Northeast of Siena, in a medieval hamlet dating back to the 13th century, there lives a princess in an old stone tower. Her name is Coralia Pignatelli della Leonessa. Born in Greece and educated in Switzerland, she married an Italian diplomat and traveled the world until they saw Castell’In Villa in 1967. Looking to put down some roots and with a view to slowing down their jet set life and retiring, they bought the run-down and rather dilapidated property where the vineyards were populated with wheat and olive trees and cows and pigs roamed freely, munching on grapes as they ambled along.
Wine was a passion of Coralia’s husband, Riccardo, who began cultivating the wines as a weekend project. But in 1985, the fairytale ended abruptly with Riccardo’s death and in the same year all the olive trees were killed by a bitter frost that engulfed Tuscany during the winter. Coralia toyed with the idea of giving it all up and moving to Switzerland. But she didn’t want to let go of what had been so dear to her husband. She rolled up her sleeves and got to work.
It was a major undertaking. She rehabilitated the land and the buildings and currently oversees the 300 hectares, 54 of those being vineyards. And she began making wine…seriously.
Today, Castell’In Villa wines set the standard amongst serious aficionados of Tuscan wine. Not surprising as the princess never takes no for an answer. But even more so as she never drank wine before she began making it. A demanding woman and used to getting her way, she went to battle with the laws of the Chianti Classico appellation, which in the beginning demanded that the Trebbiano grape be added to Sangiovese. The laws did indeed change and the Princess’s adherence to 100% Sangiovese in a Chianti Classico wine is now the norm with top Chianti producers.
The Princess’s insistence on low yields in her vineyards so as to produce superior quality Sangiovese means that her wines are not cheap. But then again, her wines are for those who want wines that taste as if they came from Chianti and it is for those who understand Sangiovese, a delicate variety, according to the Princess.
Castell’In Villa Chianti is therefore marvelous, traditionally made, aged in cask and one of the most age-worthy wines in Italy. It is fresh, snappy and dry falling just short of what one would say is “full-bodied.” Dark red in color, it is like tasting into a ripe summer cherry with an overlay of earthy and spicy tones.
At Eli’s List:
1971 Chianti Classico Riserva (The inaugural vintage that included some white grapes)
1986 Chianti Classico Riserva (100% Sangiovese)
1995 Chianti Classico Riserva (100% Sangiovese)
2006 Chianti Classico Riserva (100% Sangiovese)
2010 Chianti Classico (100% Sangiovese)