Wine Blog

When Trebbiano Gains the Spotlight in a White Wine from Carmignano

When talking about Tenuta di Capezzana winery in Carmignano, a white Trebbiano wine is perhaps not the first wine you come to think of, right? Rather, it would be their Carmignano DOCG wines and, above all, their historical and award-winning Vin Santo. However, they are not only using their Trebbiano toscano grapes for appassimento for the Vin Santo, but they are indeed doing the second harvest of Trebbiano grapes in mid-October. And, it is with these grapes that they make a white wine worthy of its own special place in their selection of labels.

Tenuta di Capezzana started last year by organizing a vertical tasting of their Villa di Capezzana wine for journalists and then decided to make it a yearly occurrence. This year it was the time for 10 vintages of their Trebbiano wine. Tenuta di Capezzana is an estate that valorizes tradition and has a tight connection to the local territory but, still, has an eye for innovation and is rather trendsetters than following a trend. The Trebbiano wine here is a great example, as they started making it already in 2000 after an idea of Beatrice Contini Bonacossi where it then became one of the projects of Benedetta Contini Bonacossi. Benedetta said she was not very convinced in the beginning but then it grew on her step by step. They decided to make a monovarietal Trebbiano wine with character in a period when the trend of re-evaluating native grapes had not entirely begun yet.

Tenuta di Capezzana, a winery located in the Carmignano area

I have visited Tenuta di Capezzana several times and it is always as fascinating, and I continue to learn new interesting things every time. The first time I visited them a couple of years ago, Filippo Contini Bonacossi came to pick me up at home in Florence and I got a private tour of vineyards and winery followed by a lovely lunch paired with their wines. It was really fun and enlightening to get a tour with Gaddo Contini Bonacossi who is now in charge of the vineyard management. As it was in January, I even got to see him do the pruning upfront. Then Benedetta Contini Bonacossi took me to the winery, barrel room, and the vinsantaia where they mature the Vin Santo juice in caratelli. Not to forget Serena Contini Bonacossi who showed me the rooms at their B&B. Beatrice and Filippo Contini Bonacossi were then explaining their wines to me during lunch. It is all a family affair where the siblings and their children work together, they are on the fourth and fifth-generation now. Anyway, just to say that I was hooked on Capezzana after that.

Capezzana is indeed a place with a long history and one of the most impressive estates not only in Carmignano but in Tuscany. In fact, there is a document – a renting contract – which demonstrates that wine and olive oil have been produced at Capezzana since 804 D.C. The document in question is now framed and hanging on a wall in one of the buildings, just in front of the entrance down to the wine cellar. However, winemaking dates farther back than that as grapes and olives have been cultivated in the Carmignano area since the Etruscan era. The estate was not in the hands of the Contini Bonacossi family then, they only bought it in the early 20th century. In fact, the estate has changed ownership many times over the years to end up with the Contini Bonacossi family who bought it from Sara de Rothschild in 1920.

There is so much more to be said about the Carmignano area and its history, for example, that it was included in the decree by the Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo III in 1716 that legally acknowledged the areas for quality wine production in Tuscany, and so forth. However, let’s continue to talk about the Trebbiano Toscano grape and the actual vertical tasting.

Trebbiano Toscano has gained the spotlight during the last years

Trebbiano toscano is a grape that dates to ancient times, at least to the Roman era, which name comes from the Latin word ‘Trebula’ which means farm. Pliny the Elder talked about Vinum Trebulanum as a village wine or a homemade wine. Further on, it was added to the original recipe for the Chianti blend of Sangiovese, Canaiolo, and Malvasia Bianca lunga created by Bettino Ricasoli. It is still a grape that has not always had a great reputation and it has, generally, been used in blends rather than for monovarietal wines. This is in part because it’s a very productive grape with high acidity which makes it a good grape to add to many white wines.

Ian D’Agatha writes that, in his opinion, the “depth of flavor” is always limited in the Trebbiano toscano and he continues to argue that monovarietal Trebbiano toscano white wines will never be “rich, dense, or mouthcoating” and serves best as an aperitif or “pasta wine”. He does mention the Trebbiano wine of Tenuta di Capezzana as a wine to try, and thinks that late-harvested Trebbiano grapes surely enhance the complexity of the white wine. (See Ian D’Agatha , Native Wine Grapes of Italy, pp. 148-150.)

A view towards the courtyard at Capezzana

Viticulture and winemaking values at Capezzana

At Tenuta di Capezzana they valorize the territory and they also say that they are lucky to have been blessed with land that gives rise to great and majestic wines. They respect the surrounding environment as far as it is possible by working the land as sustainably as they can, to make clean and linear wines that give an expression to the local terroir. Since 2009, they have in fact been more or less organic but they only got organically certified a couple of years ago. They believe in low intervention winemaking and since more or less ten years they are only applying wild fermentation with indigenous yeast, rather than selected starter yeast. Local tradition, history, terroir, and culture are important concepts for the Contini Bonacossi family at Capezzana, combined with innovation and a constant look towards the future.

