for 25 hours and then crushed. Fermentation is at a cool 17 degrees Celsius in small steel tanks with a daily punch down. Fermentations take 12-24 days. The wines are then put in barrel where malolactic takes place. The barrels are Burgundy sized at 228 liters. The degree of new oak varies from an average of 60% up to 100% depending on the vintage. The new French oak is always a medium toast of Ermitage and Taransaud. There they will sit for approximately 22 months in barrel.
Blending happens after the wines have sufficiently matured in wood and the blend of Caberlot and Carnasciale are assembled after a rigorous blind tasting sample of each barrel. Depending on the outcome of the blind tastings, there may be more Caberlot or Carnasciale bottled, it ultimately depends on the expressions of each barrel that match the expression desired in the bottle.
The 2015s resting in barrel that we sampled from each different vineyard site of Caberlot. The differences were very apparent, as was the kinship to the same grape, a wonderful way to see terroir’s impact on the same grape with the same winemaking techniques.
2015 Barrel Samples
Sample 1 Carnasciale
Gorgeous white pepper, violets, crazy spice, dense and deep, the old vine and high-altitude material here is apparent.
Sample 2 Selva
From chalky, dryer soils, typically more open and accessible young, this site makes up about 10-20% of blends, the nose is a little shyer today, not reduced, just reticent.
Sample 3 Vincaie (lower)
Sweet green capsicum notes, more cracked pepper, notes of stone and savory, meaty notes, minerality and acidity appear present, acting like an energy source, lots of freshness and a long peppery finish
Sample 4 Vincaie (upper)
Tar hits you right away with darker fruits like blackberries and plum, firmer tannin, no bell pepper or peppercorn spice notes, incredible these are adjacent sites. Dense and packed, this is stacked structurally in the mouth.
Sample 5 Perelli
Meaty, licorice, florals, darker pepper, tar and smoke, oak more apparent, lightest body and most oak from its 5-year vines
Bottled Wine Tasting Notes
Il Carnasciale 2014
More elegant, black and white pepper, medium+ nose, florals and dark red to red cherry, currants, a tarry note on the finish that also turns more black pepper with the licorice and violets. Excellent typicity and refinement, great density and balance, acidity in spades will have this age effortlessly.
Quite the very good vintage, deep and elegant palate, sweet tannins, perfectly ripe, with more floral and elegant integrated pepper, sweet violets, long and fine, extremely persistent, extremely bright florals on the finish. The tannins are smooth, long, elegant and fine. Very juicy and sappy acidity. Incredibly elegant, smooth and long, the wine is perfection and should only get better.
100% Sangiovese. 2015 inaugural vintage. A vineyard neighbor of Vincaie, though the fruit from the plot is purchased. Less than 1 hectare, 9k sq meters. Lighter ruby to slight purple clarity core, ruby edges. More fruit focused as the wood component is neutral and steel is utilized, fresh red cherry, florals are sweet violets and lilacs, and some elegant spice. Medium grain tannin, well integrated and ample lights and keeps fresh the bountiful red fruit and earth notes. Round and approachable, maybe the warm personality of 2015, excellent med+ length. 2nd use oak barrels for 12 months on half the wine, the rest was in stainless and both are then blended. 2k bottles produced, with an eventual goal of 10-12k bottles