Powerful Family, Powerful Fortress
No, not imbroglio as in “fight”, or brolio as in “intermediator or negotiator”, but Castello di Brolio in the Chianti zone of central Tuscany. This Brolio has many other definitions, most importantly as the home fortress (since 1141) of one of the most powerful and influential families in the history of Italy, the Ranierii Ricasoli, and the home of the family’s great patriots, politicians, wine pioneers, and great wine!
The family headquarters is located less than one hour northeast of Siena and about 35km from the A1 Autostrada at Montevarchi, high on the southern heights of the Chianti Mountains.
Castello di Brolio presents a formidable image from far to the south and west. This part of Chianti is a very rugged country of deeply entrenched streams, ancient villages, forest tangled with vines strangling the ruins of many a castle tower from wars centuries ago, small valley floors filled with orchards and grain fields, and vineyards tucked in anywhere that someone brave chose to work, wild boar, vipers and rare white truffels in the woods. Except for the introduction of electricity and the internal combustion engine, you can easily imagine that…
Little has changed in a thousand years.
Yet, as the castle sits atop intimidating fortifications, the dominance of the manor house was strengthened again and again after each of far too many wars. The “house” is 19th-Century.
A vast extent of surrounding land and the castle are still family owned. A self-guided tour of the English style gardens, as well as of the family church and tomb inside the outer wall, is possible. We enjoyed visiting the church followed by a private walk through the formal gardens around the manor house, with incredible views across the countryside, much of it owned by the Ricasoli family. Limited tours of a family history collection in several tower rooms are also possible.
Barone Bettino Ricasoli was a major political and economic power in Italy during the movement to free the country from foreign dominance during the 18th Century, a leader in the Risorgimento and Reunification of the country 150 years ago. Among a host of outstanding accomplishments, he was able to encourage and implement new definitions and a standard formula for Chianti Classico wine in 1874, to re-establish a predictable standard of excellence for Sangiovese wine as a medium-bodied wine versus the robustness of wine produced purely from Sangiovese grapes in Chianti.
The wine blending rules added milder red Canaiolo and Colorino along with white Malvasia and local Trebbiano. One purpose of this recipe was to provide a good market for the then relatively insipid Trebbiano, the widely grown local white grape that today stands well on its own merits due to new vintner talents and techniques. In recent decades, a new generation of innovators re-established pure Sangiovese wines under Super Tuscan labels, since such was not recognized by “the rules”. Although it required years of effort for the consortium and government to allow them back into the fold of Gallo Nero, their work has greatly benefitted the region and its wine.
Another purpose and result was official recognition of Chianti Classico territory as the true home region of Chianti wine, in response to the claiming of the name in different areas where the vine had been introduced outside of Chianti, often with different standards.
“The fourth longest-lived family business in the world”
The wine business that has evolved since 1141 into today’s Barone Ricasole label is based at the bottom of the castellated hill in a small borgo at the Cantine del Castello di Brolio (www.ricasoli.it). A visit to the cantina to taste the very fine wines is enhanced by an attentive and professional staff, in a facility that is a striking combination of modern design within the old stone and wooden beamed building. The 2007 Chianti Classico DOCG has been ranked at 91 points by Wine Spectator. The “DOCG” is a guarantee that viticulture, wine making, aging, and the resultant wine meet the exacting standards and inspections of the state-sanctioned Gallo Nero Consortium.
When you are in eastern Chianti, take a break from the very curvy roads through the steep, forested hills for a tasting, fine food at the osteria, and a side trip up to the castle.
You may meet a Ricasoli in the garden, perhaps the current Barone negotiating revisions to the Chianti Classico rules with the Consorzio, or hosting leaders of nations debating new treaties in troubled times.
Such high level conferences certainly must be accompanied by great hospitality and…
The Barone’s fine Estate Chianti Classico Riserva.