- Cortona, Tuscany, Italy
There is exceptional Syrah being made today in southeastern Tuscany in the appellation of Cortona. Stefano Amerighi, the young and dynamic owner of this eponymous estate, has a beautiful cru in Poggiobello di Farneta. We're due east of Siena, in the southeast corner of Tuscany, quite close to Umbria and Lake Trasimeno. Stefano, who comes from a farming family was born and bred in this area. He's Tuscan, through and through--actually, he'll tell you, he's so original that he's Etruscan!
Cortona is one of only a few places in Italy that could consider Syrah both indigenous and a focus. Why Syrah? After the fall of the Medici, Tuscany passed to the Hapsburg-Lorraine dynasty and shortly thereafter to Napoleonic occupation. These political shifts brought major changes to many aspects of daily life, including within agriculture, where new ways of worklng the land were established and new cultivars were introduced. Syrah has a presence in Cortona dating back to the late 1700s. The noted ampelographer Attilio Scienza began a nearly 30-year study of the Cortona zone starting in the late 1970s. He found the terroir remarkably similar to the Rhone Valley, both in terms of climate and geology. Syrah was already here; it made sense that it would be the benchmark for any forthcoming wine appellation. Using Professor Scienza's findings, Cortona was granted DOC status in 1999.
After an in-depth geological investigation beginning in 2001, Stefano identified eight hectares of land well-suited to his project: southeast exposure, a mix of silty clay sedimentary soil, and a base of thriving microorganisms. Next came the sourcing of the materia prima: his selections of Syrah came from some famous estates of the southern and northern Rhone, as well as some Italian Syrah clones. Stefano planted the vines to a high density of 7000 plants per hectare and adhered to biodynamic principles in the vineyard.
"When I started this project in 2001, a few people considered me a visionary, but most thought of me as a bischero." (KR: Tuscan dialect. Literally 'tuning fork,' but colloquially 'a fool'). Today, Stefano is the president of the consorzio of Cortona. Stefano Amerighi is Demeter-certified biodynamic winery.
In the winery, the a portion of the Syrah grapes are partially de-stemmed, while some are left whole and still others are lightly foot pressed. Fermentation occurs spontaneously in small concrete vats and without the use of pumps, sulphur or temperature control. The wine is then allowed to clarify naturally in a combination of wood and cement tanks, where they are kept for 14 months before bottling. The resulting wine is sensational, with signature notes of black olive, cassis and minerals on the nose and an elegant mouthfeel. This is a game-changer for the zone.