Text Size:-+

La Brancaia, Chianti, Italy: Current Releases

Tuscany will always hold a special place in my heart. If not for the dreamlike quality of the rolling Chianti hills in Spring, then for the fact that it was the place I realized I was probably going to marry the woman who is now my wife, and the place she fell in love with wine (she was already in love with me, thankfully) for the first time.

The red wines of Tuscany can be as frustrating as they are fantastic. Just ask anyone brancaia.jpgwho's had their share of lousy, watery Chianti at neighborhood Italian restaurants in the United States. Like many, my earliest exposures to Tuscan wine left me with a very distinct taste in my mouth, and it wasn't pleasant. Tuscan red wines, even the good ones, can be quite dry and tannic in their youth, and if poorly made can really make you feel like you're drinking liquid leather.

Those who have the patience to age their Brunellos and Vinos Nobile de Montepulciano, or to search out the gems of Chianti, Bolgheri, Sant'Antimo, or Maremma are often rewarded with wines of remarkable character and soul. When they're good, they're really frikken good, as my wife, Ruth, would say.

I find the Chianti region to be one of the most difficult in which to ferret out excellent wines. I'm sure I'll draw some ire for claiming so, but I believe that the region has an unusually high proportion of mediocre wine compared to good, even among the DOCG (Denominazione di Orogine Controllata e Garantita) designated producers. Which means that when I find a great producer of Chianti, I get very excited.

My latest discovery is a winery named La Brancaia.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Brancaia is a relatively new producer in the Chianti Classico region. More surprising might be the fact that the estates owners, including the current winemaker, are Swiss German, and never had any intention of becoming wine producers.

In 1981 Brigitte and Bruno Widmer were on vacation in Tuscany for the first time, and not unlike many before them, fell in love with the landscape, the culture, and of course, the food and wine. On the spot, they decided to purchase a property that they might use as a family vacation destination, five hours by highway from their home in Zurich. With the help of a local real estate agent, they managed to find a few ancient farmhouses for sale, and quickly fell for the charm of the most ancient and most dilapidated of them. The property was perfect in every respect except for one: it came with 21 acres of grapes that the Widmers had no idea what to do with. The Widmers were not about to let a few vines get in the way of their dream, so they bought the property anyway, and set about refurbishing the old farmhouse.

Apparently their neighbors were the ones that talked the Widmers into trying their hands at winemaking and gave them support for the first year or two it took to get their small family operation up and running. Whether it was the neighbor's help, their own Swiss attention to detail, or the raw quality of the vineyards they happened to have bought, it's not clear, but their 1983 vintage won first place in a major Chianti Classico blind tasting.

And like so many stories of this kind, that was the first day of the rest of their lives.

Over the next 7 or 8 years, the Widmers threw themselves into the creation of a small, high quality Chianti winery. They purchased another vineyard site, bringing their total vineyard acreage to about 75, and fought through the nearly prehistoric local bureaucracy to get a permit to build a modern winemaking facility. All the while, their small production wines were garnering accolades throughout the country.

In 1992 the Widmers hired consulting winemaker Carlo Ferrini to help them take their operations to the next level of quality. Ferrini, even at that time, was one of Italy's most celebrated winemakers and consultants, and quickly transformed Brancaia into one of Chianti's most celebrated wineries. With Ferrini's help, since 1994 the winery's flagship wine "Il Blu" has been awarded the Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri every single year except one.

Soon after Ferrini began working with the Widmers, their daughter Barbara decided to abandon her budding career as an architect and become more involved with the new family business. After managing sales and event marketing for the winery, she eventually went back to school to train as a winemaker in Switzerland, and after graduating and working at several Swiss wineries, she returned to Brancaia in 1998 to become its full-time winemaker. Barbara, along with her husband Martin Kronenberg who manages operations and sales, has taken over management of the winery, and Ferrini continues to consult.

In 1997, the family purchased another property, this time in southern Tuscany in the Maremma region, from which they make a single wine called Ilatraia.

The wines are all made in the family's production faculty in Chianti, a three story winery designed to all but eliminate the use of pumps in favor of the gentler forces of gravity on everything from the destemmed, crushed grapes to the fermenting and finished wine. The wines are all aged in French oak barrels, of which roughly 66% are new each year.

Brancaia certainly represents a new wave of producers in Chianti, and may be seen by some as "nuvo" or un-traditional (some Tuscan winemakers consider anyone using French oak to be a non-traditionalist). This may be true, but it should not obscure the fact that Brancaia is producing some truly fantastic wines that are true to the soul of the place from which they come, and top examples of what the region is capable of producing in the right hands.

Full disclosure: I received these wines as press samples.


2005 Brancaia "Ilatraia" Rosso Maremma Toscana IGT, Tuscany
Dark garnet in color, this wine has an incredibly distinctive nose that screams COLA! Followed by softer murmurs of cherry and chocolate. These murmurs turn into songs of such flavors on the palate, as beautiful rich flavors of cola, spices, chocolate and cherry swirl amidst lovely texture and very faint tannins through to a very nice finish. Tasty, tasty, tasty. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Sangiovese, 10% Petit Verdot. Score: around 9. Cost: $70 . Where to buy?

