Yes, I intentionally waited until it was completely seasonally inappropriate to open this bottle. I bought it back in December (no surprise) mainly because I couldn’t believe someone had done this to a bottle of wine: pull a back-vintage bottle from a producer’s library (or an importer’s warehouse), replace the original label with a horribly tacky dollar-store-worthy holiday one, and re-release it in time for the Christmas retail rush. The most amazing thing is that this isn’t some hack wine: Brancaia is a well-regarded Tuscan producer, and the 2007 vintage of Brancaia Tre (the year immediately after this bottle) was so acclaimed that it cracked the top 10 in Wine Spectator magazine’s Top 100 Wines of the Year. Meanwhile, the 2006 was stripped of all its dignity, festooned with a cheesy red label and thrown into the hyper-commercialized Christmas arena alongside Justin Bieber’s holiday album and boxes of red and green M&Ms. My reaction on first seeing this bottle on the shelves probably echoed that of many wine lovers: ”You’ve got to be f______ kidding me.”
Tre is a baby Super Tuscan, an affordable version of the daring, high-quality, tradition-stomping Tuscan wines made using unsanctioned winemaking techniques and/or unapproved non-Italian grape varieties which were initially relegated to table wine status for not meeting the region’s legal criteria for top quality (DOC or DOCG) designation. Over the past couple decades, as the number of Super Tuscans continued to flourish, Italian wine laws have relaxed and evolved to give these wines a legal classification that more closely matches their pedigree. Tre gets its name from the fact that it is a blend of 3 different grapes (Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, the latter two of which are not Italian and are the main reason why Tre is considered a Super Tuscan and not classified as a DOC/DOCG wine from the Chianti region) grown in 3 different vineyards in Tuscany. Since the 2006 Tre would have been initially released a few years ago, its holiday re-release provides an opportunity for buyers to try a bottle that has been pre-aged for them and that should hopefully be drinking close to its prime, all for a discounted price (my bottle cost $24). Almost makes you want to forget the shiny gold festive font on the label. Almost.
At a glance, Tre showed very little signs of age in the glass: it was a deep blood-red colour that was opaque almost to the rim, with none of the thinning or brick/orange hues commonly seen in older wine. It had a classic rustic smell that I associate with many Italian wines, copper and sun-baked dirt, with hints of tomato and savoury spice (paprika?) followed by coffee/wood notes. Buried underneath all of that was a whiff of sour cherry fruit, but it was an effort to pull it out. The palate was a similar experience, with the fruit slipping away but some structure still clearly present: the Tre had a lush medium-full body, ever-present rounded tannins and medium acidity. Dark unsweetened chocolate (like those Bakers squares used in cooking) was the first flavour that came to mind, but the wine was fleshed out by tastes of earth, tobacco, pepper and anise…no fruit though. I think this would have been more enjoyable a couple years ago when the above secondary/tertiary notes would have been starting to gain prominence but the fruit would still have been in its glory; however, for under $25, it’s hard to complain about the array of flavours that show up here on every sip.
I really wanted to hate this wine, and I admit that I initially purchased it in part so that I could make fun of it on the Internet. But if you ignore its gaudy exterior and the crassly commercial, lowest-common-denominator nature of its re-release (“And A Happy New Year”!), it’s a well-made, highly interesting Tuscan wine, rife with complexity and secondary flavours, for a really solid price. While the fruit has faded more than I would have thought after a half decade of age, it’s still an enjoyable drink and an affordable way to discover how aging impacts good-quality wine. Can’t wait to see what Brancaia has in store for next Christmas…
$20 to $25 CDN