Published 30 May 2014
“Elegance.” That’s the one word to sum it all up: the wine, the food, the hotel.
I was invited to the Northall restaurant, located within the Corinthia Hotel, for an evening with Barone Ricasoli (pronounced Ba-rhone-ay Rick-ass-oh-lee). I assumed this meant that the hotel’s chefs had created a tasting menu to accompany the wines. They had, but it also meant an evening with Francesco Ricasoli – the Baron himself. As if that wasn’t enough, we were accompanied Christian Stivert, wine consultant.
We started the evening with Ricasoli’s only white, Torricella, a Chardonnay. You might think that is pretty normal, but Tuscany is not known for its whites so this was something of a surprise. The Chardonnay (from 2012), which contains a small percentage of Sauvignon Blanc, was subtle, refined, with medium aromas of citrus (and something sweet, like figs), flavours of lemon and a Chablis-esque minerality, a biting acidity and long length. This is 100% a wine to accompany food. The Baron confirmed that this is a wine made by vinification, not in the vineyard (i.e. it’s more down to the winemaker’s prowess than by Mother Nature) and added that it will be “great in five years”. It certainly went much better with the beautifully elegant starter of Angus beef carpaccio, poached egg dressing and Berkswell Ewe’s cheese than on its own.
Ricasoli has quite strong views on organic wines. Although he believes that “the taste of the wine is from the soil” rather than the chemicals and treatments that are applied, he is certainly not dogmatic; they make organic wines when it makes sense, but not always. He talks a lot about sustainability and taking care of the vineyards, even down to how many times tractors should go out into the vineyards. I’m definitely hearing more winemakers thinking about the future.
On to the main course, Cumbrian Spring lamb en croute, artichoke puree and fresh peas, rosemary jus paired with Barone Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico DOCG 2010. An intense medium-deep ruby coloured wine, with a powerful aroma of prunes and berries, and already showing some age. The high, dry tannins and powerful cherry flavours with a hint of spice were followed by a fresh acidity and a very long length. There was an initial slight bitter aftertaste, but after the lamb this disappeared. Another great match and a reminder that wine is meant to be consumed with food.
Before the cheese course, Christian enlightened us on how to find the best wines in a cellar: “Go in the cellar. Look for where the rat runs from and go there. You will then find the best wine. The rats sleep amongst the best wines!”. It’s a good trick which I’ll try when I next visit a vineyard, but don’t expect to see a marketing team proposing the slogan: “BUY [INSERT NAME OF WINE HERE]: IT’S THE WINE RATS LOVE TO SLEEP AMONGST”.
On to cheese and the Colledila Barone Ricasoli. The wine has aromas reminiscent of Amarone, and tastes like it a bit too. It has high, round tannins and high acidity again – explained by it being 100% Sangiovese. Although this grape results in wonderful wine in Central Italy, it is rare that you will find it unblended. The Colledila is also from a single vineyard making it even rarer (and its availability limited). In discussing percentages of grape blends, Ricasoli declared that the ratio of grapes is less important than WHAT you blend. For example, if you put 5% of a powerful Chilean Merlot with Sangiovese, it will kill off the Sangiovese. I agree: the what is much more important than the how much.
Finally, on to the Tahitian vanilla panna cotta, spiced pineapple, orange and carrot sorbet, along with a Barone Ricasoli di Brolio 2010. The wine, described by the Baron as “the sum of what we produce” was opened three and a half hours earlier and decanted shortly after. A deep ruby colour, with powerful aromas of black fruit and prunes, and flavours to match – with spicy and toasty notes. Hang on! Orange and carrot sorbet? Was the chef drunk? Actually it worked really well and paired beautifully with the wine. It was, to use the Baron’s phrase, “elegant”.
If I had to sum up the wines, I’d use a word often uttered by the Baron, “elegant”. I got the feeling that they care about the wines they are making and the man at the helm, despite a gruelling schedule, cares too. The same goes for the hotel: more elegance and care for their guests. Usually I find myself at tasting alongside other bloggers, journalists and wine professionals. Today those people were present, but we were accompanied by two of the hotel’s guests. A refreshing change and another reminder that what is in the blend is most important.
Corinthia Hotels invited me to experience dinner at Northall as their guest, but I received no remuneration other than food and drink. All opinions are still my own.