Bibi Graetz brings his ‘toys’ to La Place with the release of three new wines
Just when one thought that the runners and riders for the March edition of La Place de Bordeaux’s ‘beyond Bordeaux’ campaign were finally assembled, Bibi Graetz has shocked the bookies and overturned the odds with not one, but three, late entries.
Even for Bibi Graetz, this is a staggering and breathtakingly original move that few if any had anticipated – even if there have been quite murmurings and whispers of something in the offing amongst seasoned watchers of La Place. It sees the Italian stallion of La Place and one of the greatest personalities of the world of fine wine bring his ‘toys’(balocchi) to the table with the release of three tiny production, single-vineyard, monocépage variants of Colore. The heart beats faster just at the thought of it.
The wines form a trilogy, the Balocchi di Colore (literally, ‘the toys of Colore’) and might be seen either as an homage to Colore or even as a deconstruction of Colore. For each is a pure expression of Colore’s essence but also one that shines the light on the constituents out of which is has been crafted over the last 20 years. The wines will be released on March 3rd and distributed exclusively through La Place in mixed cases of three bottles – just 900 or so in total – from the 2020 vintage. Bibi’s many followers and wine-lovers around the world will be salivating at the prospect.
I was lucky enough to be amongst the very first to taste these wines, with Bibi Graetz and his commercial director, Vincenzo d’Andrea at Vinexpo in Paris last week in a quiet corner of a negociant’s stand. I have been excitedly yet dutifully counting down the days until I could publish my notes ever since. The wines are truly spectacular, as my hastily scribbled and then slowly reworked tasting notes below attest.
But let’s talk first about the project itself. The idea is elegant in its simplicity and therein lies its joyous brilliance. It is to take just three barrels of each of the three varietals that has gone into the selection for Colore since its creation in 2000 (Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino) and to bottle them separately – an initial choice made somewhat easier by the absence of both Canaiolo and Colorino from Colore itself in 2020.
But these are not just barrels that might have gone into the final blend. For the three barrels representing each varietal come from the very best terroirs of the constituent parcels of Colore.
And they have a special significance for Bibi Graetz too. The first, the Sangiovese, Balocchi di Colore No. 1 comes from the very first parcel planted by Bibi’s father in the Podere di Vincigliata vineyard [see the map below]. The Colorino, Balocchi di Colore No. 3, comes from the third parcel that he planted in the same vineyard. And the Canaiolo, Balocchi di Colore No. 8, comes – as you might now imagine – from the eighth parcel that he planted in the Podere dell’Olmo vineyard.
The project is clearly very close to Bibi’s heart, with the (beautiful) artwork that forms the basis of the labels having been painted by his first daughter, Margherita (for Balocchi di Colore No. 1), his third daughter, Ingrid (for Balocchi di Colore No. 3) and his youngest, 8 year-old, son, Ludovico (for Balocchi di Colore No. 8).
- Balocchi di Colore No. 1 2020 (100% Sangiovese; 3 barrels from the oldest parcel in the Vincigliata vineyard on a clay-loam soil with galestro at an altitude of up to 250 metres with a north-western exposure; the vines are up to 50 years old; vinified after soft-pressing in new open-topped barriques with indigenous yeasts; malolactic and aging in used barriques followed by 2 years of aging in bottle; 13.5% alcohol). Without any shadow of doubt, this is the best pure Sangiovese that I have ever tasted. Utterly compelling, extraordinarily complex aromatically and texturally fascinating, with the tannins acting like little glass rollers on which the diaphanous milles feuilles of fresh fruit are conveyed to the palate. Rather than pixilating the wine, the tannins accentuate the sense of layering. As I have said before (and hope to say again), the very best wines one reacts to physically as well as emotionally – with the hairs on the back of my neck signalling my focussed attention. In the glass this is sleek, translucent and crystalline, with crimson highlights. Slightly closed at first, just enough to draw you in, this opens beautifully to reveal its studied purity, precision and profound clarity. This is supremely pure fruited – redcurrant, red and darker berry fruits, a little red cherry, with graphite, wild herbs, nutmeg and cinnamon, dried petals, Japanese green tea leaf and pot pourri. Analytically this has incredible complexity, yet its gracious harmony and authenticity conveys just a calm serine simplicity that is utterly captivating. 100.
- Balocchi di Colore No. 3 2020 (100% Colorino; 3 barrels from the oldest parcel in the Vincigliata vineyard on a clay-loam soil with galestro at an altitude of up to 250 metres with a north-western exposure; the vines are up to 50 years old; vinified after soft-pressing in new open-topped barriques with indigenous yeasts; malolactic and aging in used barriques with 2 years of further aging in bottle; 14% alcohol). One thinks of Colorino a bit like Petit Verdot in Bordeaux – as seasoning, as colour, as the extension of the palate of the wine-maker – but above all, as something to be used in moderation. So it is remarkable to discover just how good this wine is. In the glass it is radiant in its translucence but much darker – almost black at its core, but with violet and crimson highlights. It is immediately the spiciest of the three balocchi and it has a much darker fruit profile too – plums, dark cherry and damson. The latter brings with it a wonderful sense of freshness (something that defines, albeit in different ways, all three wines). We have hoisin, Szechuan peppercorns, graphite again, black tea leaf, a savoury natural sweetness and a crushed-stone minerality. This is ample, rich, sumptuous and broad-shouldered on the attack and one is immediately struck by the glossy, velvety texture that fills the cheeks. But then fine-grained tannins start to work their magic, first gripping and then pulling and stretching out the mid-palate – creating a wonderfully energetic sense of structural tension between the fruit which seeks breadth and the tannins seeking length. The tannins ultimately win out, carving out the structure of the wine. But the effect is to release a series of little eddies and whirlpools of juicy fresh fruit refreshing the mouth all the way to the long finish. Dark, opulent and ravishingly juicy. 97.
- Balocchi di Colore No. 8 2020 (100% Canaiolo; 3 barrels from the oldest parcel in the Olmo vineyard on a sandy-clay loam soil full of galestro at an altitude of up to 450 metres with a western exposure; the vines are up from 25 to 50 years old; vinified after soft-pressing in new open-topped barriques with indigenous yeasts; malolactic and aging in used barriques with 2 years of further aging in bottle; 13% alcohol). Light, limpid, wispy, aerial and fully translucent in the glass, this too is a revelation. We have freshly plucked berries – wild strawberries, loganberries, redcurrants, a little cranberry, a hint of pomegranate – accompanied by a beautiful, subtle hint of pink peppercorns, fresh white roses and a touch of sage and laurel, even saffron. Crystalline, pure, precise and sinuous in the mouth, there is a fabulous energy and dynamism to this conveyed largely by the staggering freshness. The clarity of the mid-palate illuminates the layering and the sensation is a little like gliding through a cool deep lake with little under-currants of juicy sapidity rising up to refresh the palate on its long, slow journey to an asymptotic finish. Staggeringly engaging, amazingly complex and wonderfully dynamic, this is a wine that really rewards a decanter – think of it as the picture frame in which the masterpiece is displayed. 98.