I love wine. I really love wine. But I’m not a connoisseur by any means, and after the first couple of glasses, my level of pickiness goes way down. My willingness to drink wine from a bottle with a screw-top has made more than one of my wine-snob friends give a galvanic shudder, and I will admit to sometimes drinking it from a Mason jar.
So clearly by now you’ll agree that I could use some pointers, some tips, a little vino-schooling. Fortunately, I received four bottles of wine from Marchesi de' Frescobaldi, a generations-old vineyard in Tuscany, and with it, the offer of an interview with Lamberto Frescobaldi, who is vice president of the Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Società Agricola Srl.
Lamberto is an affable, witty, friendly guy, and he knows his wine. Fortunately for me, he also speaks excellent English, having gone to school in California. We talked via Skype, me with bottles he’d sent me nearby so we could discuss them all.
Wine, he told me, has been a big part of his family’s heritage for 700 years. You read that right. For thirty generations, the Frescobaldis have been growing grapes and making wine.
The family’s history is woven into the tapestry of Italy itself. The Frescobaldis came to Italy around the year 1000, when the banking industry of Medieval Florence was first taking shape. The family name is known and respected for its place in the history of Florence - they commissioned grand public and architectural works such as the Santa Trinità Bridge on the river Arno, and the construction of the Church of Santo Spirito. Dino Frescobaldi, a poet, was celebrated for having recovered and returned to his friend in exile, Dante Alighieri, the first cantos of the Divine Comedy, allowing Dante to continue his work. Gerolamo Frescobaldi, an early composer of Baroque music, is still remembered as one of its most influential representatives and created works of great renown.
The family’s start in wine production dates back to the beginning of the year 1300 at the historic estate of Tenuta di Castiglioni in Val di Pesa, southwest of Florence. By the beginning of the 1400s, great Renaissance artists such as Donatello and Michelozzo Michelozzi had become faithful clients. A century later the Frescobaldi wines were served at the tables of the Papal Court and the English Court of Henry the Eighth. They now have five estates in Tuscany, and distributors around the globe.
Once I had heard their history, I decided against mentioning the box of wine in my refrigerator, the one that has a straw in it, to Lamberto. I had heard he has a passion for cooking, so I asked him to help me understand how to pair wine and food.
“Some years ago, there was a very strict rule that fish had to be served with white wine,” he said. That rule, along with red wine only being paired with red meat, is now rather outdated. The difference, he told me, is in the wines themselves. Many red wines are lighter and less tannic than they’ve been in the past, which makes a difference when they’re paired with food. Lamberto said he will even cook fish in some kinds of red wine.
“In that case you want to enjoy it with red wine. But what kind? Wine that's aged in oak gives is a more tannic taste – not a great combination with fish. So red wine, yes with fish but it has to be not aged in oak.”
He also dispelled another myth for me when he told me it’s fine to serve red wine chilled. “Put it in the fridge and cool it down,” he said. “It’s very refreshing in the summer to have it not cold, but just chilled.”
Although the winery makes both red and white wine, Lamberto said he is partial to red, and all four of the bottles he sent me are various kinds of red. He described what, for him, is a perfect scene.
“I’m a big fan of red wine, the kind that you get home and you start preparing some food with, and while you’re preparing it, you open a bottle of Remole. Meanwhile you are chatting, and before the food is ready, the bottle is empty.”
Ah, the beauty of an empty bottle of pre-dinner wine.
We talked about the bottles he’d sent me. One was the Remole, which I’d finished even before our video call. The others were Tenuta Frescobaldi di Castiglioni, Nipozzano Riserva, and Castelgiocondo. Since our conversation, I’ve finished all of them except the Castelgiocondo. It retails here for $65 a bottle, so I’m saving that to crack open when I win my first major book award.
What I like best about Frescobaldi wines is the notable absence of that sharp, almost chemical smell that some red wines have. You know what I mean, that punch in the face that makes you start feeling tipsy before you even take a sip. My distaste for that is why I don’t generally choose red wine, but I didn’t get that with any of the Frescobaldi wines, and I told Lamberto how much I appreciated it.
“Wine has to be soft and round,” he said. “And how do we do that? With careful fermentation. It must ferment very slowly.”
He explained the differences in the bottles he’d sent me. Castelgiocondo (which incidentally is the name of his family’s estate in the central part of Tuscany) is aged three years in oak and is not sent to the market for five years from when it’s bottled. The bottle I have is dated 2007, so while it’s technically ready to drink, Lamberto said he recommends waiting as long as possible to open it. Twenty, maybe even thirty years would be ideal “if you’re patient.”
I told you he was witty.
The Nipozzano Riserva is a Chianti, aged two years in oak. It’s one of the historic wines produced at the Castello di Nipozzano.
“It is a wine very close to me,” Lamberto said. “I grew up just two miles from there. Every time I open a bottle, I see myself as a kid, playing in the vineyards.”
The Tenuta Frescobaldi is from an area southwest of Florence and is probably the family's most iconic wine.
“That property has been in the family since 1052,” Lamberto said. “It’s the oldest of our estates and where we want to be the most innovative in our winemaking.”
By now I was comfortable enough to ask Lamberto about all the activity that goes on among wine enthusiasts when they first pop the cork on a bottle. The letting-it-breathe thing, the swirling, the smelling…
The first and possibly most important thing to remember, he said, is to use a clean glass. If you have glasses you only use on special occasions, they will get dusty. Be sure and wash them, rinsing them well, before you start pouring wine.
“I’m not a great fan of decanting, especially not old bottles,” Lamberto said. “I might with an expensive, young wine. In general when you have a regular wine glass, you pour a serving amount, then you play with it.” He demonstrated with the glass in his own hand, first twirling the wine in the glass as he held it up, then setting it down and swirling it while keeping the glass on the table.
“When you do this, the wine grabs a lot of oxygen inside the glass,” he explained. “Then when you put your nose in the glass, you will find much more aroma.”
Smelling the wine first allows the drinker to find out what they will and won’t like about the wine before tasting it.
“Not all wines are good,” Lamberto said. “If you put your nose in, you may find you won’t like it, even before you taste it.”
However, he cautioned, don’t continue to smell the wine as after awhile, you won’t notice what you don’t like. “If you do that, you’ll start getting used to the smell, and you won’t pick up on the same things.”
After that, the sipping can commence. And while I appreciate all the steps that come first, let’s be honest - the sipping is the best part.
As our conversation wound down, I asked Lamberto what one thing he’d like to tell people about his family’s wines.
“A great wine puts you in a good mood with good friends,” he said. “When people drink our wines, I would like them to close their eyes and imagine the vineyards and the rolling hills of Tuscany.”
A note from Ty: The link below is a portion of our interview. I am not a video expert, so the sound and quality are not professional, but I wanted to share it with you as it gives you a sense of Lamberto Frescobaldi and his wonderful history of winemaking.