The Wines of San Felice, Tuscany

San Felice’s beautiful estate lies just a few kilometres from Siena. Once a medieval village, today the collection of buildings houses the winery, and a Relais & Chateaux hotel and restaurant complex, all within the ancient Borgo.

One hundred and fifty hectares of Chianti Classico vineyard and 60 hectares of olive grove surround the estate, though in recent years San Felice has also invested in other key Tuscan regions. They now produce wines from 23 hectares of vines in Montalcino, and a further 16 hectares in coastal Bolgheri as well as IGT ‘Super-Tuscan’ blends.

There are a number of ranges within the San Felice portfolio, but for this tasting led by winemaker, Leonardo Bellaccini, their two Chianti Classicos were in focus: Il Grigio and Poggio Rosso. Vineyards are planted mostly on chalk and clay, at between 300 and 450 metres altitude. Sangiovese dominates with 70% of plantings, with other grapes including Pugnitello, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Colorino and Petit Verdot, as well as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Trebbiano and Malvasia.

Gran Selezione

Both the single vineyard Poggio Rosso and Il Grigio were formerly Chianti Classico Riservas. But with the introduction of the Gran Selezione classification in 2014, which could be applied to wines from the 2010 vintage onward, both met the criteria and so are now labelled as Chianti Classico Gran Selezione. Among the classification’s rigorous stipulations is that wines must be made only from estate-grown fruit and have a minimum of 30 months ageing.

San Felice is also a great proponent of historic varieties, focused mainly on Pugnitello, but with a selection of other traditional grapes of the Classico region. The ‘Vitiarium’ was established in 1986, a 2.5 hectare experimental vineyard that houses a collection of 270 minor Tuscan grape varieties, a bank against “the erosion of the genetic heritage.”

Leonardo insists that nothing much has changed in terms of winemaking since he took up his role in 1984.  Sorting machinery was introduced at the estate to supplement vineyard selection in 2007, with an optical sorting machine added in 2015 for additional control in the top wines. But a big focus has been on sustainability, with regenerative farming practices, solar power and water captured and filtered for use in the cellar and gardens. Leonardo states that harvest date is one of the biggest changes he has seen over 50 years since being a student. Then he would pick late in the autumn, in October, and often wrapped up against the cold. Today “it’s more like dressing for the beach,” he says, with the harvest in early September.

The estate’s fruit and vegetable gardens supply the two on-site restaurants, one with a Michelin star, as well as small local markets. The gardens are managed by local workers who have disabilities. Leonardo is very pleased that two of the workers who came through this programme now have full-time jobs within the winery.

The Wines

These wines are imported into the UK by Boutinot.

(2023) A blend of 80% Sangiovese, with ancient indigenous Tuscan varieties including Abrusco, Pugnitello, Malvasia Nera, Ciliegiolo, and Mazzese making up the remaining 20%.  The wines was aged for 24 months, 50% in large Slavonian oak casks , 50% in 225-and 500-litre French oak. Some lovely bloody and earthy, leathery notes here, but not at the expense of fruit. That is sweet on the nose and infused with tobacco and perfumed, incense and fresh cherry notes. Lovely mouthfeel, medium-bodied and juicy, then a very strict tannin and acid axis shears through the flesh of the mid-palate. This is so grippy at this stage, and needs time - perhaps five years - but has great concentration and structure.
(2023) This is around 80% Sangiovese, the remainder being other local varieties including Abrusco, Pugnitello, Malvasia Nera, Ciliegiolo and Mazzese. Brooding, dark, combining black cherry and liquorice aromas, but there's intensity here, moving into plum and blueberry. This is drinking superbly a decade on since harvest, and while there is plenty of bittersweetness to the fruit, tannin and acid, the core has a dry but definite fruit ripeness and richness. It stays linear and focused. I would be drinking this now, though the axis of tannin and acid may well propel it further. No Uk stockists for this vintage at time of review.
(2023) This was fermented in stainless steel, a selection of the best grapes, sorted in the vineyard and again at the winery. At this time the blend was 80% Sangiovese with Pugnitello and Colorino. It was aged 24 months in 500-litre French oak. Deeply coloured, there's a real sense of classicism here: the fruit is vinous with plum and cherry, deep and smoothly concentrated over plush oak. The palate has gorgeous, chocolate-like fruit creaminess, depth and smoothness. There's lots of espresso here, presumably higher toast oak adding a little of that, but it gives lovely texture and depth after 13 years. The wine feels resolved, but no rush to drink. No UK stockists for this vintage at time of review.
(2023) Six thousand bottles of this super-premium Chianti Classico were produced, the wine spending 20 months in 500-litre French oak barrels plus 15 months more in bottle before release. On chalk and gravel soils, this block of the vineyard was planted in the 1970s, and San Felice say the wine has 20 years+ of ageing potential. An ethereal aspect to this wine, there is suggestion of a fresh forest after the rain, also a wisp of smokiness along with firm cherry and raspberry fruit. Lots and lots of juiciness here, mouth-watering, agile, defying its 14.5% alcohol. That shows just a touch in the finish, but the whole picture is so fresh, balanced and delicious.
(2023) I believe the 2015 was 100% Sangiovese, but given a very similar winemaking treatment to the 2018, with 20 months in 500-litre French oak barrels and extended time in bottle before release. It's loaded with tobacco and spicy aromas over black fruit - cherries, but blackcurranty depth too. In the mouth lots of cherry depth over swirling smoky notes. Tannins are big and very drying, so I think these needs to be decanted or preferably given more time. Acid balance is excellent. A substantial wine for sure.
(2023) The blend at this time was 80% Sangiovese along with 10% each of Pugnitello and Colorino, from 1970s vineyards. Softening brick on the rim, a mellow wine, with bloody and tobacco notes, a subtle truffle character with its age. Such sweet fruit on the palate: an almost strawberry or ripe red plum juiciness and fruit richness, some chocolate notes into a mellow but still vital finish, smooth tannins and gentle acidity balanced perfectly. At this stage might still benefit from decanting just to allow it to open slightly.
(2023) A single vineyard, Sangiovese Riserva blended with some Colorino and Pugnitello, from limestone soils. Again a very darkly-hued wine, and this is the only one of the wines here that feels fully mature. There's some gamy tertiarty aroma, spices and a woodsmoke character, the fruit still there but not singing as clearly as in the 2010 Il Grigio for example. In the mouth this does still have balance thanks to the fruit feeling a little more solid, though it is fairly quickly clamped down by sandy tannins and bitter cherry acidity. The wine resolves into fruit and coffee in the finish, so perhaps this will have more longevity than I first thought it might.

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