Wine Review: 2009 Il Palagio Casino delle Vie

14 11 2012

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

This is a pic of a real acrobat doing a real balance pose, albeit probably not on a bottle of wine.

Many celebrities have wine ventures.  For the most part, they are side hobbies at best and branding exercises at worst, usually making it hard to see what the famous name on the label has added to the wine inside.  Not so with Sting and the lineup of wines coming out of his old-made-new estate in Tuscany.  When he and his wife Trudie Styler first came across the historic Tuscan Il Palagio property in the late 1990s, it was dilapidated and poorly tended, in a vast state of disrepair.  After they purchased the estate and the 350 acres of land forming part of it, they spent an entire decade restoring the buildings and revitalizing the land, bringing on viticultural experts to convert the property to biodynamic growing methods (a pesticide- and herbicide-free holistic philosophy that focuses on ensuring the vine thrives in harmony with its surrounding environment and ties patterns of vine development to lunar phases, among other things) and giving vineyards that had been producing wine grapes since the 16th century a new lease on life.  Instead of rushing the fruits of the estate to market to capitalize on a well-known name and get cash flowing, Sting and Trudie waited until they and their team believed the land was sufficiently rehabilitated and the products of a high enough quality; 13 years after they first came across the property, they are releasing only their second vintage of wines.  In addition to a trio of vinous bottlings, Il Palagio is also the source of many other biodynamically-grown agricultural products, including fresh-made honey and cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil (I’ve been lucky enough to try the oil, and though I’m far from an EVOO expert, my layman’s opinion is that it was unbelievable).  The amount of time, effort and money that has gone into building Il Palagio back up is clear proof that this is a serious pursuit for Sting, one intended to create a lasting legacy.  I will refrain from making a “Message In A Bottle” joke here, but this is no mere vanity project.

Casino delle Vie is the mid-range wine in Il Palagio’s lineup, priced above the estate’s everyday Chianti When We Dance and below its flagship wine Sister Moon.  The bottle is named after a 19th century farmhouse on the property with the same moniker, which literally translates to “little house by the roads”, but can also mean “muddling of the ways” or “madness of life”…Italian is hard, apparently.  Although it bears the more flexible regional designation of Toscana IGT that was created out of the Super Tuscan wine movement in the 1970s and 1980s (more on that here), it is made entirely with Italian grapes, primarily Sangiovese with a touch of lesser-known Canaiolo and Colorino added to the blend.  (It will make you happy to know that the Colorino grape actually IS known for adding colour to a red blend and thus lives up to its surprisingly self-descriptive name…this makes me happy, anyway.)  I’m guessing the use of the Super Tuscan designation here was either the result of the winemaking/aging processes used to create the Casino delle Vie or simply a marketing decision to make the most of the wine-geek cachet afforded to many Toscana IGT wines — since this designation is broader and contains fewer restrictions than the appellation-based designation of Chianti DOC or Chianti Classico DOCG that covers much of the same area, producers can often choose the IGT designation for a wine that meets the stricter DOC/DOCG criteria if it desires.

Cork Rating: 3/10 (I think Sting’s creative talents could have come in quite useful in the Il Palagio cork design department.)

As fascinating as wine label nomenclature is, this wine is even better at capturing one’s attention.  It was a deep, mostly opaque garnet colour in the glass (thanks Colorino!) and featured one of the most gorgeous, complex, classic noses I’ve come across all year.  As unhelpful a description as this is, the Casino delle Vie smelled so Italian, churning up layer after layer of sun-baked earth, dust, iron, sour cherry, blackberry, violets, dried grass and savoury spices (oregano?).  Despite this earthy aroma base, the wine smelled more inviting than austere, packed with ripeness and energy.  This tremendous balance of bright fruit and site-based secondary characteristics continued to play out on the palate, which was perfectly weighted with a plush medium body, racy straight-line acidity and smooth, silky tannins that provided effective but unobtrusive structure.  Bold black cherry and raspberry fruit flavours played off slightly herbaceous tones of tomato and tobacco leaf and quieter accents of coffee, earth and anise, seamlessly melding an almost New World-style approachability with timeless Old World depth and soul.

This wine reminded me quite a bit of a baby Brunello di Montalcino, which is saying something since it clocks in at around half the price of a base Brunello.  Although it’s not cheap, it’s still way more wine that you would have a right to expect at this price point (roughly $35), and it particularly comes alive when served with food.  In a week where work has been continually busy and we’ve been dealing with a child at home who is more awake than asleep during nighttime hours, this bottle of Casino delle Vie has very briefly taken me to Tuscany, and I am most grateful.

90+ points

$30 to $35 CDN

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