UNCORKED: Discover Carmignano: Distinctive Italian wines are made from sangiovese and cabernet grapes

Carmignano -- don't feel bad if you've never heard of it before. Though winemaking in this part of Tuscany dates to ancient times, Carmignano (kahr-mee-NYAH-noh) is one of the smallest wine regions in Italy, with some 279 acres and only 13 producers.

Carmignano -- don't feel bad if you've never heard of it before. Though winemaking in this part of Tuscany dates to ancient times, Carmignano (kahr-mee-NYAH-noh) is one of the smallest wine regions in Italy, with some 279 acres and only 13 producers.

The grand duke of Tuscany officially recognized Carmignano's wines in 1716, but the region was folded into a Chianti appellation in the 1930s. Carmignano only resurfaced as an officially recognized wine area in 1975 and wasn't raised to the highest appellation level, denominazione di origine controllata e garantita (DOCG), until 1990. (To make things more confusing, there's now a zone in the same region called Barco Reale di Carmignano. "The New Wine Lover's Companion" describes these wines as lighter versions of the Carmignano DOCG wines.)

What makes Carmignano so distinctive is its centuries-old practice of blending international grapes such as cabernet sauvignon (imported into the region from France by Catherine de Medici) and cabernet franc with indigenous wine grapes. Carmignano wines were actually Super Tuscans even before the term was coined in the 1980s for quality wines that didn't meet Italy's strict winemaking rules.

"We can say that only in Carmignano the terms 'Super Tuscan' and 'tradition' are not in contradiction," said Leone Contini Bonacossi, scion of the wine family behind the Capezzana estate, one of the largest wine producers in Carmignano.

That Carmignano wines were there first but don't enjoy the recognition (or price tags) of Super Tuscans fascinates Molly Wismeier, director of wine and spirits for Restaurant R'evolution, a restaurant opening in New Orleans next summer.


"It's paradoxical," she said. "Carmignanos are some of the best Super Tuscans in the world. There's ageability and their ability to pair food and wine is unparalleled. But is that perception out there? No."

"Carmignano is the undiscovered jewel of central Italy," agreed Evan Goldstein, a California-based sommelier and author. "It is an always over-delivering wine vis-a-vis price in Tuscany. For what you get in the bottle, it's often tastier than many a Chianti, vino nobile (di Montepulciano) and, at times, many a Brunello or rosso (di Montalcino)."

"They have a superb structure and great food affinity," added Goldstein, president of Full Circle Wine Solutions, a wine and spirits education company. "It's just not on the radar that much ... a consumer's loss."

A loss for the winemaker too. Just ask Bonacossi. His grandfather, Ugo Contini Bonacossi, was a key figure in winning recognition for Carmignano.

"We have 100 years of history as a winery and 1,000 years of tradition," he said.

Carmignano has to be made with at least 50 percent sangiovese grapes, with up to 20 percent canaiolo nero, 10 to 20 percent cabernet franc or cabernet sauvignon, up to 10 percent white grapes and another 10 percent other grapes, according to "Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy" by Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch.

"Given this liberal blending formula, Carmignano, like Chianti Classico, tends to range from brambly, spicy and brightly acidic to more round and juicy," the authors write.

Wismeier said people who love full-bodied, rich wines from California will also love Carmignano. The wines are elegant and well-made, with centuries of history behind them.


"They know what they're doing," Wismeier said of Carmignano's winemakers.



A lucky 50 attendees at this year's Chicago Gourmet tasted their way through the Capezzana portfolio with the winery's Leone Contini Bonacossi. I was among them. Here are my tasting notes:

2007 Barco Reale di Carmignano

Magenta colored, with a nose of stewed plums, cedar and black pepper. This DOC wine had a deep, rich fruit flavor seasoned with black pepper. Lively acidity; somewhat tannic finish. Made with sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and canaiolo. $15

2005 Villa di Capezzana Carmignano

Brilliantly clear despite deep red brick color. This DOCG wine is ripe with plum and blackberry aroma. Full flavor of tart cherry and black pepper. Slight tannic pucker on the finish. A sangiovese-cabernet sauvignon blend. $28


2003 Trefiano Carmignano

Dark red with glowing red edges, this DOCG wine has a subtle cinnamon and pepper fragrance. Good acidity sparks cherry flavor. Tannic. A blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and canaiolo. $40

2003 Ghiaie della Furba

Classified as an indicazione geografica tipica (IGT) wine because it is not made according to Carmignano's DOC or DOCG standards, this red has a saturated plum color. The nose is smoky, like incense, with a cedar touch. Deep blackberry and black cherry flavors. Velvety, creamy texture. Tealike finish thanks to the tannins. A blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah. $50

2004 Ghiaie della Furba

This dark red wine smells of very ripe fruit. Very fruity flavor supported by a solid, tannic core. Like the 2003, a blend of cabernet, merlot and syrah. $50

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