I met Stefano Amerighi one evening in a tiny hole in the wall wine shop in Siena: Enoteca Rivella.
The owner Carlo and another small group of friends like to meet up there to talk or rather discuss about wine philosophy. One things then leads to another and soon there’s a wine club set up. I was one of the lucky seven members. We have drunk together some of the greatest and rarest bottles with two rules: one bottle for each person and the chef had to cook around our wines!
Stefano was the young Coté Rotie lover. He was enjoying some old Barolo, the taste of a great Sangiovese, but in the end, for Stefano the Rhone Valley Syrah was always the model to compare everything to. We know he was planning to produce his own wine and of course no one has ever had any doubt it was gone be Syrah.
The issue though was to produce a great Italian Syrah. Paolo de Marchi form Isole e Olena; Giovanni Manetti of Fontodi, Scrio from Le Macchiole have been producing some pretty good ones.
A few years passed while a few great Syrah have been opened by the wine club, including all the big shot like Guigal, Chaputiere, Clape, Chave and the super Australian Grange Hermitage!
Well I guess you know what variety he planted in 2001 in a beautiful hill near Cortona in Tuscany.
An unconventional choice for the land of Sangiovese but Cortona became famous for its wines thanks to the Syrah of Tenimenti d’Alessandro.
His farm is a run with a biodynamic approach, so no pesticides and very little intervention in the cellar. Since he started his project he was never a hardcore “natural” wine maker. He wants to make fine wines and he has a palate to recognize one when it’s there.
Last week it was the 10th anniversary of his “Apice”: a selection of the best fruit from his highest vineyard. There’s only 1500/1800 bottles made each year from not even 0,5 hectars.
I was running like a pin ball across Italy despite the crazy pre-Spring show brought by the Burian wind, but when he asked me to join the celebration vertical tasting from 2008, I just made sure I was gonna be in Lucca at the Ristorante Il Giglio.
And of course, just like the good old times, he had the Chef (actually in this case the chefs, as there’s three of them) cook something -something special – around Apice and a surprise.
8:30 pm and dinner starts. A basket with some fantastically perfumed home made bread is the sign that that night was gonna be a good night.
Amerighi 2008 Apice Syrah Cortona
Still a little closed when served, it needed a half an hour to show a very powerful “Tuscan” -as Stefano describes it- nose. Prunes, roasted meat, cherries under spirit and bay leaf. Very powerful with a little earthy finish. This is the only year the wine went trough a few months of oak aging.
Served with a daring and yet gentle Goat tartare with a dash of haring and horseradish together with beetroot sauce and creme fresh.
Amerighi 2010 Apice Syrah Cortona
This is a special vintage as it is his daughter one.
The wine was bottled without SO2, as he managed to get the the CO2 of the second fermentation in the bottle to protect the wine form oxidization. The remaining aging was carried out in cement vats.
The result is today a floral and tar black driven fruit wine with an strong structure but also a lot of ribes juice to make it go down a treat. I was very impressed by the open friendly character of this wine as the first year form release it was so reduced and closed. It was possible to see the material but not like this!
I loved the pairing with a celeriac disc served with a gorgonzola sauce, elderflower capers and mullet caviar.
Amerighi 2011 Apice Syrah Cortona
Not an easy vintage in Tuscany, due to a massive heat wave as off the 14th of August.
A much meatier and smoky nose with a black pepper touch. Pitch dark purple color and a very important alcohol presence which is what made this vintage my least favorite. Some people in the room loved the power and the strong tannic structure though. Smoked spaghetti with oyster worked out surprisingly well with this block buster Apice!
Amerighi 2013 Apice Syrah Cortona
This is the beginning of a new wine to make wine for Stefano, starting from the use of whole bunch grapes in fermentation which would include the stalks as well.
It is a more difficult way of vilification as there’s more risks to bring possible pest control residues in the wine and some hidden loudly berries. In biodynamic agricolture there’s no chemical sprays so no problem and with 4/5000 share meters only of grapes, Stefano can do a very accurate selection. Also from this vintage the wine is aged in cement and ceramic
Longer maceration and no added SO2 for this very expressive wine which is able to talk more Stefano’s language. Lot’s of blueberries, black pepper and gunflint. I loved the importante tannic structure supported by so much fruit, this wine will last for at least 25 years! a wonderful match for the perfect Home made broad spaghetti (calle Grissini) with rabbit interiors
Amerighi 2014 Apice Syrah Cortona
Rarely I drink too much during these wine dinners. I want to stay sober enough and also when there’s so many wines not all of them are great. Well, as we got to the unfortunately too badly talked vintage because of the rain, I down the glass pretty quickly. The mind (and glass) reader sommelier Dani was keeping an eye on me and my glass was soon refilled.
This was the greatest wine of the night for me as together with the meatiness, minerality and black driven savory juice, there was also a saltiness which made the wine fly! The dish was a Wild pigeon breast in civet with smoked whiskey.
Before the Saké gelato, daikon and hibiscus we were served maybe the perfect paring of the night and one of the best I think there’s on earth: Pasta Cacio&Pepe and lemon zest with a “natural” Pecorino form Arquata del Tronto (where Italy’s devastating last year’s earthquake was): Noé 2015.
A White with no added SO2 not for a trendy reason but because nature allows that harvesting of the Pecorino grapes at the end of October over 800m asl and the malolactic residue to protect the wine in the bottle from oxidization. It is a pure drink of mountain small flowers with pine sap, hay and so much citrus fruit to quench everyones thirst.
I have the feeling that Stefano with the 2014 vintage has finally made it to bring Coté Rotie to Cortona. But you want to know something? Amerghi went way over Cote Rotiè not as in making better wine then that but he manage to become a fine wine maker. One of this rare cases of artisan producers who are able to turn the land and its grapes into a liquid that can talk for them. Cortona has now its own voice. Bravo Stefano!