The Wines of Luce, Tuscany

The Frescobaldi name resonates through Tuscan history. With 1000 years of influence as textile merchants and bankers in medieval Florence, the family prospered during the renaissance as major patrons of art and architecture, including the construction of the Santa Trinita bridge and the Basilica of Santo Spirito.

But wine growing has been part of the family business since the 14th century, the first Frescobaldi wines produced in 1308, with customers said to include Michaelangelo (with whom the family traded wine for paintings), and Henry VIII, part of close connections the family maintained with the English court.

Luce vineyardToday, Frescobaldi is a major name in Italian wine, still focused mostly on Tuscany, and still a family firm with president Lamberto Frescobaldi heading the company. They are owners of six important estates across Chiant Classico, Montalcino and other premium appellations of Tuscany, with another three very high-end estates that are also part of the portfolio: Ornellaia, Masseto and Tenuta Luce (pictured).

Luce (Lu-che) is an estate firmly rooted in the Montalcino region, and producing Brunello di Montalcino, but it’s fame rests mostly on its super-premium IGT Toscana wines – ‘super-Tuscans’ – that are not permitted the DOCG classification because they are blends containing a high proportion of Bordeaux varieties along with Sangiovese.

Stefano RuiniI recently spent a couple of days as guest of Tenuta Luce, and Technical Director, Stefano Ruini, who ran through the history of the company, where 1993 was the first release. The wines contain a high proportion of Merlot and other Bordeaux varieties, not native to Tuscany, and Stefano explains that in the mid-1970s a French company was looking to invest in Tuscany and decided to plant Merlot, Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc. Originally 200 hectares, the estate now stands at over 270 hectares, 88 under vine.

The oldest soils are schist, on which they planted Sangiovese because the free-draining soil is suited to the variety, whilst on other vineyards of compressed clay, which is similar to the Right Bank of Bordeaux, Merlot gives a fuller character. “There are some limestone patches too,” says Stefano, “and all certified organic.” So no synthetic chemical fertilisers, insecticides or other sprays are used, instead mechanical ploughing is used to controls weeds, also creating porosity in the soil structure, “which is important in such a dry climate,” says Stefano. All wines are fermented with ambient yeasts.

Luce TuscanyThe three wines in the portfolio, Luce itself, a ‘little brother’ called Lucente (which inherits the Luce barrels after one year), and the Brunello di Montalcino, each come from a particular vineyard of origin, and are never a blend of the different parcels.

The project began life as a joint venture between Frescobaldi and Mondavi of California, but the joint venture ended in 2004 after Mondavi was sold to Constellation Brands. Taking over the running of the estate in 2017, Stefano Ruini is the ideal person to do so, an Italian winemaker who spent 20 years making wine in the Médoc. Now he is at home in the hilltop town of Montalcino, which many consider to be home to Tuscany’s finest wines. A new winery has been constructed and opened in summer 2018. Nearby is Frescobaldi’s CastelGiocondo, which is open to the public with a restaurant and rooms.

The Wines

(2019) 2015 experienced a sunny and dry growing season, the hot summer mitigated by intense August rainfalls that provided ideal conditions for uniform, stress-free ripening. A blend of Sangiovese and Merlot with a yield of 35 hl/ha, and aged 24 months in barriques, 85% of which were new. A robust, firm character on the nose, plenty of polished oak, dark and liquorice character. The tannins are firm and very grippy at this stage, a big structural wine, the tannin and acid framework a touch angular right now, though softening notes or spices and obvious fruit concentration suggest it would be best approached in another five years perhaps.
(2019) A slightly warmer than usual spring with well-distributed and regular rainfall, the pattern following through into summer giving homogenous ripening. Slightly lower yields of 30 hl/ha compared to 2015, again a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot, with 24 months in barriques, 85% new. Gorgeous perfume, some floral notes, also a pleasing edge of game and bloodiness that adds a lovely layer of complexity. Such deliciously sweet fruit, and while that sour cherry acidity and the steely core of tannin is there, there is a supple, slightly more feminine character that drinks beautifully. Will cellar 10 years+
(2019) After heavy spring rains the summer was almost ideal, with dry days and significant day-night temperature differentials to ensure balanced, concentrated berries. The Sangiovese and Merlot was harvested with a low yield of 28 hl/ha, and ageing once again for 24 months in 85% new French oak barriques. Back slightly more onto the firm, taut, precise black fruit style, sveltee and glossy with a slightly balsamic note too, and though juicy and with that tangy sour cherry to the acids, just a little less giving than the 2014.
(2019) Spring brought abundant rains and lower than average temperatures, then a hot summer. During the flowering in June, rain and wind resulted in clusters with fewer berries, then the summer was hot and sunny for optimal ripening. Luce reported "outstanding quality in the harvested fruit." Yields of 30 hl/ha, 24 months in barriques of which 90% were new. Fine spices and sweet damp earth over the more figgy black fruit, this has breadth and sweetness to spare, massive coffee and sweet black fruit, it is a more upfront style, but delightful. I can find no UK stockists for this vintage at time of review.
(2019) A mild spring was followed by a long cool summer, with good rainfall but dry condition in September and October for good development in the grapes. The yield was 30 hl/ha, and the recipe was for 18 months in barrique, but with 100% new French oak. This was the second bottle after the first decanted bottle was corked, so closed and needing oxygen, but obvious concentration and packed sweetness of fruit, very smooth tannins, beautifully resolved, and the Merlot dominating strangely, almost certainly down to the bottle having just been opened. Obvious coffee depth and structure. Drinking beautifully.
(2019) Luce say this was an vintage excellent both in terms of quality and quantity, a cool and rainy spring replenishing underground waterways, a cool early summer then heat during August and September to compensate for the initial delay in the vegetative cycle. The Merlot and Sangiovese were harvested at 35 hl/ha, and the wine spent 24 months in barriques, 90% of which were new. Nice camphor high note here, classic pencil shaving finesse, the palate has lost a touch of its fruit and shows more cedar but has lovely texture and balance of tannins and acids, so that it finishes with spicy length, a really lovely wine for current drinking though I can find no UK stockists of this vintage at time of review.
(2019) Spring was rainy and mild with early budding, and although summer was dry in general, Montalcino experienced three significant rain events, limiting stress and supporting complete maturation of the grapes. The blend of Merlot and Sangiovese spent 12 months in a mix of new and used barriques. Lovely fruit here, quite lifted compared to the Luce, herb and floral notes joining succulent black fruit on the palate, generous and silky, certainly more approachable at its young age than Luce, but still with complexity and, I suspect, capacity for longevity.
(2019) First released in 2003, 2013 brought a rainy spring and early summer, but followed by a hot, but not extreme, summer providing ideal ripening conditions. 100% Sangiovese harvested at 34 hl/ha, the wine spent 24 months in Slavonian oak barriques, only 10% of which were new. Perfumed and lifted compared to the Luce, tobacco and spices dominating the sappy cherry. More sour acidity here, proper Italianate acidity, draped with the red and black fruits into a long, spicy finish.

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