Le Macchiole Paleo Rosso 2008: is this the best pure Cabernet Franc on earth?

Le Macchiole Paleo Rosso 2008

Bolgheri, bordering the coast of south-west Tuscany, is one of Italy’s most prestigious vineyard areas. The climate is generally mild due to the maritime influence and summers warm often with higher temperatures than other parts of Tuscany. Sometimes referred to as the Bordeaux of Italy, this fascinating region was at the forefront of the avant-garde “Super Tuscan” wine revolution of the 1970s.

Some Cabernet Franc Facts

Cabernet Franc is an early-ripening red grape variety, susceptible to frost damage in the spring. Grown predominantly in France, but also seen throughout Europe and the Americas, it tends to prefer cooler, inland climates like the Loire valley, but is often used as a blending wine for Bordeaux. Typical characteristics of Cabernet Franc include aromas and flavours of red or green peppers, red fruits, tobacco and spice with leafy, herbaceous and earthy notes also present. It is actually a parent grape of Cabernet Sauvignon (Sauvignon Blanc is the other parent), but tends to be lighter in body, colour and tannins.

Historically, production of Chianti wine was governed by strict regulation on which grape varieties were permitted and in what percentages (maximum 70% Sangiovese and minimum 10% local white wine grapes). Otherwise, the wines would not qualify for DOC status, could not be labelled "Chianti" and would have to be classified as "vino da tavola", i.e. table wine. This hampered development and reduced quality levels, which affected sales of Chianti. Therefore, many Tuscan wine producers felt that they could produce better wine outside of the DOC regulations. This led to a movement to produce top-quality non-DOC wines made from blends of other grape varieties, often based on a Bordeaux style. These wines were branded “Super Tuscans” and were eventually labelled as IGT (Indication of Geographical Type), a new category allowing for a broader variation of wine than the more restrictive DOC and DOCG classifications.

Sassicaia by Tenuta San Guido, considered the first of the Super Tuscans and Tignanello by Antinori are among the most famous and reputable of these wines, but many more like Ornellaia and Masseto have continued to receive global acclaim. Le Macchiole is undoubtedly among the top Super Tuscan estates and, in this article, I will be reviewing one of their star wines – Paleo Rosso 2008.

Le Macchiole, in Bolgheri, is situated about 100 km south of Florence and only 5 km from the coast. The vineyards benefit from rich clay, limestone and sandy soils with good drainage, allowing the grapes to reach full potential. In 2002, the winery management decided to practise organic farming and they are currently pushing forward biodynamic winegrowing methods in keeping with their philosophy of respecting the environment and the land they use. They have won numerous accolades over the years, including a perfect 100-point rating by Wine Spectator in 2008 for their 100% Merlot wine, Messorio and Wine & Spirits Magazine named them one of their Wineries of the Year in 2011. Robert Parker also awarded high scores for their 2008 wines, including 97 for Messorio and 93 for Paleo Rosso.

Le Macchiole Paleo Rosso is a wine with an interesting past and one which reflects the unique terroir of the region where high temperatures can reduce acidity levels in wine. Originally a blend, in 2001 Paleo Rosso became the first 100% Cabernet Franc wine in Bolgheri. Previously, the grape was used in order to add freshness and acidity to the wine, maintaining quality from year to year. However, the management made the brave decision to produce a stand-alone wine exclusively from this grape, dramatically changing the wine’s character.

My tasting notes

From the moment you see the deep ruby red colour and breathe in the heady perfume emanating from the glass, you know you are in for a treat! An immediate nose of ripe fruits of the forest is complemented by the gentle spice notes of white pepper, cinnamon and a hint of cloves with subtle overtones of vanilla from the 14-month ageing in predominantly new French oak barriques. The elegant palate matches the nose perfectly with similar ripe fruit, gentle oak and spice characteristics; the well-balanced acidity and warming ‘Christmas’ spice notes of cloves and cinnamon carrying over to a long, soft finish of cream and chocolate, backed up by smooth tannins. Although relatively high in alcoholic strength at 14.5% ABV, the alcohol level is completely in balance and lends a refined warmth to the mouth feel. This wine can be drunk now, but will benefit from ageing (5-15 years) to bring out even greater complexity and richness on the nose and palate and to allow the tannins to develop further in harmony with the fruit and spice flavours. Le Macchiole Paleo Rosso 2008 costs £56.95 per bottle, or £51.50 if bought by the case from Lea & Sandeman, the London-based award-winning independent wine merchants.

James Suckling, one of the world’s most influential reviewers of Italian wine, described Le Macchiole Paleo Rosso 2008 as “The best pure Cabernet Franc on earth”. Indeed, this is a wine to savour, a truly excellent product of visionary winemaking skills and its potential to improve over time makes it even more appealing. If this wine is not the best pure Cabernet Franc on the planet, then I have yet to taste better. So if you can treat yourself to a bottle of top-class wine this Christmas, then look no further than Le Macchiole Paleo Rosso 2008. You won’t be disappointed.

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