Vertical tasting of Trebbiano di Capezzana IGT

We tasted ten years of Trebbiano di Capezzana IGT at the tasting event at the end of September, namely the vintages 2001, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2018, and 2020. The vintages can be divided into two parts that represent two periods in time, i.e. two wine styles. The ten years are also important as the historical memory of the last 20 years and how wine is in constant evolution. When the siblings at Tenuta di Capezzana decided to start making the Trebbiano di Capezzana IGT white wine we were still in a period where a more “mature”, “ripe”, “powerful”, and often very “oaky” style reigned also for white wines, not only for red wines. The taste of Robert Parker and his likes was still in vogue but was slowly starting to change. The early 2000s was also a period when a re-evaluation of native grapes started to become important, not only in Tuscany but overall, and to prefer quality above quantity.

Continuing on the concept of the taste focused on “power and concentration” of the 1980s and 1990s, Tim Atkin wrote the article “On Parker and Parkerisation” on his website in 2019. He discussed the concept of “Parkerised wines” and how Parker’s influence in many countries led to a standardization of wine. Tim Atkin points out that he considers Robert Parker as a nice man to clearly move the discussion away from a personal level. However, he points out that the world has moved on and that the taste today leans toward freshness and finesse.

Another important detail when it comes to the Trebbiano cultivated at Tenuta di Capezzana is that they in the past have made a “selezione massale”, which means making a mass selection with the aim to reproduce a vineyard to maintain a maximum genetic variability within the same grape variety. Filippo says that each plant has a memory and adapts to live in a certain territory, and they have selected the best vines from the oldest vineyards. This results in plants with different physiological and productive characteristics and a higher resistance which brings equilibrium and harmony in the vineyard and in the wines.

The Trebbiano di Capezzana IGT wine was a project of Benedetta already from the start, as mentioned earlier, just as the Vin Santo making, and the idea was to make an “important but different kind of Trebbiano wine”. As I mentioned above, they use the same Trebbiano vineyards as for the Vin Santo, they just harvest the grapes for the white wine later, namely towards the second week of October. (See my article 3 Different Italian Appassimento Wines That You Will Love, to read more about the Vin Santo of Capezzana.)

Returning to the ten vintages and the question of wine styles, the first five vintages – 2001, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2011 – matured almost a year in barrique which influenced the wines more and gave them a richer, creamier texture. The other five vintages – 2013, 2015, 2017, 2018, and 2020 – represent a style that is fresher, more elegant, with a bit sweeter aftertaste of almond at times. The philosophy changed here and the wine now matures only six months in oak and acacia wood is used to a great extent. Thereafter, the Trebbiano rests in the bottle for at least a year. Another important detail here is that Franco Bernabei entered as an oenologist and thus contributed to the change of style. As we can see the style has changed in step with time, just as Tim Atkin stresses in his article mentioned above.

I am not going to give detailed tasting notes here as it is not very interesting to me, you can find that in the technical sheets or on wine portals, rather I will say something more about the differences and similarities I find between the wines. The connecting thought in all the ten vintages is the freshness and saltiness above all. Then other typical traits in the Trebbiano wines are notes of fruit (often white fruit, quince), white flowers, herbs (such as thyme, camomille), honey, chalk, and the aftertaste of almonds, to name a few.

Old school

The 2001 was perhaps slightly more herbal while the 2004 was fresher and more linear, with a nice grip and almost spicy taste. The 2005 and the 2011, even though with a nice freshness and minerality, had the texture and notes of cognac or Armagnac. The 2007 had distinct notes of hydrocarbon, it was also more herby and a bit too woodsy perhaps.

New school

Now, if we look at the more recent vintages, I have already mentioned that the freshness, saltiness, chalky elements, and lighter style are characteristic of the second group of vintages. The 2013, of course, had the typical freshness and was more herby too with clear notes of musk at the nose while the 2015 was more floral and spicy, in addition to the fruity and herbal touch. To quote Filippo, 2017 was a “shitty” year with frost and then an overly dry and hot summer which resulted in a 30-40% loss of production. Still, the Trebbiano grapes resisted fairly well to the climatic challenges probably due to the strength of the grape variety. Regarding 2018, it was the first year that Gaddo managed the vineyards on his own together with Francesco Pasqua, and Gaddo says that 2018 was still a bit hard as 2017 had a certain influence with a still lower yield. Both 2018 and 2020 are still very young though with nice acidity, minerality, and saltiness. 2018 has notes of citrus fruit and is considered to have a certain longevity. 2020 has already been released in September due to the particular situation during the last two years.

At the end of the tasting I asked a question to Beatrice and Benedetta:

As you are often ahead of your time, as a bit of a pioneer with this Trebbiano wine, still keeping close to tradition, how do you look upon the future? Will you continue on this road or branch out using cement, ceramics, or amphoras?

Benedetta replied that they want to move forward valorizing their tradition, having respect for the territory, the grapes, etc. without overdoing it too much during the winemaking process. She thus emphasized that they are not interested in using neither amphorae nor other similar containers.

A vertical tasting of Trebbiano…

that turned into a mini-lesson in wine history as well as an understanding of how wine can evolve. Trebbiano can be seen a bit as an underdog grape, nobody thought much of it until recently but with the right attention in the vineyard and in the cellar, it can really shine all on its own. Tenuta di Capezzana shows this in an excellent way.

Katarina Andersson

Seen often at wine events streaming live, Katarina is a wine writer, wine educator, social media strategist, and translator. She is the founder of WinesOfItaly LiveStream. She has been a guest at The Cellar, hosted by Richard Glover, at Wine Two Five, a podcast hosted by Stephanie Davis and Valerie Caruso, and at the Twitter chat #WiningHourChat founded by Li Valentine.

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