2005 Brancaia "Il Blu" Rosso Toscana IGT, Tuscany
Cloudy medium garnet in color, this wine smells of chocolate covered cherries and wet dirt. I don't know about you, but that tends to make my mouth water. On the palate the wine offers an overwhelming sense of having just been dug up out of the wet ground and plopped in your glass. This damp earth quality quickly plays a low rumble to higher tones of cherries and chocolate that modulate to higher tones of rosehip and herbs on the long finish. Delicious. 50% Sangiovese, 45% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $60 .Where to buy?

2005 Brancaia "Tre" Rosso Toscana IGT, Tuscany
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine has an altogether funky nose of farmyard aromas -- gamey, horse sweat, and other pungent but not entirely objectionable smells mesh with red fruit. In the mouth, thankfully, the wine centers around more traditional flavors of leather, sandalwood, and cherry, as well as a distinctive, unusual flavor I couldn't pin down. This wine is beating to it's own rhythm. Sangiovese with unspecified amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $18. Where to buy?

2004 Brancaia Chianti Classico DOCG, Chianti, Tuscany
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a beautiful nose of floral and cherry aromas that compels multiple inhales before any drinking begins. In the mouth it is rich and full, while holding the earthy dryness one expects from a good Chianti. The primary flavors are of cherry and leather with rich earth undertones that linger on a bed of fine grained tannins into a nice finish. 95% Sangiovese and 5% Merlot. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $20. Where to buy?

Comments (7)

Jeremy wrote:
07.27.08 at 1:49 AM

I've enjoyed Brancaia as well. I also really like Isole e Olena and Castellare from the Classico area, and Selvapiana from the Rufina area. Also from Carmignano just north of Chianti (I think) I really enjoy Capezzana. I also just got a chance to try Eneo, from Montepeloso in the Suvreto area of the Maremma. It was very good, big, bold and rustic. Anyway, I love Italian wines, and sangiovese in particular. Thanks for the post.

Veronica wrote:
07.27.08 at 11:58 PM

I love Brancaia Il Blu. The Rosso is also very nice. Yum!

Benjamin wrote:
07.29.08 at 7:48 AM

We are big fans of the La Brancaia wines. They are modern yet classic, polished yet full of character. Overall we like the excellent QPR and we are looking forward to the new vintages!

10.22.14 at 12:47 AM

Ka?dy z nas zetkn?? si? z problemem, polecam zaznajomienie
si? z problemem.

10.22.14 at 11:22 AM

Obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure are in Lori's
genetics and she or he never though she's going to capable of lose those
unwanted fat from her physique. First step Cleansing Your Liver” teaches you what meals it's
best to using to detoxify and clear your liver from toxic substances which damaging your
physique means for burning fats. Dr. Charles is offering complete Fat Loss Factor program with all bonuses
in simply $forty seven.

Fisher Plows wrote:
10.23.14 at 1:10 AM

Patents for snow plows were issued as far back as the early 1920's.
Recent data for the consumer sector (payroll jobs, unemployment rate, and consumer
credit) have been mixed. First of all, very few trappers
can make a living, with fur, after all expenses are taken care of.

10.23.14 at 1:58 AM

It's going to be finish of mine day, except before end I am reading this great post to improve my knowledge.

Comment on this entry

(will not be published)
(optional -- Google will not follow)

Type the characters you see in the picture above.

Buy My Book!

small_final_covershot_dropshadow.jpg A wine book like no other. Photographs, essays, and wine recommendations. Learn more.

Follow Me On:

Twitter Facebook Pinterest Instagram Delectable Flipboard

Most Recent Entries

US 2014 Vintage - Early, Fast, Eventful Vinography Images: Big Shadow Come Explore The Essence of Wine with Me in Healdsburg: October 30th, 2014 Vinography Unboxed: Week of October 5, 2014 Another Idiotic California Law Screws Wineries Vinography Images: Vineyard Reflections The Fake Tongue Illusion and Wine Tasting 2014 Wine & Spirits Top 100 Tasting: October 21, San Francisco Cool Beauty: Tasting the Wines of the Western Sonoma Coast Vinography Images: Shaggy Companions

Favorite Posts From the Archives

Masuizumi Junmai Daiginjo, Toyama Prefecture Wine.Com Gives Retailers (and Consumers) the Finger 1961 Hospices de Beaune Emile Chandesais, Burgundy Wine Over Time The Better Half of My Palate 1999 Királyudvar "Lapis" Tokaji Furmint, Hungary What's Allowed in Your Wine and Winemaking Why Community Tasting Notes Sites Will Fail Appreciating Wine in Context The Soul vs. The Market 1989 Fiorano Botte 48 Semillion,Italy

Archives by Month


Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.